The first glimmers of dawn light were showing to the east as I left home this morning for the reserve after first clearing a frozen windscreen on the car, it had been a cold night!
As I turned on to the Harty Road I glanced back towards Eastchurch up on the hill and was struck by the night's full moon gently slipping down behind the village and adding to the coldness of the scene.
When the sky is clear, as it was this morning, its amazing how quick the light increases and by the time that I pulled up at the reserve it was almost full daylight, with a lovely blue sky changing gradually to pinks and yellows the closer it got to the horizon.
I alighted from the car to the regular weekend dawn chorus of shotguns going off at various point around the farmland marshed behind me, the commercial duck ponds were suffering their regular attacks. As I crossed the reserve towards the seawall the grass underfoot was covered in hard frost, crunchy and firm and so much easier to walk across than the wet and the mud. Up the seawall steps and my first peruse of the saltings in both directions for any wildfowler heads that might be visible out there. Nope, none - the story so far of this shooting season, the wildfowlers have been very few and far between out there this winter - talking to them I doubt collectively if they've shot much more than a dozen or so birds over three months!
Still a dozen too many you might say, fair enough, but compare that with the scores shot around the commercial duck ponds on the farmland, each visit!
So, which direction to walk, I went west along the sea wall, heading for the stretch of reserve that lies below Harty Church. As I have mentioned before, these narrow grassy banks that run down to the saltings below the church, are a favourite part of the reserve for me with their views down The Swale and across to Oare. Looking across to Oare I could see a couple of wildfowlers on the saltings in front of the West Flood, presumably hoping to surprise any wildfowl leaving it, but instead they were shotless and instead stood around talking, its sometimes hard being a wildfowler - should I say that, oh well.
On the mudflats below the banks were several hundred Brent Geese, bathing, preening and generally cackling and barking away, they sound at times, like a pack of fox hounds away in the distance.
Eventually, they began to rise up in regular small flocks and make their way over me towards the farmland, a cackling, brent-full sky of birds.
They were heading for their current daily feeding area on the adjacent farmland, see them here towards the top of the field.
The field was sown this autumn with a silage grass mixture that will produce one or two cuts of silage next summer. It must be very lush and palatable for the geese at the moment, why mess about on mudflats! Technically, as long as the field doesn't become water-logged and muddy, the grazing by the geese won't do a lot of harm, just as a lawn does in the warmth of the Spring, after the geese have moved on, the grass will quickly shoot away to produce the silage crop that the farmer expects. Wether he will see it that way is a different matter, there could be trouble ahead as the song goes.
A sadder event occurred when I visited the reserve yesterday morning. As I parked up I became aware of one of the reserve's resident Barn Owls sitting atop a post alongside the car. That was unusual, they don't normally allow me to get that close. Getting out of the car with my camera, I was allowed to get within a few yards before the bird weakly flew off to quickly land in some long grass close by. For whatever reason, the bird doesn't look well and I fear that we shall find it dead there in the coming weeks, a real shame.