Wigeon under a winter moon
Shooting Times & Country|January 20, 2021
When goose fever sets in, an evening flight beckons, but the wily birds are upstaged by the spectacle of wild duck making one of their mysterious midnight journeys
SIMON GARNHAM

The wheels of my battered old Ford Ranger slipped and spun in the ruts of the field gateway. Filthy water spattered the windscreen. I had slithered and skidded for about a mile along sodden tramlines and soaking headlands, but the sea wall and silver estuary were still some distance away. I willed the old girl to find some traction as she fishtailed in the mud.

The wheels spun. Dog and decoys swayed in the back.

Since the enforced cancellation of trips to the Wash and to Lindisfarne, I’d been keener than ever to get among the geese at home. North Essex is not quite Norfolk or Northumberland when it comes to chasing wild geese, but it can at least temporarily suppress a bad case of goose fever.

It was only 3pm but already the darkness was gathering. The weakening sun cast a pale glow in the western sky. Before long, birds would be on the move. I needed to get to that sea wall to intercept them as they flew between fresh and saltwater. I could picture them, ghosting between zostera, samphire and sea lavender on the saltings and the freshwater splashes, the lakes and the emerging winter crops inland. The last place I wanted to be was stuck in the mud and looking for help to be towed out.

Set at the end of a winding track, only the farm buildings on Blyth’s land are located above sea level. In late December, pumps work 24 hours a day on the rest of the holding. The sea wall needs constant attention to prevent the land being swallowed by restless tides. In this windswept and precarious place — part marsh, part farm — geese have huge skies and vast fields to call their own.

Brents, greylags and, this year, pinks and white fronts had been gathering in a dark army. I had spied them the previous day. Greylags were clustered tightly, feeding warily on winter barley, necks craning to ensure that no hidden gunner was creeping through the ditches which divide one field from the next. Out on the marshes, I could hear the high pitched notes of the white fronts.

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