Sunday, 7 June 2020

Five weeks later

It has been around five weeks since my last post and little of any great importance has happened in my orderly kind of life.
I was rejoicing in my last post at the fact that at last we had had some rain to ease the dry conditions that we were experiencing and that has just happened again. After that last post we had several fairly hot and very sunny weeks, which while enjoyable for me as a warm to hot weather lover, saw pretty much drought conditions set in across much of the country. This week, literally overnight, we went from July like weather, to that of March/April. It has been cold, with grey skies and strong cold winds and occasional rain, though rarely enough to soften up the hard, dry ground.
I have to say, that getting up every morning to cloudless blue skies and the knowledge that shorts and light shirts were all that were going to be needed throughout the day, was quite enjoyable, as were the warm and sunny evenings sitting in the garden. Not so this week, some people have even put their central heating back on - in June, what's going on with this weather!
Still the dry and sunny weather did encourage my sempervivum collections. I have three of these collections and the ones in this sink-like container have just started to flower.

One thing that I have been doing during the last five weeks, is reading a lot. Not because the lockdown due to the Corvid-19 virus has restricted what I get up to, in fact I have not been restricted in any way. No, because I get up very early each day (5am) and start the day with a patrol round the nature reserve and then other jobs in the garden, etc., I find that most afternoons I have little to do and so do quite a bit of reading.
I have found a series of books by a quite brilliant biographer, Mary S. Lovell. Her books are terrifically well researched, contain many pages and yet are easy to read. I came across her latest one first - "The Riviera Set: 1920-1960: The Golden Years of Glamour and Excess" and then went backwards to "The Churchills" and I'm currently reading "The Mitford Girls: The biography of an Extraordinary Family." They are very worth well reading.

On the reserve, we are just beginning to emerge from the main rush of the breeding season and so far it hasn't been that spectacular, the several weeks of dry weather has affected birds like the Lapwings. Their chicks depend on insect life to feed on, the type that you get around the muddy fringes of bodies of water and such areas dried up with considerable speed as the near drought progressed. I have however, seen a number of broods of geese and various duck youngsters and the Sedge and Reed Warblers are busy in the reed beds, so all is not lost. A few grassland butterflies are also starting to emerge - Small Heaths and Meadow Browns are a tad early and there are Peacock caterpillars feeding on the stinging nettles. 

So far it has been a funny old year - a very wet winter, followed immediately by a bone dry Spring, what weather surprises has the summer in store as we approach the Longest Day in a couple of weeks. 


Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Rain at Last

After around 5-6 weeks of rain-less days, when almost every day seemed to be cloudless, sunny and very warm in the afternoons, leading to the comments in my last couple of posts about almost drought conditions, things changed dramatically yesterday.
After a very warm Monday afternoon when people were as usual, out walking in their summer clothes, shorts and T shirts even, we got up yesterday to dark skies, steady rain and a big drop in temperature. That remained the case for most of the day and at times even, a burst of the central heating was needed to take the chill off of the house. Lawns and flower beds that had been rock hard and cracking up begun to ooze water by the evening. Garden water butts re-filled and over-flowed and the poor Blackbirds, that had been struggling for a few weeks to get any worms out of the ground for their chicks, suddenly looked rejuvenated.
Early this Wednesday morning as I write this, we still have dark skies, light rain and cold temperatures, with heavier rain forecast during the day. Unfortunately this year's weather seems to be coming in binges - we had the endless and record wet winter, followed by this recent endless dry spell, hopefully it won't mean that this current wet weather isn't set in for a month or so now.

What it does mean is that the farmer close to the reserve, who last week was sowing peas into dust dry ground, causing me to comment on how does he expect them to germinate, will no doubt be feeling quite smug today. On the reserve itself, one piece of concern will be for any newly hatched Lapwing chicks. A cold and rainy day is not good for those small balls of fluff, if they remain wet and cold for long periods of time they will often die.
I'm just about to set off for the reserve and wellie boots and a coat were the last thing on my mind this time last week.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

