June 15th, Minsmere, Suffolk.
Walking through Minsmere nature reserve, I found myself alone amongst the reeds at midnight, watching the moon’s reflection sit in the still waters of Island Mere. A light breeze, a few rustles but otherwise complete peace.
On the horizon lay the great dome of Sizewell power station, a sleepless giant, busy producing electricity from atoms.
The reserve produces life. Here sun, water, earth and wildlife combine to create new generations.
Earlier I’d been on a moth and bat night run by the RSPB.
We’d been introduced to some of the 1000 or so moths that are found on the reserve. Some were brown and drab. Some, such as the Brimstone, as beautiful as their day cousins. And others, such as the Lobster, were, frankly, a little ugly.
But to a bat they simply look tasty. We watched a Common Pipistrelle (identified by the frequency of its calls – 45 kHz,) show off its hunting skills. The tiny grey ghost streaked through the trees and around us in pursuit of the moths lured by the light.
We listened to a Nightingale sang it’s beautiful, liquid song into the dark. Above us, in the starry black, we made out the international space station, a small point of moving light. A natural marvel and a man made marvel, both heavenly.
I camped just off an old drover’s road near near Westleton. There is a row of fine oaks that runs along side some of its length, gnarled and ancient, they feel a little enchanted. These old, old trees have seen horse and cart give way to 4x4s. Smock and linen to gor-tex. Farmer to tourist. I imagine they don’t mind though, certainly that night, walking through the dark tunnel of foliage, I felt protected and welcome.
The next morning I returned to the Island Mere.
Just after dawn, in the perfect early light, thousands of swifts circled and dived above me, calling all the while. Swifts eat, sleep and mate on the wing, not touching the ground for years at a time. They are true masters of the air and watching them hurtle through the blue always makes me a little jealous.
Later a Bittern “boomed” obligingly in front of the hide I was in. The strangest of sights to accompany the stragest of sounds, the gold/brown streaked heron ducked down like a rugby prop ready to engage before emitting his low “boom.” I’d always imagined it to be a neck out straight and high type move but I was way off the mark. Once close to extinction, these birds have been saved by reserves such as Minsmere. They join other local stars such as Marsh Harriers, Avocet and Stone Curlew on a journey back from the brink.
The same, sadly, cannot be said of the Cuckoo which are declining in number at a worrying rate. I saw a one in the afternoon, prowling along the horizon – the first in years. It seems incredible that the bird that flew past me in the Suffolk air could be sat on a branch overlooking a Gorilla in a few months time but recent research by the British Trust for Ornithology has found that some winter in the Congo.
Before I left I walked along the shingle towards Dunwich until I came to a Sand martin colony. These small, gregarious birds travel all the way from Africa to nest in holes in the soft Suffolk cliffs every year.
I had a nap, drifting off as they squeaked to each other in a way that was hard not to imagine as “friendly.”
I woke and walked away, it was time to go home.