There are not many pubs where you can sit enjoying a pint, watching Hen Harriers hunting around you. One such is the Ferry House Inn at Harty, overlooking the Swale, which has a prospect that stretches across salt marshes, inter-tidal mud and the river.
Having dipped on three rare birds we were disheartened and repaired to the pub, to sit in the late winter sunshine and watch the birds in comfort. Another customer, seeing the binoculars, asked what we were looking for, so we told him that we'd given up and were doing what we do best. And very tasty it was too.
The day had started very well, with early sunshine (which was to last until dusk), an immediate sighting of a ring-tail Hen Harrier and a close view of a Marsh Harrier flying up from a reed bed, close enough to admire her talons. And there were birds everywhere in the sky....Golden Plovers, Lapwings, ducks, geese and more raptors.
There were Pheasants and Red-Legged Partridges, and plenty of Hares - we even watched a stoat.Yes, there were Merlin and Peregrine, sitting immobile on a distant posts. But wherever we went, we had 'just missed a Rough-Leggged Buzzard/Bittern/etc' and the Hooded Crow was nowhere to be seen.
But our intended path to a possible viewpoint was barred by high water-levels. So we went to the pub.
The sunshine, rest and a pint had the desired effect, so we tried for the Hoodie again, and (with a little help) we eventually found it. This (or a similar) bird has been seen in this area every year since the winter of 2003/4.
So, that's probably the last 'winter' birding, as from now on we can pretend it's spring!