Tuesday, 27 April 2010

A beautiful day

The weather made it a beautiful visit to the reserve earlier this morning, even as I got there at 7.30 the sun was warm and getting warmer. With not a cloud in the sky and no wind, and as the sun burnt off the heavy dew the conditions became almost steamy and it had the feel of a good day. That was confirmed when my first Swift of the year shot across the sky going north and shortly after, my first Hobby also meandered by. It seemed as though every bird in the world was singing at once and I was happy to pick up on their mood.
I set off to follow the boundary ditch at the rear of the reserve, which eventually takes one round to the track leading down from Harty church. We call this section "Willow Walk," because of a number of willows along there that I originally pushed in as broken off branches around eighteen years and which have now become mature trees. The first few hundred yards of this walk has, on the farmland side, extensive reed beds which this morning were full of the scratchy song of both Sedge Warblers and surprisingly, Wrens. And then, as though there were a de-markation line, the Sedgie's song was left behind and Reed Warblers took over. They repeat their song for an endless amount of time and what a monotonous piece of song it is, its as if halfway through the song they forget where they are and keep going back to the beginning.

For the second half of "Willow Walk" the reed beds end and it becomes arable fields bordered on the farmland side again, by a fast maturing hedge of Hawthorn and Buckthorn. The farmer planted this several years ago and its something that has seen a big boost to the smaller bird types and numbers. Along that stretch, where some brambles had overgrown into the hedging, the stillness was shattered by an explosion of Cettis Warbler song, accompanied by that of a couple of pairs of Linnets. The one (possibly two) Cettis has sung along there now for about three years and to date I still haven't seen it and as a result, still haven't seen a Cettis at all.
Afyer much fertilizing and spraying in recent weeks both the arable crops are coming along in leaps and bounds, with the rape coming into flower and the winter corn recovered to a stage that I didn't think possible after all that cold weather. I adore the sight of rape fields in flower, so much rich colour against the monotone green wheat fields and such a burst of much needed nectar for so many insects, it even smells great, but then I don't suffer from hay fever!

As I carried on round the walk, another reserve rarity popped out onto the marsh before moving off back into the farmland trees, a Mistle Thrush, a great tick for the month. It caused me then to stop and look across the marsh, which by now was beginning to shimmer in the heat and where ever increasing numbers of swallows were passing through. Several pairs of Lapwings had risen up to try and divert two passing Crows who were obviously patrolling for eggs that might be exposed and they were quickly joined by both Redshanks and Oystercatchers, which seemed to do the trick, this time.

It got warmer and warmer and a breeze sprung up and I was reaching the end of the ditch and this particular stretch and the seawall was just ahead. Sitting on the seawall then I had another whole and different picture in front of me, The Swale, Horse Sands and directly opposite on the mainland, the South Swale Nature Reserve. Here there were six Wheatears and a couple of Yellow Wagtails scrurrying around on the turf picking up hoards of flies that were there.
I just stopped there then for a while and soaked up everything that made a beautiful, and indeed perfect day, completed by watching a seal haul itself up onto the side of Horse Sands.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Another weather blooper

The hottest day of the year was forecast today, well as I write this at 11.00 this morning under grey skies and with rain beating down on my conservatory roof, I don't think so! Once again those over-paid idiots at the MetOffice have got it wrong!

Fortunately I went to the reserve early this morning, arriving in sunny, humid and wind-free conditions at 07.00. I had hoped in such conditions to get a fly over of one or two Swifts, or hear a distant Cuckoo calling but neither happened I'm afraid. Some years as I'm walking round the reserve I can even hear Cuckoos calling from as far away as the Oare reserve across the Swale.

On getting out of the car at the reserve barn I was immediately assailed by several Sedge Warblers singing like mad in a reed bed alongside me. Apart from the obvious, clamouring calls of birds such as Lapwings and Redshanks on the marsh, Sedge Warblers can be heard from some distance as they try out-singing each other on arrival. Going through the five-bar gate and onto the marsh and checking round at the various nesting Lapwings - we have around 80 pairs, the first birds that I spotted were 7 Whimbrel feeding on a soft part of the grassland.
For most of my visit small parties of ducks were flying around above me, normally in their trios of courting birds, and predominatly either Gadwall and Shovelers. We currently have around 10 pairs of Gadwall and 20-30 pairs of Shovelers on the reserve. Pochard and Tufted Ducks were also viewable in many of the deeper ditches and made beautiful pictures against the glass-flat water, a picture spoilt by the sight of a single White-fronted Goose with a broken wing, which has been around for a while now and is presumably a legacy of those sporting and caring wildfowlers!