The Sweet Dreams of Youth

"Now as I was young and easy" as Dylan Thomas so eloquently began his poem "Fern Hill" - as I was young and easy in my late teens in the 1960's, I discovered Dylan Thomas.
In 1965, in my 18th year, I was introduced to Bob Dylan for the first time by a friend'd suggestion that I watch him on a television programme. In doing that a light bulb came on, the Stones and the Beatles were relegated to second and third places of interest. A life time of devotion to Bob Dylan, his poetry and his music had begun.
Later, after a few months of sating myself on all things Bob Dylan, my interest also began to lean towards the man that Bob Dylan allegedly took his surname from - Dylan Thomas. I bought Dylan Thomas's Collected Poems, read and loved "Under Milk Wood" and begun collecting various autobiographies about both Dylan and his wife Caitlin. It soon became clear to me here was a man that wrote poetry brilliantly and in a style that I many times, badly tried to copy. Not only that, being in my late teens, I was ripe for idolising somebody that was also a rogue, a reprobate and somebody that regularly pissed people off. When you're that age nice people are only seen as boring, people bucking the system are always the ones most interesting. I also read that Dylan Thomas had often said to people that he didn't want to live past 40 and went on to die aged 39 at the height of his fame. He achieved that by going out one night in New York and after claiming to have drunk eighteen whiskies, against doctors orders, collapsed in a coma before dying in a hospital bed a week or so later, well I thought - way to go, who wants to get old. A few years later that thought was once again resurrected when in 1970 Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix all died young from drug overdoses.
So with that thought in the back of my mind, I moved further into adult life and marriage and work and buying houses and headed towards that magical cut off point, 40 years of age. Clearly, as I'm writing this aged 72, the romantic thought of dying at 40 like my heroes, was never full filled, life may have took some dark turns along the way but there was always a bright light shining up ahead.

Mind you, as I approach my 73rd birthday, that bright light seems to be flickering somewhat. We are in the depths of the Corvid-19 pandemic and people are dying by the thousands in this country and the normal feeling of safety and comfort from being in hospital is all of a sudden a scary prospect. It's really unsettling to wake up on a fine and sunny morning, with a good day in prospect, to suddenly have that dark cloud of remembering Corvid-19 descend upon you and will today be my turn to get it.
It's changing a lot of people's lives, possibly forever, and has brought about a lot of challenging restrictions to our daily life, which many of us interpret in different ways. For me, the only real restriction is not being able to visit my partner who lives 80 miles away in Surrey whenever I like. We remain separated by the government ruling that travel by car is only allowed for essential reasons and an 80 mile journey there and back would see me probably fined if caught doing it. It's even more frustrating watching some of my neighbours being visited by friends and relatives, visits that include going in their houses.

Other than that, the one topic in vogue at the moment among people that are gardeners or farmers, is how dry the ground has become. To be not that far away from one of the wettest winters on record and now in almost drought conditions, is hard to comprehend. In the gardens, flower borders are cracking up and lawns beginning to go yellow. On the marsh the water levels have dropped almost two feet in places and the field surfaces becoming rock hard, and I watched tractors drilling spring crops the other day, being followed by large dust clouds.
It's becoming a mad, mad world.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Everyone needs a father

In this crazy world at the moment, we're going into un-chartered territory for some months to come, with our lives, health and finances all at risk from the Coronavirus. We're all clearly going to have a lot of time on our hands for reflection and I've been doing that just recently in respect of my father. I show him below during WW2.
He died in 1969, when he was just 50 and I was 22. Up until his death I had always had a pretty poor relationship with him, he worked extremely hard to support the family, worked himself to death in all respects, but he was not a good family man. At 22 years old, I had a whole lifetime in front of me and so little time for a father that shared little with me, that, as far as I was concerned, could come later in my life, which of course it never did.

I was the second child, born in 1947, a year after the first child, a girl, died just a week after birth. Therefore when my sister was born in 1950, I guess he always saw her as the replacement for the first one and favoured her at my expense for the rest of his short life. Later came three other children but my father had his favourite and so it was and so I spent my childhood and teenage years being somewhat withdrawn from normal family relationships. As a result I guess, I've struggled with relationships all of my life and still do to this day, always needing a great deal of time with just myself.
However, around ten years ago and after the death of my mother, I gradually found myself being drawn back into the family circle after a long time out of it. I guess as I plodded through my sixties and into my seventies, I was being looked upon as a father figure by my younger siblings, a funny kind of realisation. That led me, as the curiosity of old age often does, to begin researching my family history and in particular, the male line from myself backwards. That, while it has been very successful, rewarding and enlightening, has exposed a great and much regretted hole in my life, all  those missed bonding chats with my father. The missed opportunities to ask him what growing up on Sheppey in the 1920's was like, what the countryside and living conditions were like, what his parents and his aunties and uncles were like, why he went into the army in 1935, earlier than he should by saying that he was eighteen when he was really only sixteen.
I was lucky in that I managed to get hold of his complete army record in the Buffs until de-mob at the end of the War and seeing what he did and endured through that helped me realise that there was far more to him than the person that I thought that I knew, when I was just twenty two. 
I would dearly loved to have chatted with him over the last ten years or more, because everybody needs a father and I missed the opportunity to have one.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Spring is waking up

