In the morning I arrived on the sea wall just as daylight was breaking in the eastern sky, or at least the heavy grey skies were getting brighter to eventually become daylight. Walking across the wet grazing marsh to get there I was struck by the fact that I couldn't hear any of the usual geese flock stirring, which was unusual. Scanning the reserve as the light increased it was clear why, there were no geese on the reserve, especially the Whitefronts, something that hadn't occurred for a couple of months. A little while later, talking to two wildfowlers as they came past, I asked if they'd heard or seen the geese pre-dawn but they said that they hadn't, just a few Wigeon in the dark. So a bit of a mystery and a disappointment to one guy a little while later. He came walking along the sea wall from Shellness, ahead of the now daily pipit twitchers that were starting to appear, holding one of those round sound receiving dish things up in the air. I had a brief chat with him and it appeared that he had been hoping to get some sound recordings of the White-fronted Geese but while I was there, had to make do with Brent Geese calls. The sea wall was starting to get busy again and so I left for home.
I was back there again by 15.45 in order to carry out my part of the monthly Harrier Roost count that is co-ordinated throughout Kent and Essex all at the same time and for the first time ever, I left both the dogs at home. It was very cold and to get across to the sea wall the dogs have to swim through some patches of deep water which is OK if they stay constantly on the move to keep warm. However, an hour or so sitting on the sea wall wet through in the cold, wouldn't of done old Midge any good so I left them at home. It felt strange not having them there with me but when I got back indoors, froze to the marrow, there were the two dogs, laying on their backs with their feet in the air, warm as toast - who was the idiot.
The photo below shows my view across the harrier roost area towards Shellness just as dusk was settling in, what it doesn't show is how bloody cold it was, my feet in the dreaded wellie boots were numb.
Just as the morning visit, once again there were no geese on the reserve, even the Brent Geese had gone down to the winter corn by the Shellness track. So my main entertainment was the large number of Curlew out on the mudflats of the bay behind Shellness Point. Their constant bubbling calls as the light began to quickly fade gave the area that lovely marshland atmosphere. In between constant surveying of the harrier roost area for any sighting of them, I could see a couple of people approaching along the sea wall from Shellness, unusual with it fast getting dark.
It was three-quarters dark by the time that they came past me, almost too dark to see much of what was going on down at the distant roost site but finally, and probably by pure luck, I saw the ghost-like pale grey plumage of two male Hen Harriers drop into the saltings to roost. The light was that bad by then that I doubt that I would of made out the dark brown plumage of a female harrier if one was there.
The couple said that they were staying at the Ferry House Inn for the weekend and were fascinated with how magical, remote and Darwinian the marshes alongside the reserve were in the fading light. They had hoped to see all the geese that they'd heard about but I told them that for some unknown reason the geese hadn't been about all day. They had not walked more than twenty yards further on when all of a sudden the clamouring of hundreds of geese came into earshot and out of the gloom and against what brightness was left in the grey clouds above, came several skeins of geese. Some were in V formation, some were just in loose flocks, and they wheeled about over us with a great noisy mixture of the Greylags' farmyard goose calls and the higher, chuckling calls of the White-fronted geese. Some then flew the length of the reserve and disappeared into the darkness but could then be heard coming back out over The Swale and appeared to drop down on to the tide out there. The remainder, mostly Greylags, spent the next half an hour or so, circling the reserve in the darkness and were still calling wildly as I made my back across the marsh to the car.
It was a truly magical episode, like some old black and white Peter Scott film - the couple stood with me on the sea wall and we all marveled at what we were seeing and hearing - the North Kent marshes at their finest.