As its coming up for Halloween, I thought I would add a spooky tale to the blog, which happened to me a few years ago.
It all started in the spring of 2006. I was running a course for a local charity. It wasn’t a long course, just a few hours, so upon finishing I had time for a drink at a local nature reserve before I went back home for the day.
At the nature reserve I saw a friend of mine who works there, she was putting a poster up on the wall which was an advert looking for willing volunteers to watch over another nature reserve which has a good population of avocets.
For the past few years, some unscrupulous person or team of people had been stealing the eggs from the avocets to sell them to private bird collectors, who would incubate the eggs, hand rear the chicks, clip their wings and sell them on as ornamental animals for those who feel the need to ‘own’ wildlife.
I’ve always been a volunteer for various wildlife charities, and at the time I was at university, so I had more time on my hands than I do these days, so I put myself forward and within a couple of weeks I was packing my bag for a night in a bird hide with a team of volunteers.
I’d never been to the nature reserve before, and at first it seemed rather void of life, a little bit like a builder’s yard which had been long abandoned, but with few people sitting about in cars, some caravans and a few more people who were walking dogs. The whole area was a mishmash of manmade parts, some of which had been returned to nature. I later found out it was an ex dump, which would explain a few of the visual oddities. But my first impressions were proved wrong, as after a few minutes walking away from the dingy man-made parts of the site I soon began to spot some lovely wildlife. I saw a brown cuckoo and some owls almost straight away, which I wasn’t really expecting as it was already beginning to get late, the sun was setting and casting a lovely peach-colour across the sky.
I wasn’t entirely sure where I was heading, but I plodded on looking for the hide, of which there were two. Of course I found the wrong one at first! Walking around the edge of the reserve it became clear at just how nice a place it was, especially as it was sitting in very close proximity to heavily built up areas. The views over the marsh were fantastic, and a stark contrast between modern industrial and the natural world.
Having now walked for some time, I finally found the hide, which had a poster stapled to the door, the same one that got me here in the first place. The hide was perched right on the edge of quite a steep bank, with a gorse bush either side and not much else.
I opened the door quietly so not to disturb the birds, or the group of other volunteers. Well, I say group, but in fact there was just one person sitting in there. I got talking to him about something or another, and after a while he starting packing his bird watching scope and proceeded to stand up. I asked him where he was off to; the reply was “home”. It turned out he wasn’t there for the night-long watch, but just a regular birdwatcher that stopped off on his way home from work. I explained why I was there, but I got the feeling he thought I was completely mad for spending the night in the bird hide. Anyway, off he went and I was alone waiting for the group to arrive. The sun was very low by now, it resembled an egg yolk, shimmering as heat haze gradually elevated from the marsh. I spent the next hour or so watching the birds as they got ready to settle for the night. It was quite interesting watching their behaviors and listing to the individual calls from various different species of waders, many of which were partaking in a squabble or two before bed.
It was now dark; the only illumination came from the full moon and the town, and oil refinery across the water. There were flames from the top of some of the pipes in the distance which also provided a little light far off.
By now it was clear that none of the other volunteers could be bothered to spend a night out watching over the avocets, so I got ready to spend a quiet night sitting on an arse-numbingly hard wooden bench for the next 9 hours or so, why the hell I didn’t take a cushion I don’t know! In fact, I didn’t really bring much with me at all, other than a pair of binoculars, a birding scope, camera and a mobile phone with the local police HQ’s number on; they actually had a team on standby from the dog unit to catch whoever it was stealing the eggs, but I was told whoever it was needs to be caught with some eggs in their possession, being out on the mud flats was not enough, so with this in mind I settled down for the night looking out through the hide window.
A few hours went past, and nothing much really happened, and by now dark clouds were grouping up in the sky and a few rumbles of thunder could be heard in the distance, and every once in a while a big flash of lightning would illuminate the watery marsh giving it the appearance of a uneven mirror. I remember thinking to myself that this may encourage an egg thief to make an appearance as the bad weather would go some way to cover up any tracks which would be left.
The storm remained, but it was less than constant, and it was about now that I began to hear a strange sound from the outside portion of the hide, the other side of the wall where I was sitting. It sounded very much like a tarp or waterproof jacket rustling loudly against the wooden frame of the hide. The strange thing was, it sounded as if it was going upwards. My theory at the time was that the egg thief was making his or her way on top of the hide with a ground sheet, so that they could throw in down the front of the hide and go down the muddy bank without getting stuck in the mud, and to be honest this would have been the best point of entry to the mudflats without being seen, that is unless someone was in the hide!
The sound began to get louder and louder as something was being pulled onto the roof of the hide. I was fighting to hold myself back from opening up the door and catching whoever it was, but I knew the only way to prosecute whoever it was, was to wait for them to get onto the marsh and begin stealing eggs, so, I sat back and waited with much patience.
After an hour of this constant sound I was really getting quite annoyed that I didn’t know what it was, but then there were some very distinct footsteps on the roof, and again, this went on for quite some time. By now I thought it was an animal which had got up there, because other than noise, not much was going on. After quite some time the sounds stopped, but then the door handle was violently shaken, it was the type that go up and down if someones on the other side of the door. By now I really had to fight back the urge of getting up and going out to investigate, but the movement of the door handle made me suspect that someone was trying to see if anyone was in the hide, after all there was a poster on door advertising the nights plan! However, the door never opened, but a few moments later the handle once again was pushed down. At this point I couldn’t hold back any longer and as soon as the handle was pushed, I opened the door ready to take the matter into my own hands, after all the noises and movement of the handle were enough to drive anyone mad. But, as I burst out of the door, there was nobody there, no animals, no nothing, and yet it was an open area and the light from the moon gave me a good view.
The only place to hide would have been the gorse, and trust me, thats not a place anyone or anything would hide, especially quickly!
I never found out what the noises were, and didn't see any egg pinchers, but the eggs were safe that year, so the efforts paid off.
I wish you all a Happy Halloween.
Catch you on the trail