We’ve enjoyed a pretty epic week’s birding over on the east of the country this Easter taking in Norfolk, Suffolk and even a couple of days down in, dare I say it, Kent! The latter will never feature high on my list of favourite counties (it’s just too darn full) but with my sister having made the strange decision to actually live there, needs must. If there’s one consolation it’s to be found in those rare areas of tranquillity that come from a little local knowledge. Dering Wood proved to be one such place, an area of ancient, semi-natural woodland owned and managed, rather appropriately, by the Woodland Trust. Just a few steps takes you out of the hustle and bustle of modern life and into the comforting embrace of freshly emerged vegetation and swathes of Bluebells showing at their absolute peak. Dappled sunlight rendered the still raw memories of a bitter north Norfolk coastline mute as we soaked up the atmosphere. Still a little too chilly for butterflies however though I’m told that double figure species counts are possible here on a good day.
As nice as the Bluebells were I couldn’t help but be distracted by the numerous bird calls filtering through to us from all sides. Chief protagonists turned out to be a couple of male Blackcaps in full voice along with the by now ubiquitous Chiffchaff, but it was also nice to pick out a pair of mating Blue Tits and even a tiny Goldcrest. Chaffinches were doing their best to confuse us as usual with a host of varied snippets but it was as we were nearing the end of our wander that a brief churring gave us cause to pause. It certainly wasn’t a call I could immediately place and thoughts turned to comments made by my sister as we’d set off that the woods were allegedly good for Nightingales. Now this is a species I have never even considered the possibility of seeing, a species akin to Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in its mythological status as far as I’m concerned. It couldn’t be though, could it? A flash of rich brown crossed the track ahead of us then, followed moments later by what I can only describe as one of the richest bird songs I’ve ever heard. Loud, liquid and rich with just a hint of laser fire (there may be a reason why I’m not a writer of bird guides) it positively erupted from deep within vegetation to our left followed seconds later, quite unbelievably, by the bird itself!
Yes, yes, yes! What a bird and simply sublime views that at times were down to just a few meters. Errant branches and thick leaf cover did their best to obscure the Nightingale at times but for me that only added to the experience as we hunted for a clear view through to this master songster at work.
Whilst we watched it became apparent that there were in fact two Nightingales present, perhaps a male and female pair given their proximity to one another. In the end though this was the only individual that seemed to show absolutely no concern at our presence even taking the time to catch what looked to be a caterpillar from a nearby tree. Out in the open and with a splash of sunlight that rich brown plumage which some have described as a little boring positively shone, even showing a surprising amount of red in those long tail feathers. I can see why my bird guide lists Redstart as a possible confusion species.
After ten minutes or so our encounter drew to an end as the Nightingales retreated further into the wood and out of sight leaving big smiles in their wake. What a simply awesome bird and remarkably my third lifer of the week. The other two? You’ll just have to come back in a couple of days to find out.