I don't know, dear reader, if you've ever taken the, er... time to read "Thief of Time" by (Sir) Terry Pratchett? In the Discworld canon, it's my favourite book, though, boy, does it have some stiff competition.
One of its leading characters is Lu Tze, a "little, bald, yellow-toothed man with a wispy beard and a faintly amiable grin". Although he is a senior History Monk, he works as a lowly servant in the Monastery of Oi Dong, from whence comes his other name, Sweeper.
So when I recently found myself with a broom in my hand and a carpet of leaves to sweep, I could barely stifle the little chuckle that surfaced courtesy of Lu Tze. For everything is a test.
It was a glorious Autumn morning at Hanson Environmental Study Centre. Bright sunshine was streaming in on a low trajectory, intent on seeking out the frost which coated the leaves lounging in a thick layer on the boardwalk that crosses several ponds. My task was simple, clear the fallen detritus before the day's visitors ran the risk of going arse over apex on the slippery surface.
Beginning by the Near Hide, I hadn't cleared many yards of path, when I heard an unknown bird call. At a time of year when all the Summer visitors have migrated south and not all the Winter visitors have yet put in an appearance, I would've liked to think that I knew to what I was listening, but no, I did not. It was a bit like a Blackcap alarm call, but slightly more metallic, so I felt sure that it was still an alarm call of some sort. A movement caught my eye in a bush to the right of the boardwalk and a small bird could vaguely be seen hopping from branch to branch. A Robin normally frequents this area, but though the size was correct for that, the shape wasn't.
I leant on my broom, in what I forlornly hoped was a studious and thoughtful way, but no insight was forthcoming. After a while, the bird neared the edge of the bush, still apparently upset at my presence, and revealed a few precious details. Its outline was warbler-ish, a bit like a Blackcap, but the plumage on its upper parts was a rich brown rather than grey/brown. And it had a rounded tail. Ah, Cetti's Warbler! That explained the skulking in the bush, for these wee birds are notoriously difficult to spot. Pity I was without binoculars or camera!
After I had unsuccessfully tried to record the alarm call with my phone, the Cetti's flew off and I returned to my task, happier and more educated. Several yards of leaves later, the bird began calling again, but this time with the more usually heard Cetti's song, an explosive mixture of notes that probably make it the loudest bird in Britain (at least for its size).
I stared at the far side of the pond that was the source of the sound, but not a movement could be seen from the reeds and rushes, just the occasional blast of noise from a very secretive warbler.
Yep, it's in there somewhere...