Yesterday afternoon the regular three of us carried out the monthly WEBS count, or at least, did our best to. There was a roaring, gusty wind blowing the whole time that we were there - in our faces or up our butts, depending on which way we were facing. Once again it was a reminder of how exposed the marshes are when the elements are bad, there are few hiding places or sheltered woods and hedgerows out there.
The Swale, which seperates Sheppey from the mainland is normally a fairly placid and narrow stretch of tidal water but yesterday it took on the appearance of something that you could attempt white-water rafting on. The gale force wind blew straight down its length from west to east and seemed to be trying its hardest to prevent the tide from coming in. And along a half-mile stretch several thousand gulls in a frenzied feeding pack, dipped into the white-capped waves as they flew into the wind until, reaching a certain point, up they went like wind-tossed foam, back to the end of the flock and began the process all over again.
I tried watching all this from the seawall but my telescope was vibrating in the wind too much and I gave up and moved on, stumbling forward too fast as the wind pushed me on, until eventually I turned to walk the circuit back into it. That began a whole new side to the afternoon, walking head first into the strength of the wind was so strenuous and tiring that you just had to admire the ease with which the gulls achieved it. And the WEBS count itself? well it was one of the poorest that we've counted, the birds were very few and far between and obviously hiding up somewhere out of the wind. The "S" Bend Ditch, normally quite full of wildfowl in recent weeks, appeared deserted until you looked closely at the reeds along the side best sheltered from the wind and there a few hundred duck could be seen occasionally moving in and out like cuckoos from a clock. Lapwings that were on the marsh in +thousand numbers a few days ago were down too a couple of hundred, all bunkered down and facing into the wind. The best count of the day was 300 White-fronted Geese, on a sloping field of winter corn in the distance, just below a Leysdown holiday camp.
Yesterday's WEBS was an experience that will be remembered well into the summer for both its roaring wind, the exhausted feeling after that you'd walked twice the distance that you actually had and the fact that within half an hour of being home the wind dropped away to nothing.