Posted by: Ross Gardner | January 12, 2016

Winter Wonder

Wigeon (Anas penelope).  2014 Ross Gardner.

Wigeon (Anas penelope). 2014 Ross Gardner.

It is so often the birds that light up the dull winter days.  This is in part due to the fact that most other creatures are dormant or simply just keeping out of sight; perhaps in view of this my opening sentence loses something of any impact it might have had!  But it shouldn’t.  We can, of course, watch birds all year round, but it is in the winter that they so often provide a spectacle with the enjoyment of simply seeing them.

It is to the marshlands of South Essex that I will now take you, a perhaps unlikely swathe of open countryside, almost always in sight of the Thames-side oil refineries and the monstrous cranes constructing the new deep water port at Thurrock looming on the horizon.  To focus in on the RSPB’s West Canvey Marshes reserve on Canvey Island we again find glaring contrast.  On the one side an incredibly densely population piece of the urban sprawl, while on the other a wonderful expanse of grazing marsh and open water, where any background drone of passing traffic is soon lost in the diversion provided by the birds.

It was the gathered wildfowl that on this occasion provided much of this distraction, particularly the Wigeon.  Flying in mostly from Iceland and Scandinavia (a few hundred pairs also breed in Scotland and Central England), these ducks winter along and near the Essex in their thousands and they are present at West Canvey in number.  My rough estimate was of around 700 birds, scattered across the marsh and almost swarming along the banks of the brim-full serpentine fleet, slipping into the water in great rafts.  These were the birds I could see.  How many more were concealed in the undulating depressions of the rough grassland and too distant from my vantage point?  Much larger concentrations may gather in more remote parts of the coast, but here, so close to town, they offer a particular pleasure.

Add to these the scattered dozens of other ducks, like the Shoveler, Teal and Mallard, plus a few Greylag Geese and some 250+ Canada Geese (these non-natives are great dividers of ornithological opinion, but they are with us to stay and can still, en masse provide a fine sight in their own right) and together they compose a scene of ceaseless movement and such a deeply felt microcosm of wildness in the midst of human endeavour.


  1. I like the last line a lot xx

    • Thank you. Those small moments can have big meaning.

      Just noticed a couple of typos which I shall now change. Shame on me!

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