It has been a while since my last post and it is fair to say things have been a touch hectic. A little "me" time was needed. But when to fit it in?
An early start was required but winter early is a little easier than summer early. It is still dark as I pick my way carefully down the cley cliffs at Thurstaston. They are treacherous enough in the daylight and this pre-dawn manoeuvre is a bit irresponsible but I chance it nonetheless.
It is dark. Really dark. At the moment the idea of dawn seems only theoretical. The stars are out and the moon is dipping way off to my right.
The mudflats are noisy, I can hear a near constant twittering of Oystercatchers, Curlew, Blackwits and the odd Redshank. Everynow and then a Shelduck chuckles.
I make it to the beach in one piece and sit on a boulder and crack open the flask. The heat from the coffee permeates through me from stomach to fingertips. Across the estuary the A55 is starting to hum with commuters. Through binoculars I can see the steady movement of headlights upwards from Flint towards Hollywell. A set of blue flashing lights catches my eye as they speed along. The sound of the siren never makes it to my side of the mudflats.
After my second flask lid of coffee some evidence of a dawn starts to appear to my left. The midnight blue sky is becoming indigo and the whispy clouds are starting to colour. That kind of unnatural looking but actually totally natural neon pinky orangey glow. The indigo sky begins to yellow at the horizon. The sunrise is here.
The whispy clouds disappear and the Patch is illuminated. I get the wam and fuzzy feeling start to rise in my gut (nothing to do with the coffee - it was a decaff). The birds come into view as the light floods from around the cliffs. The cliffs have taken a beating in the recent storm and cley bounders litter the sands.
The tide is rising quickly, the flats are being consumed by the creeping water. The Pintail (around a thousand) start to hoot to each other. They had been loafing by the steps at Tinker's Dell but now the tide has picked them up and is sweeping them in a huge raft towards the marshes at Heswall.
It is nearly properly light now and I can see all of the beach. It is all mine. There is nobody else around.
The warm and fuzzy feeling in my gut is because I love this time and this place. It makes me feel as tall as my shadow in the above picture. I respond to this place like nowhere else. I am lucky that I have travelled to some pretty cool places and seen some awesome wildlife. But, a winter dawn co-inciding with a rising tide at Thurstaston is my favourite place on this earth.
The Black-tailed Godwits that occupy so much of my time are busily and noisily feeding on the tide edge. I scan them for colour ringed birds when I find no marked birds I just stare at them for a while. Some crows fly over, then a few Mallard. Blackwits munch worms. I stare.
The light is making everything luminous, a citrus glow pervades. The waders and the ducks are steadily making their way towards the safety of the high tide roost in the marsh but before they get there a Peregrine arrives on the scene causing chaos. I dispense with the 'scope and watch the action with by bare wonder-filled eyes. My ears hear the panicked calls of the waders as they take off and start to wheel about.
The Pintail look on, they are not on the Peregrine's radar. At the top of the above picture you can see the raptor starting its attacking dive into the flock. All of this plays out as the sun climbs from the cliffs to the clear blue sky. A mist is forming over the marsh, the channels in the mud are filling with gurgling, turbid water. The flock zigs and zags to confuse the predator, it looks spectacular. I stand and stare. The falcon strikes and I raise the binoculars to my eyes to follow it and its victim. I had attacked the Blackwits but it had taken an unlucky Redshank, one of only a handful mixed in with the Godwits.
The flock is nervous now and the slightest thing sends them airborne. The shapes they cast against the cool dawn glow twist and turn into abstract forms. I stand and stare feeling all warm and fuzzy and 20 feet tall.
The tide is irresistable and the mud is soon covered. The ducks mass at the golden-green fringe of the marsh and the waders melt away into its dark heart. The best of the action is over, things will go quiet until the water recedes. Its time to leave a day's work beckons. As I trudge back to reality a single Redshank is still feeding on its own in the last channel close to the beach.
I stand and stare at it for a while. I think about the last hour. This site never disappoints me, it always inspires. It might not rank in the top 100 birding sites in the world but it is enough for me.
The Redshank calls once, bobs its head and flies off to the marsh.