It was a lovely drive along the Harty Road in the dawn half light and what seemed like the whole of Harty to myself. The arable fields are in various degrees of autumn readiness. Some have been deep ploughed in order to bury the seeds of the invasive weed, Black Grass and this year's stubbly wheat fields have been re-sown with rape seed and they have begun to turn green as the lines of seedlings begin to show. Finally, the fields that bore this year's rape crop have been lightly harrowed and await the seed for next year's wheat crop, the annual rotation of crops.
Standing at the five-bar gate onto the grazing marsh as the sky began to turn from pink to yellow and listening to various birds as they began to greet the dawn, is a remarkable feeling that never diminishes with age or repetition. I wonder how many birders of the smug and knowledgeable type, get out and experience it rather than relying on pagers.
I made my over to the sea wall where the sun was just beginning to creep above the horizon behind the hide and followed the dogs up on to the sea wall.
A quick scan along the saltings identified two wildfowlers, several hundred yards apart and one already making his way back along the sea wall. I walked the short distance to the hide and stood outside on it's veranda to watch events. A Water Rail "squealed" close by in the reed beds and and a few, single, Sand Martins and juv. Swallows made their way past, surprisingly heading in a westerly direction. Out on the fast ebbing tide the clamouring of Greylag Geese could be heard. It was obvious that they were on the point of taking off to head inwards to the stubble fields behind the reserve and lo, suddenly up they all rose in a huge crescendo of noise. I quickly looked at the two wildfowlers with my binoculars and they were now barely visible as they squatted down into the gullies out on the saltings, which way would the geese come, who would be the lucky shooter.
The geese turned west along the edge of the saltings, and the wildfowler in front of me must of cursed but the one much further down the saltings and under their possible path, must of had a suddenly increased heart rate. Minutes later his luck was in, the geese, in two seperate flocks, turned inland towards him and began their low and slow flight towards the distant stubble fields. Now I have made no secret of my support for this form of shooting, it can be a real test of both stamina and skill, but these were not Teal flying past at great speed in the blink of an eye, or Wigeon at considerable height that tested the skill of the shooter, no these were great lumbering shapes that simply couldn't be missed and it's difficult to watch what you know is about to unfold.
As the geese reached the middle of the saltings, calling excitedly to each other, the shots suddenly rang out, one bird crumpled immediately and dropped almost on top of the shooter. It was followed immediately by a second bird but a third, clearly badly wounded, followed it's instinct and tried to keep up with the flock - following it's life-long partner, following it's parent birds - but it was struggling and eventually, it turned in a wide arc and tried to head back to the sea, but it didn't make it, another shot saw to that and it fell dead.
A little later, chatting with the two wildfowlers on the sea wall, both with a brace of dead geese slung over their shoulders, I felt no real compassion for the dead birds, they were just four dead geese. It's witnessing the actual flying into their death bit that is the only part that I find moving and yet I have killed countless rabbits in my lifetime - strange.
Anyway, after a pleasant chat about all things shooting, we parted our ways, they towards the Shellness car park and the dogs and I across the reserve. We crossed the reserve and then the RSPB Harty fields and ended up at the track below Muswell Manor where I half-heartedly had a look along Capel Fleet for yesterday's juv. Montagues Harrier, but it never showed. And so back along the track/concrete road towards Brewers and Elliotts farms and along the tree line as we went, in the warm shelter from the breeze, we followed a Painted Lady butterfly. How many more sightings of those or any other butterflies will there be I wonder, the nights are getting cold, the dreaded winter gets nearer.