Kickstart for unhealthy birdwatchers: becoming a member of an expert-led tour on the Thames | Oxford holidays

Once or twice a yr I’ve been gifted with the sight of a kingfisher flashing previous, a mesmeric blur of blue far too unique to belong in Britain. So to observe one at leisure because it perches by the perimeter of willow that hides its nest is, to say the least, a uncommon deal with. And the one motive I can achieve this is as a result of I’ve been guided to the suitable a part of the riverbank.

The information in query is Steve Gozdz, who runs GG Wildlife Experiences on a piece of the Thames close to Oxford. “That’s the feminine; I can hear the male just a bit additional downstream. He’ll be busy bringing fish again to the nest. Kingfishers want a minimum of a dozen fish a day – every. With a brood of 5 or 6, that’s quite a lot of fish.”

Steve pulls off the weird trick of being knowledgable about birds and very good at speaking to those that, like me, won’t be. For I ought to declare my very own credentials up entrance, that are these of, within the title of Simon Barnes’ glorious ebook, “a nasty birdwatcher” – that’s, I like them however don’t know a lot about them. And I’m solely concerned about ones which have a little bit of distinctive angle and bling – and kingfishers come high of the chart.

A male kingfisher exhausted after trying to see off a rat that had attacked its nest.

“I used to be watching this explicit pair after they first met up and he propositioned her, so to talk, by providing a fish. She turned him down on the grounds that the fish wasn’t giant sufficient, so he needed to go off and get one other one, which this time measured up,” Steve says.

Steve has recognized nesting websites for a dozen pairs of kingfishers spaced roughly a kilometre aside alongside the Thames, which in kingfisher phrases is congested. The rationale there are such a lot of is that fish are plentiful right here – however so are different predators.

He as soon as watched a rat raid one of many kingfisher nests – helplessly, as he was the opposite aspect of the river, so couldn’t intervene. “I by no means heard such a heart-rending cry because the male gave instantly afterwards. He had tried his hardest to chase away the rat however when that failed, he flew over the river and sat on a department above my head as if he was fully exhausted.”

A yellowhammer, a type of bunting sometimes spotted among hedgerows amid farmland.
A yellowhammer, a sort of bunting generally noticed amongst hedgerows amid farmland.

Till the beginning of the pandemic Steve, in his late forties, had been working as a heating contracts supervisor within the constructing commerce. However when the brand new job he was as a consequence of begin in March 2020 fell by the wayside due to the pandemic, he turned to what had at all times been his nice interest, birdwatching, and began these guided excursions.

“I’ve discovered lots of people want kickstarting in relation to birds. They want to get however are intimidated by the pro-talk that goes with it, or don’t know the place to start. I began off simply doing this for pals on an off-the-cuff foundation, nevertheless it mushroomed and now it’s full-time.”

Once we flip inland from the river, he factors out a yellowhammer perched on a roof; at a distance I had assumed it was simply an architectural bump. By binoculars, I can benefit from the glossy “head of strong gold” that John Clare so admired. There’s a linnet sitting on a telegraph wire past, and skylarks bobbing down into the close by fields. “They’ll at all times cover their nest by diving down into the sector just a little distance away after which burowing throughout to it within the undergrowth in order that predators can’t comply with them.”

Steve Gozdz now works full-time as a birdwatching guide.
Steve Gozdz now works full-time as a birdwatching information.

We stand below a big conifer which appears to be like unpromising with its deep, darkish shade. Silhouetted excessive up towards the sky is the tiny form of a goldcrest, Europe’s smallest chicken, weighing not way more than a 20p piece. As if to compensate, it has one of many showiest haircuts on the avian block, a mohican streak of gold, from which the title comes. A naturally curious chicken – partly as a result of it’s too insubstantial for a lot of predators to trouble consuming – it comes down to research us.

Steve has heard the chicken earlier than he’s seen it. I’m impressed by his means to pick particular person species from afar, though for telephone apps comparable to Birdnet are remarkably good at telling amateurs what they’re listening to.

He factors out a dunnock. Underneath regular circumstances I’d discover it exhausting to get excited by dunnocks – basically small brown hedge sparrow. Steve senses my lack of enthusiasm. “Polyamorous, dunnocks are. Rise up to all kinds. Most longer-lived birds like swans or swifts or that yellowhammer we noticed are monogamous, however dunnocks aren’t round for lengthy so that they’ll actually have a go.”

A juvenile little owl spotted in Bushy Park, south-west London.
A juvenile little owl noticed in Bushy Park, south-west London.

We’re close to Goring and Streatley on the higher Thames, simply downriver from Oxford and simply accessible by practice. Again within the day, this was an Edwardian boating station with a louche fame for weekend assignations from London – a Brighton on Thames. Resorts just like the Swan – which maybe ought to have been known as the Dunnock – did a roaring enterprise in suites for the weekend, with champagne on ice and few questions requested.

We go the riverfront of the big home that Oscar Wilde as soon as rented for a complete summer season to impress Bosie (Lord Alfred Douglas) – nearly bankrupting himself within the course of, in keeping with his biographer Richard Ellmann – whereas additional alongside is the mansion the place George Michael lived and died.

A jay in Bushy Park.
A jay in Bushy Park.

However Steve doesn’t limit himself to Goring. He additionally leads wildlife excursions in south-west London’s Bushy Park – “you’d be amazed what you’ll be able to see on the outskirts of London if you already know the place to look” – and ranges across the residence counties. “I used to reside in Surbiton – and if you happen to can see birds in Surbiton, you’ll be able to see birds anyplace.”

Bushy Park is a very good instance of how individuals can go hanging examples of nature and be oblivious. Steve takes me and some pals to see a household of little owls. They’re skipping round on some fallen logs close to a path which sees a daily procession of canine walkers and joggers. At one level two of the fluffiest ones are joined by a squirrel, sniffing at them in a situation that worthy of a Disney movie. “Aaah,” all of us go.

Not far-off is one other small household – this time of jays. I’m used to the brash adults proclaiming their presence, however the kids are charming, their colouring not but totally developed so extra matte; they’re shy and nervous, taking part in cover and search round one of many wood palisades that protects a small tree.

Steve rounds up the three most important city myths that flow into in regards to the many parakeets we see, every of which is individually satisfying and cumulatively much more so: that they escaped from the set of the African Queen; that Jimi Hendrix launched them from his non-public assortment; that when Windsor safari park closed in 1992, workers refused to euthanise the birds and set them free as an alternative.

Steve Gozdz in Bushey Park
Steve Gozdz scans the timber and meadows of Bushy Park.

That is birdwatching accurately – not attempting to tick off species, however exploring the broader avian world the place it intersects with the human one, and getting used to the concept being attentive to the pure world is each simpler and extra satisfying than many walkers may think.

Steve tells me of a magical second when he had taken a gaggle to see a kingfisher on the Thames and so they got here throughout the grownup male educating his kids to fish. They had been sitting on a better department watching him as he demonstrated, with fast dives, tips on how to spear and retrieve any passing little bit of piscine meals. Steve described the expression on the faces of the younger birds as blended timidity and admiration as Dad returned with, if not the bacon, a minimum of the sticklebacks.

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