A Spoonbillry and a fortified village.

If you read my last post you may have feared for my sanity. Certainly my life has to change, and perhaps the two books I am reading are part of the process. They are very different but both extraordinary.

They are: “first we make the beast beautiful” (no caps) by Sarah Wilson, subtext: “a new conversation about anxiety” and “The Betrayal” by Helen Dunmore. Sarah Wilson is an Australian journalist and writer who runs a business called “I Quit Sugar”. Her writing is hyper-chatty, peppered with US slang and ultra-personal. I hope it will help me deal with a problem which The Betrayal puts into brutal perspective. It is a novel set at the height of the Stalinist terror, and is written with beautiful measured clarity, slowly drawing us into a world where nobody is safe. Sarah Wilson’s world, and mine, feels much safer. We are seldom cold or hungry, seldom experience real pain, and are free to moan about our awful politicians. Most of us trust the police not to harm us and we have money to do most of the things we think we want. Despite all this so many of us are full of dread and unease.

Perhaps I will find some answers in the next few weeks, but meanwhile my exploration of the Charente Maritime hit pay dirt. On the previous day I had found a proper wetland reserve. There were no great flocks of waders, but I found these lovely kestrels and some more storks.

Then I went a few miles further south to the Ile d’Oleron where there was another reserve. It was heaving with traffic and densely populated, so (to my eccentric sensibility,) somewhere to get away from. However, on the way I   discovered the extraordinary fortified village of Brouage and on the way back, a nesting colony of herons, spoonbills and egrets. I decided to stay nearby and return in the early morning.

The light was perfect and I took some distance views from the van, but there seemed to be a path which might offer a closer view. It took me half an hour of wandering to find it, but then, moving very slowly and carefully I had the magical experience of being tolerated close to these wonderful creatures. I love the curious eye of the second bird in the first picture, and I love the challenge of focussing through branches. How difficult it must be to use those huge beaks to build a nest!

After fifteen minutes I didn’t think I could do better and, walking carefully on air, I left them to it, and went to explore Brouage. 

What a fascinating place. The history is here: Hiers-Brouage – Wikipedia  but it’s the atmosphere that excites me. I followed a party of schoolchildren round the ramparts and looked out towards the sea over what was a huge harbour, but the sea has retreated and it’s just farm land, a few houses and the remains of an oyster industry.

Inside the walls it’s clear that us visitors are the economy, but it’s low key tourism – just a few restaurants and shops, a church, a few craft workshops and museums, and the rows of old houses and their gardens. Outside the walls I’m fascinated by the little abandoned cottages which must have been seasonal lodgings for the oyster farmers. With a sigh I set off northwards but was immediately diverted onto a little side road. Within minutes I was surrounded by a vast area of wild marshland, and managed to catch this Black Tailed Godwit with a Spotted Redshank. One day, I promised myself, I would return.

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