Saturday, 15 October 2016

We Had Rain

Well, I said in my last post, it was getting colder and indeed it did, with every day until this morning having North East or Easterly winds creating quite a drop in temperatures. Not only that, we also had rain at last, several early mornings and late evenings were wet. It was never enough to make a zilch of difference to the water levels on the reserve but it has penetrated the soil to an inch or two, causing the grass to begin growing again. Not only that, it has wet the soil on the neighbouring arable fields and rape and winter wheat seed that has sat in bone dry ground for six weeks, has finally begun to germinate and grow.
This morning however, the wind had swung round to a milder SW direction overnight and it was a beautiful and mild autumnal start to the day. Below you can see my view across the marsh as I arrived at first light today, with a light mist rising and the sea wall in the distance.

 Looking westwards you can see some of the cattle and the wind pump.

 and here this calf was busy trotting through the mist, anxious to catch up with it's mother.

This direction sign at the foot of the seawall looked like some biblical cross against the dawn sky.

and the sea wall hide and the various colours of the brightening sky. I was tempted to enhance the colours but decided to leave them as they naturally occurred.

Getting on top of the sea wall I easily spotted this wildfowler out on the saltings, one of four, that was just packing up for the morning. Bird-wise it was a very quiet morning in the calm and warm setting, as the wildfowlers confirmed when I chatted with them. Very few ducks were seen and certainly none shot but their biggest concern was the hoards of mosquitoes that bit them non-stop as they sat out there.

Monday, 10 October 2016

It's Getting Colder

Well the weather remains very dry here and looks set to remain so for a while yet but one thing that is changing is the temperature, it has taken a noticeable move downwards. North Easterlies have set in and freshening winds are bringing in the cold from Scandinavia and Poland. On the marsh early today, under the customary clear blue skies it was cold enough to need the winter coat and jumper and my fleece lined winter trousers will be next to be worn. However once the sun began to climb in the sky it turned a fair bit warmer, it was a pleasant walk round. Now, as I sit in my study mid-afternoon and looking across the Thames Estuary to the distant Essex shore, heavy grey clouds are starting to flood across the sky in the moderate ENE wind, might it rain - doubtful. But the clear signs of Autumn are there and I always approach every autumn with a sense of foreboding. I hate those long dark nights and short dreary days of winter that follows, the severe gales and the damage that they cause.
But back to the reserve and while there may be a lack of water, it has been turning up a wide range of birds this last couple of weeks, especially birds of prey. After the excitement of the Osprey and Pallid Harrier it has been the turn of both a male and female Hen Harriers, both adult birds and down from the north of England for their customary winter stay here on Sheppey. White-fronted Geese and Short-eared Owls have begun appearing, no doubt coming in from the Continent on the Easterly winds. The largish owls look quite delightful as they make their all day hunting flights across the fields and saltings of the reserve. On Sunday while walking round the reserve, I not only saw a pair of Ravens, still an uncommon bird here, but also a Common Crane which has been around for a few days. The rather naff photo, taken at some distance in poor, early morning light, shows the Crane in a stubble field alongside the reserve.
Going back to the Easterly winds, elsewhere here in Kent they have also started to push over from Scandinavia the first winter thrushes, Redwings and Fieldfares. Bramblings, Yellow-browed Warblers and Shorelarks have also appeared and so we kiss the summer goodbye for another year.

tonight a great orange moon came up
it came up above the trees
and hung there in a cloudless sky.
I tried t write more about you
but it kept on hanging there
makin the words seem like a lie.

tonight I had t ring you up
t tell you about the moon
and had you seen it as well.
because it wasn't just the wine
or the heat outside
makin it feel I was under a spell.

tonight the moon was my friend
because you came over
and we drank a bottle or two.
but it wasn't just the moon
that made it what it was,
it had a lot t do with you.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Green and Yellow

It seems like the only thing that I have to write about this last few months is our never ending dry spell and it still goes on, to the degree that people probably believe that I'm making it up! I was down in Surrey at my partner's house for a few days this week and could only look in envy at her nice green lawns. We had a pleasant walk on Wednesday along the nearby River Blackwater, it's not a very wide river and it is surrounded in places by great, large oaks and other trees as it winds it's way gently through the water meadows. But it entrances me to see lovely clean water continually flowing past and seeing the water weeds all straining to go with it to wherever it is going. I found myself comparing it with the current ditches and dykes back here on Sheppey, now either dry or just a simple inch of stagnant water and black mud that have lost all semblance of what they should represent on the marshland habitat.
As I drove back on to Sheppey yesterday morning it was like driving into the dry, arid countryside of southern Spain in mid-summer, none of the green meadows of Surrey here, just endless fields of whitish yellow dryness and baked and cracked ground. My garden was just as depressing, 50% of the lawns are dead and cracked and half of the patio slabs are visibly sloping downwards due to the ground shrinking beneath them. For the last couple of weeks I have been trying to dig over and prepare a new rose border ready for roses that should arrive next month and that became almost comical. I was having to jump up and down on the spade in order to just get it to penetrate the soil before turning huge clods of clay that wouldn't break up. Eventually I resorted to watering the soil for several nights in order to soften it up to a reasonable degree and then had another go at digging it.
But despite the dryness and lack of most things wildfowl, there were some rays of light last week. At the extreme western end of the reserve, on the saltings below Harty Church, an Osprey on passage back to Africa, stopped off for a few days. Several times it was seen to go out over the tidal Swale and return with a fish that it ate on a post on the saltings. Just before it departed for good it was replaced by a much rarer juvenile Pallid Harrier, which replaced it at almost the same spot. Seen best from the rear of the tiny Harty Church, the bird attracted a largish number of twitchers, an external congregation worshipping a bird rather than the Man Above. The bird finally flew across The Swale on Sunday afternoon and didn't return, taking with it the twitchers, who have no time for ordinary things.

