It had now been three months since Sid had entered our lives. During that short space of time, he had tugged on our every heartstring, and lead us along a path of emotional ups and downs. Now, on this cold Winter Saturday night, in the warmth of our flat, it was time to ask and answer some pretty serious questions about his future and make the most heart-wrenching decision of all. When should we release him?
Sid, as per usual, was stood on the roof of his little nest box perch, digesting his mackerel supper, oblivious of the fact that all eyes were upon him, scrutinizing his every move.
Ian, Steve, Jackie and myself spent the evening discussing the pros and cons of Sid’s pending release. Comments were made in an attempt to lighten the mood and remove the worry from our minds. Our thoughts and emotions were pushed from pillar to post, pulled apart in a tug o war between sentimentality, reality, and necessity. After much discussion, a decision was reached. Tomorrow it is then, we all finally agreed.
Sunday, mid-morning, on what must have been the coldest day of the year; with the biting east wind blowing unobstructed across the open water of Chasewater. [a sizeable manmade reservoir, poplar with people and wildlife alike] We stepped out of the car. It was Brass Monkeys weather and then some. I leaned into the back seat of the vehicle, the interior was warm and cosy. I would have loved to have climbed back in, but we had a job to do. We had a Bird to release! Soon, that job would be done and dusted, and we could all get back into the warm. From outside came the sound of stamping feet and words prompting me to get a move on. I reached forward and grabbed the large cardboard box that contained Sid. I was conscientious not to cause him any stress or make him lose his balance. We walked in silence to the water’s edge. The sound of a distant speedboat churning the dark liquid of Chasewater into a milk-white froth as it sped around in a tight figure of eight reached our ears. A Cormorant, disturbed from its preening by the Speedboat, left its perch and flew, its wings lightly touching the surface of the water and its breast dampened by the spray that the wind lifted from off the choppy veneer, to a more secluded position. Great Crested Grebes, in their drab winter plumage, bobbed briefly into view, as the belly of the depression in which they swam quickly rose to become a crest, then sank again. A gaggle of Canada Geese were bobbing their heads boasting about the expertise of their landing in such windy conditions.
I placed the box onto the sand, and slowly, cautiously, one by one, I pulled open the interlocking flaps that had been Sid’s roof. Sounds of feather rubbing the box’s interior, and newspaper being ruffled and trampled under webbed feet indicated Sid’s excitement at being released.
Holding the 4th and final flap, the last barrier between Sid and freedom, I paused. This was it, the time had arrived for us to say farewell to our loveable new friend, Sid. After making eye contact and presenting a faint smile to Ian, Steve and Jackie, I rubbed my watering eyes with the back of my hand, then stood up straight; opening the remaining flap of cardboard as I did so.
The four of us stood a comfortable distance behind the box, looking down into its square interior. Sid blinked as he turned his head from side to side, it was as if he were looking at our faces one last time. We held our breaths in anticipation of the impending flurry of activity to come. But no flurry of activity came, Sid just turned his head backwards 180 degrees and started to preen.
The cold wind was now making itself felt, so this job had to be completed pretty sharpish. I stepped forward and very slowly began to tip the box so that the floor became the wall, and a wall became the new floor. The opening now faced the open water and freedom. Well, that was it, Sid came out of that box, not like a rocket slid on rails as we expected, but more akin to a snail on crutches. He walked out of his means of confinement with all the poise of a Victorian Gentleman exiting a beach hut, then gingerly, slowly, he walked toward the water. We half expected him to stop and test the temperature of his new oversized bath with the tip of his toes, but no, our loveable friend continued, undaunted, until afloat. And what did he do? Bathed, that’s what; dipping and plunging his head underwater, splashing, preening, followed by more plunging of the head, and so it went on.
We couldn’t walk away and leave him to it, we had to watch out for him, make sure that he came to no harm as he settled into his new environment.
Our teeth chattered with the cold, the wind grew stronger and stiffer, but we were determined to see this through.
Sid, now politely referred to as that bird, bathed for two hours solid. Two hours!
We were freezing, but we stayed and watched. During these two windy hours of bathing, Sid had drifted out of our reach, into open water. Now, just as the Grebes were only visible on and off, so was Sid.
Our attention had been so focused on watching Sid that had it not been for the increased droning roar of the engine we wouldn’t have noticed the approaching Speedboat. It was making a Bee-line straight for us. The Helmsman was going to give his two windswept passengers a ride to remember, and us, his audience, a show we’d never forget. He pulled back the throttle, sprays of white water arced out from its bow, its fibreglass belly slapped the water with a thunderous thud. We waved our arms to attract the Helmsman’s attention, we pointed with stabbing fingers at Sid. We were shouting frantically for him to open his eyes and change course.
Smack bang in the middle of all this commotion was little Sid, still bathing.
The shouting and arm-waving stopped, open-mouthed we watched in horror.
Sid didn’t flinch a muscle, he didn’t have time to. The Speed boat veered sharp left meters in front of him. The stern lowered in the water, and the propellers churned the water into a hectic turmoil as the Helmsman levered back the throttle for more power. It departed, the noise lessened, and calmness returned. Only the smell of its exhaust and settling wake remained, and in that settling wake was Sid; no longer bathing.
The incident had startled him into action, his wings slapped the diminishing wake, and his feet paddled and pushed the air as he attempted to get airborne. We willed him on, encouraging him to dig deeper, deeper than he’d dug before, and he dug. We feared that a combination of muscle fatigue and water-logged feathers would bring him down, but he pushed and pushed until his feet no longer left concentric ripples on the surface and his wingtips only beat the air.
He’d made it! He was airborne!
I watched Sid glide the length of Chasewater and land safely on the North Shore amongst a small Colony of Gulls. I watched him until the weight of my binoculars made my arms ache, and I could no longer identify Sid from the Gulls around him.
Sid had returned to his world, we turned and went back to ours.
Thank you to the Photographers for taking the pics – and thank you for reading.