It wasn’t the long-billed dowitcher that got to me. It was the teal. A female teal at that, in all her discreet speckled browns. I was at Cley again, wondrous spot on a sunny day, walking the East Bank, the marshland before full of wigeons and lapwings. A skylark sang.
And there like a miracle was the long-billed dowitcher, a bird you’re more likely to see on the west coast of America. I remember seeing a bunch of them on the morning before I interviewed poor Flo-Jo — the late Florence Griffith-Joyner — in California 30 years ago, a few months after she’d won all those gold medals.
The bird at Cley was doing its dowitcher thing: driving its beak into the mud in the manner of sewing machine. It’s a rare thing over here and this one brought the twitchers in when it arrived a few weeks ago.
The early afternoon sun was shining over my left shoulder, throwing its light on the birds before me: and it was then that I had one of those stab-in-the-heart moments that come to everyone who looks at wildlife. It came, quite literally in a flash: a bright green flash almost blinding in its intensity: and it came because the sun caught the wing of that female teal, perhaps the commonest bird I saw that day.
Male teals are greeny-blue, chestnut and yellow with a green flash on the wings called a speculum. The females are dull brown – but they too carry the speculum to mark them as teals. And as a mirror catches the sun and dazzles your eyes, so I was as dazzled by the wing of a teal.
I walked on. How the hell did the dowitcher get to North Norfolk? Wings again. Must have flown. Birds have wings, you see. And I ‘ve never quite got over it…