Cooling Marshes, Kent, 7th December 2014

Monday, 16 February 2015

The light returning

Estuary sunset. Looking across Cliffe creek to Gravesend and Tilbury.

Out on the marshes the light lasts longer; it travels for miles, through reeds and scrub, across rank fields dotted with grazing livestock, it blazes across the pools, pink, blue and purple.

I made a late visit to Cliffe yesterday, arriving with the mixed throngs of wigeon and lapwing already uttering their restless pre-roost assurances from the causways snaking across the site. From their midst, the barks of noisy greylag geese drifted across the water. The pools were flat calm, so much that a little grebe diving under the surface fifty metres away was more of an event than usual. Not much stirred but I was able to pick out the wintering male scaup among some tufted ducks on radar pool. 

In the peachy dusk cast over Flamingo pool, coots made for their corners and a distant harrier stirred up all manner of squeals as it passed. A pair of goldeneye drifted close by, the resplendent male head bobbing as it went. Wild swans have been scarce in the area this winter so I was pleased to catch up with a party of seven bewick's swans, one of my favourite seasonal migrants, roosting on the beach. Paddling serenely or half-asleep, it's a wonder to think of all the land that will be passing beneath their powerful wings on the journey they'll soon be taking back to Siberia.

From the sea wall I watched the sun's fiery slick across the water meander to nothing as it dropped into some untraceable suburban shadows beyond Gravesend. In its absence, under the clear evening sky, misty patches appeared along the edges of the track like snagged wool on a wire fence. The mist clung low to the damp fields but I could still make out the shapes of harriers drifting in, gliding silently over the reeds, ever lower until they too were gone.

From the track, teal and mallards called in the dim light but above it all rose the formidable shrieks of a song thrush deep within its guarded hawthorn thicket. Although not quite at its peak, a little rusty perhaps, there was no mistaking its sure understanding that the light will soon be returning.  

male Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), Cliffe Pools, 15/2/15 
Bewick's Swan (Cygnus columbianus bewickii), Cliffe Pools, 15/2/15