To twitch or not to twitch…

Goosander on the River Wear from Prebend’s Bridge

There are a range of addictions that wannabe vicars would do well to avoid: I’ve begun to realise that the Temptation To Twitch might well be one of them.

I need to explain, for the uninitiated, that birdwatching and twitching are not the same thing. This point was forcibly made to me at the Durham Bird Club by Geoff Mitchell, who had just won a distinguished service medal for 30 years monitoring his local patch. He takes great delight both in the resident birds and the unexpected ones that fly through – and has no inclination to chase around the countryside, twitching after rarities, and polluting the atmosphere with more car fumes.

Group of 3 goosanders, off Prebend’s Bridge

There is, however, a much more mundane reason why I’ve pursued neither the Black-throated thrush near Whitby nor the Long-billed Dowitchers in Cheshire: I simply don’t have the time. The temptation is there – and I’ve had to argue myself round on this one!

Last Friday I did a walk that made me appreciate how much good wildlife is close at hand. Crossing the river at Prebend’s Bridge, I glimpsed a bird disappear from view. It re-appeared a bit later – and I realised it was a goosander. Occasionally I am asked about my favourite bird: and at the moment, this is definitely it. Seeing one is always a thrill: there’s something very majestic about these large ducks – and something deadly serious about their hooked beaks!

Dipper on the River Browney

I then made my way to the River Browney and along its banks for an hour or two. Crossing a bridge, I spotted a brown bird fly low over the water: when it landed, its large white breast showed it to be a dipper.  I’d not seen one before – or at least, not in the 30-odd years since Dad showed me one. For some minutes I watched it flit around, bobbing on rocks, with a beakful of moss, seemingly unable to decide what to do with it. Despite not looking adapted to an aquatic lifestyle, they feed by dipping into the water or running under it to catch insects and other invertebrates. For me, the dipper is definitely another ‘wow’ bird!

I’m currently struggling with a cold, which is not good timing given the intense nature of the next ten days. The surprising thing is just how intense and pressured life is here. A couple of days ago I went to a talk on ‘science and faith’: this felt like real self-indulgence! We’re all struggling with it to a greater or lesser extent; while I’m doing ok, there are some really good people here who aren’t. Something is not right.

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