Many years ago, we attended a “Dawn Flight” experience at the WWT reserve at Martin Mere to experience the spectacle of the wintering flock of Pink Footed Geese leaving their roosting grounds for the day. It was a frosty foggy January morning and freezing cold – sadly that is about as much as I personally remember about it – dark, cold, very noisy and did I say cold – it was really, really cold! As time passes memories fade, so last year I decided we would have another go but missed the dates completely. Fast forward to October 2017, and (as I had been much better organised this year and bought the tickets early!) off we set at 6am to try the whole experience again. My first surprise of the day was just how dark it was at 6am and how long it stayed dark. Second surprise was the weather – mid October and at 6am it was already a balmy 18 degrees and not raining! Walking through the grounds of Martin Mere to the Ron Barker Hide was almost like being in the Blair Witch project – very dark, rustling noises in the trees and the occasional sound of gunshot in the distance – unnerving to say the least! Thanks to our very knowledgeable warden, we discovered there were approximately 15,000 pink footed geese currently sat on the mere outside the hide. There were also considerable amounts of newly arrived Whooper Swans. These swans were so new to the mere that the wardens had not yet determined whether they had just finished their migration from Iceland or whether they were local feeders who had re-established themselves. Could we tell whether they were lethargic? The difference would become apparent if they did not take off and chose to stay on the mere to rest from their migratory flight
The hide had split into photographers and birdwatchers upstairs and people who had come to enjoy the spectacle and learn from the warden downstairs. During the next hour we were treated to a Kingfisher perched close to the hide, three Marsh Harriers cruising the mere probably looking for breakfast and the awesome sight and sound of the Whooper Swans leaving for the day. The geese were quite happy to sit there with just occasional groups being spooked by gunshots and predators. Oddly during the first hour there were more geese arriving than leaving. Just after 8am we were advised that it was breakfast time and we needed to set off for the walk to the restaurant. The geese were all disappointingly still resolutely sat on the mere, so after discussions as to the latest we could all leave and how unusual it was for them to still be there (I am used to ups and downs and unpredictability of wildlife watching now!) we were given another 10 minutes. Sadly, towards the end of this time the geese had still not moved – was it due to the balmy weather? It was a very pleasant morning now the sun had put in an appearance. People began to pack away their cameras and telescopes when suddenly – as is always the case when people are looking the other way – there was a resounding sound of flapping wings and 15,000 pink footed geese took to the air. It is hard to explain the sheer spectacle of what you see and what you hear. It truly is one of nature’s greatest spectacles and like a lot of these amazing sights something that you can do on your own doorstep wherever you are. If you’ve ever sat at home on a Sunday night and been awed by some of the nature documentaries – you can experience similar types of things right here in the UK – you just need to do a bit of research. It cost us £15 to take part in the Martin Mere experience which included a delicious freshly cooked full English breakfast to finish. Just the small matter of 800 photographs to sort through now!