I left home this morning in temperatures of -5 and just as the first glimmer of light was showing in the sky. As I drove along the Harty Road, I stopped at Capel Corner to have a look at the large number of Mallard and some Mute Swans that were congregated around one small, pond-sized piece of unfrozen water in the Fleet. Mallard were the only duck species there which was surprising, given the +1000 Teal that had been there earlier in the winter.
By the time that I had arrived at the reserve and begun walking across the marsh towards the sea wall, the dawn sky was just starting to brighten up, as you can see below. A week after the snow fell it still looked, and felt, pretty bleak. The lights behind the sea wall are a large cable laying vessel that is moored in The Swale and is engaged at the moment in linking the wind turbines out to sea with the receiving station on the mainland opposite.
There were virtually no birds about, which was hardly surprising given how frozen up it was, and so after an hour, knowing I was going back late this afternoon, I cut the visit short just as some light snow began to fall. I just had time to take this photo of some of the sheep and the frozen grazing fields before a mini blizzard started up. In just 10 minutes everywhere was white again which was not exactly what was forecast and for me, was quite depressing.
Late afternoon, after several hours of slighter milder weather that had cleared the fresh snow, I was back at the reserve for the fifth Harrier Roost Count of the winter and as usual my station was on the seawall monitoring the saltings on the seaward side. It was a tad busy this visit, with ten wildfowlers out on the saltings and I anticipated the possibility of disturbance from shooting but it turned out to be the opposite. Talking to a few of them as they returned back along the seawall prior to it getting dark, it seemed that the cold had weakened them and they had packed up early. In fact for the time that I was there, stood on top of the sea wall in a cold N. wind and in slushy snow, shaking with the cold, I fortunately never heard a sound from the wildfowlers.
With the light beginning to fade and a murkiness hovering over the saltings in the distance it began to look as though no harriers were going to appear this visit. But all of a sudden they began to appear out of the increasing gloom and made their way down to the saltings at the Shellness Hamlet end. First a ringtail Hen Harrier dropped in, then two female Marsh Harriers, then another ringtail Hen Harrier, then a single female Marsh Harrier. It was getting difficult to see the birds then but just as I was thinking of packing up three more harriers appeared together and circled the saltings in the gloom and much straining of watery eyes confirmed them as three more ringtail Hen Harriers just before they dropped into the vegetation.
So 5 Hen Harriers and 3 Marsh Harriers were my best roost count this winter so far and it made the cold and the stumbling across the marsh in the dark with two terriers that kept disappearing, all worthwhile.