A flock of long-tail tits in the very first tree, flitting with two goldfinches. From the first hide we were able to watch a dozen cormorants drying their wings in the rays of the low autumn sun, accompanied by a mute swan and a couple of herons. The aquatic birds were out on the lake in force. Roger always chuckled as the spotters reeled off their names and he wrote them down in his trusty frayed notepad with his even trustier old stub of a pencil. He cheerfully admitted to never having been able to tell a Gadwall from a Teal from a Shoveler, dismissing them all as ‘Ruddy Ducks’, but he did claim to be able to recognise a Mallard provided it was a male.
We then moved on to the Round Lake hide with its feeders that are set up to attract the more familiar small garden birds. Robins, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Wrens in abundance plus fleeting appearances by Roger’s nemeses – the LBBs or Little Brown Birds. Actually mostly Tree Sparrows and Dunnocks as onto Roger’s list they went.
On to the Great Meadow hide and here we sat transfixed as five Snipe dabbled at the water’s edge. Now the Snipe is a small mottled reed-coloured bird that stands motionless in the mottled reeds. Each was several feet away from the other and only one seemed to bob its head at any one time. Roger was, of course, always looking intently at the spot where the Snipe that could be seen wasn’t. However he made up for his disappointment with the Snipe as he did see the two Water Rails on the near bank. Although they are commonly seen at Anton Lakes this was our first sighting of them at Langford.
Round to the South hide and there to Roger’s undisguised delight were a pair of actual Ruddy Ducks. “I think I’ll have to record those as Ruddy Ruddy Ducks” he chortled. A Little Grebe appeared and the bird count went ever higher. With the inclusion of Feral Pigeons, Magpies, Blackbirds etc it had reached 40 by lunch. The picnic area appeared to be closed but Roger declared it open as we defrosted our fingers. As usual Roger amused us with his tales as he washed down his ham roll and Christmas cake slice with his ‘own label’ mix of coffee powder, dried milk and sugar in to which he poured the murky contents of his thermos. A WWT official appeared and asked brusquely if we had not seen the yellow & black tape and ‘area closed’ signs but he was disarmed by Roger smiling sweetly and saying “Oh yes, I did wonder what they referred to”.
After lunch we strolled through the water meadows to Glebe Walk and then along the stream back to the Long Pond in search of the Little Egrets and Great Crested Grebes that normally shelter there. They were not to be seen but the appearance of a pair of Goldcrests brought Roger’s final bird count for the day to 45. Excitedly thumbing through the years of sightings recorded in his notepad he declared that to be the highest number of different birds ever seen in one day by the Group.
To round off the day, as Roger drove us back to Abbotts Ann he set off to take one of his infamous shortcuts, through Wilton. But instead we showed him an even better route through Berwick St James. “Good heavens” he said “This really is a better shortcut than mine, I must look it up on the map when I get home and come this way next time!”. Sadly there was to be no next time as he passed away peacefully just a few days later. But we will treasure his memory, a true gentleman the like of whom we may not meet again.