A Lovely Guest Blog My Floating Bird Hide Wildlife By The Canal

It is amazing the wildlife you can enjoy from a floating hide.

Today a new voice for our bird blog as Vanessa explains the delights of bird and wildlife watching from her floating home... Two years ago, my youngest child, flew the nest (pardon the pun). My husband and I were living in a house that was too big for just the two of us and our dog, and my working day was far too long. I used to walk to clear my head; using nature, birds and wildlife as a cure for stress; but I wanted the opportunity to use walking to fill my head instead.

I don’t live in that four-bedroom house anymore; I rented it out. I don’t work every hour of the day either; I handed in my notice and now have a better work/life balance. I walk every day and this time I fill my head with trying to identify birds and their songs; learning the names of seasonal plants which I can forage; and journaling my adventures in a nature journal which I share in a vlog that I have created called: ‘The Mindful Narrowboat’, so named because that is my new address: Narrowboat Alice Grace, Canal, UK. When Alan suggested that I write something for this wonderful blog; I felt very apprehensive: I am as expert at birding as a Great Crested Grebe is at walking, but I can share with you some of what I refer to as my titanic nature moments— not the best phrase for a boater!

My Top Three Titanic Birding Moments Afloat

Cormorant wondering where Kate Winslet is...photo by Vanessa

A narrowboat is like a floating bird hide. The dawn chorus fills the entire 60 feet of our home; quite often we will be woken by birdy feet, tapping on the roof or swans eating the weed from the hull; and at night tawny owls ‘kewick’ and ‘hoohoo’ us to sleep. This Kingfisher below, watched us in Berkhamsted as we travelled through lock 55 by the Rising Sun Pub.

Kingfisher photographed by Vanessa.

However, I have tasked myself with choosing just three highlights from my two years living in my bird hide and so I will cease my warbling (pun two!) and start:

Starling Murmuration on Dorney Common:

We had moored on the Thames at Eton Dorney, very close to Dorney Common which is a great place to walk a dog. I was doing just that, at 11 am in the morning, when I suddenly found myself, sitting in the grass among the cows, gaping at my first starling murmuration. I had no idea that they did this so early in the day! It wasn’t the biggest display in the world, but it was a moment that will stay with me forever. It filled me with awe. It gave me goose bumps. Everyone needs to have the gift of a murmuration at least once in their lifetime, but preferably at least every year!

Individually starlings are stunning to stare at as the sun lights up their iridescent wings, but as a murmuration, they are startling.

I move now to another group, but this one has fewer in it; a feathery family starting life in the hole of a tree.

Kestrels in Henley-on-Thames:

This time, our narrow bird hide was now moored among the plush motor cruisers at Henley and I was once again walking my dog close by to the river. I was crouched down, trying to film a Holly Blue as it flitted from flower to flower, when I suddenly became aware of a choir of bird cries. Following the sound, I looked up to the hollow of a tree and saw a sight that made my heart leap for joy.

I spent the week with this family; I went to bed thinking about them and woke before the dawn chorus each day, in the anticipation of seeing them again. I observed all chicks fledge, with the exception of ‘Little One’ ( below).

When you are a continuous cruiser, you are a visitor and so you have to say goodbye to a place after a short stay. This is the first time that I felt a real pang of sadness at having to unmoor the ropes and tiller away. This had been my first every encounter with kestrels and what is funny is, ever since then, I often spot one of these beautiful birds, either on a telegraph pole or sitting on a branch and I like to think it is ‘Little One’ saying: “Look at me! I did it! I learnt to fly too!”

It is now that I bitterly regret the whole ‘Top Three’ idea as I have so many more special wildlife experiences that I would like to share! For example, when I spent five days moored at Cliveden House in an attempt to find and film something that didn’t have feathers this time, but a shell!

When I eventually spotted the tiny, Italian Door Snail and learnt about the journey it had taken to get to this stately manor house, you would have thought that I had uncovered Tutankhamun’s treasures! I still haven’t fully recovered…

A beautiful Redwing this one photographed at Spurn Point in Yorkshire.

Anyway, to start adding onto the list would be cheating and so I shall refrain from unravelling my Redwing Rendevous on The Grand Union and my spying of the Spawning Carp on the Oxford Canal and jump to the last of my Top Three.

Spawning carp photographed by Vanessa.

Barn Owl in Marsworth on the Grand Union Canal:

Barn Owl photographed by Vanessa.

As I moored my boat by bridge 130 on the Grand Union canal, I wondererd who my wildlife neighbours might be this time? However, it wasn’t my discovery on this occasion. My husband was using the boaters’ service point for recycling, when the white wings of a barn owl hovered in the air over a nearby field. He rushed to get me. Most evenings now, I wait for and sometimes see this owl and each time it silently appears, I experience the same rush of excitement as I did when I first saw it.

For now, Lockdown keeps me, and my floating bird hide in the same place and I am so grateful to this magnificent creature for the wonderful distraction it has provided.

Time will pass, and life I’m sure will once again return to normal. My narrowboat and its crew will move onto a new place, but we will take with us, the memory of that barn owl, hovering in the field, by bridge 130. I relish this opportunity that I have been given, for who knows how long it will last or what is around the corner? But now that I have started to fill my head with wildlife, I will continue to do so, wherever I live.

Of course a wonderful way to see more birds is to join one of our Birdwatching Trips and learn a lot about the birds you are enjoying too. We have tours suitable for all from beginners to experienced birders that are seeking particular species. Just drop us a line here and we can arrange a perfect custom tour for you!


We look forward to enjoying wonderful birds with you as soon as it is safe.

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