Once I decide I want to see a new species the hyper focus part of my ADHD brain kicks in. Thoughts of glistening metallic coloured heads, and feathered wings creep into my thoughts while I’m supposed to be working, or listening to a conversation. Something reminded me that winter was a great time to see teal and goldeneye and that was it; my brain locked onto it’s latest target.
It was a lazy day between Christmas and New Year, where time simultaneously moves like a treacle river and a raging torrent. I wanted to get the trip in quick before we had to work around meetings and early sunsets. Both species are easy to see where we live, so the planning was anti-climatic – planning is half the fun to me.
We headed down to the estuary. Wind turbines and huge boats peppering the horizon to the left, and a slow moving river, busy with gulls and seals, to the right. The board at the entrance to the nature reserve proudly told us we could see goldeneye here. I try not to get too excited by information boards because I don’t have the best luck. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m impatient, need better binoculars and identification skills, the afforementioned poor luck, or all of the above.
As soon as our feet hit the wet sand, I pulled my binoculars up and started searching for goldeneye and teal amongst gulls of all ages and species. My eyes began to water in protest at being worked beyond their capacity. For a minute I was distracted by a small group of great black-backed gulls. Before I started to learn about birds, I wouldn’t have even realised they weren’t common or herring gulls. I would have assumed they were ‘black seagulls’ and paid them no more attention. But now? Now they stand out like a lighthouse beacon in the dark, and I wonder how I ignored them before because they demand my attention every time I see them. They’re beautiful; their black wings make them look sharply dressed in comparison to all the other gulls.
My eyes wandered back to the water, where I spotted something dark with a speck of white on its head. Could it be? My hopes began to rise, as I pulled out my new pocket bird guide to double check what a goldeneye looked like. I switched to my camera, also being asked to work well beyond the capability of it’s lens, and took a photo. Neither my binoculars or camera were good enough to let me see the goldeneye’s shimmering green head, but a lot of zooming in revealed a pixelated white patch and a golden eye. One down. Was it too much to ask to see teals also?
Seals were bottling and floating down the river, keeping a curious eye on us as if they were enjoying a spot of people watching. It doesn’t matter how many times I see a seal snout break the surface, I always hope it’s an otter first. Seals are a lot of fun to watch and I’ll never tire of them, but the elusive otter has grabbed hold of me in a way only mustelids and bears do for me.
Further up the river bank, a heron took flight, emitting an almost prehistoric sound. My eyes wandered back to where the heron had been sitting. Ahead I could see some mallards, or “standard ducks” as I call them. It’s not really fair to call them standard because they’re stunning, even the females who aren’t as showy as the males are beautiful to look at. Something took off from near the group of mallards. I thought I saw a flash of something yellow, and it seemed a bit smaller than a mallard. We walked closer, still maintaining a respectable distance, until my binoculars gave me a clearer view. Amongst the mallards, I could see three smaller birds with a metallic green streak running from their eye, looking almost like me at 15 years old, fresh in a Hayley Williams obsession and discovering eyeshadow for the first time.
I wish I could have seen the teal in more detail, because it’s body is also pretty spectacular. The males have a black and white body that I find so satisfying to look at, and both the males and females have that same dazzling splash of colour by their wings which they show off in flight.
As we headed back to the car I commented that the only thing that could make it better would be an otter sighting. The otters, as usual, did not oblige me, but I pulled out of the car park feeling high on birds.