Winter is drawing to a close and Spring is surging up through the ground beneath our feet, flocking to our shores and gusting in on strong breezes. Birds that have spent the Winter here are gathering in flocks, fattening up ahead of their journey back home. Large groups of fieldfares and redwings (thrushes) are in the bushes behind my cottage, stripping away the last berries they can find.
But on a trip to Suffolk a week ago it still felt distinctly wintery. On the very edge of the coast the wind rushes in from the East, across the sea.
We headed to the most easterly point in England, a rocky outcrop of land that punches dramatically into the sea, seeming to grasp as far as it can reach towards the continent beyond the water.
The rocks are dark grey and black, hinting at the deep waters below. But a mosaic of seaweed, yellow, green and brown, adorns them.
Walking up and down along the edge of the rocks I spotted our target in the distance. A tiny, barely noticeable movement of deep brown and grey against the black stone.
Then another. And slowly all 13 of the purple sandpipers revealed themselves.
These beautiful little wading birds spend the Winter on these rocks, seen day in day out by lonely birdwatchers. These figures stand on the sea wall braced against the wind, clutching binoculars and shivering in their waterproof coats, their faces barely visible, cocooned as they are in several layers of thermal gear.
Trepidatious as baby mountain goats we crept onto the rocks, their surface made as slippy as ice by the seawater and seaweed, carrying thousands of pounds’ worth of camera equipment with us.
We lay on our fronts, pressing our profiles as flat against the rocks as possible, our bellies chilling nicely in small pools of ice cold water.
And slowly, the little birds crept towards us, turning over weed and shells, searching for micro-invertebrates that they feed on. They were joined by the odd, far more cautious turnstone.
The sandpipers are beautiful, their grey-chocolate plumage really means they deserve their name. And their orange beak and legs provide stunning contrast. Against the kaleidoscope of the seaweed and the black rocks they certainly provide great opportunities for photography.
Persistence, patience and practice are some of the most important values you can put into practice when watching or photographing wildlife.
Later we headed inland to a small town that sits on a river. A grey heron sat in the sunlight, oblivious to shoppers carrying bags and dads pushing prams wandering past. Nearby, a much less relaxed little egret fed by a small stream hidden away from the crowds. We snuck forwards on our elbows and knees. After twenty minutes during which we covered about 30 metres we were close enough to take some great shots.
These white beauties were once extremely rare and only began breeding in the UK in the 1990s. Now they’re common as muck and a sign of the types of birds that might move into the UK as climate change warms things up. That warming climate is part of the reason that February has felt so mild. Our climate in the UK is changing, and wildlife’s rhythm is the book where, if we pay enough attention, we can read the small marks of change.
Photos: Courtesy of Matt Williams – Copyright 2015