22 November 2015

RSPB Snettisham

11,720 Geese at Dawn

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful....

It is dark, and only a gleam on the eastern horizon heralds the day, but already small skeins of geese are beginning to take to the air. These are honking Canadas who have spent the night on the waters of the WWII gravel pits.  

A few of these explode past me barely above head height as I blunder along the access trail inland of Pit 2. Across the water a few lights flicker in the cottages along the shingle shore line where the hardiest of the Snettisham residents have their vulnerable dwellings.

I cross to the beach trail and look out into the gloom across the Wash. A dim red beacon glints at me from Lincolnshire, but I can't see much more beyond the pools that glisten in the mud.

I pass the RSPB Warden, Jim Scott, whose binoculars are trained on some activity in the distance.  That will be what I have come to see, the seasonal marvel of the pink-footed geese who have come here in their thousands to over-winter away from the Arctic freeze. 

As the light lifts I can make out the beginnings of the goose day. They are quite far out, as high tide is yet two hours off, but I can see them stirring.

I reach the grassy area beyond the Rotary hide. The sky is lightening now and the geese are coming thick and fast.  

I can make out their markings, but they have already reached quite a height as they pass overhead.    

I learn from Jim Scott later that he counted 11,720 on this morning.  I don't know what I expected to see, nor what sometimes may be seen, as every morning will be different. 

The pink-footed goose, anser brachyrhynchus, breeds in central Iceland, eastern Greenland, and western Svalbard (a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean). Around 360,000 spend the winter in the UK, with perhaps about a quarter of these nowadays coming to Norfolk to feed on the sugar-beet fields (they were first recorded on this crop in 1966, but it is now a mainstay of their winter diet).

I guess that on some mornings the sky may be filled with the birds as they beat their way inland, hungry after a night in the Wash.  On this occasion though they come in small waves, the skeins strung out across the ever changing sky.

I do not claim religion. Sadly, I lack faith.  But as the skies fill with glory I am struck by what I see. A golden sky, dotted with wonderful creatures moving across my vision in harmony, to perpetuate their lives together.

I lack faith, but at times I gain strength from reading, and the literature of religion is not entirely lost on me.

Sūra XCIII of the Koran, Dhuhā, or The Glorious Morning Light, was revealed to the prophet Muhammad at Mecca:  

By the glorious morning light

And by the night, when it is still,

Thy Guardian-Lord
Hath not forsaken thee,
Nor is He displeased,

And verily the hereafter
Will be better for thee
Than the present.

And soon will thy
Guardian-Lord give thee
(That wherewith) thou
Shalt be well-pleased.

Did He not find thee
An orphan and give thee
Shelter (and care)?

And He found thee
Wandering, and He gave
Thee guidance.

And He found thee
In need, and made
Thee independent

Therefore, treat not
The orphan with harshness,

Nor repulse the petitioner

But the Bounty
Of thy Lord—
Rehearse and proclaim!

The pink-feet melt into the day, their excited chatter fading with their fleeting shapes.  As I watch the last of them go, a family of mute swans suddenly breaks across my line of sight, their whumphing wings startling me, whacking the air like bullets in the dawn....

Then, as the world turns, the sun explodes across the sky.  I look across pit 4 to the thickets beside the Loop trail.  In the foreground I see a mass of cormorants, their black shapes hooded against the light....

I lack faith.  I love literature.  the human family cannot resist images. One day, perhaps, we will return to the enjoyment of the images that were there before us all....

When the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared, we admired the island and wandered all over it....

The Odyssey, Book IX

*     *     *     *     *

And then the morning is grey again. Drear day lies across the Wash and the moment has gone.....  Waders go about their business in the cold light, and the world turns.....

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