Thursday, 20 April 2017

Cool Dawn...

Hilbre is a dark shape on the horizon. The gloom and a light mist have stripped it of any detail. The mist had made me think twice about making the trek over, if it comes down dense then you can get hopelessly disorientated very quickly with predictably dire consequences in this tidal zone.

But the weather forecast is set fair, unseasonably warm if it is to be believed so I decide to carry on. Confidence in my decision grows as the dawn breaks and Hilbre becomes clearer. A slight breeze nudges the mist out towards Liverpool Bay. The clouds over the mainland are starting to get a pinkish tinge, sunrise is close. I love the dawn. The beginning, the freshness, expectation. Dawn is cool. Cool Dawn. Connections and memories perk up in my mind as I walk. Cool Dawn…

Back in the late 1990’s (when music and football if not fashion was better) I was a poor(ish) student. Even though my education was unencumbered by exorbitant tuition fees I still needed some vacation employment to make ends meet. For a while I had a part time job in a betting office. I had no prior interest in horses or horseracing and I have not followed it since I left, it just seemed like a decent job for my schedule and bank balance at the time.

Over a few months I learned how to read the form and work out that this had little bearing on successfully picking a winner. As a general rule I didn’t place bets, I knew the odds of actually making money was non-existent. There is a reason why bookies drive around in flash cars and have fancy houses – people are bad at picking winners.

It was March 1998 and the Cheltenham Festival was in full swing. Posh people had taken a break from hunting foxes and shooting Hen Harriers and were instead racing horses below Cleeve Hill.

The festival was working up to the Gold Cup in the afternoon and I was casually looking through runners and riders over a brew when I saw Cool Dawn was running at 25/1. I had seen this horse a couple of times before and it had run really well, true it had been pulled up in its final race before the Gold Cup - but 25/1? Really? I fancied some of that. At lunchtime I nipped out with a crumpled fiver and spent £3 on a disappointing sandwich and stodgy cream bun leaving £2 for a bet. I placed it in a rival turf accountant on the way back to my shop. All the regulars were on See More Business so when that was carried out by a loose horse at about halfway there was much swearing and screwing up of betting slips.

I stayed quiet and watched as Cool Dawn had an untroubled passage around and, under a little pressure from Strong Promise, crossed the line into racing history, in the process making me £50 better off. I’ll never forget Cool Dawn.

On this cool dawn I fumble with the settings on the camera and eventually settling on something that seems appropriate and start the intervalometer for a sunrise time-lapse sequence.

The sun is rising over the Royal Liverpool Golf Course, it’s light spilling across the sands to Hilbre. Oystercatchers and the odd  lingering Bar-tailed Godwit are preening in the channel that runs along the east side of the island. It is almost silent, a fuzzy hushing noise is just about audible from the water at tide’s edge, but that quickly fades as my brain filters out the white noise. It catches the occasional Oyc call and Redshank whistle.

As the sun climbs it starts to burn off the mist and things come into sharp focus. Clear skies overnight with a mist forming in the early hours had first encouraged, then grounded migrant birds. Two Song Thrush and a handful of Chiffchaffs are on the island. There are Wheatears too, 5 if I have counted correctly. These are what I want to photograph.

They flit up and down the west side of the island, in and out of the shadows of the slopes and outcrops. They stop every now and then to look around. I’m not sure if they are looking for danger or surveying the ground for food. Either way they are still and it is a chance to photograph them.

It is cool in the shadows, a reminder that despite the sunshine that looks set to last all day, we can’t really call time on winter yet. But the presence of Wheatears hints at a shift in season.

Spring is coming. I find a small hollow and settle into it. I poke my head up to see if the birds have come any closer. They seem to pop their heads up to see what is looking at them.

They skip and jump after flies that go buzzing past and dart at any buggy movement in the grass. Dashing on long legs towards anything that looks like a meal.

