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Some of the tracks around the reserve were originally made of crushed stone and these are normally the sites most years where evidence of crows can be found and today was one of those days.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.