Saturday, 17 July 2010

Lots of Wind

As is my custom I arrived at the reserve nice and early this morning to be greeted by blue skies and just a breeze but my hopes of avoiding any strong winds were soon dashed, inside an hour actually, and they were soon back, smashing into the reedbeds.
But heyho, 93 degrees for next week, happy days again I hope.
Briefly getting back to this week's strong winds, I have been struck by the weather reports terminology. With some gusts reaching 50mph here on Sheppey I was surprised that they were forecast as "brisk breezes" and yet the same winds in winter would come with a warning of "strong winds that could cause some disruption" - apart from the temperature, why the difference?

The small farm thicket that we have to drive through to get onto the reserve was quite active this morning, well as far as Whitethroats were concerned it was and although only three males were singing, I saw a total of twelve birds altogether. They were joined by a Turtle Dove, which seems to have been lost in that spot as a breeding bird in the last couple of years.

The only really noteworthy birds seen as I walked round were 4 Green Sandpipers, 1 Common Sandpiper, 5 Little Egret, a brood of near full grown Pochard and a couple of Marsh Harriers. Well that was until I was crossing one of the reserve's grazing meadows back to my car and what I at first assumed was going to be a male Marsh Harrier, turned out to be a Red Kite - my second ever. It lazily followed a ditch line across the reserve towards Harty Church, completely ignoring the attention part of the way, from a Grey Heron.

I decided to pay attention to what birds were still singing on the reserve given the time of year. The winners hands down were the Reed Warblers, they seem to sing non-stop from the time that they arrive to the time that they leave. I also had several Skylarks and a couple of Reed Buntings but nothing else, unless you count the odd quacking duck which is about as good as a duck's "song" gets.

Perhaps it was the increasing wind, or the time of day, or the increasing cloud, but once again butterfly counts were pretty poor. I had several Meadow Browns and Small Skippers, one Large White and one Small Heath and still no Gatekeepers. Its looking like a poor year for butterflies on the reserve this year unless next week's forecast heatwave improves things. One thing that can't be put into that category though is grasshoppers of the type that are currently abounding in the ungrazed long grass of several of the meadows. Every single footstep this morning created an explosion of around 50-odd of these small, beige coloured ones. Multiplied across just one meadow and the total count must of been in multi-thousands.

Lastly, as I made my way across one of the few one-plank ditch crossings this morning, I was struck by its height above the water. During the winter flooding it was impassable and about a foot below the water, today as is normal in summer, it was around three feet above the trickle in the ditch. That's around four foot of water to be collected before we return to the regular winter levels and some months to go before it even begind to happen. These planks were used throughout Sheppey's marshes as crossing points on long ditches. They avoided having to walk a long way round the ditch to get back almost to the same point but on the other side. Regular marsh users always knew exactly where they were and could even find them in a thick mist. They have not been replaced in recent years but then farmers and reserve staff rarely walk the marshes these days, they mostly use quad bikes and 4x4's and as a result miss an awful lot of sights and sounds that only being on foot can produce.


  1. Do you know Derek, I have pondered over that very same queery you ask about the wind, perhaps the forecasters are too busy in summer :-)

    Well done with the Red Kite - nice one!

    PS Butterflies everywhere here today :-)

  2. Red Kites may be a much more common sight these days, Derek, but they are still thrilling to see.
    You were lucky to see a Turtle Dove. I have spent most of the year birding in Surrey, Sussex and Kent and, as yet, have amassed a grand total of of one sighting of that species - very worrying.

  3. Graham,

    Yes, sad about the Turtle Doves and this year on the reserve we have also lost Yellow Wagtail as a breeding species.

  4. Derek,
    When I used to be a Sheppey regular, I could always depend on the copse in the 'dip'as I walked from Harty Church through to the back of Elliots, being alive with Turtle Doves in July.
    Is the copse still there, with or without the Turtle Doves ?