There are still deep shadows on the west side of the island, it won’t be fully illuminated for a while. One bird is flying from sunny patch to sunny patch stopping occasionally to look for danger/food on a protruding sandstone perch. It comes closer to my hollow. I put down the cinnamon bun I had been scoffing (wiping my hands on the baby wipes I remembered to add to the bag – see the Mudflat 3K mkII post for an explanation) and pick up the camera. The light on its perch is wonderful, an orangey glow, cooler than sunset light, it is dawn light. Cool dawn light.

The birds wander in and out of the grass, occasionally disappearing in the new growth. The sward greening and lengthening as the growing season slowly starts.

Click, click, click. Picture after picture of the harbingers of Spring on the island.

The shadows shrink, the air feels warm for the first time, Wheatears whirr past in pursuit of prey. I pull myself up to a sitting position, satisfied with my pictures I put down the camera and swivel to allow the sun to hit my face. I close my eyes in the glare and feel the warmth on my cheeks. Winter has been vanquished, Spring has carried the day.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

low tide is the new high tide...

I take a lot of pictures of Purple Sandpipers at high tide.

Not so many of Turnstones at low tide.

The conventional wisdom would have you watching and photographing birds on the rising to full tide. This seems reasonable as when the tide floods the birds become corralled by the enveloping waters on to a narrower and narrower stretch of beach, getting closer to shore each minute. There they roost and as they assemble and settle they are easier, in theory, to watch and photograph. Thurstaston Shore on a rising tide is spot on for photographing Blackwits and Hoylake on a big spring tide can be breath-taking.

Stumble across a roost on Hilbre Island and you can have a prolonged period with the birds at close quarters for great viewing and a decent stab at getting some pictures.

As I dawdled towards the island this particular morning I was wondering what to shoot. I was on early and I followed the tide out, stopping at Middle eye to wait for the safe route to become visible as the tide dropped. The tide was receding much as my hairline was – slowly but with a creeping inevitability.

Once on the main island it was clear that the hoped for slew of early spring migrants was a wildly optimistic idea. A couple of Meadow Pipits chased each other over the paddocks and a White Wagtail called overhead. No Wheatears bounded along the west side and the skies were bereft of Sand Martin. No matter.

I wandered down to the cliffs overlooking the whaleback in the hope of finding a colour ringed Brent Goose. Down on the edge of the tide Turnstones were picking their way through the rocks looking for food.

With not much else to point the camera at I thought I’d give them a whirl. I started the steep descent to the shore at Shell Bay thinking this was a good idea as there is a small gap in my Hilbre catalogue that I could fill with Turnstone pictures.

The going was treacherous. Still wet seaweed was so slippery I thought about abandoning the idea after a couple of wobbles. Camera and attached lens don’t bounce.
The beach at Shell Bay gives way to rocky shore with some pretty large boulders so I had cover to sneak towards the breaking waves. The birds were foraging on the edge of the tide, enjoying the freshest seafood. I found a suitable rock and hunkered down behind it so the birds could carry on undisturbed while I fired off a few hundred frames in the intermittent sunshine.

Over the course of a couple of hours I grew more and more fascinated by the world these birds occupy. I am more than familiar with these islands but I will admit that I have been too ignorant of the rocks and all that lives on them.

To watch and record the Turnstones is to be taken into this glittering post-tide world. The sights, the sounds and the smells. The textures too; slime like seaweed, granular shell sand, calcareous – chalky barnacle shell. This place is smothered with life. Every possible space has been occupied by something. Look around and whatever surface you see there is some creature or plant adhered, cemented, fixed in defiance of the roaring sea. When I first arrived I thought it looked messy and chaotic, everything on top of everything else. These creatures were living all over each other, like the most overcrowded city on the planet.

After no time at all I was hooked. This glistening world, refreshed with the tidal waters of Liverpool Bay thrived and heaved in front of me. It seemed so fresh while smelling a bit like off fish. Fresh like a baby out of a bath. The birds moved through it peering into empty barnacle shell, flicking seaweed fronds and poking at periwinkles. To my left I spot a Sabellaria alveolata reef.

