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  • Abi Starr

Canal walk 24th October 2019

This was written from notes taken on a walk along our familiar stretch of the Kennet and Avon Canal. Somewhere I've visited throughout my life and where I've had amazing views of a variety of animals.


Trudge, trudge. Splash, splash. I’m so glad I put my waterproof walking boots on.


The Kennet and Avon canal, a place I’ve visited more times than I can count. It’s home to a wide array of life and is always an exciting place to walk. The stretch we usually cover is between Bradford on Avon and Avoncliff; flanked by woodland on one side, with the towpath to the other, its pretty scenery is ever changing.


Canals are great places to get acquainted with your local bird life as, most of the time the birds are reasonably tame and therefore regularly allow you to get close enough for good views without binoculars.


On this particular day, we got on to the towpath slightly earlier than usual, I’m grateful we did as here, we had an amazing view of our first bird of the day – a jay. Not a bird I’m particularly familiar with, but one I am growing to love. It was in the trees on the other side of the canal, foraging among the branches and taking no notice of us whatsoever. What a treat. We watched for a few minutes and then continued walking. The towpath was wet underfoot from several days of rain, although thankfully it was now clear and sunny.


A short while later we stopped on a bench to catch our breath and take in the autumn colours. And who should join us, but Mr Jay! He was now around only 20 feet away from us, digging into the ground enthusiastically in his search for a snack. He remained there, pulling morsels from the soil, for a few minutes. We watched on, enthralled. When he eventually took flight, I exhaled a breath I didn’t know I was holding. Easily the best views I’ve ever had of a jay in my twenty-two years.


We stood and carried on, with a renewed spring in our step after that wonderful sighting. The list of species we’d seen grew and grew as we neared Avoncliff; marsh tits, magpies, mallards and moorhens all made appearances.


Soon it was time for a well earned pit stop at the pub in Avoncliff. A hot cup of tea and a slice of cake down by the water’s edge were marvellous for recharging the batteries. After watching and feeding a hungry group of ducks for a while, we wiped the crumbs from around our mouths and headed back on the return leg.


There were birds absolutely everywhere. I barely had time to take note of them before something else popped up. The resident heron, affectionately known as ‘Harry’ stood still as a statue on the opposite bank as an ultramarine kingfisher whizzed past.


You can never have a bad day when you see a kingfisher.


Time and distance flew by, and soon Bradford on Avon town centre was well within reach. We sat briefly, while we took a final tally of the birds we’d seen. Twenty-five species in all, not bad for an afternoon! Personal highlights included the goldcrest and a family of long tailed tits. This list didn’t even include species we see regularly such as the mute swans and buzzard, who were strangely absent on this occasion. So, in reality the number of birds calling this stretch of the canal home, is higher.


This just goes to show how important man-made habitats, like canals, can be for wildlife as the concrete jungle continues to expand ever further into the countryside. By enjoying these places and supporting the trusts and charities who manage and care for them, or even volunteering our own time, we can help ensure that they remain as valuable as possible to ensure wildlife has a home alongside the growing human population.

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