Thursday, 9 August 2012
There were more signs of Autumn on the reserve this morning, A multitude of cobwebs stood out in the longer vegetation, sprinkled as they were with dampness from the mist, and a rare butterfly these days, the Small Tortoiseshell, put in an appearance as they sometimes do in late summer.
The thick mist and humidity certainly added to the autumnal feel this morning and did little for any long-distance sighting of birds but close to hand the signs continued of the "escape" beginning to happen. A constant stream of almost entirely juvenile Swallows, casually made their way south across the marsh, circling the grass tops at regular intervals to snap at insects, and the first two returning Wheatears, an adult pair, flashed white rumps in the mist. Annually, many of us envy that ability to simply fly south and escape the cold and the wet, returning just as the Spring begins again but few of us manage it.
On mornings such as this, you find yourself bathed in a warm melancholia and simply walking the marsh and reflecting on what the year has been like thus far. The winter began in great style with the arrival of two Rough-legged Buzzards, large numbers of Short-eared Owls and Lapland Buntings that increased throughout the winter months to reach record numbers in just two small fields. These sightings were countered however, by another winter of greatly reduced wildfowl and Lapwing numbers and, for the first time ever, no Coots until the Spring.
We enjoyed the unseasonably warm March but ended it feeling very despondent at the drought conditions that prevailed and their likely impact on the coming breeding season. It might be that things might of been better if those conditions had prevailed because for the next three months we endured a constant diet of cold, wet and windy conditions. The vegetation suddenly grew like mad and ground nesting birds either saw their nests washed out or their chicks dying from being forever wet and cold, or starving due to a lack of insect life. Lapwings were especially badly hit and on both Elmley and The Swale NNR there were both less breeding pairs and a big drop in successfully fledged chicks. At the same time, the grazier on both reserves, seeing the parched grazing conditions in March, reduced his cattle numbers for the summer season only to get caught out by the subsequent surge in vegetation that the smaller herds have never been able to keep up with. Whilst we are still rounding up the breeding numbers for The Swale NNR, it is clear without looking at any totals that it has been a disaster and probably one of the worst seasons in the reserve's history.
The breeding season aside there have also been a few other changes on The Swale. The remaining hides were removed/made inaccessible due to their rotten condition and the reserve was in effect temporarily closed to visitors. Once expected planning permission is granted by the local Council in the next few weeks, the purchase and erection of two replacement hides will take place and hopefully by the winter, visitors should be able to view the reserve in comfort again. What else, oh yes, Natural England, apart from still owning the site, finally cut their ties with it by doing away in June with us Volunteer Wardens. We are officially no more so to speak, although NE's contracted managers of the reserve, Elmley Conservation Trust, still encourage us to continue as we were.
The three of us that regularly monitor the reserve also decided to reduce the number of monthly WEBS counts that we do, this year, with none for March, April, May and June, which has made a difference to the monthly bird totals. Although we're all retired, we have and by sheer coincidence, all, for various reasons, seen our enthusiasm for regular recording in general this year, drop away. Will that enthusiasm return, well I can't speak for the others, but me personally, I can't say. I have struggled with various aspects of the conservation movement in recent years, with my own changing views, with other's blinkered and narrow views and their failure despite those views, to actually contribute anything meaningful and physical to conservation.
Perhaps it is just a morning's misty reflection but I get the feeling that some things are dragging towards an end.