These colonial worms make sandy burrows like a honeycomb, the Turnstones climb over them, inspecting chambers for a meal.

I shift my position as the sun moves and as I do I come across a beached jellyfish. I take its picture and afterwards, looking at the image on the computer, I see my reflection in a bubble in the pool it is stranded in. I nudge it with a wet welly boot then settle in to get more pictures of the Turnstones.

I am struck by how out of place I am here. I feel… really… terrestrial. These creatures are so different but utterly amazing. The dropping tide had revealed wonder I had, until now, unforgivably ignored.

The pictures stacked up and soon the tide turned. It isn’t wise to linger longer than you have to on the rising tide so I retraced those treacherous steps to the island then worked my way back to the mainland wondering where I had just been. 

 A new world on the small island I know so well.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

After Hours...

The hours that everyone else throws away...

2016 has been reviewed, chewed, swallowed then digested and although some political and cultural upheavals left a sour taste in the mouth the Patch and places visited because of it didn’t disappoint. They never do.

Updates to the blog were sporadic and not great in number as photo opportunities were limited due to the most inspiring distraction, my daughter Summer. I do not resent being drawn away from the Patch by her care, I would swap a hundred Patch hours for just one with her innocence and enthusiasm. She has torn up the Patch with me on a number of occasions and I look forward to introducing her to more of its weird and wonderful wildlife this year.

So if I do get out with the camera I have to make it count. This is no bad thing as it has taught me to try and get the best out of the camera and the Patch in short order, often at unusual times. It was almost like I was treating time on the Patch like a lock in at the pub – photographing after hours.

Looking back there were some obvious highlights in 2016.

great northern

A long staying Great Northern Diver on the West Kirby Marine Lake, a few minutes walk from my house, meant a couple of opportunities for pictures during Summer’s nap time. While my wife waited in I snapped this effortlessly cool juvenile as it sauntered around the lake.

cool dawn

This and similar pictures will make up a full post to this blog when I get round to it. Photographing migrating Wheatears on Hilbre Island at sunrise? What could be cooler than that? And I was back in time for Summer’s breakfast too.

unlimited Knot

Another trip to Porsanger with a quick visit to Varanger saw more encounters with red Red Knots, and other stunning arctic wildlife. Seeing them in breeding plumage never gets old. Not seeing Summer for a week got pretty old pretty quickly.

small copper

Grandparents keen on exclusive access to Summer meant an afternoon in the meadows with butterflies and other bugs. The sway of a summer meadow seems far away as I write this but the pictures take me right back there.

at the river

More dawn manoeuvres allowed time with the Blackwits on Thurstston Shore, the place it all began. It remains the muddiest part of the muddy banks of the Dee. Beautiful.

archipelago eagle

Summer was present for this picture. Her first trip north was to the forests of the Stockholm Archipelago it was full of wonder, adventure and this eagle. We climbed a hill through lichen clad sweet smelling pines. We reached the summit with stunning views across the water to the mainland. The White-tailed Eagle was rising on a thermal effortlessly cruising its Patch, it flew right over us. We received a cursory glance, Summer dropped the stick she was carrying, I grabbed a handful of pictures. It banked away, swept broad wings back and sped away covering miles in minutes until it was lost from view.  Magic.

running over owls

As Summer slept soundly I left the cosy living room and full control of the TV remote to my wife and headed over to Hilbre to photograph the stars. A wildly inaccurate weather forecast had meant I was expecting clear skies and I found 100% cloud cover. However, bumping into this Short-eared Owl on the chilly return to the mainland banished all the ill-will I had cultivated towards weather forecasters.

purple sandpiper

I decided that being marooned on Hilbre over high tide in February was preferable to a trip to the in-laws so as Summer was spoiled by grandparents I sat in the cold and damp on the island with only the Purps and my thoughts for company.

