‘Is that the moon?’ this said in an incredulous tone by my buddy.
‘That’s pretty impressive’
‘A full moon, honey coloured, looks big doesn’t it?’
‘Those geese are heading right towards it; get your camera ready.....’
There we were standing patiently half way along a potholed, puddled track that leads from the small railway halt to the river. We had arrived 30 minutes before dusk after a good day birding the eastern section of the county clocking up ferruginous duck at a dull, squally Ranworth, a lonely looking cattle egret at Halvergate, a dozen common cranes at Billockby, buzzards galore, marshies everywhere and a lovely group of a dozen goldeneye at Martham Broad. A good haul, leading us smoothly into the current plan to spend a little while looking for geese on the marshes of the Yare Valley and to witness the corvids roosting in the wet carr. But we hadn’t factored in the rather surreal phenomenon of not just enjoying a dramatic sunset that sent bands of flaming orange across the western skies behind us, but coincidentally being able to witness an equally spectacular moonrise.
‘Last time I watched the moon rise I was in Brazil’ I quipped and proceeded to recount the tale of that evening waiting for a jaguar to return to its kill in the heart of the Pantanal with innumerable frogs chorusing all around and fireflies dancing on the warm night breeze (see Mad Mad Moonlight ). If he was impressed he wasn’t letting on.
The marshes between our location at Buckenham and the village of Cantley a couple of miles eastwards are managed by the RSPB to form part of the Mid Yare Reserve, a living landscape initiative that takes in large areas either side of the river itself. When young, nothing but a boy in truth, barely peeping over the counter at my teenage years, I used to frequent this area in spring recording the nests of all kinds of birds that choose these wide open wetlands to breed. Lapwing, redshank, reed buntings, coot, moorhen and mute swan could be encountered in good numbers together with the lots of reedy warblers and grebes. I seldom, if ever, visited in winter in those embryonic years of my love affair with wildlife; that particular sweet was only unwrapped once I reached my twenties and began to broaden my horizons and consequently my mind. My loss, for winter is when this place really comes to life. It is positively throbbing with life, pulsating, energised, invigorating. A scan of the area today showed thousands of birds grazing the well managed sward; geese of several species, wigeon aplenty, waders and the highest concentration of Chinese water deer I’ve ever seen. Periodically some raptor, either a peregrine that use this floodplain as their daily larder, or most likely a marsh harrier lazily flapping its way to roost at nearby RSPB Strumpshaw Fen (we saw at least 15 heading that way), would spook the smaller birds so that they rose en masse to twist and turn across the clear winter sky like so much confetti thrown over a smiling bride. Lapwings would flicker black and white, golden plover would spangle gold. The wigeon would whistle, the pink feet yelp, the grey lags bray. It is wonderful.
The sun sank in an arc of gold, the moon rose spectrally from behind the wood. Flights of geese, silhouettes against the deepest velvet blue, flew to feeding grounds inland, the air became chiller with the waning light. But still not a single crow. So late did it seem that we began to speculate that perhaps for some reason tonight the birds would roost elsewhere, when the faint chirrup of jackdaws reached our ears. In anticipation we moved closer to the roosting carr, positioned ourselves by a gate and waited. It happened in a rush. Without any preamble a sudden cacophony of caws and chirrups rent the air as wave after wave of rooks and jackdaws appeared from the west and wheeled above us towards their roost. Tightly massed flocks weaved across the sky, myriad small black dots against the deep blue of early night. These were crows but acted as murmurating starlings; twisting and turning as wisps of smoke, and still they came, thousands of birds assaulting the senses. Then on some signal, indecipherable to the human being, they plummeted to roost creating funnels of rapidly descending bodies; fluid, smooth, perfect. What must it be like to be within that mass, hurling downward with your brethren below and above, left and right towards an unlit woodland in near darkness? How do they manage not to collide and plunge to their doom? How exhilarating must it be? We will never know. The moon, now smaller, higher and brilliant white, unconcerned with these questions shone on.