Sunday, 8 December 2013

Cley NWT: A loveletter

Oh Cley, it's been a long time.
British birding's Times Square; your fabled 160 hectares, where the great and the good have trodden your boardwalk. How many millions will have warmed their hands on flasks, checked your sightings board and scrunched up your shingle?

I remember our endless summer, where rain and shine lashed North Norfolk in equal measure. It was 2010, I was 14, you were 84. From a harbourside cottage in Blakeney I'd skim through puddles by bike along the coastal tarmac tongue that slavers Britain's premier, history-stooped patch to the swaying of your phragmites and glimmer of slatmarsh.

It was the year Spoonbills bred at Holkham, my daily visits to you brightened by the white procession, beaks swept rhythmically as if scanning barcodes. Waders swirled about your water margins; my first lessons in peep ID, so far removed from upland North Yorkshire.
Wood, Green, Common and Curlew; my tagteam of sandpipers, all scrawled with red ink across a water-curled notebook and all bobbing, probing and nitpicking along your waters. At Pat's Pool you found me my first Crane, the UK's most exciting grey-binbag-on-the 
ground which occasionally reared a regal head.

We shared lunches, spent whole days together. At the fat seawatching windtrap we watched a barrel line of Bonxies through watering eyes; saw the Marsh Harriers still looping at golden sundown and drew Knots so squat and red they could have been flying bricks.

They were heady days, rose-tinted as the flushed godwits that filled them, a blur of quartering Barn Owls and the calls of reedling and Whimbrel. Picked and peeling stickers, overlapping on my bins are the only physical reminders of our time together one which, alas, I have refused to allow to repeat.

It's not that I've been far; each summer since has seen me take in the samphire and shingle of Norfolk: Blakeney Point's shifting creeks, Yellow Wagtails and Corn Buntings of The Wash, Dersingham and its Nightjars have all shared days, evenings, even weeks with me; neighbours of yours with so much to show and still I stayed away from you.

I think I didn't want to be disappointed or even worse, to disappoint you. East Anglia is no longer my unexplored new world, but a wild and familiar garden. I'm older, have seen many things, many birds. I have read of far-off lands with coots the size of geese, of owls glimpsed by a few eyeballs, the realms of the Coua, Kea and Kauaʻi ʻAmakihi. I worried you'd find me arrogant, unsatisfied with your offerings. Visit you only fleetingly, for some wind-blown waif. Could I still be enthused by your wedge of eclipse ducks, your Sanderling tangle?

When I decided I could, the Cley I knew had vanished on Friday, smothered by the sea. Your stubborn sandbank heaved its salty surrender. Pat's Pool is now Pat's Lagoon and seals are more at home on Arnold's Marsh than passage waders. Never again will I munch flapjack in the Swarovski Hide, and this unfortunate event has stirred something within my brain's birding complex. The water may have driven the Bitterns away, but I'm not deterred, if anything, your sudden change in appearance has made me more determined to continue to get to know you, before you're gone for good. 

How many generations of Shelduck will bob in your waters? How many more spotshanks and stints, weary feet still stained with Arctic mud, will take respite with you on August afternoons? How many more feet will the sea have to rise for you to be no more, for the pillboxes to become the castles of flounder and crabs?

I'm not waiting for the answers, I'll be stomping your East Bank whenever I'm in the vicinity, scoping Little Gulls and Garganey in the spring, sitting with Snow Buntings come winter. I'll be making the most of a site that will slowly, silently slip into the sea. 

Cley Marshes as seen from the road 06/12/13 ©Oliver Reville
-Jonnie Fisk
Jonnie is an 18 year-old Yorkshire-based birder, invertebrate enthusiast and frustrated artist. When not being oblivious to every local rarity, he enjoys autumn vis-mig and being distracted by bugs. 

1 comment:

  1. This is lovely, please do come back... when we have less water on the site