Sunday 18 January 2015

Another Harrier Roost Count

I've had some quite idyllic Harrier Roost Count evenings, during the six winter months that we do them every year. Some beautiful, still and warm October evenings, watching huge red sunsets and even odd March ones where lighter evenings gave a hint of imminent Spring. Many of those in between however, have been pretty awful, standing on a snow-covered sea wall, in icy winds and snow showers, or quickly thickening mist, and all after wading across a part-flooded marsh in water or mud, often too deep for my wellies. Today was a reasonable day, a cold and rainy morning had eventually led into a very cold but brighter afternoon, however swapping a nice warm house in late afternoon with football on Sky and the prospects of a nice glass of wine to watch it with, for flood water, mud and a chilling wind did little for the enthusiasm.

Driving along the Harty Road at 3.30-ish there were a surprisingly large contingent of hardy birdwatchers at the Raptor Viewing Mound, while across the road one or two duck shooters were arriving ready for their weekly evening duck shoot around a specially dug and corn-fed duck pond. Such is the contrast between two interests out there, separated by little more than the width of the Harty Road.

Arriving at the reserve barn and with the light beginning to fade, I surveyed the watery landscape ahead, swore at myself for being there and then the two dogs and I sped/splashed as fast as we dared, across to the Sea Wall Hide. First thing on arriving, check out the saltings for any wildfowlers that might be out there, part hidden in deep and muddy rills. No, and surprisngly, there were none, I had the place to myself, couldn't complain about that. A quick check for any early harriers (they are almost always Hen Harriers that roost on those saltings) but none, they normally come in a rush just before 50% darkness, which is inconvenient when you have a part flooded marsh to negotiate on return in the darkness. The light began to fade quickly but a clearing sky allowed for some spectacular and well coloured cloud formations as a bright orange sun set below the horizon, it was worth being there just for that. Time to scope all round the reserve to see what else was about, especially on the Flood Field in front of the hide, which, as you can see, is now living up to it's name, but it was pretty much deserted, just a few Lapwings and Curlews. However, further along the waterlogged marsh there were 60 White-fronted Geese, 40 Greylag Geese and 50 Brent Geese all grazing and coming towards me along the sea wall was a Short-eared Owl, so it all looked great.

But, back to the harriers, and after repeated scans across the saltings close to Shellness Hamlet, a beautiful male Hen Harrier suddenly appeared - I'm sure it came from across The Swale. Before settling however, it spent some time quartering to and fro across the saltings, accompanied just a few feet away, by a Merlin - it put me in mind of a Lancaster bomber and it's Spitfire escort! Anyway, enough romanticism, the light had become almost gloom and as I prepared to leave, a dark shape making it's way along the saltings turned out to be a ringtail Hen Harrier, which disappeared into the gloom and presumably went into roost close to the male bird. Good stuff and nothing left but to coax my by now numb feet and knees into one last trudge through the mud and water of the marsh as it quickly disappeared into darkness, not a pleasant 20 mins. But, getting back to the car, Radio 5 Live told me that Arsenal were beating Man. City and as a Man Utd supporter that sounded great!


  1. A good result for the 'scummers'. Nice to hear the Hen Harriers are doing well there.

  2. Marc, if by the "scummers" you are referring to the wildfowlers, well I get on very well with them, but I'm happy to accept your different opinion, we all have our different views on people - I have a similar one on twitchers and some "long lensers".

  3. I'm also a United supporter, I was referring to Arsenal. Don't like them also so cannot bring myself to say 'Gunners'!!

  4. Sorry Marc, I obviously got that wrong, my aplogies. I can happily accept Arsenal wins these days if it means both Chelsea and City are losing, nothing is more odious than seeing John Terry looking triumphant.

  5. Clearly as a City fan I can't share your comments about the result today, but as a football fan I do share your comment about John Terry! Another very descriptive account of Life on Sheppey.Keep up the good work !

  6. Hello Derek,

    Nice evocative blog post. I was wondering if you'd seen that one of your Sheppey friends is the subject of some debate with regard to the Hen Harrier and grouse moor "situation"? Philip Merricks in his role as chair of the Hawk and Owl Trust has positioned the H&OT together with the BASC, GWCT, NGO etc in favour of "brood management" of Hen Harriers. This has caused a lot of debater and Chris Packham today resigned as president of the H&OT.

    Best wishes,

  7. Arnold,
    After our most recent Harrier Roost Count on Sunday 8th one, of the guys involved posted an E-Mail to all of us counters bringing up that very subject and some of us have given our opinions in return E-Mails. It looks set to rumble on for a while,