Birding Day

Boxing Day, Sunday, 26th December 2005

Fieldfares (but no starling, as shown here: we didn't see a starling all day) Redwing, another winter thrush that we haven't seen such a lot of this year A mistle thrush (a resident but feeding alongside the migrant thrushes) Crows, of course
Gadwall Goldeneye Goosander Greenfinch

tree sparrowsBOXING DAY means that it's a birding day with my friends David (from Cumbria) and John (from Plymouth). I don't often go out looking specifically for birds at any other time of year.


My dad used to go out after birds on Boxing Day, but he used to shoot them, at least he shot pheasants, partridge, wood pigeons, woodcock, mallard and hare, at Terrington, on the other side of York, not far from Helmsley and Castle Howard. Boxing Day was the big meeting of all the guns who contributed to the shoot. The gamekeeper at the time was Fred Green. I remember the smell of the gamy pheasants hanging from a hook on the shelves in the store room, the spatters of blood on the red-painted concrete floor. Terrington, which also boasted a bit of fishing on a small dam, provided the subject for one of my early attempts at writing a nature diary.

The Road to Anglers

After about 25 years of (non-lethal) Birding Boxing Days with my friends, this morning must be the best for species ticked off before we even get out of the car. This is thanks to a stubbly field goldcrestwe pass on the way which has attracted thirty or forty wintering thrushes and the opportunity we have to pull up on the lane that crosses an arm of Wintersett Reservoir, giving views through the hawthorn hedges of open water to our left and a reed-fringed backwater to our right, but the highlight is 15 or 20 tree sparrows crowded onto a bird table in front of our space in the car park at Anglers Country Park. Tree sparrow numbers have declined over the last ten years, so it's good to see so many here.

On our walk around Haw Park we get excellent views of goldcrests, in loose groups of about 4 or 5, alongside more numerous coal tits, making their way through the branches of conifers and birches. I realise after the views I had today that my previous sketch of a goldcrest, drawn from memory, was incorrect; there should be yellow stripe along the top of the head. The coal tit has a white stripe on its head like that. Memory plays strange tricks!

wood and meadow

4.10 p.m., Coxley Valley

Richard photographed by David'You haven't done much drawing this morning,' comments David (who took the photograph of me, right, on Christmas Eve).

No I haven't; I find that I don't draw much while out birdwatching, unless we end up in a hide for some time. Most of the time we're ambling along, checking out every duck and dunnock, at the pace of a leisurely supermarket stroll, while my natural rythym is either to be striding out, my mind in free-fall, experiencing the landscape unfolding as I walk or, in complete contrast, to stop and look, and look, and look; and, while it might be a bird I'm drawing, it might just as easily be a mossy boulder, a tree root or a patch of weedy turf.

But you can't say to your birding companions; 'Do you mind if we stop here for 45 minutes because I've just seen a particularly fascinating patch of weedy turf?'

But I agree with David that I have been remiss today, so, as has happened so many times in the past, when I realise that the daylight is fading, I get my watercolours together - the big box of White Nights Russian watercolours this time - and paint, in a few minutes, the sky, wood and meadow.


Boxing Day, Sunday, but there's a very regular train service; at least there is in Thornes Park, Wakefield. David's dad, Jeffrey Stubbs, is the driver of Ross, a miniature steam engine which he built himself; a half-size replica of a Welsh mountain railway narrow-gauge tank engine (at least that's what it looks like to me).

I love the smell of steam. It's amazing that an engine the size of an average fridge has the power pull along 3 or 4 bench-like trucks and 20 or 30 passengers. Most engineering these days is boxed-in; I like the way that form and function are so obvious in a steam engine.

RossWish they'd install a little restaurant car on the train.

'How many locomotives has your dad made?' I ask David.

'Twenty-two, but he started in his teens.'

David makes Solway Dory sailing canoes (see below). Next Page


Solway Dory

Richard Bell,