The adjudication is over - my Top 10 moments in the company of natural history has been decided. I identified 15 possible candidates for this list and thought it only fair to share with you the five that didn't quite make it. The first of them is:
March 17 1984 Stodmarsh Penduline Tit
There was a bit of previous to this. Back in 1984, Penduline Tit was still a mystical bird. There had been but four previous records and all had been day jobs seen by a select few. None of the 'big boys' had connected with one. When a male turned up at Stodmarsh, interest was rampant. I travelled to the said reed bed twice with Steve Broyd, who was then still an avid UK twitcher - we dipped on both occasions. But the bird kept on reappearing, mocking the mass dipping that was being suffered by the birding elite. Then, one Friday afternoon, it showed well. Cue Saturday at dawn... the car park at Stodmarsh was rammed, hardly a place left to park. As the light bled into the darkness each car ejected its cargo - a yawning, stretching mass of humanity, from as far afield as Scotland. As if in a trance we all walked slowly along the Lampen Wall - no talking, all of us sedated by the promise of seeing one of the most wanted birds on the British list. I looked along the footpath ahead of me at the several hundred birders taking up position and could not quite take in the scene before me. It was as if a monastery of Trappist Monks had been released to sanctify the raised footpath through the reedy wastes, such was the solemnity of the proceedings. I had not witnessed such a mannered gathering of birders before, all in such a beatific and sedate state. On arrival at the target area, all stood still, as if in a church awaiting the arrival of the Lord. This religious analogy was not misplaced. There was an air of expectation at the same time as a realisation that things might still go 'tits-up' as it had done for many of us over the previous few days. Then, after a wait of no more than fifteen minutes, a ripple of activity from those positioned some ten metres further along the footpath - murmurs - no, not murmurs - shouts of joy came forth. The target had played ball, as a cracking male Penduline Tit was ripping the hell out of a bulrush head. The crowd behaved impeccably and the bird seemed unawares of the appreciative audience admiring it. For half-an-hour it performed, moving from head to head until it was lost in the depths of the reed bed. The gathered masses gave thanks to the birding God's such was the release of relief - after all, some of us had already spent days looking for this magical waif! It wasn't the only species on offer as I could also mention the Hen Harrier, the Great Grey Shrike and the Bewick's Swans that tried to vie for our attention at the same time, but that would be over-egging the pudding, wouldn't it? After a couple of magical hours I refaced my steps to the car park. It wasn't the bird so much as the collective emotion of those gathered that imprinted on me. Never had a twitch felt so together.