The number of birds at Cliffe Pools this week has presented something of a challenge. The enormous flock of Black-tailed Godwit were beyond my abilities, so I took a picture, and then, once home, increased the contrast, gridded the image and started counting... it took a good hour before I arrived at 5,257, so, adding the ones just off the bottom of the image I thought 5,500 was a good estimate. I don't know how one of our regular ornithologists arrived at his estimate but, if he was counting them on site through a telescope, his figure of 5,320 is remarkably close! That's skill.
Consequently I hold great store in his estimate for the other birds down at Cliffe Pools this week, around 5,000 Dunlin, 620 Shoveler, 183 Pintail, and 232 Gadwall. There were large numbers of Teal and Wigeon also.
While filming with the BBC on the marshes we commented on the Gadwall - such an understated duck, and yet so beautiful. They appear just plain grey with pitch black 'sterns' and occasionally a lovely flash of white in the wings. Our wildlife cameraman, Graham Hatherley, commented on their plumage close-up, "Have you ever held a Gadwall?" he asked, as if this was a normal thing to have done. "The vermiculations in the feathers!" I remembered this detail, the fine, meandering lines through the flanks, from a working drawing by the renowned avian artist Charles Tunnicliffe. What I did not know, that Graham proceeded to inform us, is that 'vermiculation' the word, comes from the Latin for 'worm', and the intricate pattern is reminiscent of worm casts or trails. So, be sure to be mesmerised by the wheeling flocks of birds this winter out on the marshes, but never forget also to look for the detail.
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