I arrived at the reserve at 07.00 this morning in cracking warm and sunny conditions, it was a great time of day to be out and about. The farmland alongside is now all either stubble or lightly tilled soil and into the wheat stubble the rape for next year has already been sown - the winter corn will go in fairly soon into what were this years's rape fields. Walking round was really pleasant but like the title suggests, walking round the reserve at the moment you form the impression that you are simply marking time until something changes. Because of the very dry conditions, you know that the opportunities to see any noteable bird numbers are almost not there and its simply a matter of just enjoying being out and about.
What is the next change, well, I suppose apart from several days of continous rain, which is very unlikely, it is September 1st and the start of this year's shooting season. Thats unlikely to make it rain hard but the intensity of shooting around Harty will probably see an increase of wildfowl on the reserve as the birds become disturbed and look for refuge.
The photo below shows the scene along the Harty road at the moment as up to 400 Greylag Geese frequent the wheat stubbles looking for spilt grain. Many of these semi-tame feral geese will no doubt be enjoying their last few days alive before they are slaughtered. From what I can gather, large chunks of Harty have beem leased to various different people this coming season and it has the potential to be shot very intensively. These geese for instance, over the first week or so and until they lose their tameness, will be shot in large numbers by leaseholders who have very little interest in conservation but simply getting large bags in the name of "getting their money's worth" and shooting 30,40,50 birds at a time is not unheard of.
Witnessing slaughters like that is when you come to realise that the wildfowlers that frequent the saltings in front of the reserve are a far less damaging and much hardier breed of wildfowl shooters.
I recall one afternoon last year, 22nd December to be exact, when heavy snow was just beginning to thaw across Harty but a bitter cold N wind had set in during the afternoon creating sub-zero temperatures until well into the night. I had been out on the reserve for the last two hours of daylight, taking part in the monthly Harrier Roost Count, and was walking back to my car as it got dark, absolutley froze to the marrow. I watched a wildfowler come up onto the seawall in the distance and begin to trudge back along the seawall himself.
Talking to him the next day it transpires that he had arrived on the saltings that previous day and shot the early morning with no success. He then moved out to the edge of the saltings, placed some decoys out on the mud and sat their for over eight hours in sub-zero temperatures while the tide came in and went out, just to get half a dozen ducks. I was numb after a couple of hours, gawd knows what he felt like after his spell and there is most certainly a huge difference between that kind of shooting and that of the morons on the farmland that practically have the birds put on the end of their gun barrels for them.
Having admired that guy for his determination, I still face the coming shooting season, as I do every year, with a large degree of sadness at the loss of solitude that I've enjoyed for the last six months and knowing that it means I will have to witness the regular shooting of wildfowl again. The best I can do is accept that one faction are far less harmful than the rest.
And having just said that, its also sad in these modern times, knowing that the improvements that we have made to the nature reserve this last couple of weeks, should not only increase the numbers of wildfowl attracted to the reserve this winter, but will also increase, through nothing that they have contributed too, the number of wildfowl presented for shooting by those wildfowlers just a hundred yards the other side of the seawall. It sometimes makes you wonder why you bother.