A Dreich December Day at Lower Halstow

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British Wildlife

The sou’westerly blows hard and the cloud and drizzle drink the life from the coastal marshes and, usually picturesque, small boats squatting in the inlet on the wide expanse of rivened flats. Small numbers of redshanks and black-headed gulls potter across the mud, the redshanks perfectly camouflaged in soft grey.  Black arrows of Brent geese fly low in the distance across the mud, perhaps to feed on swathes of eelgrass Zostera spp. that grow in the shallow water; apparently this is eaten off first by the hungry geese before attention turns to the pasture fields.

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North Kent Marshes at Lower Halstow; a shallow creek runs through the flats and is lined with wrack.

A flock of fifty or so starlings feed on the dark green wrack Fucus spp. that lines a shallow creek, turning the fronds for flies.  I hope a merlin might hunt them as they are far from the shore and the sanctuary of the thorn. I wait a while in the lee of the coastal cliff, the beach a mass of broken brick, weathered glass shards and old pottery pieces, but the sniff of history is snuffed by the wearying gale and I don’t dig any deeper. The place is a misery and the grim light fading.

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The upper shore at Lower Halstow betrays its long history of human occupation.

The rain whips off the hawthorns, the blackbirds and fieldfares scatter as, beaten by the squalling wind, I slip and slide along the coastal path. Only plucky robins hop down to feed. Goldfinches fling over, crows and magpies slip away. A small flock of Brents feed in an empty pasture and watch with concern as I advance along the top of the exposed sea wall and then waddle away ever watchful, chuntering to each other, as I drop down towards them seeking the comparitive shelter below. The thick-fleeced sheep in the further field look comfortably dumb and entirely disinterested.

Not so long ago, the wintering waterfowl would have been hunted for food by the poor souls that baked yellow bricks, manufactured gunpowder and sailed the waters on this coast; then, the geese would never have fed with such docility in the fields. The sheep flock would have been carefully shepherded and so protected from half-starved poachers. Today, just the weather is undomesticated and, on a Sunday, only the dog walkers and the foolhardy brave it.

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Dark-bellied Brent geese waddling to safety in a lush rye-grass pasture.

The little cafe in the old barge looks dead and unwelcome; the sheep and the birds are in their element but I feel well out of it and head for the warm indoors.

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Lower Halstow on a dreich December day.

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