It’s been a slow start for me this year and, although the mud and ducks have been calling me for some time now, life seems to have got in the way.
Having moved to Wivenhoe from Epping, the marshes are closer. This means no more 3am wake-ups for a day with the ducks, but a rather more civilised 5:30am instead (not, I suspect, what my wife was thinking). After a quick cup of tea, I got the gun out of the safe, and dashed to the car (I had booked the marsh out the night before with the booking captain at the wildfowling club). It was only a 25min drive until I got to a skinny bit of salt marsh called Feldy, which forms the north bank of the Salcott Channel on the Blackwater Estuary.
Dawn had just started as I arrived, and I snuck out onto the marsh. The tide was high, but heading out. As the sun rises, the birds start to wake and then, as the tide goes out, the birds flock out to the estuary to feed. So all I had to do was hope they would fly past me. Within a few minutes of getting there I was lucky, and a pack of Wigeon came past. I killed with the first shot and missed with the second, cursing myself, as with wildfowling there is no guarantee that another opportunity will come. I retrieved my Wigeon, ducked down and waited.
The reason I love wildfowling is not just the shooting. In fact, for me that is almost secondary. I love the wildlife; the sounds of the marsh coming to life all around you, as the sun peeks its face over the horizon. This morning was no different. After I had calmed down from shooting my first Wigeon, I was buzzed by a very fast-moving Kingfisher, screeching away to itself. Then I spotted the once-rare (but now common) Egret, and a fantastic skein of Brent Geese gave me a spectacular fly past, at about 4ft off of the saltings and only 15 or 20 feet from me. I looked past them and saw a large flock of another one of my favorite birds (both to eat and watch): the beautiful Golden Plover. I hoped some of the tasty little blighters would come into range.
I sat patiently for about an hour just watching the world go by, when the flock of Golden Plover came straight towards me. I lifted the gun, fired one shot, and down came my first Plover of the year. Then I saw what had sent them my way – a bird I had never seen in the flesh, known as a Marsh Harrier. It was working the edge of the salting and had spooked them. At the close of my outing, a group of Mallards came in range, but I missed. Annoyed with myself, I decided I would pack up and head back to the warmth of our little cottage and a bacon sandwich. En route to the car, I stumbled across a patch of large field mushrooms, and so they went into the pocket. A successful morning in my book. Supper will be Golden Plover on toast and Wigeon breasts cooked in cream and mushroom sauce. Delicious!
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