Great Crested Grebes

One of the discoveries this past year has been the writing of Mark Cocker. In the 1970s I never missed Harry Griffin’s Country Diary in The Guardian, and walking in the Lake District in the early autumn of 2005, Caroline bought me A Lifetime of Mountains, Martin Wainwright’s selection of Harry Griffin’s best columns. It was reading those that persuaded me to begin these Dartmoor Letters. But it was not until I bought Caroline A Tiger in the Sand, in anticipation of our birding week in North Norfolk in late January, that I realised that Mark Cocker has been a regular Country Diary columnist for nearly twenty years. It shows how long it has been since I read The Guardian (and is almost enough to make me change the daily paper).

In his Introduction, Cocker speaks of the “emotional charge of the encounter, the deep fulfilment that flows from our engagement with our fellow creatures”. As we walked  up at the Hennock reservoirs this morning, I thought of the piece I had just read, and in particular

“Nothing we do to capture our encounters can quite match up to the living reality. It will always evade and exceed our imaginations, whether it is a tiger in the jungle or a blackbird in the garden. This is where I believe writing on nature, in its various forms, is wholly distinct from a particular kind of wildlife television. Moving images of wildlife often far exceed, in terms of dramatic content and physical closeness, our own modest experiences of nature. They leave nothing unspoken, nor hint at any wider experience and, in a way, seek to replace our experience of the genuine article and become a substitute satisfaction.”

Last Sunday we had also been at Hennock but then in late afternoon. As well as seeing six plus Bullfinches, we also saw Crossbills in the treetops in the plantation alongside Tottiford Reservoir. This was a first for us at the Reservoirs. Hoping to see the Crossbills again, we drove this morning to Trenchford. As it turned out, no Bullfinches and no Crossbills. But instead we watched a pair of Great Crested Grebes, close to the bridge over the Trenchford stream, beginning their courtship. At one moment necks intertwined, at another synchronised diving; water weed offered by one to the other and then returned. It was quite magical.

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