Thursday, 21 September 2017

There was a Time

Back in the days when we still had four seasons each year, seasons that came with annual regularity and obvious signs, we knew what to expect. We never had rose beds still in flower at Christmas, lawns that still needed mowing in Jan and Feb and summer visitor birds such as Blackcap and Chiffchaff over-wintering in ever increasing numbers. Nowadays it's not unusual to find woods of trees still in leaf at the turn of the year. There was a time when fruit and veg. also came with and denoted a particular season and we eagerly looked forward to a season coming round. Parsnips and sprouts in mid to late winter, after a frost had been on them, strawberries in early summer, mushrooms gathered from the fields in early autumn. All that has gone now, everything is available all the year round and it ain't quite the same
Take snow, the photos below were taken round my house in Jan 1987 - 30 years ago. You can just make out my car on the drive. That snowfall was so severe that it pretty much paralysed the Isle of Sheppey here for a week and cut us off from the mainland.


 Note the icicles hanging from the guttering around my bungalow.

That was thirty years ago and I really can't see it happening again to that degree. Since then, as "winters" have become milder and dryer, snowfall has been at a premium, the last time we had snow was four years ago and that only lasted a couple of days.
Which brings us round once again to the dryness of winters now. The first two photos below show the result of a normal wet winter on the reserve. The last time that occurred was about five years ago, since then the winters have become progressively dryer. When the reserve was that wet birds such as Lapwings and Golden plovers could be counted in the several thousands, wildfowl likewise. Regular bird counts were hard work because there were simply so many birds to count over a large area.


Today, the scene above looks like this below, dry and waterless as far as the eye can see and it makes for a pretty boring walk round each day because there are so few birds to see. There was a time when we knew what season we were in but that's no where near as clear cut any more.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Some things just ain't changing

It's really quiet on the reserve at the moment, small parties of Swallows still go through at speed, heading south and occasionally a Chiff Chaff works it's way through the willows looking for insects. Stopping to pass the time of day with the odd wildfowlers as they come back along the sea wall inevitably turns to the same old subject - isn't it bloody dry out here!
Take this through pipe which allows the ditches either side of the crossing to be at the same level, the water level should be at or above the pipe but it's no where to be seen.


In 31 years of being involved with the reserve I've never seen this ditch dry out but it's looking likely that I will this year.

I've featured this fleet before, it snakes it's way for several hundred yards through the middle of the reserve and is normally where most of the wildfowl and waders can be found, it's currently bone dry and hard.

 And the shallow lake in the Flood Field remains steadfastly bone dry as well, as is the whole field.

 Alongside the Flood Field is the pump house that can be used to pump water from the ditch into the field but you will notice that the end of the pump hose is sitting above the couple of inches left in the ditch.

So, after around eighteen months of this dry weather, we can only hope for a wet winter, it will happen, it's just when?
In the meantime, look at this distant shot of two rabbits alongside their burrows, a normal brown one and a jet black one. Around 15/20 years ago the black ones were a fairly common sight on the reserve, breeding naturally in that colour but they have become much rarer nowadays. Breeding in that colour has some fancy scientific explanation but I can't recall what it is.

Friday, 1 September 2017

A New Season

It's the first of September today and therefore the first day of a new wildfowling season. Pre-dawn this morning wildfowlers will have been turning up across marshes and estuaries in an attempt to shoot their first duck or goose of this new six month season.
As I have done for the last thirty years, I made my usual dawn visit to the reserve sea wall to see how many wildfowlers had turned up and to chat with them as they returned homeward along the sea wall. As you can see below it was a spectacular dawn sky as I made my way across the reserve, through the cattle and a light mist that was rising and there was a surprising nip in the air as well, just 8 degrees at first.


On reaching the sea wall and glancing along the saltings I was able to make out just six wildfowlers spread out at regular distances and below you can see one of them, optimistically waiting for a goose or duck to fly past.
Now did they actually shoot anything, well no. With the tide in front of the saltings being low, there were around eighty Greylag Geese on the exposed mudflats and all becoming more and more vocal as they got close to flighting inland. Eventually, as the sun rose above the eastern horizon, there came a great clamouring of geese calls and rather than cross the saltings where the wildfowlers were waiting, they flew along the mudflats for several hundred yards and then turned inland where there were no wildfowlers. Now geese are incredibly intelligent and wary birds but I really feel that today they were simply just lucky. One thing's for sure, there were some incredibly frustrated wildfowlers who came back along the sea wall afterwards. 

Friday, 18 August 2017

Better Times

Since my last rant about the inclement weather, it has improved somewhat. We've had regular heavy showers and a couple of lengthy rainy periods and always followed by very warm sunny days. The rain hasn't added a single centimetre to the ditch levels, which are now at ridiculously low levels, but it has definitely greened up the grass on the grazing meadows. Harvesting operations on the surrounding farmland have almost all finished now and all the straw bales such as you see below have been carted away. Those wheat stubble fields will remain like that now and have already been re-sown with rape which is beginning to show as lines of green seedlings. All that's left to do now is to re-sow this year's rape fields with wheat for next year's crop and so the annual rotation goes on.