What will 2017 bring? It has started with some foggy encounters with Pintail and a trip to photograph Red Squirrels in a deep dark wood, so the signs are good. Will I head north again? What “rares” will we get on the Patch? Will Summer sleep through the night?

Stay tuned, I’ll let you know…

Thursday, 10 November 2016

eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.

Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.

I don’t just go to watch and photograph the birds, but that is main reason. There is more. It is the routine, the preparation. Selecting what coat to wear, what snacks to secrete in one of the many pockets it has (all my coats have plentiful pockets). The notebook and pen. The ritual of recording the date, time, weather etc. It is all of these things that make me…

Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.

Most of the time the Patch is fairly predictable. High then low tide. Birds roosting then feeding. It is reassuring in its certainty. On the whole I know what is likely to happen and what I have a chance of seeing when I set out on another Patch manoeuvre.

Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.

But then there are those moments. The little events and happenings that keep you returning for days when nothing much happens because there is always that slim chance that you will have another of those moments. For some Patch watchers it is something rare turning up, an addition to a life list or a Patch list. For me it is those moments that seem too crazy to be happening, the "Am I really seeing this?" moments.

Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.

Hilbre stands at the head of the Patch, the furthest point you can go finishing at Liverpool Bay and the wider Irish Sea. Today it is the same as usual for this time of year. Redshanks and Turnstones scurry over the low seaweed covered rocks in front of Middle Eye, the newly arrived Brent Geese are grazing the weed on the west side and the Oystercatchers long running and noisy disputes are continuing as normal.

Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.

While things may be run-of-the-mill on the Patch today I am seeing it a little differently, well, hardly seeing it at all really. It is dark.

Now I wouldn’t normally recommend a trip to a tidal island on one of the fastest tidal estuaries in northern Europe at night but I saw the forecast for clear skies and thought it’d be a good evening for a spot of night sky photography on the Patch.

Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.

It seemed like a good idea. Reality was a little different. As I gazed upon the screen of my phone showing a wildly inaccurate and overly optimistic weather situation I knew it was going to be a bust as far as star photography was concerned. There was some clear sky, trouble was it was several miles away over the big city lights of Liverpool. Above us only clouds.

My companions were putting on a couple of brave faces and making the most of the uniqueness of a trip to Hilbre in the dark. Testing set ups, exposures, making mental compositions for when we could return under a clearer firmament.

Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.

The birds were still active. The Oystercatchers continued to “pip-pip” in disagreement, a Curlew called but didn’t receive a reply. Redshank piped lonely whistles every now and again. I think I heard Grey Plover too.

After a couple of cups of coffee and a bun each we decided to cut our losses and head back to the mainland. As we were preparing to go the clouds started to part. Perhaps we were going to get one small window to shoot some stars. The Patch always delivers.

Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.

We jumped in the 4x4 and headed over to Middle Eye to get a shot looking back on the island with the starry sky above. Clouds rolled in. Thwarted and further delayed from a return to the sanctuary and warmth of home.

We re-embark the vehicle and I flick on the headlights illuminating the path home. The lights aren’t fantastic and I think I may have to make good on my boast that I could find my way off the island with my eyes shut. It’ll be an adventure, I think to myself.

Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.

We bump over the rocks past Middle and emerge on to the smoother sands that lead to Little Eye. There are a few scattered rocks that poke out from the blanket of sand and I zig-zag the truck through these. After a hundred yards or so of manoeuvring something unusual catches my eye on one of the rocks. It looks a little different, beige and speckled rather than seaweed covered reddish-brown sandstone.

Our path through the rocks takes us straight in its direction, our headlights illuminating it. As we inch closer the beige blob becomes discernible. That’s when I know the Patch has done it again.

Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.

There on the rock, tearing at the bloody carcass of a careless (or unlucky) Redshank sits a Short-eared Owl.

Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.

A while ago I encountered a Shortie on the island. It was soon after dawn and I was the first to arrive on the island. It had roosted on the footpath along the west side of the island and as I walked along hoping to find a Wheatear it looked up and fixed me with what could only be described as a “hard stare”. At the time I remember thinking this is why I dragged myself out of bed and walked across the muddy shore as dawn broke, for one off moments like this.

Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.

I thought “This will probably never happen again, so make the most of it, get the settings right and get the picture”.

But it has happened again and this time in even more unlikely circumstances. Who could have predicted this?

Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.

In shock I call out what I have seen so the others can see too, I think there was some swearing involved, but I think I can be forgiven the foul language due to the unique and unexpected events that are unfolding in the beam of our headlights.

The Shortie seems unfazed by a car appearing at its dinner table. It also seems unwilling to give up its prey. I can’t blame it, catching a nifty Redshank in daylight must be tricky enough, let alone after nightfall. It stays in the glare of the lights while we collectively fumble to reassemble kit that had been stowed away in mild disappointment and try for a picture we never thought we would ever get.

Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.

High ISO, wide open lenses, slow shutter speeds, the odds of a great shot are slim, but the Owl obliges by staying still and we have several goes at getting it right.
I get all carried away and start saying sweeping statements like “once in a lifetime”, or “never as long as you live”. The tinge of disappointment at missing out on the stars is swept away on a tide of owl-in-the-dark photography.

Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.

After we have our pictures I carefully reverse away and take a longer drive around the rocks so that we don’t disturb the owl’s meal (the following day I return and find our tell-tale tracks in the sand and look at the rocks where we encountered the Shortie. There are plenty of droppings and no sign of any Redshank remains so I figure it lingered there long after we had left).

As we round Little Eye and I point the vehicle at the lights of West Kirby I say to my companions that we could repeat the trip a hundred times or more and we’d never see that again. Later on it occurs to me that yes, while we would not see a Shortie on prey in our headlights we would see something else, another golden Patch moment.

Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.

That’s why I return the next morning, and why I’ll keep thrashing the Patch. It always delivers. Therefore I…

… eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.
Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.
Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.
Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.
Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.
Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.
Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.
Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.
Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.
Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.
Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.
Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.
Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.
Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.
Eat, sleep, Patch, repeat.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Marvo Ging...

“I feel it again. The call to light.

Kylo Ren sits before the deformed mask of his grandfather Darth Vader and, masked head in gloved hand, has an existential crisis. Strangely, I sort of know what he means. Every so often I do feel the need for illumination, to head north and revel in the light of an arctic summer.

I am watching the latest Star Wars film at the cinema with my best buddy from school. I’m loving it, but then I am a fan and have been since I was four years old. I won’t grow out of it and will never tire of the Tie Fighter’s scream or the clash of lightsabers. I still have some of the childhood toys my mum got me after enduring freezing Christmas queues outside a well-known catalogue shop upon learning via the mum grapevine that a delivery was due.

On the train home from the cinema I am thinking about travel to the light of the far north and the adventures I have had chasing Red Knots hundreds of miles above the arctic circle. As the train clatters along the tracks back towards the Patch from the big city I feel that urge to move, to travel, to head north. I feel it too Kylo. A call from the light.

It turns out I have a case of Zugunruhe. This is not as bad as it sounds. The Knots get it too, as do all migratory animals. Zugunruhe is the restlessness that migrants feel before they set off on their journeys, usually triggered by hormonal changes in response to altering day lengths (there is so much more to migration triggers than this but it would not be possible to present it all here – it is truly fascinating though and worth some research if you have the time and inclination).

Okay, so my case of itchy feet is for selfish reasons, excitement and adventure rather than the imperative to breed, but even so I am self-diagnosing an acute case of Zugunruhe with the only cure a trip to the frozen north of Norway to photograph Red Knots.

Tickets booked, bags packed.

I’m on the train again - this time to the airport. My headphones are in and I’m staring at the countryside flashing by the window. I love the change of landscape as you move, either watching it from the train or seeing it for the first time that you step off a plane. That newness, the feeling of exploration, of finding something different. That display I once saw in Copenhagen airport looms large in my mind’s eye again. “To travel is to live”.

