SURPRISE

 

 Female mallard (close perspective), foraging in a field on the edge of the River Severn.

On a dull November afternoon, I discovered a still channel of water in the centre of the reserve: a passage for ducks, close to the New Decoy Pool. For several minutes I watched the birds sail through, reflecting neatly on the surface. Their calls were a surprising contrast in the visual calm — harsh and disruptive — and I wondered if it would be possible to convey this sense of 'broken stillness' in a recording.

The vegetation along the banks was dense with nettles and low-hanging willow branches, but I was eventually able to place two microphones at the water's edge, inches from the surface. I left everything camouflaged and unattended in order to monitor another placement about half a kilometre away, and recovered my equipment later that evening.

A female mallard cuts the water quietly before she calls. I picture her on her own when I listen — a solitary figure, barely a metre away — but there may have been other birds in the background, watching silently.