The large pool known as the East Flood abuts the narrow lane to the old ferry to Harty. The waders and wildfowl within the nature reserve feed in the shallows at the water’s edge, nearly all immune to passing cars and a slow steam of walkers, some with dogs and others with binoculars and telescopes. A fast marching, bright red cagoule tied to a couple of large, black retrievers does set off a few birds but not very far, but this is just about the only reaction to the regular human passage. This measured indifference suddenly suggests an earlier age before humans walked out of Africa. Perhaps it is just that the bleak estuary, dressed in earthen colours under a stone grey sky, filled with wild waterbirds that are governed by the ceaseless rhythm of the tide, induces such a primeval feeling.
There is a toing and froing of small flocks between the Flood and adjacent mud and marsh; and so a constant rearrangement of patterns in the water and on the small flat islands. A marsh harrier fly by provokes lift-off of all except the swans; the ducks and waders swirl over the water like a shaken globe of snow catching the brief light before settling again.
Pintail pairs; males show off in a sitting flapping display to other males.
Pintail feed and fly in ever faithful pairs; the males stay close and potential suitors are dissuaded by a standing flap and if that fails an aggressive, snap of an outstretched beak. Shelduck and mute swan promenade in pairs across the water, sedate and upright; their appearance most conventional. Teal, wigeon, shoveler and tufted duck are in small flocks but pairs appear formed within. Lapwings are perhaps still sorting out the running order; individuals rise and suddenly twist and slip sideways at ridiculous speed, showing off their flying skills.
Spring is alive even in the teeth of a southerly gale that whips hard the water. Most flocks drift to a lee shore but one exposed island is beaten by chopped waves driven across the widest reach. The lapwings stand in line without a care; the temperatures are again unseasonably mild.
A mute swan lands like a jumbo jet.
Mute swan pair leaving the East Flood.
Two avocets, presumably males, have demarcated their territories that include a small island on which they will probably nest and the adjacent shallows in which to forage and aggressively defend these from intruders. The delicate beak does not appear designed for damage but this does not dent their determination against competitors and, later when the nest is active, all comers that venture too close.
Avocets chase each other with intense aggression and the territory holders settle to feed in the shallows.
Black-tailed godwits remain in their winter plumage and are still tied to flocks; each flies, stands and even squabbles with the utmost grace. They roost and feed in the shallow water and then traverse the busy lane to forage in the tussocky, green pastures. Here, smaller numbers of curlew disappear in their grey brown camouflage. The lumpen greylag geese simply squat, squabble and honk; wigeon swim in the flooded ditches and waddle in the short grass, a heron picks through the water like a disdainful aristocrat. It is a ceaseless and enthralling beggar’s opera.
Black-tailed godwits in flight.
Black-tailed godwits forage for worms in the waterlogged pastures.