From my sketch book ….
‘Sitting here on the marsh – perched on the remains of an old wooden boat that has been stranded above the high water line and left to rot – the only sounds that I can hear, apart from the wind blowing through my ears, are those of birds: oystercatchers, gulls, a skylark. There is a constant tweeting and chattering interspersed by the occasional raucous caw of a crow (or is it a rook?). The bird calls rarely stop and create a wonderful aural background to the landscape I am looking at.
The birds are also visible. A flock of brent geese flies up over the marsh to the north. Circling round in a huge murmuration they suddenly head west, flying low, looking for food as the tide goes out exposing nutrient rich mud. Oystercatchers high step over the mud bobbing and pecking and gulls glide elegantly on invisible air currents.
The only bird I can’t see but can hear is a curlew. Its brown body conceals it perfectly against the background of mud and marsh and its call rises above the other bird’s song. It is a sound to make you wonder. A low drawling note rises to an eerie trilling, bubbly ripple. An unmistakeable melancholy sound.
‘From the river
I hear voices,
Like souls abandoned
Curlews are calling.
Birds of the Fenland, though you float or fly,
Wild birds, I cannot understand your cry.’
From the libretto by William Plomer. Curlew River, Benjamin Britten
I’ve often tried to capture the song in a sound recording but have failed up to now – the machine never seems to be switched on at the right time.
How happy it makes me to hear its call. It reminds me of childhood holidays on the banks of the Tresillian river in Cornwall where we spent time on the water in a little dingy called Curly named after the birds that were so numerous there. Curlews seemed to be more abundant than up here on the North Norfolk coast. Here it is a special moment when the curlew calls unseen from the depth of the marsh.’