Some of the tracks around the reserve were originally made of crushed stone and these are normally the sites most years where evidence of crows can be found and today was one of those days. I found Coot, Lapwing and some ducks eggs along one track, all showing signs of having been pecked open by crows and a good reason why these birds have to be controlled during the breeding season, because the toll of evident eggs can get surprisingly high at times.

We are also fortunate on the reserve to still be able to rejoice in the constant song of various Skylarks for much of the year and generally average around 16-20 breeding pairs. Today I watched as one took to the air and begun singing quite close to me. It really is quite incredible the heights that these birds can rise to whilst singing and eventually I was bent well backwards and needing to view it through binoculars to keep it in sight. I know some warblers are famed for their song but the Skylark song evokes so many life-time memories that I don't think that it can be beaten.

Unfortunately the early morning sun and humidity had begun to change after an hour or so and with it the euphoric mood. Grey clouds began to cover the sky, a fresh and cooler westerly breeze sprang up, it got gloomier and the first hints that the MetOffice were wrong again began to appear. With things to do back home I decided to make my way back before it rained and spoilt the day, a good choice as it turned out. There were still a couple treats left though, as I locked the reserve entrance gate. The tiny farm thicket that we then drive through contained several singing Whitethroats, an area where they normally breed, and one of the nest boxes that I put up in the winter there had a Great Tit coming out of it.

Not a long visit but a pleasant one, with some good birds seen.

Friday, 23 April 2010

A birdwatcher's lot

The 2007 Kent Bird Report arrived in the post at lunchtime so I poured a beer and sat out in a very warm garden and read it, well at least the part before I fell asleep!
Reading the Marsh/Hen Harrier sections I was struck by the reference to the winter Harrier roost co-ordination counts that take place. On a day like today, those experiences seem a million miles away and you almost shudder at remembering them. They take place once a month on a late Sunday afternoon, timed to count in the harriers as they come in to roost as the the light fades away. Normally I would of already been to the Swale NNR, where my counts take place, earlier that day and had some lunch and perhaps a glass of beer. It is normally cold and wet outside and snug and warm inside and my football team due to play live on Sky at 4.00. Where am I, back on the reserve, braving the elements like the other volunteers and making my way to one of the hides. While you wait for dusk to begin to fall, it generally gets colder and so do you and thoughts of that warm lounge back home make the visit seem even more extreme.
By the time that you complete the count it is pitch dark and there is just the trudge and stumble back across the marsh to reach the car. Getting home, its a quick shower, the central heating makes you feel flushed, a glass of wine adds to that, and you get your dinner from the oven and sit down to watch the recorded Big Match. Perffick! except that just ten minutes later you fall asleep for an hour or so and wake up at regular intervals, continually re-winding to try and find out the final score.
Such sacrifices, but we wouldn't not do it, it just seems hard to imagine on a hot afternoon like today.

Thursday, 22 April 2010


Whilst wandering round the reserve this morning and mulling over the fact of how both Sand and House Martins are rarely seen crossing the reserve in the spring I got to thinking about the fortunes on Sheppey of both the Martins and Swifts.

Swallows seem to be holding their own OK throughout the Island wherever there are suitable nest sites and indeed there is a private farmhouse alongside the reserve entrance which has seen nesting pairs in their stables, rise to around sixteen pairs over the last couple of years. On the reserve they have nested in just the one place this last couple of years, in one of our public hides that is so fallen apart that it's only real use now is as a nesting place.

Up until I was a teenager in the 1960's we used to have a regular Sand Martin colony at the highest part of Minster cliffs at the end of Oak Lane. There the cliffs are made of a very sandy soil and, as they still do today, regularly collapsed to leave a sheer and unassailable cliff face, which was home to around twenty pairs of Sand Martins. It still remains a fairly satisfactory place to nest even today but by the late 1960's the colony had gone and never returned.

