Aerial encounters at Rainham

Rainham Marshes – a RSPB nature reserve on the Thames estuary. I have never been there. In fact, the image of a flat watery landscape with distant wading birds doesn’t hold much appeal. But it is easily accessible from my East London habitat and I am longing for the wild on this short afternoon.

The sun is shining unencumbered and the air is still and cold. I cycle the last few miles along the Thames feasting on the contrasts of industry monoliths and wide river, smelly strewn waste and gull-rich piers. There is something enlivening about this urban borderland.

Thames estuary

I drop down from the river wall into the reserve, a vast stretch of marsh flanked by the Thames and the thrumming A13. People in khaki are dotted about everywhere, wielding giant lensed cameras, binoculars and tripods. A new species for me.

I turn to look in the direction of someone’s telescope and am transfixed by a short-eared owl gliding and swooping over the marsh. As I watch it hunt, my muscles twitch and flex in resonance. I wonder if this intense awareness is how the shapeshifters of indigineous cultures begin their transformations…

owl in flight

Mostly I approach life with a grasping mentality. I’m looking to accumulate as many pleasurable experiences as I can and the natural world is one of my go-to treasure chests. Yet, the encounter with the owl is so satisfying that I relax deeply and decide that any more good stuff this afternoon would be a bonus.

I slow my steps. No agenda, just a willingness to be with whatever presents itself. I soak up the soundscape of hundreds of lapwings and starlings whirling in the huge skies. Esconsed in the reedbeds, I call back my own song in homage.

Dusk ushers in and the cold deepens. A kestrel hovers suspended above me, the sun glowing red through its fanned tail feathers. It’s time to go home.


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