The weather seemed set for the day, the early afternoon but a passageway to the darker room of night. As we’d broken from the hide for the car we’d rushed along the shingle path, the driven rain catching our breath. Back along beneath the bank, rabbits gone to ground, when a bird swirls up from behind it – goldy ochre – and we both said ‘Bittern’ and fumbled for our binoculars as the gale pushed him away. He banked and controlled the wind, and cut down behind the burnished red of willows that obscured the view. I wanted to run, to see him land, to maintain that fleeting, briefest of contacts, to somehow possess in those few seconds something, a burnt image on my retina, some communication, acknowledgement, essence. But he was gone again. And even with my new binoculars bought that morning on the reserve I was a man searching for needles in haystacks.