Swifts are still to be found over some of the older parts of Sheerness and Minster where traditional nest sites can still be utilized but numbers of these birds have probably dropped by two thirds in general over the last twenty-odd years. The biggest drop in their numbers has probably been in Minster, where I live. Just up the road from me was, until two years ago, the old Sheppey General Hospital. This cluster of old buildings grew out of and around, what was originally the Sheppey Workhouse in the late 1800's and was probably home to around twenty odd pairs of Swifts each year. It used to be a fabulous sight to sit in the garden in the evenings in mid-summer as large flocks of these birds swirled around high in the sky, feeding on flying ants, etc. Two years ago all the buildings were knocked down and a new housing complex was built and as a result Swifts are fast only being seen either over Sheerness or on passage now.

House Martins remain the biggest mystery. Until recent years they could be found nesting over most of Sheppey. I remember as a child in Sheerness and right up until a few years ago, that most of the old terraced streets had two or three Martin nests occupied and in Sheerness Docks where I worked, there were large colonies of the birds. Nothing has changed, all the buildings are still just as available but the birds just aren't coming back anymore. This last two years, I have found just one returning colony of these birds in Sheerness and even that is only two or three pairs and whilst I haven't covered the whole of Sheppey, I have looked at a lot of it, and they are the only nesting birds that I have found. I can only assume that if nesting conditions remain the same as they have for the last hundred odd years, then either a major shortage of birds, or perhaps insect food, is to blame.

In the meantime I still wait to see either of the Martins or a Swift so far this year.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

The 5-bar gate - Part 2

It is truly amazing what a difference losing that cold NE wind has made. Earlier today, after the frost had lifted and the sun was becoming quite warm, I arrived at the reserve and parked up. I walked the few yards to the 5-bar gate and leant against it, there was not the slightest hint of even a breeze and even at 8.30 the sun was very warm and I stayed there for a while and bathed in the sounds and sights.
The grazing meadows in front of me glistened as millions of droplets of dew sparkled in the sun and the calls of countless breeding Lapwings, Redshanks and Skylarks created an orchestra of marshland bird calls. The whinnying call of a Dabchick suddenly rang out from the ditch alongside and was immediately challenged by another further afield. Coots clucked at me, anxious because they had a nest close by, and the extensive reed beds to my right, free from the attention of last week's wind and warmed by the sun, were a whole new world and enlivened by the songs of three Sedge Warblers and a couple of Wrens.
The old salt workings mounds further out into the grazing fields showed movement and a look with the binoculars produced not only the happy site of a few rabbits at the near deserted warrens but several small groups of Shelducks, who will utilize some of the rabbit holes as nest sites, what a lovely sight their little stripy ducklings are in summer. Overhead came the "cow-cow" calls of a couple of passing Med. Gulls, a terrific sight against the clear, blue skies and they in turn were out-done by a trio of three Gadwalls, chasing round the sky in circles as the two males competed for a female. Gadwalls are one of my favourite ducks, at close range the males have a beautiful texture to their feathering and they also have a lovely, almost purring, type of quacking as they fly round.

As I stood at the gate and the sun got warmer, mosquitoes and flies began to swarm, bird song came from every direction and a few butterflies drifted by, it was just heaven and quite obvious that a quite enviable wildlife watch could of been conducted from just being there for an hour or so. But I needed to see other parts of the reserve so I opened the gate, broke the spell and moved on.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Another windy day

I left home at 08.30 in Minster this morning under blue and sunny skies and shortly after arrived at the Swale NNR to find that it, and the eastern end of Sheppey, had the exact opposite weather conditions.
Heavy grey clouds were being pushed in off the sea by the ever present, strong and cold N.E. wind and it wasn't pleasant. In fact, walking into the wind along the seawall it was just as cold as some of the days that I spent out there in January and February. What's more, I became even more incensed at the end of the visit, to arrive back at the car and hear a weather man on the radio say that Southern England was much warmer today due to the much lighter winds! That might be the case with one hand held out of the office window but not so in the middle of a marsh.
One other effect of this drying wind all week has been the speed at which water levels have been dropping in the wetter parts of the reserve and indeed, in the dryer parts, the ground is beginning to crack up!

