Tuesday, 20 February 2018

An estuary weekend is always three days long

Back to Friday the 16th and those wildfowlers. It had been a sure-fire (pun intended) certainty that the island shoots would be out for marking the end of the season. To be fair, spend enough time on the estuary and you'll soon suss wildfowlers are out most Fridays. Many of the smaller sites can only accommodate a certain amount of guns. Dates are allocated. They do not overshoot, so dates themselves are at a premium, and some they try to respect each other by not shooting the same day as their neighbour. It would be senseless to overindulge on the estuary.

When I think about the number of wildfowlers I've got to chat with these past five years, I've found many of the regulars to be the same as the fowlers of a hundred years ago; local lads, often artisans, often shooting for their own pot. The brickie, the chippie, the plasterer. The guys who can plan their work around the tides. Their weekends often start on Fridays when the tides are good.

Look at other activities on the estuary, and weekend preparations become apparent. Boat preparations at their moorings; the skipper getting everything right for his weekend crew. Club races? The temporary race buoys might be moored out in readiness the day before. River traffic can be up with extra craft arriving.

On the mudflats, bait digging can be high. The amateur, wanting to get a bit of bait for his weekend, will often make a dash on the Friday. The edge of Motney can be busy. It will have been high on the Thursday as well, the 'pro' diggers collecting a bit of bait to sell to the shops and their mates often want to have their wares ready for the Friday sales. they'll be back on the Friday low as well. They'll be the ones tresspassing on the RSPB reserve to get to the best diggings.

So, the two-day Saturday birder might never notice these changes. They certainly might not notice waders switching roosts, because many have done so the day before as disturbance levels rise. They see the peak at the weekend, with the boats, the PWCs (Personal Water Craft- the jetskis and the like), the canoeists, the hovercraft, the microlights, they all reach their peaks- as do numbers of public on the shoreline, all doing their 'thing'. Recreational pressure.

Mondays are up a bit as well but, thankfully, not yet as much as a Friday.


A Friday, the last Friday of the shooting season, with a middle of the day fair height tide with a surge attached? That'll do. The waders will be up and about.

I chose Chetney. I gambled on a few more walkers on the public footpath. Lose some win some, walkers here always flush birds from the easily viewed pools alongside the seawall, but if I can find one to walk a quarter-mile behind i won't feel too guilty about walking the path myself. Bingo!

I also gambled on a bit of a POETS day finishing for some. ('Push' off early, tomorrow's Saturday). A local was out on private land. Double whammy. No problem with that, of course, but he was on Chetney Hill, and the waders will roost around the edge of the Shade and Chetney canal. Higher-pitched shouts? Pulled off the triple, the half-term meant had a noisy young family member out as well. Then the accumulator now paid out big time; their dogs were off the lead.

At this point I should mention I have never been in a betting shop. I've never bought a lottery ticket, never been to a Bingo hall. Boring so-and-so. Never been a gambler, more of an actuary, weighing up the risks and the premiums. What came next was the pay out of one of the closest aerial displays I've been privileged to watch in years.

Of course, for the birds this is burning up energy. They aren't snowflakes, they don't fade at the first flush, but the more they get pushed around, the further from peak condition they will be. The Medway remains a big site for birds, but one where reserves are few and most managed poorly. A grand sight, but a despairing one at the same time.

If you looked inland, the story was the same as well; Lapwings and Golden Plover up everywhere; some 'natural disturbance', some not-so-much. By the time I'd walked back up to the viewpoint a long-lens birder was out in the middle of the marsh on the footpath. They certainly got much better pics than I did; at least I got three or four more goes at counting the Goldies in flight. Again, absolutely nothing wrong, but there are days when these birds have to retreat further away from view. And as numbers of path users rise, so do the flights.

Some don't understand why I don't routinely promote commoner species. They're available on the reserves, geared for big visitor numbers. Footpaths aren't.

Here the biggest increase in path users has not been birders- too long a walk. It is joggers. Again, not a major problem- yet. But you do get your biggest counts on weekdays.The Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays that is. The three day weekend here is driven by the game shoot.

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