Yesterday I took a walk down to the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve of Boultham Mere. It lies just west of Lincoln's Tritton Road Trading Estate. It was a gift to the Trust from the British Rail Property Board. Not the most likely place for a wildlife haven, I know. I'm sure most Lincoln folk don't even know of its existence. You reach it down a muddy dirt track alongside a drain bordered with old warehouses and scummy farms and fields littered with wireless masts. Over a sluice you enter an inglorious hide overlooking the old railway ballast pit that is now the mere. Here were stationed the 2 fanatically keen bird watchers I'd met 2 years ago on my only other visit! Do they live here, or what? Anyway, as is my custom, I asked them lots of birdy questions about what was to be seen there, and they replied in a most generous and friendly way.
The sun was behind us, illuminating the bright choppy water. The reedbeds and willow saplings quivered in the breeze. Above the railway line on the other side of the pond reared the rock pile of Lincoln Cathedral. Soon the celebrated peregrine falcons would be returning from Africa to nest there. Shoveler duck were feeding in the centre of the mere, filtering the water with their elongated beaks. They looked absolutely gorgeous in their new breeding plumage. There were common gulls, and 2 much larger herring gulls, and lots of black-headed gulls which jinked and dived acrobatically in the wind, then skittered down onto the water, bobbed their heads under, and rose again into the cross-currents of air.
A merlin shot past from right to left - one of our smallest birds of prey, a rarity in these parts, probably on its way to its breeding grounds in the high moorlands. Then, soon after, the bird I'd come here to see, a bird I'd never seen before but knew was here - another great rarity in the UK - flapped across the water from the reedbed on the left to the reedbed on the right. A bittern. I had a great view through my binoculars for perhaps ten seconds. Its yellow legs streamed aerodynamically behind. It was a transient, priveleged moment. How many of these secret, unvisited wildlife places lie on our own ordinary doorsteps, I wonder?