The fragrance of dawn


Marsh Harrier at dawn

Last week I spent several mornings getting up at stupid o'clock to visit my favorite reserve - Goldcliff Lagoons. Whilst getting up early during your vacation can sometimes be quite an effort of will power it is usually worth it in the end. I love to be the first at the reserve and it gives me a thrill as I walk in to think about what birds I am going to find on the lagoons. 

As you walk into the reserve their is that early morning freshness in the air. You know what its like, you just want to take a big deep breath of it and it smells fabulous. I am sure one day someone may bottle it up and sell it calling it "the fragrance of dawn" and guarantee it will give you a boost and make you feel good for the rest of the day.

I walked through the reserve heading for Becs Lagoon as I was going to be helping again with the Curlew Monitoring that was being done as the tide was yet again going to be very high.

As I made my way, it was like mother nature had flipped a switch and the lights began to come on. The sun announced its arrival lighting up the horizon orange. Life on the lagoons was waking up and I could not help but get a thrill out of hearing the calls of waders piping out across the pre-dawn lit lagoons, a flock of crows cawed as they flew across the reserve as if announcing the day was about to begin.

The sun rises behind the Marsh Platform

For a long time, I have been trying to get some pictures of waders flying against a dawn sky. I wanted to get waders with the lovely orange colors that the rising sun produces.  To do so you need to be in the right place at the right time and have a bit of luck.

Just as the sun began to rise up like a red fireball everything I needed came together at once. Suddenly a male Marsh Harrier flew in over the reserve and headed straight for Priors Lagoon where the wader flock was roosting. The first to panic was the Lapwings. Up they went. 

A band of Lapwings forms

Their fan-like wings beating quickly to carry them up into the air where they formed a distinctive line of birds. It is something that I have found is unique to Lapwings. They like to form an almost parallel line of birds that will stretch out across the sky.  I have seen this often in response to a Marsh Harrier. If it is a Peregrine they tend to rise rapidly and gain a lot of height going high and forming a close flock instead.

The Marsh Harrier came in low across the reeds and rose up against the orange backlit sky. A couple of Lapwings were brave and mobbed it but did not slow the raptors advance in the slightest.

Lapwings mob the Marsh Harrier

The Black Tailed-Godwits then lots their nerve and took to the air em-masse taking the Knots, Redshank, Dunlins, and probably the odd Greenshank that was roosting with them.

The flock swirled across the sky always keeping the Marsh Harrier in sight and rarely leaving any single bird stranded alone in front of it.

The wader flock fills the sky and keeps a close eye on the Marsh Harrier.

The Harrier was relentless for several minutes swooping back and forth trying to isolate one of the birds or catch one of them that had decided to hide in the reeds unaware. The chaos in the air continued. It was great to watch and listen to the hundreds of wingbeats and the piping warning calls of the waders.

The raptor then silently turned and moved on across the reserve followed by a few Lapwing before vanishing over the sea wall.

I had, at last, got some pictures I had been hoping for. What a great way to start that day, fab pictures of birds and a good lungful of the "fragrance of nature".


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