See the dry and dusty track across the marsh (sorry about the light quality, it was a gloomy morning)

 The cattle looking for some nourishment in the dusty and yellow conditions.

 The view across the grazing marsh

and the start of the seawall and it's yellow adjoining field.

 One of the reserve's ditches, reduced to an inch of stinking water in the bottom of it.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Reserve Dawn

I was on the reserve just as the dawn sky was beginning to brighten and look quite beautiful in it's various colours. Here see the sky behind farm buildings in the distance.

Gradually getting lighter

The sea wall fleet in the dawn light, looks like a lot of water but only a few inches deep now.

The sky continues to brighten as the sun climbs.

 and at last the sun appears on the horizon.

I reach the sea wall top and look along the saltings for any wildfowlers, ah yes, there's one easily spotted, why don't they use camouflage netting of a lighter colour?

Anyway, after we all had a jovial chat they all made their way back along the sea wall in the dawn light.

Here Ellie has her eyes fixed firmly on a rabbit that was several yards in front of her and is poised to strike.

This the end of what is normally our largest and longest fleet, now showing the results of our continuing drought.

As is this ditch, reduced to a shallow puddle at one end. In the winter this will be full of water to the top of the bare soil on the bank side, meaning it is around four foot lower than normal in winter, that's a lot of rain needed.

Cattle at the calf feeder bins, notice how yellow the grazing marsh is.

Mother and son. In a few weeks time all the calves will be taken away from their mothers to be weaned off.

 Midge and Ellie.

Discing on the farm field alongside the reserve, ready to sow winter corn. Notice the dust rising from the bone dry soil. And below that, a field of bulls in their winter quarters, 25 in all. Once again note the parched grazing.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Blogging Oscars

I don't have a side bar of long lists of blogs that I follow, mainly because I don't follow that many, probably around half a dozen. Too many these days have become very cliquey and having captured an audience of devoted, sycophantic even, daily readers, reject totally and in one case, using foul language, any person that dares to disagree with a particular posting.
That said, there is one blog that I have become very fond of lately and it written by a charming lady in her eighties who describes brilliantly her day to day life living in the Yorkshire Dales. Despite some physical pain and problems this lady still goes to her exercise classes and does everything that she can to stay young. Her and her husband, written of as "The Farmer", live on a small farm in the Dales and her blog daily describes the kind of rural life that most of us don't think exists any more. The trips into the small local villages for shopping and the weekly meetings in small cafes with regular lady friends to discuss books and poetry over well described items of delicious sounding food. Seasonal life on the farm is described and pictured in beautiful detail as are recipes of food that she has cooked ( as a lousy cook, she has even sent me a couple of easy recipes to help me out).
Reading the blog it is like going back in time to when much of England was like that rather than just isolated patches, have a look at the latest posting at

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Who knows where the time goes?

Across the evening sky, all the birds are leaving
But how can they know it's time for them to go?
Before the winter fire, I will still be dreaming
I have no thoughts of time

For who knows where the time goes?.........Sandy Denny

Summer is doing it's best to hang on as long as it can, despite the lengthening nights and the overnight nip in the air, it's not going anywhere just yet. Walking round reserve at 7.30 this morning it was distinctly warm since the sun has been up for an hour. Some Swallows and Martins still skimmed fast across the grass but they're not tarrying to think about it any more, the few that are left are in a hurry, South is calling, it's whispering gently on the breeze, "hurry up." Red Admiral butterflies were hurrying in their fluttering way in the same direction, the reed beds are quiet, everything is leaving. I stood and watched and wistfully hummed the above song to myself and thought, who knows where the time goes?
Back home in the garden this afternoon, summer still played tricks with me, sitting there in my shorts it became almost hot under clear blue skies. Bees and Large White butterflies were as busy as ever, feeding hungrily on the purple flowers of Verbena bonariensis and the white flowered Alliums. No they were saying, we don't think summer is over yet and it certainly felt like that was the case.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

What happened to our rain?

Wow! it's a long time since I can recall such an immediate transformation from one season to another. Just two days ago I was still walking round the reserve early in the morning in just a polo shirt and trousers after over two months of doing the same, every day has been so hot and humid. This morning at 7.00 along the reserve seawall I had on almost my normal winter clothes, with a thick sweater and my winter coat and needed them. There was a strong and chilly NW wind gusting to 40 mph, heavy grey skies and brief showers of light rain, a day not un-typical of early winter and a change in the weather being celebrated by the one wildfowler present. It really was hard to comprehend such a rapid change.
The one thing that hasn't changed though, is how dry it remains. I took the photos below a couple of days ago, once again to emphasis the degree of drought that the reserve is suffering and despite the weather of the last 24 hrs they are still factual. The first below is the Flood Field and what is normally one of the large splashes of water in it, now bone dry and cracked up.

Alongside the Flood Field is the main distributor pump house. When ditches are full this can pump water in three directions, though we mostly use it to pump water into the Flood Field. Below the reeds you can see the end of the pump's suction pipe and it's square filter box. That is sitting just above the last inch or two of water that is left in the ditch, normally it is under three feet of water, or more!
Amazingly, despite being surrounded quite closely by areas on Thursday night that suffered violent thunderstorms and torrential rain, our little island got none of it. We eventually got 3-4 hours of rain yesterday afternoon but in the strong winds overnight and this morning, that has done no more than wet the ground to about a centimetre's depth, basically we're just as dry as we have been for the last three months.