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The Wild Wash

Setting sun over The Wash, Norfolk, England.

The Wash is a beguiling and unfathomable place. It’s neither land nor sea, but somewhere in-between, stretching for as far as the eye can see. The Lincolnshire shore visible (just) but hazy and shimmering. Everything out of focus and dreamlike. At high tide, fishing boats appear on the distant horizon, clouded in gulls and looking immense through the magnifying lenses of binoculars.

I had hoped that my visit to RSPB Snettisham would coincide with a tide high enough to drive the thousands of birds, knot, oystercatcher, godwit etc. to the lagoons. Not on this occasion, though it was far from a wasted journey.

I have been to Snettisham in bleakest winter, and it is unforgiving and raw. On this autumn day it was welcoming, still and calming with barely a breeze to ruffle the flawless feathers of the egrets.

It was a challenge to photograph the wildlife on the far reaching mudflats and I was far from successful, but some brave little waders were undeterred from exploring closer to land. My knowledge of these birds is shamefully poor (something I should remedy), but I know a redshank and a curlew when I see one. The former skittish and flighty, the latter slightly aloof and aristocratic with its downward curving bill. The only way to get closer to these birds was to sit and wait for them to come to you.

The most obliging bird of the day was a charming snow bunting busily feeding on the path, oblivious to the over excited clicking of cameras.

The most spectacular birds of the day were the pink footed geese who flew over in their thousands, such a dizzying sight as they fly overhead in V formations, wave upon wave of gaggling Anser brachhyrhynchus squadrons.

On a clear day the sunset over The Wash is worth the journey alone. It is astounding. The sun a molten disk serenely retreating to the horizon, sometimes pure white, sometimes pink or pale gold.

The next time I visit I shall pay close attention to the RSPB timetable and aim for the very highest tide. I long to experience thousands of waders close up on the lagoons, watching as they scurry to beat the oncoming tide, transforming from distant flickers to tangible up close, full on wildness.

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