Friday, 30 November 2012
Sunny and Serene
After a week of rain, cold winds and cloudy conditions, what a joy it was to be on the reserve this morning. The ground white with frost, clear blue skies and the sun hitting me in the face as I drove down to the barn, it was fantastic.
Even the flooded areas looked better with a blue sky reflected in them, they weren't any less hard to negotiate but they looked better. The Delph Fleet alongside the seawall (below) had barely a ripple on it and Bearded Tits "pinged" as they made their way along the reed tops.
The whole area had a real feel of warming sun and serenity about it and even the cows seemed to be grazing quieter - mmm, think I'm getting silly now.
One thing was for sure, with the ground made firmer by the frost for a while, I was able to forsake the 'orrible wellies and wear my walking boots for a change, so much more comfortable for the old arthritic feet. So by picking a route that avoided the worst of the deep water, deep mud and fresh cow shit, I had a really enjoyable walk round. (Reading one local blog this week where the guy's patch is mostly woodland and hedgerows, I was amused to see him saying how depressing it was because the ground had puddles and it was squelchy. (Try a day on the North Kent marshes at the moment you poor darling and you'll find out what proper squelchy is!)
Anyway it all began really well because the first birds that I clapped eyes on were six Brent Geese feeding in winter corn alongside the reserve and one of them was my first ever Black Brant, which considering I saw my first ever Pale-breasted Brant yesterday, quite made the week. (I came over all Twitchery then but hopefully it'll soon pass).
The next thing that quickly became apparent was that at long last birds are beginning to move in and utilize what we've painstakingly spread out before them - lots of water, lots of boggy ground, even some fly-covered cow pats, nothing like it for wildfowl and waders! They were all mostly in and alongside the "S Bend Ditch", where a grazing field was part flooded, but with the sun behind them I was mostly looking at several hundred dark shapes. But my cunning plan of simply walking the long way round behind them worked, well cunning except for the fact that I stood in a cow hoof print full of water and had liquid mud squelch all the way up a trouser leg to my crutch.
But anyway, apart from being wet I was now able to identify all the birds in that one field and flooded Ditch. It amounted to c.500 Lapwing, 200 Brent Geese, 120 Teal, 70 Mallard, 8 Snipe, 12 Mute Swan. Best of all though was the fact that what at first I assumed to be simply c.20 Greylag Geese grazing, turned out to be 12 Greylags and my first 10 White-fronted Geese of the winter, which promptly took flight. Once again I had to rub the old hanky across the brow as those feelings of being Twitchy rose to the surface again.
That was pretty much all the excitement for the day, the rest of the walk round was spent enjoying the increasing warmth of the sun, mulling over the poetic things I was gonna write on my blog when I got home, and looking at the current Wood Pigeon spectacle. The farm fields between the reserve and Shellness Hamlet, a huge acreage, still retain most of the maize crop that was sown earlier this year. A brief attempt to harvest the crop a couple of weeks ago but it quickly became evident that the ground was too wet to take the weight of the combine harvester and so the crop has been pretty much abandoned. This has seen many thousands of the maize cobs dropping their corn onto the ground below, with the result that we seem to have every Wood Pigeon in Kent out there feeding in the fields. The flock has gradually built up as pigeon-post gets around and it currently stands at around 3,000 birds, a spectacular sight every time they take flight as something disturbs them.
Yesterday that disturbance came in the form of the weekly farmland game shoot, which decided that the first drive should be through the maize fields at the rather opportune and easy targets of several thousand massed pigeons. For a brief spell the shooters did spectacularly well as the birds kept getting up in front of them and I imagine much pigeon pie will be eaten this weekend.
So with a bit of luck, we'll get a nice hard frost again tonight and I'll get out at first light tomorrow morning and get some nice views of a big, orange sun, climbing up above Seasalter as dawn breaks.