Monday 21 November 2011

Harrier sunset

It was most definitely a day of two halves yesterday. When I got up at 5.30 there was thick mist outside and a dawn visit to the reserve looked pointless. However, by 6.45 here in Minster, the mist had cleared and so I thought I'd give it a go and headed off out. Going through Eastchurch and looking out across the eastern half of Sheppey, it was obvious that visibility at that end of the Island was very limited due to the mist. However it was one of those house-high type of mists again, with blue skies overhead and so I carried on anyway.
Arriving at the reserve in thick mist and hard frost I decided to briefly go across to the seawall and then home again. Despite not being able to see anything, except flying over, the sounds coming from the tidal mudflats were quite spectacular. Curlews, Redshanks and Oystercatchers all called non-stop and somewhere out in The Swale, Brent Geese could be heard "barking" in the mist, you don't always have to actually see the birds for it to be quite magical.
Just then a figure loomed through the mist on the sea wall, a figure carring a long-lense camera on a tripod, someone with a high degree of hope obviously. He turned out to be a guy that comments on my blog, a professional wildlife photographer called Lewis, and he was hoping to get some shots of Short-eared Owls, a slim hope at that moment. We had a chat and I told him that I would be back later in the day for the monthly Harrier Roost count and he was welcome to join me for that, and then I departed for home.

The return trip at 3.00 pm was in far more pleasant weather conditions, clear blue skies and pleasant sunshine, it had been a really good day after the mist had cleared. It had certainly brought out the walkers and bird watchers as well, its the most I've seen around Harty for some time, and why not in such perfect November weather. I stopped at the Raptor Viewing Mound to speak to some and they confirmed that as well as several raptors seen, the 27 Pink-footed Geese were still present at Capel Corner and a Great White Egret had been in Capel Fleet close to The Mound.
With the sun now fast losing its warmth and a chill starting to rise across the marsh, I made my way back to the reserve and across to the seawall, stopping briefly to speak to a couple from Surrey who were enjoying a walk round the Harty circuit. They were also very novice bird watchers and so were well pleased when I pointed out both Short-eared Owls and Bearded Tits to them as their first-time ticks. I then re-joined my photographer friend from the morning on the verandah of the Sea Wall Hide and took stock of the scene.

The sun was just starting to set behind Harty Church to the west, there were four wildfowler's heads just visible way out on the saltings in front of us, and several Short-eared Owls were hunting close by. Suddenly, around 90 Teal came off the reserve and shot low across the saltings towards The Swale like arrows. Thankfully, the two wildfowlers they passed closest to were deep in conversation and before they had grabbed for their guns, the Teal were long gone. That, until I left in the near dark, was the only action the wildfowlers had and you wouldn't of even known they were there. Lewis the photographer showed me some of his superb photographs captured during that day, I decided to keep my cheap little Fuji concealed behind my back and we chatted about his work at Eagle Heights.
The sun was now well gone, a damp cold was setting in and the light was receding fast and yet still no harriers at all, anywhere, just the owls and a solitary Kestrel. However, after constant sweeps of the saltings in the increasing gloom a male Hen Harrier suddenly swept in across the saltings at Shellness and without hesitation, suddenly dropped into the saltings to roost, my first male Hen Harrier of the winter as well. The saltings close to Shellness Hamlet are a long established favourite roost for Hen Harriers and with the light making viewing at any distance increasingly difficult, a female Hen Harrier made its way along the saltings in front of me and I was just able to see it drop in close to the male to roost.

So, just the two Hen Harriers there this month, it'll be interesting to see how the other three observers on Sheppey did at their roost sites. And before I left in the near dark, with Lewis now departed, I got out the Fuji and took this photograph of the sky behind Harty Church with mist just visible, lifting off the marshes.


  1. Hi Derek, That sunset looks familiar mate, the reason being, is that i too saw the same sun set. I returned to Isle of Sheppey/Shellness on the 20/11/11. I thought i would try for better photos of the SEO's. Whilst taking photos of the Owls, I also captured a lucky pic of a female Hen Harrier too.
    Of course the tide was way out(which i didnt know it would be) so i didnt get many pics of the waders. I saw the female Hen Harrier at 2.30pm. Cheers Paul.

  2. Paul, While I was waiting at the seawall hide as you'll have read, I could see some people over on Shellness beach, presumably that was you.

  3. Hi Derek,

    Glad to see that you finally caught up with that male hen Harrier,cracking bird. Mike