More rare birds have been seen along this embankment than anywhere else in Britain. This is the East Bank at Cley in North Norfolk, a dead straight walk of about three-quarters of mile that lifts you a few feet above the marshes on either side and takes you to the sea. That day a long-billed dowitcher and a Lapland bunting had been seen from this eminence and I was taking the same walk.
But it was getting dark, the sun was hurrying down behind my left shoulder and good conditions for detailed, intelligent, accurate birding were over for the day… even had I been capable of such a thing. I walked on, the air filled with the whistling of wigeons, the cries of curlew and the heart-filling romance of the Norfolk winter.
Looking to my right as I neared the sea I could see burly waders beyond easy counting: mostly curlews and black-tailed godwits. There could have been a hundred long-billed dowitchers among them and a hundred short-billed dowitchers as well: I could make out nothing the but silhouettes of birds against orange pools that were rapidly turning silver and black. As for, Lapland or otherwise, they’d all gone to bed.
I turned back. It was very cold, the thaw hadn’t yet reached this far north, but at least the wind dropped — and in the few minutes of remaining light six marsh harriers got up to perform one last long slow aerial manoeuvre before they too went to bed: a stately measure, one of those ultra-formal non-touching dances from a Shakespeare play: a coranto, perhaps, or a sinkapace. They circled, some low to the reeds, some higher, turned away, turned towards, turned back. These were bad conditions for good birdwatching: perfect conditions for a Bad Birdwatcher.