Anyway, back to the morning's walk round, which didn't come up with anything too exciting. With just a scattering of the winter birds left now, including 9 White-fronted Geese - 30 Wigeon and 60 Teal, and spring migrants still very thin on the ground, its pretty much down to just recording the routine resident birds at the moment and nests as they are found. The only migrants found this morning were 1 Sedge Warbler - 2 Whimbrel - 1 Greenshank and a Whitethroat alongside the reserve, which possibly sounds good until it is compared with many other sites in Kent.

I wonder how much now, as a result of several mild winters, we tend to expect spring migrants and indeed, all manner of spring wildlife events, far too early. It is still only early April and it wasn't that long ago that many of the sightings that we are recording and indeed expecting now, would of been considered quite early. Perhaps nature is just getting us back into the normal rotation of things.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Nana days

It looks likely that Nana, my near fifteen year old Beagle may not be able to make many more visits to the reserve. Despite still looking quite lean and fit for her age, she like me, is being plagued by arthritis which makes walking any distance painfully difficult. She has spent her whole life enjoying the freedom of the reserve and knows every inch of it and has been fortunate to enjoy a lifestyle that many dogs can only dream of. I remember well her first introduction to the reserve.

I have had a continuous line of Jack Russells for the last thirty years, continuing at the moment with Midge, but back in late 1995 my wife wanted a second dog and as I'd always harboured a longing for a Beagle, that was the breed decided on. We hunted around and eventually bought Nana from a breeder in Devon in early 1996.
That early Spring we were eager to introduce Nana, by now a few months old ball of canine youth and energy, to the great outside world of the nature reserve. Her first reaction at being lifted down out of the car was one of shock and horror, this was a lot scarier than the garden that she'd got used too and full of strange smells and sights and due to get even scarier.
In those pre-Foot and Mouth days the normal grazing animals on the reserve were sheep with just a handful of cattle and we needed to walk through the sheep and their lambs to get across to the seawall. At first the prospect looked good to Nana, more new friends to chase after, until that is she was amongst the livestock and then things went downhill fast. The lambs tended to be bigger than a few months old Beagle puppy and what's more were far too inquisitive and boisterous. They chased her and butted her and thought her good fun and we eventually had to rescue her and pick her up.
Having negotiated that scary world of giant woolly creatures we arrived at the seawall and she was able again to be put down to investigate her new surroundings. Here on the seawall her bravado quickly returned and she set off after her more experienced Jacko companion who had gone off to explore the saltings alongside. Now for anyone who hasn't actually walked on the saltings, they are not simply the flat, vegetation covered surface that they appear to be, they can be quite hazardous to walk across. Beneath the vegetation can be hidden numerous gulleys of various depths and widths that are regularly filled by the daily tides and which at low tide return to a state of gloopy mud and scampering crabs. The vegetation grows over these gulleys, or reel-ways as we know them, and quite often you can find yourself standing on vegetation that immediately gives way, depositing you painfully into the mud below.
Anyway, Nana, now confident that she was back in the world of big girls and that she knew what she was doing, set off at speed to mimic the Jacko's every twist and turn across the saltings. That lasted about two minutes before she missed completely the Jacko's first nonchalant hop across a hidden gulley, and promptly disappeared. Rushing to the spot we found a once pristine black and tan puppy now reduced to a smelly and mud-splattered mess, not enjoying at all that strange, dark place and the sight of many scampering things with claws. She had to be washed off in a nearby ditch and was much subdued for the return journey home.

Before she properly reached adulthood and went on to enjoy her long and continuing life out there, there was just one last dent to her confidence as a puppy. In those days the reserve still had good numbers of a wide range of mammals and in particular a huge population of rabbits. A few months after her saltings incident, Nana scampered into many dozens of rabbits on one of the salt workings mounds, eager to catch one. Unfortunately some of these rabbits must of been reading rabbit self-defence books because as she went to grab one and to her great surprise, it turned round and bit her face. She rushed back to us, tail between her legs, with yet another dream of doggy glory much diminished, although over fifteen years she has redeemed herself on that score many hundreds of times.

