Winter. It is a grey, drizzly day that bodes only to get worse. However, I decide to go out for a walk anyway. As I pull onto the hard standing at Burnham Overy Staithe my first thought is, ‘I should have bought my camera!’. Although the wide grey sky is giving off a surprising amount of light, everything before me is drained of colour and blurred in the mist. It is a monochrome landscape. There is detail in the foreground, but horizontal lines of mud, water and sand dune fade into the haze.
The raised dyke is slippery. Flints stick up out of the mud; slick and shiny, they add to the feeling of instability underfoot and I have to look at the ground to stop myself from slipping. A few yards on the path gets better and I can look up – there are birds everywhere. It’s low tide and they are dotted, like tiny ants, across the wet, silvery marsh. They are too far away to make out what they are, but with binoculars each one is revealed and there is a huge variety feeding on the mud: Dunlin, redshank, several curlews, and a couple of golden plovers. Suddenly a flock of lapwing rise up into the sky, their frilly wings flap as they twist and turn; dancing in the sky.
I walk on and movements on all sides grab my attention. A great flock of Brent geese fly over in formation; as they pass over more come in from the west. They are looking for a place to land and graze. The formation breaks as they glide down towards the marsh and chaos breaks out as each bird tries to find a space to land. Their chattering calms to a contented honk as they begin to feed.
The mud flats are slick and shiny, and in this misty, light they are devoid of colour. Deep channels are cut into the smooth, flat surface by the actions of the tides and here meandering black shadows echo the outline of dunes in the distance. Almost colourless tones of layered marsh and mud fade to the feint smudge of horizon.
A tinkling, tinselly sound catches my ear: goldfinches. A flock of these small birds fly in from behind and land on a bush just ahead of me. As I get nearer, they rise up and I catch small flashes of yellow as they flit through the air before swooping down into a small bush just ahead. This game is repeated several times more as I follow them along the dyke. Finally, they rise up for a final time and dart off over the marsh to find a new feeding place.
At the beach it’s really too cold to sit, but with a cup of coffee from the flask I note down the birds out on the sand. In the distance, by the sea edge are a flock of cormorants holding their wings out to dry. Closer in along a curving sea-river are more redshank, oystercatchers, dunlin and a ruff. Just in front of me two turnstones are pecking around in the tideline; there must be goodness amongst the dying sea debris.
As I turn to walk back along the dyke I notice that the clouds have lifted. Maybe there is a hint of sun low on the horizon. Everything definitely seems brighter and more defined out here on the marsh.