When I went to bed last night the outside temerature was -6 and yet when I got up at 06.00 it had risen to +3 and not only that, it had rained hard for a while. As a result the road outside my house was visible again and ice free and the snow in the garden had reduced in height. +3 a week ago at 06.00 would of seemed bloody cold, this morning it felt balmy, and so after three days stuck indoors sheltering from the cold, which I hate, I was off to the reserve with Midge.
I was a bit nervous about the one car wide Harty Road that winds its way across the marsh, not so much because of the ice on it but the fact that on one side there is a very deep ditch and one uncontrolled slide would be curtains, but even there the ice was becoming slushy and so I reached the reserve surprisingly easily. There I was once again surprised at how much green grass was showing through the snow, quite clearly a combination of the rain and less snow at that end of Sheppey had produced results.
After setting off round one of the reserve tracks that you can see below, the first bird that I heard and then briefly saw, was a Lapland Bunting, a great start.
I then made my way across the marsh below and headed for the Delph fleet alongside the seawall and as I reached the crossing that crosses that and headed up onto the seawall, I flushed the first Woodcock for the reserve this winter - great stuff, I wasn't expecting all this, and in the conditions, two birds even!
On stepping on to the top of the seawall I had hoped that saltings in front of me would be devoid of wildfowlers - frozen conditions, lack of food and birds in poor condition - but of course wildfowlers don't have compassion like the rest of us and there were five of them strung out along there - hopefully freezing their bits off.
Now for those of you that don't know about these things, in severe weather, from an appointed day and taking advise each day from a chain of weather stations countrywide, the days begin to tick towards Day 13 of continous freezing weather, when the Government will then sign a document to ban the shooting of wildfowl from DAY 15 and for fourteen days after.
Today should of been DAY 7, when wildfowlers were asked to show voluntary restraint ahead of the ban, but as they will, because we had a slight thaw today, the DAY number remained at DAY 6 pending the weather tomorrow. From past experience out there, and talking to a couple of the guys there this morning, no one bothers with voluntary restraints and the only thing that will stop them shooting poorly wildfowl is a compulsary ban after DAY 15 - one day someone will wake up to these pratts and their attitude towards wildlife.
Anyway, another sermon on nature reserves being inhabited by wildfowlers is over and I then went back onto the marsh as you can see below. Here I witnessed one of those spectacular wildlife events, I watched a Merlin pursuing a Mipit across the saltings. Round and round and up and down the two went and every time that I thought the Merlin was just about to snatch the Mipit, the smaller bird jinked enough to be missed. Eventually the lucky Mipit dropped like a stone into a reed bed and the Merlin gave up and flew off - great stuff.
Apart from an odd Skylark and a couple of Mallard that was pretty much all the birds about out there early this morning but, to be honest, a Lapland Bunting, Woodcock and Merlin were good enough for me.
One last photo shows my poor, neglected bird feeders in the garden. They've been like that almost all the time through the cold weather, I think that birds round here must be better fed elsewhere and so I don't get bird feeder photos like Warren -I'm sure he's got loads of stuffed birds and puts them on the feeders - I keep looking at his photos to see if I can recognise the same bird in the same pose.