Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Boxing Day Blue Skies

Getting up this morning at 5.30 as usual, the first thing I spotted out of the window was a full moon setting in the western sky, and a clear sky full of stars at that - actually no rain for once! That definitely meant an early visit to the reserve to take full advantage of a potential sunny and dry morning - such a rare occurrence just lately.
With the area around the reserve barn somewhat flooded and mucky I parked the car at Elliotts Farm on the bend of the Harty Road and spent 10 mins. walking down to the reserve. As you can see from the photo above, it was still fairly dark as I did so and only towards the east was there any lightness in the sky, but it was really great and both myself and the dogs were overjoyed to be out again after spending all day yesterday indoors.

Arriving at, and leaving the reserve barn behind, the next daunting task was to attempt the somewhat hazardous trek across the marsh to the sea wall. Above you can see the gate upright in the flood which indicates where the track is, once through that you turn right and wade through huge areas of flooding and soft mud to get to the sea wall in the distance, not made easy by the limited light.

Halfway across, I stopped to take yet another photo of the flooded grazing marsh. Some of you may recall my posting with the purple toadstool a few months ago, this is where it was taken, hardly condusive to fungi growing now!
It's hard to convey how hard that journey across the marsh now is, you are either wading through water that threatens to flood your wellies, or forever pulling your feet, step by step, out of deep and clinging mud. But hero that I am, I eventually climbed up onto the lofty heights of the sea wall and took in the beauty that is The Swale with the dawn sky behind it. Being Boxing Day, that traditional day for killing things in the countryside by various groups of people, I had anticipated, indeed trekked through mud and water to confirm it, that there would be numerous wildfowlers on the saltings in front of the reserve. A squint through my binoculars though, through the fast improving light, only found one such hardy soul and clearly with no visible wildfowl about he wasn't having the best of mornings. Not long after, once the sky had brightened to that of daylight and the sun threatened the horizon, he cleared off home, explaining to me how depressing and quiet it all has been. I could see what he meant, a scan around the reserve found excessively flooded fields and ditches that had burst their banks, conditions heaven made for wildfowl and yet there wasn't a duck or goose to be seen at all. A few small flocks of Lapwings and Carrion Crows, the odd Curlew and Mute Swan and that was it, how does a reserve with such perfect conditions become so empty, we had a crap summer, surely the winter  isn't going to be as bad.

I carried on back across the reserve by a different route, it took me and the dogs through the current sheep flock, looking a tad unhappy in such wet conditions, although I know little about what's good or bad for sheep. One was trapped on its side away from the flock, it regularly happens with sheep with thick fleeces, after lying down they sometimes find it difficult to get upright again and if left for a long period of time, they lose the blood supply to one limb and can eventually die. A bootful of water later I got across to the sheep and struggled to get it upright by lifting it up and supporting it against my leg until the blood supply returned to the dead leg. I tried to walk it around until it returned to normal but it was struggling and regularly fell back over again and so I rang the grazier and left it to him to arrive and sort out the problem.

Moving on and smelling like the inside of a sheep pen, something the dogs reminded me of by keeping their distance, I still hadn't seen a decent bird. I passed another two duck shooters, sitting round a farmland duck flight pond the other side of the reserve fence, they too had seen nothing resembling wildfowl and were just packing up. However, eventually bingo happened, I came across three Pied Wagtails and with them was a Water Pipit - my first ever, it all turned out a good day, blue skies, sunshine and a new bird, it was worth coming.


  1. Nice account Derek and a reward at the end for you. More rain tomorrow i suspect. Best to get your boat out tomorrow.

  2. Thanks Marc,

    I reckon we're all getting used to the fact that it's going to rain part of every day now, just seems the norm.
    Could be canoeing round the reserve soon.

  3. Yes, a report that is very interesting to read, even if the subject matter is a little disturbing at times. Oh for some hot, dry and sunny weather! The Lapwings, as I am sure you know, have taken over parts of Elmley. One counter put them at 2,000 by the side of the access track the other day. And Elmley seems to have the only Sheppey Short-Eared Owls at present. All three up together a week or two back, but mostly just the one that hunts by the access track most days. I have found "our" Shorties by the way. A Christmas Day visit to Worlaby Carrs in North Lincs found up to eight hunting, ( I saw five or six), With a report of 16 seen there a week earlier, but I do take such high counts with a pinch of salt.

    So far as you are concerned Derek, I reckon we'll have to club together to buy you an inflatable dinghy or you'll have no way of keeping your reports coming soon!