Yesterday morning I arrived at the reserve Just as light was lighting up what soon became a blue sky. There was a hard white frost and it was bone-chillingly cold but as the light increased and the eastern horizon gradually became a deeper orange, the sun threatened to rise shortly. Actually the shortly took another hour and it was 8.00 before the first orange tip inched it's way above the hills behind Seasalter but with the Shortest Day just two days away, things should start to swing backwards in time before long.
Arriving on top of the seawall,I could just make out the dark shapes of three wildfowlers out on the saltings in the half light, how cold they must of been and for no return. No wildfowl were visible at all on or around the reserve, the only ones audibly and occasionally visible, were Brent Geese out on The Swale. There have been large rafts of Mallard and other ducks recorded lately on the sea off of Shellness but where they are going to on land no one seems to know. The three wildfowlers packed up just after sun-rise and came on to the seawall for a chat before heading home, all teeth chattering and juddering with the cold. Apparently a few Greylag Geese passed along the salting before it got light, none of which were shot, and that was the sum of the morning's wildfowl. Looking at the still dry, new rills and scrapes across the reserve, despite last week's rain, that looks like remaining the case as well. I'm beginning to despair of seeing the reserve properly wet this winter, which could be disastorous for next year's breeding birds.
After the wildfowlers had gone, I carried on along the sea wall for a while before catching the sound of approaching geese, the exciting yapping of Barnacle Geese! 18 of them came in from The Swale and circled round me before going back out towards The Swale, what a lovely sound they make. With another 40-odd seen over mid-Kent the same morning perhaps birds are beginning to move in from the Continent, although one would normally expect to see good numbers of White-fronted Geese before or with the Barnacles.
Yesterday afternoon/early evening I was back at the Sea Wall Hide, enduring relentless cold, for the third Harrier Roost Count. This time fortunately, there were no wildfowlers out on the saltings and I had the increasing gloom to myself, but the cold was a bit of an endurance test, just standing there looking through a scope. It turned out to be one of the best I've ever had for Hen Harriers roosting on the saltings though. Immediately I put the 'scope up and look towards Shellness, I spotted a ring-tail (female) HH drop in and disturb a superb, pale grey male HH, which re-alighted a few yards away. Gradually, as the light lessened, single ring-tail HH's made their way along the salting past me and down to the Shellness end to roost. Eventually I ended up with 1 male HH - 4 ring-tail HH's and 1 female Marsh Harrier - a really good count for there in recent times!
Arriving back at the barn and my car in the near dark I was encouraged to see a Barn Owl out hunting. Whether this was the poorly one from last weekend I couldn't say but I was encouraged to see it. However there was a down-side to the owls in the week, looking round for a possible dead adult, three decomposing bodies of young Barn Owls were found. They had been dead for some time and had no rings on their legs and as we had rung the first brood of three chicks we could only surmise that the adults had had a second brood that didn't survive after fledging.