Yesterday I was fortunate to be able to enjoy the golden hour (or two): that magical time on a sunny winter afternoon when the sun sinks low in the sky, turning everything it touches to gold. I usually miss this, as I take my walk over lunchtime, but I timed yesterday's health and safety checks to perfection.
While many parts of the UK have been swathed in fog, we've had a few glorious days here in Suffolk: morning frost giving way to crystal clear blue skies, surprisingly warm sunshine (though you soon realise how cold it is when you move into the shade), a flat calm conditions, with barely a breathe of wind.
My walk had started with a splash of yellow, with a pair of siskins feeding in the alder trees alongside the pond. The yellow-billed great egret fed close to North Hide again, though it had frustratingly disappeared from view by the time I entered the hide.
Bearded tits pinged and Cetti's warblers shouted along the North Wall, a handful of red-throated divers and great crested grebes swam on the mill-pond-like sea, and several stonechats flitted from gorse bushes in search of unsuspecting beetles.
The clear, crisp light really enhanced the colours of the ducks and waders on the Scrape, but it wasn't till I returned from the Sluice that the world began to take on its golden sheen. And, wow, what a transformation?
About a hundred shovelers fed on the first pool of the Konik Field, but beyond them I could hear the distinctive whistling calls of drake wigeon. As I approached the second pool, a group of 20 or so wigeon swam serenely just a few metres away. Behind them, the golden reed stems reflected in the water, creating almost perfect lighting to enhance the colours of the ducks.
By the time I reached South Hide, even the whooper swans (and accompanying goosander) had begun to acquire a bit of a golden hue - I'm not sure that you could call this a whiteness of swans!
Likewise, the gold began to pervade the plumage of the lapwings and avocets.
And, of course, the reserve itself looked superb in this magical light.
So much so that I had to carry on to Bittern Hide to enjoy the sunset at its best.
It's always a good time of day to see marsh harriers, too, as they return to roost after spending the day feeding over surrounding farmland. The peak count this winter has been 36, but I only saw about six during my 15 minutes in the hide. This one, though, timed its flight to perfection as it cruised past the brightest, most golden part of the day.
Of course, there were some birds that eluded me yesterday. Most notably, although I heard several, the bearded tits between the Sluice and South Hide kept themselves hidden, despite showing well to many visitors all week, and the bittern refused to show at Bittern Hide.
I also didn't explore the woods yesterday, but on today's quick walk to Island Mere I was treated to a lovely mixed flock of tits - blue, great, marsh and long-tailed tits were all present. Better still, they were joined by not one treecreeper, not even two, but an incredible four treecreepers together. I think this might be my biggest ever flock. But will treecreeper feature in our collective nouns series? Stay tuned to find out.
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