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!