I don’t think you ever really grow out of the idea that life needs to make a special effort on your birthday. It’s only right and proper that for 24 hours everything should be touched by magic. And it was my birthday yesterday, so we set out – me, wife Cindy, sons Joseph and Eddie – for a little pootle round the Broads on a hired electric boat.
We set off with a great whisper from the engine and left Hickling Broad in the direction of Horsey Mere, across the open water looking at the terns. Then, as the reeds closed in again and the channel narrowed, a flying shape broke the pattern. Always be ready for when something breaks the pattern.
Floppy wings, owl-like flight, trailing legs, sharp front end broadening into a chunky neck, the whole thing glowing in browny-golds in the sunlight… bittern, of course, and a few minutes later, quite impossibly, I had picked out another, this one, equally unmistakable, flying much higher. But there was no time to talk about how lucky we were, because there was a third, flying just above the reeds, seedheads tickling its browny-gold belly… three bitterns inside five minutes.
So that was all very good and I felt appropriately blessed by the occasion. But you know what nature is: sometimes it goes completely over the top. On the way back, I heard excited calls from a male marsh harrier, looked up and saw him flying just above a female and – there was something in his talons.
How brilliant and accomplished these birds are. The male dropped his bundle – dead moorhen? — and the female, about ten feet below, inverted in the air to catch it on the way down: the famous harrier food-pass, no less. She’d bringing it to the nest for the growing chicks. For them a meal; for me, a surfeit.
Well, what do you expect? It was my birthday.