RE­FLEC­TIONS

Bird Watching (UK) - - UK Bird Sightings -

THE RIVER STORT winds lan­guidly out of Bishop’s Stort­ford, seem­ingly obliv­i­ous to planes fly­ing over out of Stansted Air­port. Af­ter a mile of outer-town waste­land the towpath passes a na­ture re­serve, en­chant­ingly called Rushy Meade. Here, you are plunged into the emer­ald light of mead­ows, reedbeds and spread­ea­gled trees; Alder, oak and wil­low mostly, with Hazel and Black Po­plar grow­ing among acres of net­tles and Bram­ble. The trees look hap­pier and health­ier than their coun­ter­parts lin­ing the nearby roads, or punc­tu­at­ing the sur­round­ing arable fields where they strug­gle with half a cen­tury of in­dus­trial farm­ing and the residues of her­bi­cides and pes­ti­cides. Th­ese trees look sick and about to give up, but those at Rushy Meade, pro­tected by their lo­ca­tion and a few good-willed nat­u­ral­ists, have grown full and lush into leafy canopies full of bird­song. You en­ter a world of green where a grassy path tun­nels through scram­bling un­der­growth, past sev­eral ponds, open­ing into glades where stream banks are alive with dragon­flies and wild flow­ers, where mauve Com­frey flour­ishes, Hog­weed grows tall, Wild Car­rot, Rag­wort and Teazel grow freely, and net­tles min­gle with Bram­ble. A wooden plank crosses one of the brooks, choked with rushes, where a huge pol­larded wil­low sprouts with­ies from a gnarled and knot­ted base. A dead oak stands alone in a meadow, net­tles grow­ing from the hol­low trunk charred long ago by a light­ning strike. I was stand­ing by the river bank when a King­fisher flew up into a wil­low and perched on a cas­cade of weep­ing branches. He had the sun on his back, a shim­mer­ing blue, daz­zling, ce­les­tial, iri­des­cent. In pro­file, I saw clearly the orange-rust front, the snow-white neck patch, the out­size dag­ger that is his

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