Monday, 2 September 2013
Yesterday was of course the 1st September and it not only saw the start of Autumn but also the start of the shooting season and as I always do, I saw it in by a visit to the reserve at dawn. I left home just as the sky was showing signs of brightening in the east and it was still only half light as I arrived at the reserve and began to make my way across the grazing meadows to the sea wall. There was a chill in the air but I was still warm enough with just a shirt and jumper above my trousers and I couldn't help thinking back to the February Harrier Roost count. It was an hour before dark that Sunday afternoon as I followed the same route across to the sea wall but boy was it cold, and not only cold but I was hunched up against heavy snow showers brought in by a strong and icy wind - how far away that all seemed yesterday morning.
My main reason for the traditional early start was to see and hear the extent of shooting that was going on around Harty that first morning. Wildfowlers have a thing about being out on that first morning just as birdwatchers do about seeing the first Swallow, they might not bother for a few weeks afterwards but that first morning is special in their minds. On the top of the sea wall the light was beginning to increase, the sun hadn't yet risen but the sky was turning pink in anticipation and highlighting the aircraft con-trails as it did, seems most planes were going south-east. A first scan along the saltings with the binoculars couldn't spot any wildfowler's heads sticking up from the various rills out there, surely it wasn't going to be a no show, that would be a first in twenty-seven years of patrolling out there. But no, a second sweep finally found the camouflaged head of one such hopeful sitting out there and at the same time I could hear the resident flock of Greylag Geese beginning to become increasingly noisy out on the Swale mudflats, they were surely about to take off and flight inwards across the saltings. As I picked them out with the binoculars they did just that, around 120 of them flying in low, slow and tightly bunched towards the sea wall and the reserve and presumably to the disgust of the lone wildfowler, as they were all around 300 yds from where he was positioned. They carried on across the reserve but then, for the first time in two weeks, did not head straight to a corn stubble field alongside the reserve to glean the spilt corn, but veered off and chose another field a few hundred yards away. That was strange but it turned out to be very fortunate as I was soon to find out.
By then the sun had just started to peep above Shellness Hamlet and a Sparrowhawk skimmed across the grass tops ahead of me, a bird always seeming strange to see in a marshland habitat and it scared up a dozen or so Teal that I hadn't noticed before then. I crossed back across the reserve and took the rear route round towards the Tower Hide. Whilst wandering along the reserve's boundary fence there I suddenly became aware of a shooter hidden in the vegetation on the other side of the fence which surprised me as I'd heard no shots at all that morning, other than in the distance from the Capel Corner area along the Harty Road. I stopped for a chat and it transpired that he and four others, who I later saw as I continued walking, had been hoping to ambush the Greylag Geese as they dropped into the usual stubble field. Clearly the geese had indeed been fortunate that morning, or over intelligent, by their new choice of feeding field, because the shooters, having watched them using the same one all week, had positioned themselves perfectly under the usual flight line. Some things are meant to be and for the geese a hat trick was beckoning and that came shortly after.
After a bit more countryside chat I left the shooters to their wasted vigil and carried on, back to my car. Half an hour later I watched as one of them in a vehicle drove round behind the geese in the nearby field deliberately scaring them up in the hope that they would fly towards his waiting companions. The geese however, were on a roll and having none of it, they simply flew out into the middle of the reserve and settled down there for a nap and a preen. It was 3-0 to the geese yesterday, they will get caught up with at some stage but it was amusing to watch their good fortune on that first shooting day.