Blogger: Kim Matthews, Membership Development Officer 

Am I the only one that deletes, unopened, their LoveFilm "Your next rental is on its way..." email?  Quite probably, but the reason behind this small symptom of madness is that I like the surprise when I open the envelope.

When it comes to wildlife encounters I feel the same way. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy visiting my nearby reserves where I am almost guaranteed to see something, be it animal, vegetable or mineral!   But there is nothing to compare with the hit you get from a surprise encounter somewhere less expected.

I had one such encounter a few weeks ago whilst trudging around a muddy Holt Country Park with my lurcher, Kes.  Now I know what you are going to say, a country park is packed with wildlife so where is the big surprise? You are of course right.  But mostly it stays out of sight, heard but not seen, teasing the senses with sound but never quite revealing itself.  There have been some great moments over the last 7 years during which Kes and I have been exploring its pathways.  An adder silently slipping away into the vegetation, a tawny owl perched high in a tree regarding us impassively, or the sudden rush as a deer streaks across the trail, all startled eyes and flicked-up tail.  But this encounter was something different, instead of a drizzle of nature this was a veritable flood! 

We were somewhere along the back fence of the park.  Kes was lost in her own little world of scent and I was revelling in the soft sunlight filtering through the canopy and the kind of peace and solitude that makes such a great personal battery charger. A sudden screech and the sound of wing beats alerted me to a jay over head.  I tried to follow its flight through the gaps in the canopy but it had soon disappeared.  As my eye line returned earthwards I spotted a small bird flitting about in a holly bush just feet away. Never mind small, it was positively teeny!

It turned towards me and there was a bright, startling flash of orange gold on top of its head.  A goldcrest!  I hadn't seen one for years.  As he skittered from bush to bush on the other side of the fence I tagged along a few feet behind.  When he turned and headed back the way he had come so did I, much to the confusion of the dog.  High up in the canopy I heard the angry chunter of a squirrel, and turned away from my little feathered companion to look. Nothing could be seen of the disgruntled creature so I turned back only to find myself practically nose-to-bill with a treecreeper on the oak tree right in front of me. 

"I don't believe it!" Victor Meldrew's trademark exclamation popped into my head.  I can't even remember the last time I saw a treecreeper.  Whilst it was spiralling around the base of the tree I tried to locate my goldcrest again and found not one but three or four in the bushes around me.  Meanwhile the treecreeper was still deeply engrossed in bark exploration.  Looking up to try and spot the squirrel again I realised the canopy was filled with long-tailed tits. Could this get any better?  The squirrel chose this moment to scamper into view, its tail twitching frantically, rapidly followed (or chased!) by another.

By the time their antics had taken them out of sight the rest of my cast of characters had also vanished.  The moment had seemed suspended in time; it felt like I had been holding my breath.  A small squeak brought my attention back to the dog waiting somewhat impatiently a little further down the path.  The moment had passed.  It all seems so unreal in hindsight, but every time I think about it my spirits lift and what more could you ask for from a wildlife encounter than that.

Photo of Goldcrest. Credit:  John Bridges (