One of the delights of nature-watching is its unpredictability. I’d gone to Walmore Common – a flooded area on the north side of the Severn – in order to see a purple heron that had flown in earlier in the day, and which is a rare visitor to this country. As I approached the area, I noticed a hare and wished I’d had my camera ready.
I scanned the common for the purple heron and was fairly pleased to spot it on the far side, and decided to look for paths that would take me there.
I backtracked to a farm lane, and came across the hare again. This time I had my camera ready, and began to snap away. I crept closer, and to my surprise it did not run off: instead, it began to preen.
I edged closer, targetting a fence post which would allow some stability for the camera. It settled down: it was clearly alert to what I was doing, and kept a fairly low profile, but seemed undisturbed as I approached closer still.
Frankly, I would have been very happy with any of these pictures, but as the hare seemed obliging, I continued. Occasionally I got too close and it ran off a short distance – but it was still willing for me to follow.
Alongside the lane was a field of rather nervous cattle: more so than I’d expected, probably because there were young calves among them and their mothers were thus particularly anxious. Nevertheless their rather jumpy behaviour spooked the hare – but it did the opposite to what I’d expected, and ran towards me.
I felt flattered that it felt less nervous of me than the cattle but it didn’t brave the idea of actually running past me, but instead stopped, waited, and posed long enough for me to continue snapping. It then decided that the cattle field really did offer more options, so ran down the path and in.
I then resumed my walk around the Common (although was soon distracted by a juvenile rook which was just as confiding, but less photogenic). I then spotted the purple heron, now far closer: it, too, had decided that the south side was a better place. Unfortunately, as soon as I spotted it, it took off: but as it flew I had an excellent view, so much so that I could see not only that it was very clearly a purple heron, but a first-summer individual.
On the way back I took a closer look at six whimbrel I’d seen earlier. They present a challenge because they look very similar to curlews, but I now had much closer views than I’d had before, and was able to see the crown stripes that identify them. Unlike curlews, which may spend all year in this country, whimbrels are migratory, and are in the UK only on passage from wintering in Africa to breeding in Scandinavia.
Any one of these events would have made the trip as far as I was concerned – but to get all three at once made it exceptional.