I’m in the middle of one of the most surreal of experiences of this year. There’s a small group of us in camouflage gear, with cameras with telephoto lenses, hanging around a lake next to a busy road. My companions are peering to see if anyone is coming, to make sure they’re not observed. Everyone else is speaking Italian. Everything sounds dramatic in Italian, even if they are merely discussing the weather.
They give me the signal, then we move. The tall bamboo to our backs is parted and a secret door to a hidden path through the tightly packed bamboo plantation appears. We squeeze through in single file. In front I can see more secret bamboo doorways being unlatched. We zig-zag through hidden doorway after hidden doorway on a path only a few inches wide.
Suddenly we’re at a solid wooden door. It’s unlocked, and the start of a series of immaculately constructed bird hides. The hides are positioned on posts driven into the lake. We’re actually on the water. The hides are invisible to the outside world.
There’s a large collection of wine and beer. There’s a long series of latched viewing windows with gimbal mounts for cameras. There’s solar power and LED lighting. There are comfortable chairs. Our host folds out a table and I head the sound of cooking from the next room. He pours us a glass of red wine and serves delicious pasta.
I can’t quite believe I’m here.
Outside the hide is a Black Necked Grebe. It’s in winter plumage:
It’s one of the most spectacular birds I’ve ever seen.
The intensity of its eye colour is so extreme.
Like other Grebes the legs are very far back on the body. It’s constantly diving and resurfacing. It comes up suddenly with a splash right in front of us.
We have another glass of wine.
This; this is the life.