Monday, 21 November 2011

A day of firsts - Nene Washes

Dense fog as I arrived on this stretch of the Nene Washes, a long straight track with flat arable fields either side. With nothing to see i could only use my ears to locate the pee-wit call of wheeling lapwing and then the whoosh of golden plovers darting low overhead. A buzzard and a marsh harrier appear out of the white gloom. The midday sun lifts the fog from the ground for a time but shortly falters and drains away into a pink pool collecting along the Western horizon. Pockets of mist reform, solitary in the cold dykes at first, but with growing strength of sorcery they multiply and soon spill out to blanket the fields and fenland, submerging the few remaining marginal oaks and ashes up to their waists. In this brief window short eared owls swoop and glide silently close to me, sometimes rising to lock talons high in the air. Following them I see one dip and stall on the ground as it makes a kill, it stays on this spot; wings relaxing and flopped to the side, head swivelling, golden eyes alert in the gloom, still for a while, my opportunity to paint, this, the first short eared owl I have ever seen.

The owls move further East out of sight and perhaps on this cue a family of red legged partridges tentatively pick their way through the undergrowth and out into the open of the owl's field. The first time I have seen these skulking birds, rare in Wales, clearly enough to paint. Dampness in the air saturates everything helping me to work rapidly before they melt away.

Finally as if good things come in three, I am instantly alerted to a sound momentarily alien as I am incredulous to place it here but soon recognisable as it is so charismatic, commonly evoking the wild spaces of central Europe I have seen in TV documentaries and now for my privilege a wilder fenland of the past! Suddenly so much richer is my feeling for this flat land and the family of common crane awakening me to it, trumpeting to one another as they come in to land somewhere nearby. By now night and fog colludes in a pitch black sky, ensuring I would not see this unexpected species(despite reports of their recolonising pockets of East Anglia), in most other circumstances this would be an annoyance but on this occasion it seemed appropriate, adding to the mystery of an evocation which will stay with me all the more for it.

Wild-fowlers line the route home, motionless figures in the dark between the fence posts who I greet enthusiastically... a little clumsy I realise in retrospect as they remained silent to me.

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