Life would be unimaginable without the companionship of a dog.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Sunny surprises

After the cold of yesterday I decided to leave my usual early morning patrol of the reserve until mid-morning today and as a result left home in warmer and sunnier conditions. Not quite the same on the reserve though, once again there was the strong and cold NE wind, which pushed me backwards at times. But the big difference over yesterday was the unbroken sunshine, it may not of been much warmer but it at least seemed it. Certainly on the odd occassion that I walked in the lea of a tall reed bed and was out of the wind, the temperature would immediately soar.

I decided to do a circular route round the reserve's grazing marsh today and was almost immediately rewarded with a fly-over Yellow Wagtail, just about audible against the wind. I then found the first Coot's nest of the year with eggs, with two other newly-built ones close by - things were looking up! and so was I a lot of the time and was rewarded with a second Yellow Wagtail.
Getting up onto the seawall and walking the length of that in the wind was certainly draughty round the neck but at long last I got the reward that I was after - from the reed beds came the loud and scratchy song of my first Sedge Warbler! I sat and listened to it for a while and also watched and heard two Bearded Tits and a Water Rail in the same reed bed. How such small things can impact on a day so immensley at times.

As well as the above birds I also recorded the following for my visit:
1 Little Egret - 2 Grey Herons - 58 Mute Swans - 6 White-fronted Geese - 20 Greylag Geese - 2 Canada Geese - 60 Shelduck - 50 Wigeon - 6 Gadwall - 70 Teal - 60 Shoveler - 18 Pochard - 6 Tufted Duck - 2 Kestrel - 40 Curlew - 10 Skylark - 4 Meadow Pipit - 1 Cettis Warbler - 8 Linnet - 14 Reed Bunting.

2 Hares, a couple of Peacock butterflies, loads of Bumblebees and along one ditch, fresh signs of recent Water Vole activity, completed the walk. Life felt good again.

Monday, 12 April 2010

A grey day

Now this is going to seem a bit silly now that the sun has come out but having a day off from the reserve yesterday, see my last post, I was anxious to get down there early this morning and continue my increasingly neurotic pursuit of the elusive spring migrants.
Well, quite frankly, I should of gone later because it was bloody freezing. Heavy grey skies were blowing in off the sea in strong NE winds and despite thermal gloves and my winter coat back on again it was really uncomfortable. And still being able to see winter visitors such as 13 White-fronted Geese as I arrived only added to the bleak and foreboding feel of the place.

Anyway coat collar up I headed off for the larger of the reed beds, still looking to add Sedge Warblers to my meagre total of spring birds, but it was quickly apparent that that was not going to happen today. Even if there had been any warblers in there it was impossible to hear anything due to the wind rattling through the stems and bending them over. I did get a snatch of song from our resident Cettis Warbler and note both a Mute Swan and Greylag Goose on their nests, but that was about it for the reed beds.
I left the shelter of them behind and headed out into the open marsh and for a while worked my way round some of the ditches in the hope of recording some Coots nests on the breeding lists for this year, but once again I found nothing, easily the latest that I've gone without one or two of their nests.

There's never any hiding place on a marsh in weather like that and with the cold and lack of birds starting to depress me I have to admit that I packed up earlier than normal today and guess what, as I made my back along the Harty Road the sun started to break through and what a difference that made to the whole feel of the place. Lambs that had been snuggled in behind their mother's backs as I went out, now began to spring into life in the extra warmth as I stopped to look at them. Watching them scamper around in small groups is liking watching children in a school playground and they even seem to invent similar games, or is that just me letting my imagination run a bit too wild!

Perhaps tomorrow will be warmer, I hope so.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Its the weekend

This morning on Harty and the reserve, it was as blissful as I wrote about yesterday except for one major difference - it was the weekend and with the weekend comes that unwelcome element of Joe Public, the Moron.

I was sitting at the opposite end of the reserve, some distance from Shellness Point and on the sunny side of one of the salt workings mounds, blissfully enjoying the solitude and trying unsuccessfully to conjur up a Sedge Warbler in the reed beds nearby when I began to hear the distant noise of an amplified sewing machine. Travelling low along the nudist beach towards Shellness Point was a motorised paraglider. It passed the front of the Hamlet and the blockhouse and then put into the air the several hundred assorted waders that were at high-tide roost on the Point. It then circled round and round over them, making sure that none returned before flying back and alighting on the beach in front of the Hamlet, we can only hope that it isn't one of the week-enders there with a new toy. The blockhouse also had a new addition, several childen climbing on the top of it. It could of made for an interesting clash if the KP had been there this weekend and not last week!

