As is my custom every year, I was on the reserve at 5.15, just as dawn was starting to brighten the eastern sky, to see in the start of the wildfowl shooting season and make my self known and have a chat with, the wildfowlers on the first morning out there.
And what a dawn it was, the sky was split in two, with brightness just showing in the east and stars still out to the west. Gradually however the sky turned to full and blue brightness until, with some speed, a beautiful orange sun rose alongside Shellness and briefly turned the sky a blend of pinks and oranges. It was a perfect September morning.
As I made my way across the marsh towards the sea wall in the half light, shots were already beginning to echo round the farmland with increased regularity, as the dawn light prompted the wildfowl into taking their regular flight lines between roosts and feeding areas. Unless the farmland duck shoots have released Mallard for shooting purposes, ducks are normally at a premium at this time of the year, the main shooting interest is the ever increasing number of Greylag Geese on Harty, especially while they're attracted to the corn stubbles, as below. These photos were taken yesterday on the farmland alongside the reserve and this morning two "duck shooters" were hidden up ready to ambush the geese as they dropped in as normal. Unfortunately for them somebody must of tipped off the geese because not one showed any interest in that particular field today, despite the shooters regularly using their goose call thingy which is supposed to sound like a Greylag Goose but in this case sounded like somebody standing on a cat's tail.
However, despite these two guy's bad luck, that was obviously not the case further out behind them on the marsh. The corn fed ditches and Capel Fleet below Muswell Manor were being heavily shot, something that carried on for an hour or so and at one stage some geese began to circle round and move further inland. Three however, broke away from the flock and as I climbed up on to the sea wall they headed out across the saltings to the tide where the wildfowlers, who had had no shots at all till then, bagged them.
That does tend to be the big difference between the true coastal wildfowlers and the inland "duck shooters", the wildfowlers, as you can see below, tend to prefer a solitary existence out on the saltings, often standing in deep tidal mud and getting the odd shot at what few wildfowl fly out that way.
Not for them the comfort and limited challenge of sitting round corn fed duck ponds and fleets inland, shooting large and unnecessary bags of wildfowl every visit.
When the wildfowlers eventually finished and came back to the sea wall we sat in the warm sunshine of a beautiful morning, listening to curlews and other waders out in the estuary and swapped chat about shooting, conservation and the countryside in general, it was great.