It is late spring and I have finally established my sit~spot practice and managed to get out to ‘my place’ every day, the path towards it is pictured below) usually in the early hours of the morning. I can categorically say that it has changed everything for me; I have been plunged into a world of nature to a level that I had never even dreamed of witnessing before and since my first ‘sit’ in late march, I have seen more wildlife; more mammals, birds, insects and invertebrates than I could ever have thought possible. This place that seemed so ’empty’ before, I know now, is teeming with life – all it took was the time to slow down and really start to observe.
It was hard to find the right spot to sit. I wandered around for what seemed like an age trying to decide on the best place. Everything seemed to be pretty inaccessible at first, living as we do, on steep mountainous terrain. There were sheep to contend with, nosey farmers to avoid, deep snow to climb through, cold spots to endure and the ‘threat’ of wolves to think about but finally, this spring, I came across a definitive place, when I happened upon a patch of land that seemed to have the perfect mix of habitat for many different types of animal. I also found a focus in this place; something that drew me back day after day – a spotted flycatcher’s nest.
It is the only swampy ground for miles around; a piece of land sandwiched between the main valley river and another smaller brook, coming to a head at a pointed, black-sanded beach to the west. A friend has ten beehives out in the meadow that flanks its south side. I went to watch spawning frogs in April alongside blooming marsh marigolds and just kept being drawn back again and again, as I discovered more and more on each visit. There are many dead standing trees, pockmarked by many visiting woodpeckers and the marshy land gives an abundance of insects for other birds, especially well-suited to the spotted flycatchers, who chase flies, gnats and midges through the branches.
Whilst I was passing by a shallow pond that had been created by the mountains’ snow-melt one day to look at the tadpoles swarming around its banks, I heard the continual loud alarms of two birds that were obviously guarding a nest. I then glimpsed two brown bodies flitting and darting around, continually coming to rest agitatedly on a piece of bark that was hanging away from the trunk of a dead-standing tree at a weird angle. It was only after an hour of sit~spot practice right there and then, whilst allowing the alarm calls to die away and the birds to get on with their business, that I made the connection between the birds’ comings and goings and the piece of bark – it was stuffed with moss and was holding babies; hungry, unseen, baby spotted flycatchers (I later identified). My dream had come true – I had never found a nest in the wild before and this was just the most delightful thing I had ever seen. I was spellbound. To watch these birds activity, the red ants creeping over my shoes, the dragonflies hovering over the water and the tadpoles swimming in the brackish shallows was perfection in itself.
This is all very well and good for my current sit~spot practice because I have the best reason in the world to go back again and again to the same place; where days have turned into weeks and I watch the babies grow and I hope one day soon, fledge. In the process of spending all my time focused in on this particular nest, I have gained really valuable insights into the workings of the rest of that little patch of wood; the periods of time when the adults are away and indeed the rest of the birds seem to be lying low, in contrast to the times of high activity, for example. I have learnt to decipher and predict when those different times will take place by listening to the alarm calls of certain species such as chaffinches and blackbirds as they tell me in unison what disturbances are going on around the place, that will cause the other birds to hide. I also listen for the ‘seep-seep’ alarm calls of the smaller birds denoting a ‘sharpie’ in the immediate area – an unmistakable alarm for me now, having heard it again and again at my spot and being able to catch a glimpse of the culprit skulking through the treetops in search of the next kill more often than not. A great feeling, when I can verify exactly what warning I myself have heard from the canopy a few seconds before.
This place holds such promise, I know that now. I am intoxicated by it. I am following the fortunes of the baby spotted flycatchers avidly; a few nights of torrential rain recently sees me rushing to find out whether they have be drowned in their open-topped nest; every morning I observe both parents diligently carrying insects into their open beaks; they are safe. Every passing woodpecker is seen as the enemy, every mewl of a soaring buzzard heard as a threat. And most importantly, from sitting still day after day, eyes trained on that small nest deep in the woods, I have also glimpsed bands of marsh tits cavorting in the pines, fledgling black redstarts waiting patiently on low branches for their parents to bring them food, blackcaps and whitethroats passing through, singing exquisite melodies to each other as they go.
This is the place. this is the place.