Then, just to compound my depression, as I drove past the Raptor Viewing Mound on my way home, there was a group of people in the middle of one of the grazing fields out in front of the Mound. They were flying some model aircraft. Almost certainly this field will have nesting Lapwings in it but apparently they have permission to be there.

Unfortunately as the countryside continues to be diminished more and more by new housing estates I imagine these sort of frustrations will only get worse as everybody tries to pack into what's left of it. Monday to Friday bird watching seems like a better option for the summer at least.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Happy days

Today was a day for simply enjoying everything outside - the winter has been a long, cold, snowy, wet and flooded time and today was just beautiful with blue skies and warm sunshine. Today Harty looked superb and it didn't matter what, or wasn't seen, it just couldn't be bettered. The warmth was quite amazing and it created a kind of intenss stillness and haze across the marsh that made you feel quite reflective and it was only really punctuated by the odd bird calls.

The reserve itself had nothing new to offer, no migrants, and today as well, no Whitefronts. Perhaps yesterday was their last day, time will tell if they've gone north to breed now and that the reserve has finally thrown off the shackles of winter.
But there was one flip of the coin as I locked the reserve entry gate. Immediately prior to the reserve gate there is a tiny spinney belonging to the farmland that we drive through. Today the willow trees in it were alive with bees, buzzing happily amongst the yellow, pollen-laden catkins, and joined at last by both a Whitethroat and a Willow Warbler. It made a beautiful morning all the more beautiful and I stopped a while and listened to them sing.

After being home for a while I decided to cycle to my daughter's, some three miles away and close to Sheppey's largest cemetery. Cemetery's are amazing places for wildlife and this one is no exception, with a large number of mature trees scattered throughout it. I cycled through all manner of Sheppey's history and as I did so I was stunned by the sheer beauty of a near carpet throughout the older part of it, of both primroses and violets. Obviously over the years these have continually seeded and spread themselves around and today in the sun they looked amazing.

Today was a good day.

Thursday, 8 April 2010


Buoyed by a superb morning's weather and having just read Murray's list of birds seen over at Oare yesterday, I drove round to the end of the Swale NNR that is opposite Oare. I first of all had a walk along the banks below Harty church, which are pretty much opposite Oare's East Flood.
On the saltings along there I had 33 Avocet, 16 Brent Geese and 4 Med. Gulls. It was really pleasant along there and the farmer next door has planted along the dividing fence a new hedgerow interspersed with small saplings, all very encouraging. Unfortunately however, there were no migrants at all.

Getting back to the car I stopped to watch the Common Seals as they hauled themselves up onto Horse Sands in the Swale and counted 18 in all. They are such fun to watch on a day like today.
I then decided that I'd walk the seawall eastwards and have a good look at the extensive reed beds on the inward side of the seawall, after all with several Sedge Warblers seen at Oare, just a mile or so away, there had to be some this side as well. Well, you've probably guessed it, nothing, sod all in fact, well OK, 2 Reed Buntings! I can only assume that in the event that migrants do actually cross the Swale, that on seeing Wigeon, Teal and close on 200 Whitefronts still grazing the flooded parts of the reserve, that they assume that its still winter there and press on.
But there was a glimmer of good news, back at the car I had a single Swallow and a Wheatear - could spring really be starting, after all that's almost a rush for us!

Immediately alongside part of the reserve is a six-acre corner of farmland that is not part of the reserve, but is probably the last tiny remmnant of how that farmland looked many, many years ago. It consists of very thick, tangled and untouched grass, interspersed with increasing numbers of seedling hawthorns and bordered by wide reed beds and willow bushes. It is a favourite haunt of Barn Owls and harriers and the odd S.E. Owl when they're about and presumably because of a large mouse and vole population. Meadow Pipits, Reed Buntings, Skylarks and some wildfowl also nest in there.
Imagine my dismay yesterday therefore, on talking to a woman there, to find that she had possibly been offered the opportunity to graze her horses on it. Now anybody that has overgrazed horse paddocks near them will know why I am dismayed, too many of these paddocks look like they've been napalmed, with every last scrap of grass, bush and tree totally eaten away - horses and good habitat do not mix. If grazing there does occur then I fear that some valuable habitat is soon to be lost - wait and see time I think.

