RICHARD WILLIAMSON Nature Trails...Tides and silver light as the avian adventurers return

It is time to see the tide again. For me the summer is butterflies and wild orchids, woodland birds and heather moors. At last the autumn comes and it is time for the running tide.

The sea calls, and rithes are filling, and the saltpans glitter with silver light. I sit on the seawall and listen. The birds have all come back from their high-summer arctic adventure.

There are some dunlin, revolving like a shoal of herring, flashing white then black against the sun. Here a grey plover, listening to sounds beneath its feet and dipping down like some wood toy to take a morsel. Far off across the channel the gulls are white-topping the ripples of flowing water.

The seawall has grown its garden again of wild seaside flowers which can only live with that saline drip of moisture. Wine-red leaves of seabeet are as luscious-looking as strawberries, their tangled stems hung with fruit like the vines of Rome.

The muds are brilliant green with rice grass, standing upright as spring barley. Winkles climb their stems, and gilley crabs shunt sideways beneath like city cars on tarmac.

My eyes are only too familiar with the scenes, yet glad to refresh again after woods and downs day-long. We are so lucky to have all three in reach in this county.

My other reason for being here is the monthly count of waterbirds, which 2,000 of us complete on the same day in Britain. Others too, in Europe.

Now the runnels fill, and spill in to others. Trickles can be heard, and then a gentle, distant hum. The tiny creatures of the shore open breathing valves in great relief, and suck, and blow, and breathe, and vent again.

White froth floods forward, drifting on like frost. A curlew trills across the flow, a trill that is the echo of the moors and mountains far away, and the midnight sun in far Spitsbergen.

Lapwings which have bred along the meadows of the Baltic shore turn and wheel over Fishbourne fields, looking like a swarm of bees.

On the salt sand fields a trip of ring plovers stand as still as flints, and no more obvious with their white and black and pale brown.

Most obvious the swans, all 150 of them, gliding like galleons and all done with rearing young, supping on the sea lettuce and algal strings of weed.

Redshanks paddle in the saltpans, and yelp in frenzy as I walk by, but settle down at once and wade the shallows as they feed. This link of late summer with early autumn allows a tern or two to float by on its way to Africa.

Perhaps what I miss most of the summer shore is the scent of salt and, what some call ozone. Sea aster too has tight umbels of sky blue petals which seems to smell just a little.

But the seaside smell of all is the enigmatic perfume which sea wormwood has. It is dense: its family has enriched absinth, and hooked the portals of the brain of many a tap-room traveller.

Just a pinch between finger and thumb of this little silver-grey plant can last an hour, and is the essence of a visit to the seaside.