Yesterday had to be the best day of the year so far, cloudless and sunny all day and very warm during the afternoon. Apart from the drought, which looks like it could end up being quite serious, yesterday's weather gave rise to thoughts of the impending season, Spring migrants, butterflies, long daylight hours, one or two birdwatchers complaining about it being too hot, all the ingredients of another superb Spring and Summer.
I began the day just after dawn, walking round the RSPB fields at Harty and having a look to see if the Lapland Buntings were still there, and if they were they didn't show for me. There was one encouraging sight there though, three male Corn Buntings were holding territories in the fields and singing constantly, if you can call the "jangling of keys" singing. Another noticeable feature on both those two fields and the Swale NNR alongside now since the ploughing up of the neighbouring grazing fields, is the increase in Hares. Clearly the loss of their habitat has forced them to move on but hopefully it will see them safer in such places because the Beagle pack was out on Sheppey last week doing what beagles do best and chasing hares. I know its illegal now but if you deliberately walk a pack of hounds through hare countryside its quite clear what the outcome is going to be. Its really annoying at this time of the year because hares have, or are about to have, young.
After an afternoon enjoying the sun in the garden, Man Utd's win, City's loss and England winning the rugby, I went back to the reserve late afternoon for the 6th and last of this winter's harrier roost counts. They begun in the mists of October, went through the snows of February and ended yesterday as Spring was heralded in by a beautiful and sunny March evening. As I walked across the reserve in the sunshine, Skylarks were singing, Lapwings were wheeling and diving in their courtship displays, I had a spring in my arthritic feet and a mole had clearly started off with a stagger before straightening out again, or was it the other way round.
I also found the first Lapwing's nest scrape, using the remnants of an old cow patt, a few wisps of grass to line it and eggs won't be far behind.
On to the top of the sea wall then, to wait for the light to eventually begin to fade and the harriers to come in to roost on the saltings. The two small cable laying ships were still anchored in the Swale in front of me and its always fascinating to watch them become more prominent as the light gradually ebbs away. In the early evening sun they don't really stand out that much but gradually as it begins to get dark the lights on the vessels begin to take on more prominence until its just you and them in the solitary darkness of the marsh. As I waited I watched the vessels through my scope in the increasing dusk and could see one or two crew members in the lit up bridge doing whatever they do. Curlews "bubbled" away on the mudflats and a Water Rail mewed in the reed beds alongside me, its a mystical sensation to be out there on your own at that time of day, and the sun finally sank behind Harty church.
Its only then that the harriers begin to come into roost, suddenly appearing from seemingly nowhere, and they made their way low along the saltings before suddenly dropping down to roost for the night. One or two stayed together but generally they roosted singularly and they were all female Hen Harriers. I counted seven in the end, my best count this winter and I look forward to seeing them back again in the autumn.
By then the dimming of the day was complete and as the last rays of light across the marsh slipped away, I turned and made my way home.
"I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there's someone there, other times its only me,
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man,
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand".........Bob Dylan