Back on the reserve, the bulls that have been servicing the cows through the summer months are due to be taken away to their winter pastures this week. One of them is shown below and I really was that close, they are a very docile and trustworthy breed thankfully.

Below is one of the other bulls with one of his harem. I was amused to be told the other day about one of several bulls on a nearby reserve. It has had to be withdrawn from "active service" for this year because the regular rearing up of such a huge frame onto a cow's back, put so much weight on it's back ankles that they became strained and swollen. Not all fun in the stud world it seems!

The pair of Mute Swans hatched seven cygnets this year on the reserve but only these four have survived, they are doing well though.
In the early mornings lately, when the grass is wet from rain or heavy dew, I been coming across numerous small frogs making their way through the grass away from the ditches. It happens most autumns and I guess they move into dense vegetation ready for winter hibernation. The photo makes it look a lot bigger than it was, it was only about an inch and a half long, probably one of last year's froglets.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Weather Dominates

After heavy-ish rain all afternoon and evening yesterday, the walk across the reserve this morning was wet, muddy and dominated by wind. Now yesterday's rain I was grateful for, we've long needed it, although one of the local farmers who still has to get his well ripe corn harvested, wouldn't agree. But being out this morning in wet conditions that were exacerbated by grey skies, spits of rain and a strong and cold NE wind was depressing to say the least. I needed to wear clothing very similar to what I would wear in the winter and had to continually tell myself that yes, really, this is the height of summer, if only by the date.
Last night I sat indoors watching the World Athletics Championships in London and to avoid putting the central heating on in mid-August, had to get up and put on a thick sweater. And the athletics, well they were taking place in non-stop rain and chilly winds, which affected the performances of many of them to some degree.
So this morning, as I wandered round hunched up in my winter coat, I also found myself reflecting on the fact that so far this year, our summer has consisted of two hot and sunny weeks seemingly many moons ago. Two rare weeks during which some people found it necessary to complain about how hot it was, well I hope that they are happy about these current awful weather conditions, because I bloody well ain't and I doubt many of the competitors at the athletics were either.

Friday, 4 August 2017

What a Pratt

We are still losing the battle against the endless dry weather that we've had all year. Every time that we've been lucky enough to get a few hours of rain or the occasional storm, it is immediately followed by drying weather. On Wednesday afternoon/evening we had a few hours of much needed rain but yesterday the whole day saw gale force, blustery winds and spells of warm sunshine and today is very similar. Within hours all semblance of dampness in the ground had disappeared and this has been the case after every wet spell this year, so the drought goes on. Mind you, with a few dry and sunny days now ahead, the local arable farmers will be pleased, they are well behind with harvesting the wheat and barley. They have been plagued by regular showers, which although not prolonged, have the effect of making the corn to damp to harvest for a day or so and so things have been very stop-start and frustrating.
The picture below appeared on the front page of our local paper this week. In one of the roads in our village, a road with houses both sides of the road, this dead fox appeared, hanging from the gates of a house, alongside the pavement, with a snare around it's neck. It has been suggested that the owner of the house snared the fox in his back garden but instead of quietly disposing of it, it was deliberately hung on the gate as some kind of trophy. As you can imagine, neighbours were appalled and called in RSPCA representatives who are also in the picture. Unfortunately there was little they or the police could do because the snaring of foxes is a legal pursuit in this country but what a pratt the owner must be to draw such attention to himself. Apparently he has had to take a stay away from the house now to escape local abuse .
Now I'm no Anti, I don't have a problem with foxes, or other pest species being culled, but not by the snaring method which involves the animal putting it's head through a wire noose which if it isn't set properly, slowly chokes the animal as it struggles to get free.  

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Surely not Autumn

There's a real feel of autumn out and about at the moment, something that others have commented on as well, so it's not just me. To all intent and purpose it's only the end of July and still mid-summer but so many signs are making it feel like autumn is making in-roads. A lot of heavy, grey skies, chilly winds and showers recently have aided that autumnal feel, as has the early disappearance of many birds. Early this morning large numbers of Swifts were passing through the reserve heading south, which is about right for the time of year but they were joined by many juvenile Swallows, leaving us already. The reed beds along the sea wall continue to quieten down, with only the odd call from a Reed or Sedge Warbler and today, seeing a family party of Yellow Wagtails, I was reminded that I haven't seen them for a while. There is a real deserted feel about the place. In just four weeks time the wildfowlers will be back to commence their six months of autumn/winter wildfowl shooting and I'm left wondering if those people who didn't like our mini heatwave, what seems like ages ago, might just be wishing for something similar again for a while.
To give even more credence to the autumnal feel I found these fresh horse mushrooms in the grazing meadow, defying the bone dry ground and springing up a month or two early.


Golden Samphire along the edge of the saltings

Sea Lavender on the saltings