With the weather due to be springlike again today I shook off all the cobwebs, dusted myself down like a busy little bee, and looked forward to my two trips to the reserve today.
The first was to take part in the monthly, all year round, Wetland Bird Survey (WEBS), always carried out around a high tide and generally on the same day all round the country. On the Swale NNR there are three of us that take part and we then combine our totals. I always count the middle part of the reserve, that is the grazing marsh, and the adjacent farmland. Another guy counts at Shellness Point and another the saltings below Harty church. Both of those positions are at the extreme ends of the reserve and hold important and historical wader roosts. Today it took place during late morning/lunch time and despite milder weather and fast reducing water levels, I still had good counts of birds on my section.
62 Mute Swan - 260 White-fronted Geese - 600 Brent Geese - 50 Shelduck - 800 Wigeon - 30 Gadwall - 200 Teal - 140 Mallard - 30 Pintail - 80 Shoveler - 6 Pochard - 150 Coot - 1400 Golden Plover - 700 Lapwing - 100 Dunlin - 1 Ruff - 150 Curlew - 50 Redshank
There were a few other bits and bobs but the above were the highest counts and the best part was the arrival of the Whitefronts just as I got to the hide. They began flying in from the Harty Road just a mile away and after scattering all over the sky above me, suddenly began dropping into the reserve no more than a hundred yards away from me. The beautiful cacophony of Whitefronts calls as they do that is quite magical and after a quick wash and brush up, most of them were asleep, heads tucked under wings, within minutes.
With the WEBS finished at lunchtime there was time to get home and joyfully watch Man Utd beat Fulham before a return to the reserve for the Harrier roost count. Once again this is a monthly count, carried out around Kent over the six winter months and is designed to build up a picture of favourite roosting sites and the number of harriers that use them. Information that can be utilized in lots of ways.
Remarkably, as seems to have happened each time this winter, cloud cover during the afternoon cleared for the last hour and we were treated to a lovely sunset. As the day winds down then, the marsh is a lovely place as dusk settles in. The huge array of bird calls gradually dwindles with the light until at the very end you get that sudden rush of darkness as though somebody has switched a light off. But the birds still call intermittently, especially when they sense you trudging past in the gloom, and best of all, like this morning, it was the Whitefronts that held my ear, this time a mile or so away and perhaps calling "good night" to each other. Who knows, but it had been a lovely day, you just can't beat the big open skies of a marsh.