And on one last note, I was gobsmacked this morning to see one farmer near to the Harty Road, using huge water sprinklers to irrigate his rape field - why???

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

A Harty day

Wow, going over the crest of Capel Hill on the Harty Road this morning everywhere looked beautiful. Under blue skies and glorious sunshine all of the Harty marshes were spread out before me, all shades of vibrant green. Capel Fleet was a hive of activity with numerous Mallard, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Greylag Geese and either side of the road were fields containing sheep and their new born lambs.

On the reserve the only thing that spoilt the day was the irritating and fairly strong wind which made hearing bird calls difficult at times, especially alongside the reed beds again. The White-fronted Geese flock remains in-situ and totaled 190 this morning plus 26 Mute Swans, 47 Avocet and 8 Marsh Harrier. There are still low numbers of Wigeon and Teal about as well, as reminders of the winter. It also remains fairly wet on the grazing marsh and recent flood levels seem loathe to drain off this time, it will certainly hold back the introduction of the grazier's cattle this year, although as far as the breeding Lapwings and Redshanks go that will be a good thing.

I saw just one Swallow today, which makes a total of four and one Wheatear over the last few weeks and it so typical of the Swale NNR that we are usually around three to four weeks behind other sites in respect of incoming migrants. To look at blogs on the KOS Website such as Dungeness, The Stour and Reculver, which already have long lists of spring migrants, which wouldn't be out of place on a summer's day, it makes you wonder why other sites in the same county can be so barren of the same.

Anyway, noticeable that last night's forecast of loads of sunshine today wasn't by Kaddy the useless and as a result was correct!

Monday, 5 April 2010

No blogs for the last few days for two reasons, one I got a tad fed up with walking round the reserve in cold winds and grey skies and seeing no new migrants and secondly and probably related, the arthrits in my feet flared up quite badly making walking any distance over uneven ground very painful.

Anyway, by yesterday afternoon I felt somewhat better and decided to drive down to Shellness and the Kentish Plover bonanza and show my face, so to speak, as a Voluntary Warden for the reserve. I've never seen a KP and still haven't, mainly because I didn't bother too look too hard for it and because I had an enjoyable chat with a birdwatcher, of a type that I didn't think still existed. This gentleman had caught the train down from Beckenham and then presumably got the bus from Sheerness to Leysdown and walked from there too Shellness - a throw back to how it used to be done in the old, pre-car days. This guy was keen to show me a specimen of Sea Spurge that was growing there, which hasn't been recorded in recent times, and I was able to show him what is probably the only specimen of Shrubby Seablight, (growing by the blockhouse), that is to be found in North Kent.

This morning, feeling OK and encouraged by a positive weather forecast last night from that useless Kaddy-Lee Preston woman, I ventured back down to the reserve after a break of a few days, and what did I face, you guessed it, heavy grey skies and a strong and cold wind! I think that if we ever get a run of very warm and sunny days again that I will personally go round and throttle the first person that complains about it being to hot (Warren be warned)
Undaunted, I decided to have a look round all the reserve's reed beds in the hope of a Sedge Warbler, although the strength of the wind in the reeds made hearing calls difficult. Unfortunately the sum total of migrant birds on the reserve this morning was - nil! Those regulars at that sub-tropical paradise the Grove and Stodmarsh should be very grateful at seeing the enviable list of birds that they do rather than whinging about the odd muddy footpath!

Whilst out there, I watched a regular turn round of birdwatchers going out to Shellness to look for the KP again and was struck by something surprising, or not if you are used to that type of birdwatcher, nobody either yesterday while I was there, or this morning, and despite being on the edge of the Swale NNR, bothered to walk along the seawall and have a look at it and the variety of birds on offer, including around 80 White-fronted Geese still. What a blinkered approach to birdwatching some of these people appear to have, having driven some distance and along a pretty rough track, just to ignore such habitat and such a variety of birds purely because they're not rare or uncommon.