May 11 – Mellow Yellow

White spotted blue throat, thanks to Marek Szczepanek for this great image

White spotted blue throat, thanks to Marek Szczepanek for this great image

I think I’ve just about recovered from all the excitement of the Royal Wedding. What a day it was and how lovely to see everywhere garlanded in red, white and blue and to feel such a sense of pride in all things British. Even so, the colours that I shall most remember from this April are yellow, white and blue and not just because the sun has been shining in blue skies for most of the month. Let me explain…

In mid April I had a lovely long weekend in Cambridgeshire. I have wanted to visit the Wildfowl Trust at Welney for a long time and I finally got round to booking a trip. You can imagine my delight when I read on their website that a male White Spotted Bluethroat was singing and holding territory on the reserve. I know it’s the kind of name that gives ammunition to those who enjoy poking fun (gentle or otherwise) at birders, but he really is a very pretty little bird – a sort of robin bluethroat with a white spot – and a real rarity in Britain as he very seldom crosses the channel.

I arrived to hear from some birders (who were just leaving) that he had sung for a few minutes around 6:30am but had since disappeared into the impenetrable reed beds that make the Ouse Washes in general such a great place for nesting birds. I wasn’t too hopeful, but walked out to his favoured spot to find a small group of people armed with binoculars, telescopes and cameras. Every movement in the reeds was immediately pounced upon, but after half an hour or so all we’d seen were reed buntings and sedge warblers.

I suddenly heard a call I didn’t recognise from a bush just behind me and there he was as bold as brass and neatly dressed in his red trimmed blue waistcoat with a white spot. An enthusiast from Dudley couldn’t control his excitement: “There’s the little blighter, right in that bush,” he fair shouted to his mates. Unsurprisingly the little chap cleared off and we only caught a couple of distant glimpses thereafter and I didn’t get a photograph worth sharing.

I had no right to feel blue – but I did and despite myself I was irked for the rest of the break, right until the very last moment that is. I cheered up because whilst we were having our last supper, as it were, I saw some flashes of white over Lady Fen. Straight away I knew what they were and a quick squint through the binoculars revealed nearly a dozen bright lemon-yellow breasts and lime green heads – a flock of returning yellow wagtails and they drove those blues away.

Later as I reflected on this experience I realised that joy was a condition that I should claim; that my feelings should not depend on events. Quite true and something I always try and remember in the roller coaster ride of commercial life (not to say married life William and Kate) but I’m still very grateful to those wagtails for making me mellow.