I remember a day last year when I sat on my own in the Fen Hide at Strumpshaw Fen RSPB - my only company being the gusting thirty mile-per-hour winds that were howling across the exposed reed beds. The Fen Hide is an altogether rickety structure at best and when you are sat inside it on a gusty day, the walls literally shake as they are buffeted by the wind. As it barrels over the reeds it presses them down flat, ironed out by the power of the wind. Between gusts, they sprang back to their erect position, only to be smoothed out by the next one. It was just as well that this hypnotic rippling effect was there for me to watch and enjoy as I wasn’t likely to see a great many birds that day.
That is not strictly true though and as I sat in the Fen Hide on my own, reflecting, I noticed a beautiful male Marsh Harrier sitting out on a bare tree. He perched, still as a statue as if he were the gatekeeper of the reed-bed - seemingly unperturbed by the crosswinds blowing into him. Bright yellow legs gripped the wiry branches, smooth chestnut brown up his breast moving into a lighter-coloured head and small, sharp bill. Reflecting on this made me recall a survey respondent who had written a lengthy passage about their own positive experience with Marsh Harriers, I think it’s apt to share here;
“After a torrid few months last year (close bereavement, work stress, probable mid-life crisis) I felt a real, specific need to watch Marsh Harriers. We booked a holiday cottage in Suffolk and saw some great birds, but two or three days in I went off on my own and found a local reed-bed that had breeding Marsh Harriers and sat there watching them for about an hour. Not something I’d experienced before but it felt like I was fulfilling a deep physiological need, a bit like drinking cool water after a long, dry day in the sun, and when I returned to the cottage my wife said that my face was “shining” and I looked well for the first time in months.”
I found this to be such a profound sentiment and as they went on to describe the ‘wildness’ in a Marsh harriers eyes, I was struck. What a beautiful way to describe a Marsh harrier and to epitomise their wildness. Furthermore, the places that you encounter them - the rolling reed-beds they call home, are the very embodiment of wildness and wilderness. I have written several times about the feelings invoked by views across reed-beds, their openness and beauty. Throw in an exhilarating blast of cold, fresh air that often accompanies such a view, and I’m reinvigorated. A survey respondent made a delightful comment on the wind, saying that it “helps to clear my mind of worries”, a sentiment I certainly connect with myself.
Thanks to Les Bunyan, volunteer at Titchwell RSPB for the exquisite picture of a Marsh Harrier.