What’s the best bit of train-birding you’ve ever had? My thanks to everyone who responded to my recent blog about the Stour Estuary, as observed from a train on the Norwich-London line: now you’ve got me wondering about other birds seen from other trains.
One of the train-traveller’s great pleasures is that lightning — but still unmistakable — almost-no-glimpse of a bird. I remember a few months ago, on the same line, seeing a sparrowhawk fizzing along a hedge: my sudden secret joy was compounded by the certainty that no one else in the carriage and perhaps the train had seen it. Privilege, eh? It was like travelling first class, only better.
Years ago I saw a hen harrier when travelling the line between Newport and Shrewsbury. It was a ringtail – that’s to say, either a female or an immature male, brown with a white ring round the base of the tail. I recognised it with joy, not foreseeing all the trouble hen harriers would get me into.
One of the loveliest stretches of rail in England stands between Exeter and Newton Abbot. It goes along the Exe Estuary, follows the coast for a while and then turns back inland along the Teign. I once saw a white raft of avocets on the Exe. The train is slow at this point, but still too fast for accurate counting. I reckon there were getting on 400 of them
But perhaps the best of all was last winter. I was travelling from Norwich to Peterborough. In the Fen country the train becomes the highest point for miles around and sometimes seems to be travelling weightlessly over a surface of water. We were rattling on at a fair pace when I looked up – gasped – surely not – but what else could they be — and they were gone.
Glory be, they were cranes, half a dozen or more, hard to say: just an impression of legs and necks and infinite eternal grace…the train now standing at platform two is for Liverpool Lime Street by way of Ely, Peterborough, Nottingham, Sheffield, Manchester Piccadilly and Heaven…