Monday, 17 September 2012

Harty Weekend

 On Saturday, I was fortunate to be on Harty at both ends of the day. The two photos above were taken by myself at 06.30 on the seawall at The Swale NNR as the sun began to rise over Shellness Hamlet.
The two below were taken by my partner at Capel Corner along the Harty Road as she captured the sun setting behind Eastchurch Prison.

An interesting observation as we sat at Capel Corner waiting for the sun to set, was the sight of hundreds of Starling continually flying in and perching along the overhead power cables there. Eventually they stretched for several hundred yards along the cables and numbering a 1000+ I wondered where they would eventually roost. That question was soon answered immediately the sun dropped below the horizon, in a small reed bed in Capel Fleet. This small clump of tall phragmites was about a 100yds from the road and could only of been around 30yds in diameter and yet in they all poured and I was amazed that the tall stems could of taken such a weight of birds without collapsing.

On both Saturday and Sunday mornings I visited the reserve at dawn, just as the sky was starting to lighten in the east, and mainly to check out the wildfowler situation on the saltings. Not because there were any problems with them, more a case of were any bothering to still come given the dearth of ducks at the moment. On both mornings it was very obvious that the duck shortage continues, with Saturday being the best morning when I saw 14 Mallard and 2 Teal, quite dire to be honest, but if you ain't got water, you won't get ducks, or anything else that likes wet ground in fact. What continues to tempt the wildfowlers however, are the Greylag Geese, around 300 of them at the moment. Generally the geese stay on the reserve or surrounding farmland, although on the farmland they are being picked off at a regular rate by shooters, but they have formed the habit of going out to The Swale mudflats in the dark in order to pick up grit from the mud. At first light, this results in a huge flock of geese flying very low and slow, back across the saltings to get to the reserve and if a wildfowler is fortunate enough to be under such a flight path the results are quite predictable. On Saturday morning a solitary wildfowler had just the one shot over three hours and bagged one goose but two guys on Sunday morning were in totally the wrong place, and spent around three hours supplying blood to huge swarms of mosquitoes and midges without firing a shot.
We sat on the seawall having a chat once they'd given up, and given it was their first visit to The Swale they too were surprised to see how dust dry and bird-free the reserve and surrounding area was. Although to my surprise, we did hear four seperate Water Rails calling in the Delph reed beds as we chatted but of course never, ever saw them, but that became my highest count of Water Rails in one go on the reserve.

Going back to just after dawn on Saturday morning, I suddenly heard at around 06.30, the sound of a lot of dogs barking coming from the Harty church direction. It seemed early in the day for the Hunt to be out but it was confirmed when a little later I could hear hunting horns being blown in the far distance. Given the early time of day and the time of year, I suspect that they could of been looking for fox cubs to train the young hounds after. Unfortunately the Hunt is meeting more and more regularly on Harty these days, I suspect because there are a lot of areas on the marsh where they can't easily be seen by the public as they carry out their normal hunting activities, presumably with the blessing of the two landowners there.

Finally, on Saturday afternoon, in lovely warm and sunny weather, we walked out to the very edge of Shellness Point and sat on the beach of solid cockle shells there, facing the bay. The sun was sparkling across the wavelets, small yachts were taking part in what looked like a race and Curlews were flighting in to the saltings to roost.  Just round the corner from us a large roost of a thousand or so Oystercatchers, Ringed Plovers and a few Turnstones sat on the beach at high-tide roost, totally undisturbed by us or anybody else. If you stick to the permissive path going out there to the Point, it works really well in that the further out you go, the more you become hidden by the height of the beach, from the roosting birds. And what a beautiful, quiet and isolated spot the Point there can be at high tide on such a sunny day, its hard at times to believe that eastern Sheppey can be so different to the industry and towns of the western end.

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