Wednesday, 21 June 2017


Well here we are at the Longest Day, with the depressing thought that as from today, the days start to shorten and if we get cloudy weather, it can happen quite quickly.
Really pissed off today when reading blogs, the newspapers and listening to the radio - gawd, there's almost a national crisis - we've had five days of hot weather and people can't handle it. I know that summer in England isn't supposed to happen, or if it does it isn't actually supposed to be hot but come on, five days can't surely justify being called a heatwave.
Some blogs this morning are talking about how their dogs can't be taken for walks because they and their owners are too hot, well if the owner is lying sleepless in a sweaty bed, why then, get up earlier as I do, and get out with the dog in the early morning cool and freshness, both will benefit from it. Radio 5 Live went on and on with people ringing in to say how hot they were at work and asking if it was acceptable under H&S guidelines to actually be at work when it was hot and so it has been going on. Bloody hell, in the 1976 real heatwave, we didn't have just five days of hot weather, we had it continuous for three bloody months, every day, blue skies and hot sunshine! Yet we went to work throughout those three months and still lived to tell the tale.
I wonder how many people complaining about this current "heatwave", spend two weeks a year holidaying in some very hot and sunny country.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Another Dawn Patrol

After a hot and sunny day yesterday it looks like being even hotter today and so Ellie and I were out early on the reserve. This is how it looked.

A few across the marsh

One of the reserve ditches

The sea wall fleet and it's wide reed beds from the sea wall, noisy this morning with Reed and Sedge Warblers

The Sea Wall hide

Which was being used as a perch by this pair of Oystercatchers

The sea wall fleet at ground level, it is almost a mile long and was probably created when the soil for the sea wall alongside was dug

 Horsetail, a very invasive water weed that is clogging up a lot of ditches and fleets on the reserve

 as this photo shows

A side ways look at the flower of Goatsbeard

 And lastly, Spiny Rest-harrow, the only place on Sheppey that I know of it growing.

Friday, 16 June 2017

A Summer's Night

My dog Ellie got me out of bed at 4.00 this morning barking at a cat that had dared to walk across the garden, I let her out and the cat was fortunate to clear the fence just ahead of Ellie. It was broad daylight then and with clear blue skies and the sun about to rise, I decided to make an early visit to the reserve, arriving there at 5.00.
The rather distant shot below shows the Little Owl peering out from the old nest box on the side of the reserve's barn. For the last two years a pair of Kestrels have successfully nested in that box but it has been a bit cramped and so this year we gave them the much larger luxury one that you can see higher up, which they have ignored. We hoped that the regular sighting of the Little Owl in the old box might mean that it was nesting there but that has not been the case and it simply uses it as a roost site.

When I got up on to the sea wall, this Thames sailing barge was making it's way down The Swale and out to sea in the early morning sun. I was surprised that it didn't have it's sails up because there was a pretty stiff wind blowing from behind it.

Last year a pair of Great Crested Grebes successfully bred on the reserve for the first time and they have returned again this year, although they have only managed to rear the one chick. This rather distant shot was the best that I could get with my camera and they kept on diving if I got any closer.

The weather for the last week has been sunny and warm to hot and looks like continuing in that way over this weekend - drying the garden out too fast but well enjoyable all the same.
It's also that time of the year again where the nights are pleasantly short - too much time gets wasted in bed. I just love going off to bed at 10.00 in the half light and waking up at 4.00 to daylight and birds singing. Last night at 10.00 as I waited for Ellie to come in from the garden, I stood there in the half light looking across the marshes over the road and listening to a Blackbird in full song - 10.00 at night, magic!
People who know their Wind in the Willows will recall that wonderful chapter "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" which reflects the current weather and time of year. Kenneth Grahame captured perfectly the emotions and sights of that short mid-summer's night as the Mole and Ratty spent it rowing the River looking for the Otter's lost son. The pleasant coolness as the approaching darkness ushered away the heat of a long hot day. The eventual rise of the moon to light up the surrounding countryside in silvery stillness, the gurglings of the river and the occasional "cloops" as an unseen animal dived into the water and then, in the whispering of the reed beds, how they became aware of the presence of the Piper at the Gates of Dawn, a mystical creature that left them in awe.

I wonder how many people bother to experience the countryside of a warm summer's night after midnight, you may not see the Piper but it can still be a magical experience.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Sex in the Summer

It's that time of year when the bulls are put out on to the reserve for their annual couple of months of lustful enjoyment. Two were put out with the cows and their calves over the weekend and are now happily doing what they're supposed to be doing, or they were while I was there and the one below didn't seem to be happy at being watched.

More new additions to the reserve are this brood of seven Mute Swan cygnets.

And the Greylag Geese continue to hatch more goslings, we have around fifty now, look at the difference in size between these...

....and some of the earlier ones.

The water lilies in one ditch are in full leaf

and beginning to flower.

