Posted by: Ross Gardner | December 2, 2011

Geese and others by the Crouch Estuary

Brent Goose (Branta bernicula). Ross Gardner.

 

It is finally beginning to feel like winter.  The lawn dusted with early morning frost, the nip of cold on the end of the nose when out walking and all that sort of thing.  There are few better places to welcome the winter than along our more remote stretches of the coast and so to this end I made my way to the Blue House Farm nature reserve at North Fambridge, on the northern bank of the Crouch Estuary.  The term ‘coast’ here must be qualified somewhat.  With the River Crouch having a relatively long and narrow estuary, the coast proper is a good 17km or so away to the east.  The essence of the coast nevertheless, persists well up stream, as far as Fambridge and beyond.

Blue House Farm appeared on these pages a few months back.  It is an Essex Wildlife Trust reserve comprised of grazing marshes, open water and weed filled ditches.  With so much of this part of Essex uncompromisingly turned to the plough and all to bereft of wildlife, such areas of wilder and still productive countryside are a delight to have.  And I do love them in the winter.  This visit saw cloud filling the sky and met with a fresh coastal breeze, offering as perfect a backdrop as a faultless blue sky and the buzz of high summer.

Greylag Goose (Anser anser). Ross Gardner.

There were butterflies and dragonflies on the wing back in September, and bush-crickets and grasshoppers churring among the long grass, but even then the air of change was much in evidence, with the Wigeon and Teal already moving in.  Now the change has well and truely taken place.  The place was full of geese, gathering here to graze the winter sward.  I estimated around a 800 Brent Geese assembled across one of the fields.  Put to flight and circling round, the sight of hundreds of chuntering geese sweeping past will always raise the heartbeat a notch or two, such is the sense of wildness that they carry with them.  Along with a 160 odd Canada and flock of about 60 Greylag, that’s over 1000 geese spread across the ground.  Quite a modest number compared to gatherings on other sheltered parts of the coast, but a fine sight nonetheless.

The geese dominated the scene, but others were around to be seen.  Curlew were scattered over the fields.  A Snipe skulked among the reeds fringing one of the fleets.  Black-tailed Godwit probed the mud beside the rising estaury tide.  And some birds do not need numbers to make their presences felt.  A birdwatcher pointed me in the direction of a Short-eared Owl.  It was his very first and he was righlty thrilled at the sight of this impressive bird, whose gold and brown streaked plumage was so evident, even at distance.  I have been lucky enough to see these owls a number of times in past, but some things never seem to lose their edge.  Like the Marsh Harrier I saw later, a dark brown female, or perhaps a juvenile,   that came right up to the hide I was sitting in, flying low over the reeds with those wonderfully distinctive, languid wing-beats, before heading away across the fields and out of sight.

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