It’s the festive season and I have to admit I do rather like all the tinsel, mulled wine and carols, not to mention being partial to a mince pie or two. However, despite the lure of cosy fires and Christmas TV, I still need to get out in the crisp, fresh air of the open countryside, and feel the nip at my cheeks.
Walking round the reserves, I am accompanied by the endless babbling, honking conversation of brent geese, and the quacks and squeals of a myriad other wildfowl.
Trees stand bare, stark and austere, their leaves, strewn across the paths, collect in hollows and under hedges.
Ahead of me a blackbird picks his way through a pile, tossing bits aside with his beak in search of a morsel. I hear the faint high-pitched ‘zi zi zi’ from the undergrowth behind me catches my attention. I turn round, scanning the bushes and trees. There. Constantly on the move, flitting from twig to twig, branch to branch, always searching for food, is a firecrest. It vies with its cousin, the goldcrest, for the title of our smallest
Although both are resident in the UK, most of our firecrests are migrants and both species swell in numbers during the winter. Weighing just 5 to 6 grams or the equivalent of a twenty pence piece, these tiny birds must be extremely exhausted from their exertions.
Firecrests tend to keep their distance, whereas goldcrests can be surprisingly confiding, and with their busy, ceaseless probing, almost as if they do not have the time to acknowledge you.
Suddenly the harbour erupts in a cloud of birds. They swoop together revealing the thousands of other birds that have been feeding happily on the mudflats.
Reluctantly I start to make my way back but not before I spy another bird sporting orange on its plumage, rummaging in the leaf litter. Not a robin but a redwing.
Another seasonal visitor that is a member of the thrush family, easily identified by its rusty flanks and white eyestripe. The light is fading but I’m feeling lighter, refreshed and yes, I think I’ve made room for another mince pie