I often like to photograph flowers that we tend to overlook as ordinary or not spectacular. White Clover has a lovely flower structure when seen up close.

This tiny flower grows in dry, ex-muddy areas on the reserve and I believe is either Lesser or Greater Sea Spurrey.

And lastly, Meadow Vetchling.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Summer Days

The weather continues to yo-yo to and fro, this week it is very warm to hot, sunny days amd most appreciated.
Yesterday I made one of my irregular visits to the extreme eastern end of the reserve and the eastern end od Sheppey as a whole, Shellness beach. This long and narrow strip of sand and shell beach with it's old WW2 building looks quite beautiful on a sunny day such as it was. The tide was out otherwise it would of looked even better.

It'll be another month or so before the wide range of seashore wild flowers that it's known for, come into bloom but there was at least many clumps of Sea Campion, the maritime cousin of the Red Campion.

 Back on the main grazing marsh part of the reserve and it is worth mentioning again the efforts of the neighbouring farmers in respect of wildlife friendly strips round field edges. Wide strips of this purple flower was absolutely humming with the amount of bees swarming all over it.

Another farmer has these wide strips of weeds and long grass around his wheat fields, hopefully they'll be left until at least harvest time.

 Below, you see Ellie's favourite place on the whole reserve........

 ........and here's the reason why. She spends hours being led a merry dance by the rabbits, but yesterday her hard work and optimism paid off, she caught two.

Who remembers from childhood, this wild weed, barley grass. When it yellows up in the summer it tends to be home to tiny black beetles that look like fleas and we nick-named it "flea grass". As young lads we used to pick the yellow darts and throw them into girls' hair shouting "fleas in your hair", to much screaming by the girls. Boyish fun, I doubt youngsters know about such things these days.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Rainy Days

Well at long last, although possibly only for a short time, I'm not on here bleating away about lack of rain and droughts. It rained Tuesday night, it rained a bit harder Wednesday night and through Thursday night we had around twelve hours of non-stop moderate rain. Water seems to be running out of every drive and garden for a while on Friday morning. Surprisingly, there were few substantial splashes across the reserve to show for it all and certainly no rise in ditch levels, the ground being so dry and absorbed it all, but there was plenty of mud and boy how it had freshened the place up. Stagnant ditches had been rejuvenated by being re-oxygenated and grazing meadows looked so much greener. It won't take long for drying winds and sunshine to get to work but for the moment all is well out there.
This morning, despite a gusty wind, it was pleasantly warm in the sunshine and this Marsh Frog was enjoying the improved water quality.

This is a view across the tidal Swale to the mainland on the other side. The Swale is what maintains Sheppey as an island and lends itself to the reserve's name, The Swale National Nature Reserve.

Below are part of a collection of around forty Greylag Geese goslings of different ages that were in the sea wall fleet this morning.

A Common Blue butterfly settled for a while in front of me and opened it's wings to the sun. I also had the first Painted Lady butterfly of the summer as well.

 And of course, early morning, warm sun, just right for chewing the cud, as these two pictures show.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Here Comes the Sun

Finally, after the protracted cold weather of recent weeks, we have enjoyed a couple of not only sunny days but warm days. And if the rain that is forecast over the next couple of days actually comes, it is going to be warm rain, so we could have a win-win event there as well. It was a real tonic to get up this morning to blue skies and a rising sun outside and buoyed by such a rarity, I set off for the reserve and began my breeding bird counts in earnest as I wandered round. Thankfully, for several species at least, things are moving at last and the Coot's nest below was one of four of that species that I found, well down on last year's count but we're inching forward. A brood of nine recently hatched Mallard ducklings was another pleasant surprise.

It remains dust dry out there and some bird numbers are low but sunshine and warmth today but it all seem so much better and to cap it off I even saw the first Small Heath butterfly of this year.

On a different subject all together, Tuesday evening this week saw my long-time friend and I make what is now a bi-annual event, we went to London to experience Bob Dylan's latest visit. We first saw Bob at the Royal Albert Hall in 1966, hitch-hiking home through the night afterwards, and have seen him countless times since. Like us, he's getting old now, he's 75, but his Never Ending Tour continues to do just that and we, like a packed Wembley Arena on Tuesday, will continue to follow it as long it does. I'm always fascinated by those rare trips to London, because for someone who spends most of his life in the quiet backwaters of Sheppey, so much hustle and bustle always comes as a bit of a shock. You get off the train into a world of human ants, tightly packed and rushing everywhere and descend into the Underground. There humid and oppressive carriages are packed tightly with a kaleidoscope of nationals all governed it seems, by phones and ear pieces. Even more bizarre is the journey back, I find it hard to believe that so many people can be out and about on railway platforms at a time approaching midnight, more people than I normally see in a whole day.
Anyway, the concert was superb, I survived being temporarily swallowed up by an alien world and gratefully enjoyed the solitude of the marshes the next day.