The MP3 player shuffles round from some Teenage Fanclub (the best band in the world) to some fuzzed up American alt rock by way of some classic Bob Dylan. I feel the outline of my passport in my jeans pocket, triple checking it is there. My e-ticket and boarding pass are stored on my fully charged phone. It’s the first time I have used this electronic pass so I have made sure it won’t let me down and leave me stranded. I’ve even turned down the screen brightness to save power.

The MP3 player selects a new track. Marvo Ging by the Chemical Brothers. As it plays I sense that feeling again. The persussion of the song fall in synch with the beats of the train over the tracks. The loops and samples, the slidy sitar guitar loop. It amplifies the sense of movement, the travel, the prospect of adventure. It is an irresistible feeling. The ear worm works its way into my brain. I start to tap my feet.

The Knots will be feeling the Zugunruhe right now. They will be fuelling up for the trek north, to our rendez-vous in Porsanger. As I recheck my passport pocket again they will be having no such thoughts about borders and customs. They seem like much more relaxed travellers, they enjoy truly free movement.

I’m meeting up with others in Norway but I am making my way there on my own. I quite like solo travel. I sit in the airport café drinking surprisingly decent coffee and watching people scurry around the departure lounge. I love this, spotting holiday makers, hen parties and businessmen, seeing real lives being led by people from all over the globe.

Doing this reminds me that whoever we are, wherever we are from and wherever we are going we are all really just the same. Eat, sleep, move, repeat. As trite and clichéd as all the “one world” stuff sounds, fundamentally it is true. Our differences are only superficial and actually make things a lot more interesting. Ignoring the duty free, I people watch before boarding my flight to the light.

The Knots beat me north. I encounter my first flock on the way from the airport to our digs for the first night. I catch up with many thousands more over the next week, literally catching some on two occasions. The chance to contribute to the colour ringing project on these birds is great; the accumulation of knowledge feels as good as the travel and adventure. I take pictures too, many thousands of these inspiring travellers before I have to head home to the muddy banks of the Dee.

Back to today and I’m on a train again, this time returning from a catch up and a bite to eat with an old buddy. The light is fading and it’s hard to see much from the train window. I push my earphones deeper into my ears to obliterate the inane chatter from some xenophobic and ill-informed idiots in the seats opposite. There are all fashion shirts, fashion beards and that awful confidence in their own ignorance.

A Charlatans song fades out and Marvo Ging comes on. The beats match the train and I get that feeling again. The north beckons once more, this time with my family. The excitement builds, I start to tap my feet.

I feel it again, the call to light.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Me In Time...

There were only brief moments when I saw the birds. Shards of clarity.

The dew on the grass soaks my boots and the bottom two inches of my jeans before I reach the cliff top path. As usual I ignore the warning signs and start the climb towards the beach. There is enough light from the breaking dawn for me to see where I am going and besides, I know these cliffs like the back of my hand. This is a personal, well-worn, if unofficial route to nirvana. I disturb a Blackbird from one of the Hawthorns that just about manages to grow here. It flies off with an alarm call that is piercing in the morning quiet.

Slung over my left shoulder is my telescope topped tripod and on my back is a camera bag filled not just with optics, breakfast is in there too. Binoculars swing around my neck as I work my way shorewards, bashing against my chest on the steep descent. In the pocket of my camouflage combat jacket are my notebook and pen. All I need.

Well, nearly. I need some migratory shorebirds to complete the list of ingredients for this recipe.

I find a suitable spot close to the toe of the cliffs and settle in for my breakfast, enjoying the sunrise, silence and solitude. Hot coffee from the flask and a couple of homemade muffins baked with leftover pick-your-own raspberries. I’m careful not to drop crumbs into the eyecups of my binos.

Fast broken, I open the notebook at a fresh page, write the date, location and time across the top. Under the date I give a brief account of the weather.

It is cloudless, the sky clear save for a pair of con trails from a jumbo jet heading north west. The air is cool, wind almost breathless.

