The boyfriend and I have just returned from our birdwatching holiday to RSPB Minsmere in Suffolk, which was our reciprocal Christmas present - going away together is much better than trying to buy each other something pointless. I should point out now that we are not twitchers, as we do not chase rarities or have tick lists, we just like wildlife and birds in particular are both beautiful and relatively easy to find.
Minsmere is a wonderful place, some call it the "cathedral of birdwatching". They have over 200 species visiting every year, and so there's always something new to see. As with previous visits, we booked ourselves onto a walk with one of the terribly knowledgeable volunteer guides, as the place is just too big otherwise, and so spent a very cold but immensely enjoyable morning pottering about from hide to hide, only just surviving the strong winds and discussing the finer points of seagull ID (we had common and greater black-backed gulls there in addition to all the ones I saw on Boxing Day).
The roaming tit flock of the title was something we came across on the return leg of our walk, a big, chirpy group of tiny little birds all gathered together for safety as they raided the alders for seeds. There were five species of tits (woohoo, I hear you saying): great, blue, long-tailed, marsh and coal (crested and willow not being found on the reserve) and also Britain's smallest bird, the goldcrest, which are ever so cute. They bounced and cheeped around the tree tops for a few minutes and then were on their way to carry on their circuit of the reserve.
Given it was the wrong time of year to see the bitterns or avocets for which Minsmere is famous, the two birds we really wanted to see were the marsh harrier, a stunning raptor, and the bearded tit, which we'd heard but failed to see last time we were there. It being Christmas and all, we saw both. The harriers were out in force, terrorising the inhabitants of the reed beds good and proper. Marsh harriers are beautifully coloured, the males in particular having tricolour wings, which are held in a characteristic dihedral (a shallow V shape) as they soar. The bearded tits are smart little birds, a tawny russet on the body, with a grey head and a sharply-defined big drooping black moustache for the male, making him look like a silent film star hanging around in the reeds. No chance of photographing either, but there are wonderful photos here and here.
Incongruously, one view across the waving seas of amber reeds is to the magnificent Sizewell B nuclear power station. This in itself is a great holiday destination for two geeky scientists, and so on previous visits we have spent a fun afternoon poking around the boundaries taking photos and dodging security guards - the visitor centre has, sadly, been closed for some time. Got to love that industrial architecture.
We also went to the excellent little antiquarian bookshop in the centre of Aldeburgh, called Reed Books, where I picked up Odham's Encyclopaedia of Knitting by James Norbury (apparently the BBC's TV Knitting Expert - I never knew they used to have one of those) and Margaret Agutter. No date, but I'd say roughly post-war. It seems very comprehensive, lots of diagrams, some nice lace motifs, although the patters are, as expected, rather dated. The shop owner laughed at the thought of buying a knitting book, which I thought was rather rude, but I didn't say anything. I also bought a very strange book called Sex-Lore: A Primer on Courtship, Marriage and Parenthood by Mrs Herbert. This was published in 1918, dedicated to "The Younger Generation" and purports to be an instructional text. However, it discusses animal courtship in great detail, and all the way through to the exact method by which amoebae split, but then becomes rather more coy when describing the mechanics for the multicellular animals and man. I'm not sure I'd have found it terribly useful... Amusingly, the preface mentions "the influence and stimulation of my husband's work" which in context seems a little unfortunate a choice of words. I also bought a copy of Fowler's Modern English Usage, but since it's a 1944 print of the original 1926 edition (which was only revised and updated in 1965) it may well render my writing even more archaic than it already is.
The observant among you may note that I am blogging and decidedly NOT scrapping it out online at the Posh Yarn sale which just started. I think I may have bought too much yarn lately (gasp!) and so I'm staying away. Going out now to make sure I don't succumb!