RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Egyptian visitor brings regal air to Benbow Pond

You never quite know what you will see at Benbow Pond.

I wish I had been there in the last war when the nighfighter ace ‘Cats’eyes’ Cunningham stopped in his Bentley for a

brief respite with his navigator en route to Biggin Hill.

Cunningham was the test pilot for the Comet airliner, after a dazzling career in his Beaufighter, downing Lufwaffe aces in the starlit skies of southern Britain.

His visit was recorded in that classic true story of aerial warfare Nightfighter.

Ten years ago I saw an Australian visitor there, a black swan, one of two or three that had escaped a zoo and was enjoying a quiet life on this pond or that, and occasionally Bosham harbour, too, in the company of mute swans.

But yesterday I photographed this strange creature which wondered if I was about to

feed it. It is one of several Egyptian geese that have set up home at Benbow, together with Canada geese.

I expect you can see them at the Arundel collection held by WWT, but the Benbow birds are free-ranging.

It reminded me of the flights of these birds that I used to see at sunset on the Great Bitter Lake at Famagusta when stationed there in the RAF. Like our common shelduck, found on Chichester Harbour, these birds are in the tribe Tadornini, which includes both shelducks and shelgeese. Paradise ducks from New Zealand and Australian radjahs are related.

The ruddy shelducks that I used to see in Iraq on Lake Habbaniya near Faluja are relatives, too.

I doubt whether any are left there now.

Four thousand years ago, our Benbow bird would have been worshipped by the locals in its homeland.

This one in my picture almost looks as though it is expecting respect.

Ammon, the god of Thebes, whose name meant the Hidden One, being invisible, could assume the guise of anything: a crocodile, a ram or a goose.

The Hidden One was the spirit, or breath, that inhabited a person or creature’s body and seemed to come and go as it pleased.

It entered, dwelt a moment, and then wandered away when another spirit entered.

Gods therefore never died, but had an everlasting life of their own.

A god could become a peregrine falcon (Horus) or a crocodile, from the city of Crocodilopolis, or the sun god Re.

It could also become a king with a crown. Flights of fancy to us today no doubt, but that bird stared at me long and hard and was unable to understand why I was not treating him like royalty and bringing him food, at the very least.

Well I’m afraid I wanted it all for myself. I am not in his time-warp.