We went from spotted dick to spotting wildlife
PETER ‘Oaf’ Bromhall, my erstwhile travelling companion and longtime rugby pal may no longer be with us but he is always on my mind and whenever I dip into past musings in this column he keeps popping up to my delight, reminding me of the great fun we had on our travels.
We were always meant to be looking for wildlife, which we did, but inevitably we found pubs, beer and food in equal measure. So imagine our absolute joy in November 2007 when we found a pub with its own nature reserve in the Yorkshire Dales. We decided to call it Heaven but it was in fact aptly named the Fat Lamb at Ravenstonedale. Over 80 species of bird have been identified so far within or around the nature reserve.
Permanent residents include a good variety of the more common waterfowl - plus occasional sightings of gadwall, shoveler, goosander and even the occasional pintail.
Over the water you might glimpse the electric blue flash of the kingfisher. Snipe may be heard and, with patience, seen at the reeds edges as can the heron, whilst other more visually obliging waders include lapwing, redshank, oystercatcher, common sandpiper and curlew. In the trees and shrubs you will see and hear sedge and willow warbler, reed bunting, redpoll, siskin, spotted flycatchers, redstarts and many more common finches, chats and thrushes. On our first visit we decided to eat first, a schoolboy error of course, because after three courses of paté, lamb shank and the quite wonderful spotted dick and custard, washed down with a pint or five of local ale we were fast asleep in our room above the bar before 3pm. Some adventurers for sure, but we were very good at long shots and lucky breaks, which, is why by this time in 2007, we have already seen, whales in Ireland, eagles in Poland and vultures in Spain, and all without walking for miles and waiting for hours.
Next day, almost fully-recovered, and after a couple of poached eggs for me and a full English for Oaf, we decided to test our luck again at Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve at Silverdale in Lancashire.
Bingo! after ten minutes we had spotted their signature bird, the very elusive bittern, a great white egret, a peregrine falcon and an otter. The latter from the aptly named Eric Morecambe hide. The name was not lost on Oaf who proceeded to reel off a couple of the comedian’s favourite gags including, “I always take my wife morning tea in my pyjamas, but is she grateful? . . . No, she says she’d rather have it in a cup”.
I suppose we were a duo of our own in those days, Oaf very obviously being the funny man, and often he didn’t even know it.
That was a beauty of Oaf; like one time in Ireland we were out on the shore, early as it happens and very much to Oaf’s chagrin before breakfast. I had stopped to take a photograph whilst Oaf wandered off in front muttering.
Suddenly he shouts, ‘Woody’, (everything was prefaced with Woody) I said, ‘What?’ ‘There’s a dog down there chewing a fish’, he said pointing towards the shore’. Intrigued I looked up to investigate. ‘It’s an otter you daft so and so’, I replied.
After our early luck at the Moss we decided to head for hot drinks and a cake in the Reserve Café but, Warden at the time, Jen Walker, had other ideas and we followed obediently deep into the reed beds in search of another rarity, the beautiful bearded tit.
Fortune favours the brave again, or should that be the lazy in our case, and unbelievably we had soon spotted the bird, pictured here by Warden David Mower.