Sunday, 3 February 2013


‘What’s that!’ A said, pointing, interrupting our preparations for breakfast.

An unfamiliar creature lurked in a corner formed by the beech hedge and an unruly honeysuckle. It looked leaf-shaped; its striking markings were perfect camouflage for skulking on the forest floor amongst the leaf litter. It bobbed up and down like a small child needing the loo. It looked lost. It turned its head revealing mouthparts that could conceivably be used to pierce the flesh and drink blood. In the half-light of the winter morning, it looked like a vast assassin bug.... an insect the size of a magpie.

We unearthed binoculars and then we could admire the superb patterns in shades of mahogany, chestnut, coffee-brown, and the bold stripes on its head. Its beady black eyes looked less than friendly. The book said it was related to waders, but that its ancestors had abandoned the seashore. Its beak certainly suggested that heritage, but we wondered at how this bird managed to pinion its insect and earthworm prey in the broad-leaved woodlands it is supposed to inhabit. We also wondered how and why this disorientated woodcock had arrived in our tiny suburban garden, when the nearest forest was a couple of miles away. I guess the terrific winds that have been hitting East Anglia were responsible. Maybe it wasn’t so disorientated though, for when our exotic visitor took off, it headed towards the hill fort at Wandlebury, and sanctuary.

Not our garden, but Anglesey Abbey

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