Oare Marshes, North Kent, December 14th 2016
The sun shines low in the sky and the few high clouds pay scant attention to the stretched blue canvas. The wind warms from the south, and the drying day is a break from the blanket of brooding drizzle.
The familiar view of church and brewery in distant Faversham sits behind an anchored Thames barge, grazing cattle and old five-barred gate. The visual catastrophe that is the long line of electricity pylons and their low slung wires that stalk the coastal plain are carefully cropped from view to bottle the myth.
The tide is perfectly high and the East Flood at Oare is full of chattering, whistling waders that have been forced to abandon the drowned estuary the other side of the sea wall; constantly lifting off and making wide circuits of the sky before descending in fast dropping waves to the sanctuary of the reed-fringed shallow water and small islands of flat mud. The golden plovers are golden and come out of the blue in small, loose flocks with a clean, simple whistle.
The black-tailed godwit flock is squabbling but static on a low island but suddenly the birds shift from one side of the water to the other in a low flight of sunlit wings. Lapwings stand in the water close to the narrow road, shriek then fly hard and high in loose, buoyant flocks.
Avocets as ever keep to the centre of the flood and fly up, away and back round and eventually return to settle, always in tight formation.
Bearded tits are suddenly noisy but offer just a gilt-edged silhouette of short blurred wings, skipping briefly over the dense reeds before dropping in to disappear. The tide ebbs and a flock of dunlin work the emerging mud below the spreading Spartina, feeding fast then flocking to another edge. No harriers hunt or peregrines hang over the marshes; today, a short Christmas truce holds under the winter sun.
The sea is empty of birds; a yacht heads back to Oare on a flat sea under washed, white sails. Two fishermen, perhaps father and son, leave their bright red boat moored in the empty Swale and bring their small catch to shore. Gulls loiter on high fence posts that mark the track of the old ferry and the sun drops lower in the sky.