Saturday, 28 November 2015

Miles from tomorrow...

I was leaving it late, I knew it would be close. Even the most experienced Hilbre veterans can get a “hurry up” from the tide. The final few steps sloshed me on to my Inspiration Island through about 8 inches of the briney, a little spike of adrenaline tightened my stomach as I looked back. Water flowing from my shoes, I watched the last of the rocks between Hilbre and Middle Eye become engulfed by the flooding tide. Made it. Just.

Shoes and socks set to dry I padded around the island barefoot, like a castaway, feeling a just little foolish and more than a little cold about the feet.

{A long, long time ago someone left a very long microphone boom lying around on a project I was involved with. I offered to keep is safe for them until they returned to collect it. They never did and it has been gathering dust in a cupboard ever since. Stumbling across it a few days prior to the trip to Hilbre I thought about how it could be put to use.}

On the island I screwed my compact camera to the boom and extended it to its full length. I set the self-timer and held it out in front of me. A few seconds later I examined the results of my improvised selfie stick. Underwhelming. I’ve never been a fan of the selfie stick and even the novelty of a massive one in a cool location wasn’t doing anything to dull my scepticism. Far more interesting was turning the tables and photographing the camera itself.

Over the freshly mown paddock hovered a Kestrel. Motionless in the air, held stationary against the clear blue sky by the cool easterly breeze. A breeze just strong enough to keep it aloft without need to flap its wings. It looked like a sticker stuck there by a child in a nature scrapbook sky. Time frozen.

A small flotilla of Brent Geese swam gently down the Hilbre Swash, an adult leading the way followed by two juveniles, then another two adults, a juvenile and so on and so on until I had counted thirty six grown-ups and eleven youngsters. They paddled along the channel until they met a current coming in with the tide. It hinders their progress momentarily, stopping them, like you’ve hit the pause button on a film. Time halted.

Looking at those long distance tundra dwelling migrants and examining the plumages of adult and juvenile thoughts turned towards the arctic. The vastness of the tundra, its treeless wonder. Space. Quiet.

I sat on some rocks and looked out to sea.

Coffee from the flask warmed my throat and guts but failed to spread its heat to my naked toes. A sandwich filled my grumbling belly. After a while just sitting and staring everything seemed to shudder to a stop. The sandwich sat like a pebble in my stomach, I was rooted to the spot.
An Oystercatcher flew past; it seemed to do this in slow motion, like it was flying through syrup.

A Dunlin flew in and alighted daintily on the rocks away to my left. It looked once in my direction then turned its gaze to the sea and stood motionless. The wind dropped and the sea went glassy calm. Stillness. Time frozen.

I stared at that Dunlin for some time.

A movement caught my eye a few dozen metres off to the right. A Ringed Plover jostled another for prime roosting position. With it on the ledge were another two plovers and a further five Dunlin. I stared at them for a while.


…do those birds come here each winter is it their first time here what do they think of when waiting for the tide to drop the sandstone is a slightly different colour on this corner of the island the plovers blend right in is that one crouching down behind a ridge in the rock oh a seal, when it bobs its head above the surface of the tranquil water does it notice the ripples radiate away slowly will I ever see a bowhead whale how many dunlin have stopped on hilbre I mean ever since dunlins became dunlins the sandstone is in layers how many layers is a layer put down in a year or a longer period or shorter it must be laid erratically after floods or  other events how many generations of ringed plovers have used hilbre as a stopover where will they go from here where exactly in western africa six ospreys on a tree in the mangroves of the river gambia why do the plovers squabble for space when there is so much on the rocks like people I suppose they like fighting why do they have orange legs and dunlins have black legs are my socks dry yet dunlins must have been sat on hilbre when henry VIII was on the throne are any descendants of those dunlin here on the island today that turnstone still has a little summer plumage I remember seeing a barwit in near full summer plumage at hoylake last winter the bumpy road to borselv had breeding barwits and that common crane in the pool by the road chris said you could see the cranes working on the new stand at anfield from the lookout my feet are freezing 1250th second at f8 slightly underexposed nudge ISO 640 maybe yes that’ll do so many miles travelled by these birds how many individually and collectively all this goes on while people go about their lives unseen birds traumas and triumphs how many wingbeats to greenland will I ever see a Bowhead Whale will I ever get to greenland knot and sanderling on nests a wide angle lens with the tundra as part of the picture when will the first purple sandpipers arrive on hilbre for the winter tide definitely dropping wind slightly shifting west so many journeys routes like spaghetti dropped on a map criss crossing lines obliterating the details how much does a dunlin weigh ringed plover weigh oycs alarm peregrine hunt no red waterproof bastard there go the dunlin and ringos no one dunnie has stayed…

The Oystercatchers on Middle Eye were sparked into noisy flight as a person walked towards their roost, flushing almost everything on both islands. The tide had dropped enough for people to walk over to Hilbre and I was no longer alone.

My daydream broken I put on my damp socks and went home.

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