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Something about the late afternoon light across the bay prompted me to slip out and walk by the sea defences, past the mill pool at Ynys, to Llech Ollwyn. There I sat on one of the benches looking over the estuary to Aber Ia, took out flask and spyglass, and awaited developments. The tide had drained from Traeth Bach. Westering sun added a dimension of luxuriance to the sensuality of curving sandbanks, an intensifying brilliance to rippled water and scalloped sand. All the low hills along the Llŷn peninsula – Garn Fadryn, Garn Boduan, Yr Eifl, bulky little Moel-y-Gest in the foreground – were slipping behind a shimmering, pointilliste veil that was moving rapidly my way.

Focusing the telescope, I scanned the estuary for remnant signs of the bird life that was once so abundant at this season. Where years ago I’d have seen vast flocks of pintail, a single small group of birds far out caught my eye, clustered on a low ridge of sand above a sinuous deep channel. The retroussé bill of the largest bird, a suggestion of dove-grey and russet along the thick neck, identified it: rain geese! Red-throated divers. A couple of juveniles, and one adult, still in his gorgeous summer plumage, down early from their breeding grounds on northern Scottish lochans. A dapper squad of oystercatchers flighted in to splash down alongside them.

Red-throated diver with chick

‘The retroussé bill of the largest bird, a suggestion of dove-grey and russet along the thick neck, identified it: rain geese!’ Photograph: David Robinson/Alamy

Somewhere far out on the estuary a lone curlew, having descended from nesting on the wild moors above, insistently cried out the two notes from which its name derives. No response came in a place where, 40 years ago, its kind were thousands-strong, spiralling into the air, their song pitching up ecstatically and cascading plangently down.

Today’s solitary presence, unseen, set against the shimmery light, the memory of multitudes here, felt ghostly somehow. I watched as clouds hid the western hills. Swaying, mercury columns of rain detached and moved across the water towards me. A double arc of rainbow was suddenly flung across high hills easterly, its end almost at my feet. Two redshank sped past, scolding out a warning. Heavy drops of rain fell. I fled for home before the deluge.

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The Gaurdian

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