On fish, feathers and good friends…

SES, 26 March 2021

Our latest birdwalk makes fresh discoveries


With a greeting to autumn, a farewell for Donna, and a welcome to trout, the tenth Southern Eye Birdwalk proved a bittersweet journey for Dr Allan Simpson and his fellow travellers.

The March birdwalk was indeed a march – the better to cover more territory when there seemed few birds around. Accompanying me were Mahesh, Jo, Mark from Johnson and Johnson, and Donna, on her last birdwalk before she leaves Southern Eye.

Jo remarked on our pace and I replied with the irony that usually it’s the other way around. Complaints are often aimed at birders who always spoil a good walk by stopping for long periods to see the many birds.

That’s if you are somewhere like Ecuador’s teeming Cloud Forest, where I first got the idea for a regular Southern Eye expedition. Today however it would seem like the birds were avoiding us or had flown elsewhere on wings of freedom – something we couldn’t do so much in our Covid semi-lockdown.

First we glanced at the ‘Non-art’ Bridge, ever so gradually having its scaffolding removed to reveal itself, strip-teasing a surprisingly lovely curve! We then walked past the Ferrier Fountain. At least that was on show.

“I was reminded of what a lecturer taught me early on at Medical School… it is much more likely that you will miss clinical signs by simply failing to look for them than by inadequacy of technique.”

After this we stopped on the Hamish Hay Bridge and peered through the exposed beams to the river running below. These beams of steel, built in 1864, have withstood the tests of time and the 2011 earthquake undamaged.

And there was a school of trout! Eight or nine small-to-medium-sized fish were in the water with the weed. Another first for the birdwalk: fish.

I was reminded of what a lecturer taught me early on at Medical School, regarding physical examination: it is much more likely that you will miss clinical signs by simply failing to look for them than by inadequacy of technique.

Further along the west bank we found chestnuts on the path. Mark remarked that he had grown up in England where they used to play conkers with these. Players would thread one on to a string and do battle with a foe, aiming to smash the other’s conker. But it got banned for being too dangerous!

No doubt the game caused a few eye injuries too, these conkers being about the same size as a squash ball and very hard when I tried to smash one on the pavement.

A solitary Red-billed Gull was poking around on the lawn when we got to ‘Staying’. The sculpture was standing in the river, marking time since the earthquake much like the fish were: in water under the bridge.

It was half time for us so we turned back, passing Apocalypse Park. Here we finally saw a pair of Paradise Shelducks, grazing in the stagnant water of the basement. A few Red-billed and Black-billed Gulls remained at the ‘park’ too. Two were sitting on what looked like nests and one was ‘staying’ with what looked like a dead fluffy chick. It was all a bit late by then – even we sensed a whiff of autumn in the leaves. So too is the green light for development of this precinct a bit late!

From there we spotted an orange road cone in the river, along with a female Mallard and a Scaup, drift-diving. Red-billed Gulls were flocked on the riverbank as we crossed Manchester St Bridge. Jo wondered whether Manchester St was still the ‘Red-light’ district. None of the team knew. And so we returned to clinics.