Posted by: Ross Gardner | December 30, 2016

December Sunshine


High-tide on the Crouch Estaury, North Fambridge. Ross Gardner 2016.

One of those calm and bright winter days on the coastal marshlands of Essex.  Well I say coastal, but to look on a map and North Fambridge will be seen to not exactly appear situated by the sea as many might regard it.  Yet the relatively long estuary of the River Crouch beside which the village stands brings the undeniable influence of the coast-proper far inland.  With the rise of the tide waves lap at the seawalls on either side and brings fishing cormorant, occasional red-breasted merganser and even, as we discovered in this instance the odd common seal venturing up-river.  With its fall it reduces the river’s flow to narrow channel, exposing flat muddy banks for the probing beaks of wading birds, the beady eyes of gulls and the dabbling bills of winter wildfowl.

Here is to be found the Essex Wildlife Trust’s Blue House Farm reserve, hundreds of acres of traditionally managed grazing-marsh, with its dykes, ditches, fleets and rough grasslands.  It is somewhere that has featured on these pages before and to which I am often drawn in the winter months.  It is at such times that sheep-nibbled, cattle-chewed fields are busy with others.  Today there must have been 1000 brent geese amassed in one field, canadas and greylags scattered by the dozen and 80-odd barnacles huddled behind the partially frozen water of the reed-fringed fleet.  Hundreds of duck dabbled at the edges of unfrozen water, or passed overhead in groups; a half a dozen pintail, 20 teal, a few wigeon or a handful of gadwall.  Who knows where they were heading, but they went there with purpose.  The teal at least seemed to be mostly gathering in their hundreds over a stretch of partially flooded, tussocky grassland; some snoozing, some preening, some avidly sieving the shallows with delicate, invertebrate-sifting bills.  A passing hen harrier instilled a temporary uneasiness among the birds and few moments excitement among the human onlookers.

I love the atmosphere of such places at such times.  Places that on the one hand can seem so serenely calm, yet on the other simultaneously convey a sense of quiet urgency in the flocks whose migratory cycles depend on such winter sanctuaries.


Gadwall (Anas strepera) – duck (left) and drake. Ross Gardner 2014.

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