Sights and Sounds

I‘ve walked around and across and between the Fenn’s Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses over the last four years or so, building up a sense of the life within the landscape, changing seasons and human narratives. Some earlier walks were documented on my No Time Like The Present blog:

June 2017 – Whixall to Bettisfield Walk with a group of artists from Participate Contemporary Artspace CIC.

March 2018 – Whixall Moss walk with Mike Crawshaw of Natural England and a group of artists/poets: Ted Eames, Ursula Troche, Ruth Gibson and Adele Mills

I’ve also walked with poet Jean Atkin and partner Paul, and several other friends and family. The conversation when walking is directed by chance encounters to spark new ideas and fresh perspectives.

Solitary walking in the vast open space of the Mosses is a wholly different, almost transcendental experience, where distance is hard to measure due to the lack of obvious landmarks and progress can feel almost static.

Some of the more recent visits over the past 12 months have involved making field recordings of sights and sounds. Last Summer, I was allowed permission by the reserve manager for Natural England to visit the NNR on my own at dusk, overnight and pre-dawn with certain safeguards.

I captured some stunning views of the sun rising as the dawn chorus reached its crescendo. Curlews flew overhead with their unmistakable cry.

Then on the warm night of the Summer Solstice in June 2019, I recorded the sun setting and while darkness fell I headed out to the northern edge of Fenn’s Moss. As I approached the heathland where birch trees had been felled, I heard the unearthly churring of nightjars. Even though I had heard recordings of them, it was difficult to convince myself that it was a bird that was making the strange electro-mechanical-like sound. In fact, I could hear at least three nesting sites which seemed to be about 50-100m apart. At one point, I was standing on the path some 2 metres or so from where I thought the sound was coming from … but of course, it was too dark to see anything and certainly not a bird as well camouflaged as the nightjar.

My last visits before the Covid 19 lockdown were in December 2019 to see the amazing murmurations of starlings that became a daily phenomenon above the fields adjacent to the road approaching Morris Bridge. This had not been reported at Whixall Moss before on such a scale, as huge swirling clouds of up to an estimated 60,000 birds gathered at dusk. Each night was a different breathtaking performance, and gradually more and more people heard about it and came to watch in amazement.

The birds arrived from all directions and the pulsating murmurations split off into two or more groups either side of the road until the whole sky seemed to be filled with movement. We heard the rush of wings as the mass of birds swooped past.

At a moment that every starling seemed to recognise instantaneously, they dived downwards into the trees where they could be heard noisily settling down to roost… catching up on their day’s events perhaps, or passing on good tips for feeding locations.

A week or so after my last visit, it was reported that the starlings had stopped returning. It was thought that someone had disturbed their roosting. So we must wonder whether this incredible spectacle will reappear again next Winter.

Published by andhowe

I am a visual artist, based in Shrewsbury, making paintings, photography, books and digital media inspired by walking. My artistic practice focuses on the interaction between people and places.

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