After what seems like a whole winter of rain, heavy rain, gales and severe gales and of course storms, this week is giving a glimmer of hope that Spring is finally very close. No gales and little wind is forecast and indeed yesterday, we had the rare treat just lately, of blue skies and sunshine. Walking across the waterlogged reserve in sunshine made it all seem so much better and a couple of pairs of Lapwings were even doing their aerial courtship displays. Not to be outdone either, Skylarks were singing, high in the sky and from several parts around the marsh, we're so fortunate to still have a good population of them  - so things really did seem better.
With lengthening daylight hours, some birds are now being encouraged to begin nest building, Tits are taken material into nest boxes and the poor old Rooks, with tree tops battered by constant gales, have built and re-built their nests several times.
Just outside my conservatory I have a large rosemary bush which is currently covered in small, pale blue flowers and every day several bumble bees spend all the daylight hours visiting it for it's much needed early food source. Daffodils are in full flower, tulip flowers are beginning to show from among the leaves and my lawns have been cut several times, although they are a tad wet. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean it's nice and warm and I'm now approaching the latest date that I've ever got my tortoises out of hibernation in the garage. I'll wait another week and then will have to bring them into the warm and see how they are, they might have to be left to wander about in my conservatory till it warms up in the garden.
Back on the reserve, large areas are still covered in water, or at best, water-logged and muddy and it's hard at the moment to see how ground nesting birds such as Lapwings and Skylarks will be able to make an early start to nesting, should they be so minded, but wildlife normally finds a way. Certainly one or two duck pairs have already begun because I've started to find the tell-tale signs of crow predation in the form of new duck eggs that have been pecked open.
What of the Harty farmland alongside - well the autumn sown crops of rape and wheat are doing OK despite much water-logged soil. Both rape and wheat plants are beginning to noticeably increase in size now and it will only take a couple of warm days to see a great spurt in growth. The one flock of sheep on the farmland should of begun lambing by the end of the month and I guess that the owner of them will also have his fingers crossed for some warm and sunny weather.
So all in all, Spring seems to be slowly waking up, the signs are all there - it can't come quick enough!

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Another Season Ends

Walking across a part-flooded reserve early this morning was hard work. Negotiating the flooded parts wasn't too bad, it was the gale force wind and bouts of horizontal drizzle that made it worse. Plus it means that I have to wear wellies and I never find them comfortable at the best of times. Large areas of foot deep water are not exactly the kind of conditions that I imagine Ellie, my little Jack Russell, finds enjoyable either, but she gamely runs or swims her way through it all.

I haven't been across to the sea wall for several days, simply in order to avoid having to cross the wet marsh, but today was the last day of the current wildfowling season. The wildfowlers put their guns away until September 1st, when it all starts again. As the reserve's Voluntary Warden and the only person the wildfowlers are likely to encounter from it's management, I always like to keep on friendly terms with them and have an end of season chat. Standing on the sea wall being buffeted by the wind and rain, it was surprising just how many wildfowl have returned, now, over the last couple of weeks, that we finally have the wet conditions that they so love.
It was an irony not lost on the wildfowlers as we chatted - all those wildfowl now that the shooting season has ended - a sod's law sort of event, which is not unusual in their pursuit. This morning, between the four of them, they had shot just the one duck, which was a pretty poor return for standing in deep, tidal mud and the wind and rain for several hours. We stood there comparing notes on how the two different types of season have gone for us all and it seemed a very long time ago since they sat out there with their guns on very warm and sunny September evenings, being bitten to death by mosquitoes.
But now they have finished for six months and apart from the odd birdwatcher or walker, I will have the place to myself again. Time to dream about sitting on the same sea wall on hot, sunny mornings, watching Ellie trying to catch voles in the long grass and being lulled into a lazy frame of mind by the drone of bees and the silent passage of butterflies - ah my kind of season.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Same Again

Well, almost a month has gone by since my last post and that post's title could just as easily apply to this one. There are a few subtle differences, the water levels have continued to increase in both depth and area and at last, duck numbers are also beginning to increase. Mallard, Teal, Pintail, Gadwall and Shoveler are all beginning to re-appear and combined with large numbers of Greylag, White-fronted and Brent Geese, it's all starting to look how it should do at this time of the year.

The photo below indicates the kind of access problems that we are now experiencing as a result of the rising water levels. The main track through the reserve runs through this gate and turns towards where I was standing on a raised bund. The ditch either side of the gate and track has flooded across them both and this is being repeated in many places around the reserve. It means that access/viewing, is pretty much limited to the boundary route at the rear of the reserve and the sea wall that you can see in the background distance. They say that you should be careful what you wish for and after four years of asking for decent rainfall to alleviate the reserve's dryness, we've now got a tad too much.

The other notable feature of this February so far, is the lack of any mild and sunny days, it been mostly cold, wet and windy, especially so during the two major storms, Ciara and now Dennis which we are enduring as I write this. Dennis is forecast to possibly dump a month's worth of rain today, so even wetter conditions will exist by tomorrow.
I have found it all so very depressing and cannot wait for us to climb out of this dark dampness and to feel a warm sun on my face.