Encounters with Suffolk
Encounters with Suffolk is a new series of blog posts designed to give an insight into my relationship with Suffolk countryside. I feel that my images can only ever hint at what it is actually like to be in a particular place at a particular time. There is so much beneath the surface that can’t be seen in an image, the smells, the sounds, and the wildlife. So this series of posts is designed to give an insight into all of that – these are my encounters with Suffolk.
Part 1. Alderton, photography and a short eared owl
Half way between East Lane and Shingle Street, nestled between the sea wall and the beach lie two shallow marshy lagoons. Bounded by sweeping grasses and overlooked by one of Suffolk’s 11 remaining martello towers this is a wild coastal habitat frequented by many diverse and wonderful species of birds and animals.
Today, as I follow my familiar route to the beach, the mist hangs heavy in the air like a soft grey blanket. Thick and insulating it swirls and envelopes everything in its path leaving shimmering surfaces of moisture in its wake. The stillness accentuates the familiar everyday sounds of this coast; the gentle breaking waves on the shingle beach, the haunting cry of a curlew somewhere out on the lagoon and the pewitt calls of the lapwings as they soar and free fall over the farmland on the far side of the sea wall.
The vibrant colours of summer have given way to the subtle tones of autumn. The sea aster’s prolific mauve flowers have set seed and now form a white filigree edging to the still waters of the lagoon. Flocks of goldfinches flit and dance among the grasses taking advantage of autumn’s fruitful harvest. The murky conditions provide me with some welcome cover and I find I can watch their antics without being observed.
Suddenly out of the mist a bird appears gliding just above the turf on silent wings, mottled plumage mirroring the colour of the landscape below. He lands on the sea wall tantalisingly close and folds his long wings into his body. Bright yellow eyes edged with black stare out from a round elfin like face and peer straight at me registering mild bemusement at my presence. We stand and stare at each other; the short eared owl and I, neither of us daring to move for fear of upsetting the other. Then just as quickly as he appeared he is airborne again. Like some giant moth he flies in a slow floppy fashion just above the surface of the grass his black elbow patches clearly visible through the mist. He lands again a little further along and this time is quickly set upon by two black headed gulls. Full of bravado and attitude the gulls raucous voices express their disquiet at having to share the beach with such a beautiful hunter.
Harrying and screeching the bullying gulls mob the owl continually finally driving it into the air for a second time where on graceful wings it vanishes into the mist.
Short eared owls once bred widely along the Suffolk Coast attracted by a prolific bounty of mice and voles. But recently their breeding range has shifted northwards and the resident population of East Anglia has all but disappeared. Instead we have to wait for autumn to welcome back visiting short eared owls from the continent or the highlands further north.
As I set up my camera to capture the misty landscape around me I feel privileged to have shared a brief moment with such a beautiful and enigmatic bird.