The tide builds momentum; I can see its leading edge down the estuary, just passing the golf course, rolling this way. Not long now. I take the final steps from the cliffs to the sand and pebble shore. Oystercatchers are noisy and I hear a Curlew call. Another answers. Redshank are piping excitedly, like they sense the water is coming. Their feeding becomes a little more earnest.

I walk towards the marsh a little way, I get close to the point where the sand turns into mudflat and pause among the shells and seaweed of the strandline.

The channel cut into the mudflats has filled and over spilled, the flood has begun. The sun shines.

500 Blackwits stitch the mud at the edge of the tide. Pintail and Shelduck drift in behind them. I stop look, listen……………………….

Blending into the shore. The sounds on the beach seem to be flowing from the mudflats to me - the bird’s calls, the spattering of bills and feet in super saturated gloopy mud and the gentle waves of the rising tide. All soft sounds building to a crescendo of white noise that would, if there was any other noise here, drown it out. The notes are flowing off the flats and into me via my toes as well as my ears. They start to fill me up.

The sights are mesmeric. The frantic feeding of the birds, the gentle paddling of the Pintail and Shelduck. Tiny Teal, chestnut head, morning sun, irredescence. Splashes of mud, Dunlin scurrying. They all come to me through my eyes and my feet and my gut, filling me from the toes. When the sights and sounds reach my belly they turn to butterflies. Then my limbs start to ache in a pleasant way. Being pulled downwards, into the sand. The sights keep on. Blackwits in flight, morning sun, glowing bills.

Redshank roosting, total peace, still.

Oystercatcher feeding in slow motion, things starting to get sluggish, creep towards tidal height. Feeling blooms like algae, ink drops cloud in water, feel the diffusion – a slow-mo explosion of biological. Waders line up on the shore, Dunlin, Knot, Redshank, Curlew’s eye, Curlew’s bill, bubbles.

The sights pile up in me, filling me, the sounds too, I am connected to the Patch, totally, not umbilically but close. I’m at capacity, but still it comes, I start to swell. I grow, I’m ten feet tall on Curlew calls. Knot in flight over rushing waves only two centimetres tall. Now I’m over the ground, held aloft by a stream of many golden strands flowing from the mud to my guts another explosion of slow motion, I catch sight of detail for a moment then it is gone, re-entranced.

Birds fly in all directions, dispersed by the tide, I see them, but not fully, like I’m looking through a jam jar, it is all a little fuzzy except for shards of clarity where I see an Oystercatcher find a cockle.

A Redshank run then fly, a Pintail tuck its head under wing, a boat swing on its anchor as the tide lifts it. Still in the air I am held by the river like a fly caught in amber. Slow motion. Mud, water, sea and sky. The tide nearing full height, waves catch the light. Crystals and the smell of vanilla and salt. All the Knot leave for the roost. They fly past in sharp focus.

My stomach is burning with the feeling of it all, I watch, once removed, in an hour or in five minutes or both. The Blackwits leave too. Limosa limosa, mud mud. Flesh and bone and feather. They are swept away, we are engulfed. I am set down on the sand.

I walk down the shore a little way, my steps have a matrass spring lightness and I feel like running home. Normally I would not run to catch a bus. I continue walking. A different type of calm returns. The flats are covered. Shelduck drift towards the marsh, everything else is already there. My experience was never out of body, those feelings were rooted in evolution by natural selection, a connection. The Patch is where I will raise my daughter and I should feel like this about it, it should be precious and transcendent and vital. No hallucinogens were involved. Just muffins, coffee (decaf), a few thousand birds, a few million gallons of mud and as much water all in beautiful dawn light.

The tide, the pull of the moon. The pull of the Patch, its hooks in me, talon-esque. I look at the notebook, I have added nothing since the weather report. I decide to leave it blank. A hundred yards down the shore a Greenshank calls.

I look up. It stretches its wings and flies off. I put my notebook away and walk home.