The arctic winds across the marshes at Oare are killing and unkind, bending heads towards the frozen earth; but the Sunday morning promises a warming sun but only after a heathen slab of grey cloud has inched slowly away to the east. The high tide is falling and a dense flock of black-tailed godwits takes off from their island roost, eases into the nor’westerly with accustomed, casual grace, and stream fast and low to find the dull, estuarine muds on which to feed.
The departing black-tailed godwit flock; one leg dangling seems preferred by many.
The stout ducks stay put; pintail and shoveler are in freshly moulted breeding plumage and look spectacularly smart and clean. Teal trill a throaty whistle and coot feed incessantly like a herd of black cows on the long grass that borders the water. A cormorant comes and goes scything in on the wind and flapping unfashionably hard to depart; a water rail wheezes from the hidden rush-lined borders. Starlings jitter in twos and threes and a marsh harrier lolls across the sky eyeing the mayhem below as nearly everything, including a handful of screeching dunlin, scatters before it. The ducks quickly regain their poise; the pintail drakes display by half standing and neck stretching; they also peck tetchily at each other and occasionally charge and chase as they vie to be top drake and so impress the quiet females.
Pintail drake showing off to a female with an elegant neck stretch…
…and to the competition.
Preening shoveler duck.
Preening drake pintail showing off a blue-striped bill.
The narrow road to Teynham and down to Conyer edges the wide grazing marshes with narrow roads leading off to ancient churches. The walk from the Ship Inn at Conyer runs past a wasteland of Buddleja and on to the slippery, sea wall overlooking a narrow, sinuous creek running out from the small and ancient harbour, once much loved by smugglers, to the Swale.
The lifting light looking west near Conyer.
The teal sleep on the sunny banks and redshank and godwits feed. The birds are unhurried; the redshanks shout and fly from the mud when approached too close and godwits gossip and squabble with a funny, chatter of a call as they feed in a neat line along the edge of the creek.
Teal enjoying the midday sun.
A red-breasted merganser holds station at the intersection of two channels and moves off upstream on approach and then floats back down to its preferred location. Godwits, grey plover, curlew and small avocet flocks fill the mud and wigeon flocks feed on the edge of the main channel in the far distance. The sounds of calling birds fill the sky but the melody is unappreciated as the wind burns the ears and there is no shelter.
Red-breasted merganser holding station in mid channel and a godwit probing the water’s edge.
Where the coastal path rounds the headland, the distant fields are full of dark-bellied Brent geese. Fieldfares cackle overhead and settle briefly in the tops of tall ash trees; a green woodpecker bounds and blackbirds and song thrushes dash from view amongst the sunny hawthorn. Dunnocks, wrens, robins nip down to feed in unfrosted corners and great and long-tailed tits work the bushes; a party of goldfinches flings over. I leave them all to the merciless wind and run for centrally-heated cover.
The quiet quayside at Conyer.