This week I paid pilgrimage a special little place called Doxey Marshes. Special for all because it’s considered a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and special for me because I used to live just a mile away in the years 2010-2019. I first visited this little gem of a nature reserve sometime towards the end of my stretch at Staffordshire University, perhaps 2013 or so. Back then it was an antidote for sitting in front of a computer screen and moving pixels around for 8-10h a day, a place of refuge. In hindsight, it might have been Doxey Marshes that slowly and steadily precipitated the uncomfortable insight into my future - my career in games design was not meant to be. University finished, the said career never began, years went on and Doxey remained with its bogs and birds. Maybe it’s no surprise that almost a decade later, as life dealt me a bit of a curveball, a part of me remembered - let’s go for a walk over the marshes. Conveniently I realised that a local bus can take me just to the edge of the reserve and that’s what I did on 4th of November 2021.
On the approach to Doxey you never really leave the city, it’s almost as if civilisation is bearing down on this small spot from all sides - M6 to the west, a railroad track to the south and suburbia to the north. Defiantly, Doxey Marshes still manages to attract an amazing variety of wildlife, particularly birds. Looking at the site on Google maps you sort of realise what birds might be seeing from their perspective - a maze of interconnected shallow lakes, waterlogged ditches, flooded marshes, reedbeds and a River Sow to boot.
Early on I spotted some changes - the old bird hide seems to be permanently locked now. This didn’t exactly surprise me as in the past you could find inside either a birdwatcher or a pile of cans of Stella from the night before, roughly a 50:50 gamble. I guess the balance of benefits and maintenance costs has ultimately swung in the unfortunate direction. Further down the path, I learnt that the next bird hide is now just a flat foundation slab. A quick search online informed me that this structure was vandalised and completely destroyed in 2021 - how much effort do you have to put in to kick down a big octagon of cinder blocks, practically one by one? You actually have to get your trainers wet in the process too, which isn’t the case when you battle a bus stop for example. Another near-permanent fixture which was nowhere to be seen was the enormous greylag/domestic goose hybrid which always hung out in the area and was known to every regular visitor. I might be harbouring some unrealistic ideas about lifespans of geese but I told myself that this charismatic chonker simply retired someplace else. Enough with the past, I tried my best to turn my attention to birds that were present.
I never really described myself as a bird watching enthusiast. However now thinking about it - an outside observer could disagree. There’s this man with a big ol camera sitting on a bench by the lake. It seems like he’s been here for hours now and he’s just looking around like a nutter. He smiles to himself every now and then as he perks up seeing something fly over the water. Labels aside, I think I never considered myself a twitcher because I am fully aware of how inexperienced I am with identifying even rather common birds but that’s improving at pace. I also thought that I don’t really keep lists of what I’ve seen. That is until this week when I rediscovered iNaturalist.org and immediately sank in 3h listing all the species in my photo folder, but that’s a subject of a separate, future article.
If I were to compile a list of birds which I’ve seen that day it would look something like this: kingfisher, great egret, sparrowhawk, cormorant, chaffinch, mute swan, mallard, tufted duck, great-crested grebe, common coot, magpie, carrion crow, wood pigeon, grey heron. It’s quite fun to list it all...I might be catching the cataloguing bug after all.
The last lovely surprise, just as I was leaving, was a conversation I had with a local woman whose house overlooks the marshes. We talked about the reserve, its charms and a few other things as we shared the walk back towards the houses (and the bus stop for me). Somewhere in there I got an Instagram follower and an open invitation for a coffee in the future - that’s a win right there. Years ago my inner introvert didn’t really like the attention which all this gear I carry brought to me but now it’s the exact opposite. I see it as an excuse to talk with people who are out there with me enjoying the outdoors. The experiences so far have been overwhelmingly positive. Theft insurance should cover me for that one exception down the road somewhere ha! It was nice to see you again Doxey, I will be back soon.