On the last day of Birdfair, I was keen to escape the bustle and crowds of the marquees and explore the surrounding reserve. On my way out to one of Rutland Water’s many hides, I was drawn to a small crowd gathered around the BTO bird ringing tent, where a demonstration was in full swing. As I got closer, I saw two chiffchaffs poking their tiny heads out of the ringers’ gentle hands. One was a mature adult with smart plumage; the other was a scruffy juvenile, two thirds of the size of its companion. The ringers held out the birds’ wings, displaying a delicate and powerful fan of primary feathers. Both chiffchaffs sat still and quiet in the hand – if it hadn’t been for their blinking beady eyes they could have easily been mistaken for taxidermy specimens.
After all the measurements had been taken, the ringers asked for two volunteers to release the birds. To my surprise only two hands went up, one of which was mine, so I followed the ringer to an open spot away from the marquee. He told me to hold my hand in a loose claw then he gently placed the juvenile chiffchaff into my palm, its tiny head nestled between my index and middle finger. I closed my hand slowly and the bird wriggled. I couldn’t believe I was holding something alive and yet so small. Its body was warm and unbelievably soft. Carefully, I put the hand holding the chiffchaff down onto my other open palm and slowly released. For a moment the bird rested there and then launched itself into the air, disappearing almost immediately over the trees.
I felt what could only be described as a surge of pure joy as I released the chiffchaff back into the wild. It was a real Snow White moment and in that fraction of time I felt exceptionally close to nature. Getting to hold such a tiny and wild thing in my hand was such a privilege. As I made my way to the hide I noticed there was a minuscule downy feather stuck to the tip of my finger and I quickly stashed it in my phone case. Wherever that chiffchaff wandered now, I had a small piece of it with me.