Posted 23 January 2013 by Andrew Gardner
One of the loveliest sights I can think of is a flock of birds against a winter sky. I happen to live near a small Sussex nature reserve, in fact it’s also close to our Sussex offices and we regularly see geese and terns heading purposefully to or from it, especially in the late afternoon when the sky is darkening and the last remnants of sun dip towards the horizon. Well, maybe the sun part is wishful thinking on my part at the moment, but honestly the birds tend to fly to the west of our house, so you do see some good colours even on a dull day. We also used to hear its resident owls hunting on winter nights, but sad to say they haven't been around as much this season.
The RSPB reserve at Pulborough Brooks in the South Downs National Park is quite wet and snowy at the moment. Surprise, eh? And I know it's on water meadows, but seriously, just before New Year it flooded and things just got worse for several days. They've tried hard to keep tracks and hides open where possible, but some areas had to be closed. The wetland trail remained open, at least as I write, although wellies were essential.
However, even from a distance you could still revel in some fabulous sights including great flocks of teal, wigeon, mallards and Canada geese; hundreds of lapwing taking up position around the flood's edge; a family or two of Bewick's swans; and sightings of barn owl, peregrine and hen harrier. The shy little water rail, nicknamed Wally, was keeping a low profile among the brambles but occasionally popping out to sup on mealworms. Tufted ducks and pochard were loving the deep water, apparently.
Sitting in a hide remains, for me, one of the most tranquil and energising pastimes of a quiet winter afternoon. But if you prefer a warmer environment, just bring binoculars and watch nature at work from the window or garden of your cosy holiday cottage. It's spectacular.