It was a lovely spring day, so Eddie and I decided to take a walk around our bit of marsh. Eddie is my younger son; he’s 13 and he has Down’s syndrome. And he’s very keen on a nice bird. Before we even reached the gate to the marsh we found one.
We were right by the big old willow – half-dead and with loads of bits missing – when I caught a movement from one of its exposed branches. There was a bird was making one of its characteristic mouse-like runs as it worked its way upwards: indisputably a treecreeper.
That was only half-good, because naturally, I wanted Eddie to get a good look. It’s not always easy for him to get on a bird, and he will sometimes declare “Got ‘im” just to please me. But I thought that this was a bird be could experience really well.
Treecreepers are not notoriously obliging birds. Few crash-hot birders get good views of treecreeper on a regular basis. Treecreepers like to do their creeping out of sight in the canopy, and when they’re still their cryptic feathers hide them comprehensively.
But here was that rare thing, a flaunting tree-creeper, and its rapid little movements attracted my eye. And yes – Eddie’s eye too. Hurrah! He cracked it and we watched the bird getting on with its life, quite untroubled by us, for a few minutes before it flew on to try its luck on another tree-trunk.
There’s always a special kind of joy in sharing a bird: at the time and in in memory. “Remember that bat-hawk at Nsolo?” I can say to Chris and yes, of course he does, and we have raised many a glass on account of it. Now Eddie and I can recall the treecreeper.
There’s something slightly special about a treecreeper. They’re one of those birds you find in bird-books as a beginner and never believe you will actually see. Part of you doesn’t really believe they even exist. The bird book says they’re common: and so the bird-book is obviously lying. Perhaps there should be a special category for such birds: Category L birds: the birds the birdbooks lie about.
The truth, of course, is that treecreepers are common but not commonly seen. There are quite a few birds like that. Sounds helps, of course; tree-creepers make a wonderfully thin high call and have a song to match.
As Eddie and I walked slowly round the march I wondered about putting together a short book of all the birds that the beginner – the bad birdwatcher – can’t believe are quite real. The birds might have thought were beyond your scope. A guide not just to the birds, but to the right way of looking, or rather looking and listening. The right way of just being in the wild world. I could call it How to Be a Slightly Less Bad Birdwatcher. Snappy, eh?
Eddie and I took drinks — apple juice for him, Rooibos tea for me – and sat by the dyke for a while, enjoying a lighting swift burst of spring sunshine. The calls of a lapwing display flight in our ears, and a Cetti’s warbler shouting loudly from the bush just behind us.