Mission to Havergate Island: Part five

HERE is the penultimate part of West Suffolk Editor Mark Crossley's Havergate Island Diary, about life as volunteer warden on the RSPB's remote nature reserve off Orford.

Mark Crossley

HERE is the penultimate part of West Suffolk Editor Mark Crossley's Havergate Island Diary, about life as volunteer warden on the RSPB's remote nature reserve off Orford.

IT had to happen didn't it? After I wrote about how well we were doing at the fish-trap, one of us was bound to fall in.

Lucky for me, it wasn't me. Unluckily for my fellow volunteer Mike, it was Mike.

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It just wasn't his afternoon. The first of 26 crabs we wrestled from the net nipped him on the finger and so I suppose the writing was on the wall, or the mud.

We were replacing the net 12ft out from the bank of the lagoon, ready to catch whatever was washed through the sluice on the next tide, when Mile slipped and sat down in 2ft of very cold seawater.

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Of course, when he put his hands down to push himself back up, they just sank into the 2ft of oozing mud below.

Having only known Mike for a few days, I decided to stifle my natural inclination to laugh as he stumbled towards the bank.

It was a long trudge back to the huts, a mile from the scene of the accident.

Earlier in the day I had seen another swallow. This one whipped in off the sea like the previous two this week but unlike them, it whizzed low over the Cottage Flood a couple of times, helping itself to a free insect or two after its long haul across the North Sea.

It hardly seemed to notice me, scraping and scrubbing bird poo off a hide which is due for repainting. The worse bit was hauling the buckets of seawater the 100 yards from the beach to wash down the woodwork.

Welcome relief came with the offer from full-time warden Graham of a flit back to Orford on the mainland to fill the drinking water containers. A few gnarled, teak-coloured fishermen standing near their boat paid little attention to the hairy, smelly thing that clambered up the aluminium ladder onto the dock.

But a little group of early Easter tourists edged slowly upwind as they wondered what sort of creature lives in the sea off Suffolk. They were lucky, I had a wash two days before at the rainwater butt. Imagine if I hadn't.

They say one swallow a summer does not make, but so far this week we've clocked three, and two common terns, a couple of sand martins and two chiff-chaffs. I reckon that lot the start of a summer make.

The birding highlight today was a red-breasted merganser: a handsome duck, like most birds at this time of the year looking as if he had been freshly painted. They're all ready to, well... pull a bird.

I finally saw one of the island's two barn owls today. They live in the roof above the tractor shed and, having found the biggest rough grassy meadow on Havergate I had sensibly positioned myself between it and the shed at dusk on several evenings, waiting for the owls to come a-hunting as the light faded.

So where do I see the owl? Sitting on the path in front of me at 10am - in the rain, which owls are supposed to hate because it gets their special soft silent-flight feathers wet.

At least I had fulfilled one of my Havergate ambitions, though, unlike the two grey herons who tried to land here a few minutes ago.

I saw them heading over from the mainland at about the same time as the hundreds of gulls on the lagoon, judging by the increase in volume. The gulls don't want to share space or food with anyone if they can help it.

By the time the lumbering great herons were circling overhead, waiting for clearance to begin final approach, a squadron of interceptor gulls (lesser black backs, I think) had been launched.

The last I saw of the herons they were disappearing towards Rendlesham, still being harried by their squawking tormentors.

- Don't miss the last part of Havergate Diary in Monday's EADT and at www.eadt.co.uk.

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