HARRIERS

Amber status.

Freewheeling predator, dining on smaller avians and water vole, safer now, but pushed out into the margins of the mind, an irrelevance to most people, out here in the marshlands, an unstable topography of water and earth.

Where you can find it - the bird’s site-specific geography - the names are like charms invoking an earlier time, a mythic past. Elmley, Leighton Moss, Minsmere, Titchwell Marsh, Strumpshaw Fen, Blacktoft Sands, Stodmarsh, Wicken Fen. 

Three hundred and sixty breeding pairs, a number less the friends I have on Facebook.

I see them in early summer, pirouetting through the air, diving into the marshes. Climbing hundreds of feet into the sky, before dropping in a lover’s embrace, plunging back to the earth.

They are few, we are many.

The times I visit my father, his passion for ornithology, reggae, football and military history all undiminished in his mid-fifties, we often make the pilgrimage out to Stodmarsh. Our nearest haunt of the marsh harrier.

Seeing the birds is important in ways we find hard to articulate to each other. Something we did when I was a child, in that old VW camper. Through most of my early twenties I didn’t really care, I was all about punk rock shows, drinking too much, snorting substances in the English cities, chasing women. 

Cliché, but things change. We live our lives in cyclical fashion, coming back to what we really loved. I realise that I am what I am, a sum of my interests. Shocking to find that you really do love the things you say you love.

I cherish these brief forays out of the city, into the Kentish marshes, warblers hidden singing in the lush trees, sounds of spawning fish and marsh frog all around, great crested grebes dancing their mating dance out on the shimmering water. Stepping out, looking up, I feel that I’ve briefly escaped the capitalist machine. I wish I could stay here. Don't send me back to the city, it's pollution and psychopathy.

Bearded tits, the reedlings, can be found here too, if one cares to look. The marsh harrier’s common relative, the hen harrier, also. Bitterns boom, hidden in the reeds. A friend had recently told of sightings of the shy heron in the Lea Valley, and I could not stop smiling.

But it is the sky dancing predators that hold the attention. They are alive, still. They are a biographical note in my life story, they are the natural world, they are my past and they will bemy future.

Another summer approaches.