The camouflaged tripod army was out again last week.
They had inside info. This time they were on manoeuvres along the Pagham Harbour seawall, subject of this week’s walk.
What were they watching this time, these Birders Britannicas?
They all had secret, weather-beaten looks, all paired-off in their pensioners’ outdoor uniform of sensible greens and browns, woolly hats and snug boots.
Seventy years ago you would have seen them on St Paul’s on incendiary watch, or doling gruel in soup kitchens. They had that never-beaten look, a day off from Neighbourhood Watch and parish council meetings.
They are so determined, like Cairo democracy activists but twice the age. They put me to shame. I am nothing but a wanderer, hoping to come across something nice. The telescope army have the agenda.
One couple I found staring out to sea from that vast Church Norton shingle bank. Both their telescopes were trained on something miles away. I crouched near them on the stones, pretending I had seen what fascinated them as well.
For 30 minutes I scanned the waves, beyond the waves, and halfway to Bognor Regis across the bay. Not a dicky bird. Well, except for the almost continuous flight of cormorants taking off from the harbour to an out-of-sight destination halfway to France on one of their daily fishing trips. The odd gull here and there.
My mere binoculars were obviously outclassed by the heavy artillery that was bringing possible skuas, scoters or eiders into range.
At last I spotted a seal half a mile from the beach and wondered if that was the target. I never did find out, not wanting to disturb the transfixed attention that was bonding the couple.
Instead I turned my attention inland, to the tidal pools just inside the seawall. Because four more foot patrollers were creeping up on their quarry.
Suddenly from almost under our feet just over the seawall a delicious, fruity, flutey, ‘twuit’ exploded in front of our faces... “I hope, I think”... “Is it really?” whispered all the army as a man, also a woman.
Yes, thought I, it is. No doubting that signal. A spotted redshank alright. One of two or three perhaps in the county at this moment.
And there the little darling was, pin-up of the foot soldiers.
It was but ten yards from us, prancing up and down like a battalion mascot, marching to and fro in the clear water stream draining this march.
Long, slightly down-curved bill, pale orange legs, spotted plumage and prominent white eye stripe, all the diagnostic features brightly displayed in the early spring sunshine.
Notebooks were out, details logged, pictures checked.
The patrol had been successful and a return to base for refreshment justified, as six more approached with telescopes at the ready.
The hidden army had scored again.