The Billy Track
Along the Billy track, turn right through the kissing gate,
Past former oyster beds, now a haven for seabirds,
And the Brent geese are building ranks,
Serried together along the shore in their
Grey uniform with white cuffs showing
Like office workers crammed together crossing Waterloo Bridge.
That was March, now it is May and the turn
Of the black-headed gull and common tern,
And little tern if we’re lucky,
To jostle for space
On the oyster bed bank
And what a noise they make!
A little baby sing-song sound,
I look around,
And there it is,
A beautiful, delicately-coloured long-tailed tit
Which wings its way as others
Rise up from the hedgerow,
And off they go!
Soft sand under my feet,
Pop! goes the bladderwrack,
And, if you look carefully,
Some from Cretaceous times
With plant and animal fossils,
Imprints of their shape and design
There in the stones if you stop to look.
Walking along in a dream,
A glint of emerald catches my eye,
I can’t believe it! A kingfisher!
Surely not! Must be a green bag caught
In the thorny, wind-bent, stubby tree.
But, then it flew!
And it was true!
Not a plastic bag, but a dazzling, magnificent kingfisher!
So much to be seen down the Billy track:
A slowworm swallowing a long worm one day
Catches us by surprise, and we it!
So much so that it regurgitates the swallowed part of its catch
And the worm lives to see another day (maybe!).
Another time, a kestrel hovering,
Unmoved by the wind from its vantage point,
Looking for all the world like a Harrier Jumpjet.
Then, quick as a flash!
It descends and takes off clutching a mouse.
A robin stands sentinel proclaiming its territory,
The opera singer of the birdworld,
Such beguiling notes pouring forth
From such a tiny throat.
White egrets stand motionless,
Then paddle their feet in the mud,
Releasing their prey
To be caught in long bills,
Catch of the day!
And not forgetting the flora along the track:
Yellow celandines to brighten up cold, cloudy, spring days,
Followed by primroses, and then bluebells in May,
A bee orchid or several if you’re lucky,
And samphire on the oyster bed banks,
Delicious steamed, then eaten hot or cold –
Poor man’s asparagus, give it a try, be bold!
I’ve even seen salsify growing with its
Long spear leaves and starry purple flowers.
And blackberries to pick for pudding or jam.
Elderflowers or elderberries, it’s your choice.
Then old man’s beard appears
And we’re in for misty murky November days.
Lastly, my favourite unusual ones:
Red-breasted merganser ducks
With green iridescent crest and head
And long serrated bill,
Stealing the scene on the oyster pond.
And a wasp spider, alarmingly striped
As if wrapped around with gold thread,
Poised at the top of the ladder it has
Intricately spun in its web.