Borderlands and transitions – night and day, land and water – where does each begin and end?
Summer, damp air, wet grass, jet trails, silence, silhouettes, pale pink gives way to orange glow.
A stirring of wings, first light, a new day. Geese are first to move around. We surprise some by the shore, few in number at this time of year, resident Canada geese and greylags. We are the first humans of the day. They rapidly move away from harm. Evidence of more is all around.
In winter vast numbers fly in from the mud flats even before first light to feed inland on sugar beet, calling before they are seen.
Mid August, birds are starting to move across continents. Beginning of the migration period coinciding with the first high tides of the changing season, moving towards the equinox, the only time to see birds in the Wash, that vast inlet between Norfolk and Lincolnshire. Such an expanse of mud most of the time and a giant feeding ground supporting huge numbers of birds, but they stay a long way out impossible to see except when forced off the mud onto the shore.
Always a different combination of time, tide, birds, weather but some facts are a constant – as mud disappears a safe haven is needed. Twice a year, Spring and Autumn, bird migration combines with high tides. Passage migrants join residents, numbers build and fall away again, and the height of the tide builds and falls away linked to the moon’s pull. A regular event but unpredictable in its totality. Birds come and go from their Arctic Summer breeding grounds to their African Winter haunts. The Wash is a meeting point, a stopover, a chance for food and safety.
Silent rise of water, channels fill, suddenly nothing but water.
Water rises slowly in this shallow expanse, but finally at the highest tides there are no strips of mud left and the only place to go is to the adjoining lagoons behind the shingle bank lining the shore, and the safety of the islands within or on the inner banks.
Flocks burst in all directions, twisting and turning, catching the light, moving back and forth across the causeway, impossible to capture in images, only to experience. The air is full of piping and calling, or silent except for the blur of wing beats. Crouching on the bank some are almost within touch, others wheel high above.
Today mainly oystercatchers, but also dunlin, knot, sanderling, avocets, plovers (grey and ringed), sandpipers (common, green, and curlew), godwits (black-tailed, many still in their breeding plumage), redshank (and spotted), greenshank. Wandering off along the shingle I missed the spoonbill, but my companions saw it.
In the hide the machine gun bursts of overweight cameras from those who have now joined us are off-putting; the array of equipment daunting compared to my minimal binoculars and basic camera. It is the experience that counts not the capture. Out on the bank the real connection is made – less of a voyeur and more of a participant. Hides have a value and of course reduce disturbance to the birds but they reduce the experience in many ways.
Several hours later as the tide recedes the experience is reversed with the birds leaving for the mud as soon as possible, sometimes in small bursts, sometimes in endless streams. More people now and a chance to look at other things – the vegetation, birds in the bushes, butterflies now the sun has warmed the air.
Still summer for the plants. Having only been here before in winter I am amazed by the variety of vegetation. Viper’s Bugloss and Yellow-Horned poppy are unusual finds but characteristic of shingle banks, adding splashes of colour to the subtle shades of greens and browns. A few linnets flit around in the bushes and a solitary reed bunting perches on top of a twig.
11am. We have been here over six hours and it has gone in a flash. Time to move on – the best part of the day has gone.