I was sitting still, gazing across at the marsh… perhaps you get tired of reading that; if so, many apologies. The fact is that I have yet to get tired of sitting and the gazing across marshes.
A bird was in sight for about half a second, getting on for a mile away, no time for the bins. But I knew what it was at once, not a shred of doubt on the matter. It was a female marsh harrier.
A few second later she appeared again, and this time I had a proper view: long wings, carried in the classic dihedral, long tail, mostly dark brown but with a creamy head.
I didn’t need that confirmation. I knew her because I expected to see her, this being her place, and because I knew the cut of her jib.
Birders talk about jizz: the ability to know a bird from information you’d be hard put to analyse. You know because you know: because you have done a lot of looking and your brain has stored a lot of visual information.
Just as you recognise your beloved without difficulty from the opposite end of Liverpool Street Station in the pre-virus rush-hour, so I can recognise a marsh harrier above this chunk of marsh from minimal clues.
And that is the greatest privilege of all: not the small birding skill but the much deeper pleasure of familiarity.
Marsh harriers have damn near gone extinct in this country twice: first during the Victorian persecution, which got rid of them entirely, and second, by pesticides; they were down to a single English pair in 1971.
But right now I see them every day, and know them well enough to recognise them when I hardly see them at all. That’s great just because it’s great – but it also reminds me that just occasionally, we humans can do something right.