Thursday, 3 January 2013
2013 - A Year of Change?
It's a struggle at the moment to find anything new to talk about re. the reserve, that doesn't involve mentioning the flooding and how difficult it is to get around it on foot. The two pictures above, taken during the beautiful weather on New Year's Day, show the field that we aptly know as "The Flood". The reserve's Management Map has all the various fields numbered as compartments and the one above is Comp.40. It is known to us as "The Flood" because its the one that we are able to annually keep wet longest by pumping water into large scrapes in it via a large on-site diesel pump. At the moment it is living up to it's name and is the wettest it's been for several years.
The photo also shows the derelict Seawall Hide which has had its steps removed to make it inaccessible due to its rotten flooring. It had been planned that by now it would of been demolished and replaced by a brand new one, with a second in the center of the reserve, however for various reasons the hides were ordered late. Now, due to the extensive flooding and soft terrain, getting the sections of hide across to the sea wall is pretty much impossible and Spring looks like the earliest we will see the new hides. Its frustrating not having such refuges on cold, windy and rainy days and I always feel envious of the Oare lads when they're able to extend their visits by some margin by sheltering in their hides, but I guess ours will eventually arrive and be one of the changes of 2013.
Another change this year will take place from the end of March, when the three of us that carry out the twelve, monthly W.E.B.S (Wetland Bird Survey) counts around the reserve, cease doing so. At 65, I'm the youngest of the three of us doing the counts, by several years in respect of one person, and although age isn't necessarily the reason we are packing it up, we do feel its time to hand over to younger people, with perhaps a tad more enthusiasm for the commitment that is involved. We have all been doing the counts for many years now and will all continue to enjoy patrolling and recording on the reserve, but without the commitment of a certain time and day of the W.E.B.S.. Will our involvement in the winter Harrier Roost Counts next winter follow the same pattern, I don't know, but for sure there comes a time when you question what you are doing. Standing in the middle of a windswept, freezing cold and often rainy marsh as it gets dark, does tend to take make the old bones suffer when you are in your 60's and 70's.
Unfortunately, as the repeat requests for help with various aspects of keeping the Kent Ornithological Society going show, it tends to be people of advancing years that are the few volunteers. Perhaps the younger element prefer chasing rare birds and trying to out-do each other with better and better photographs, more exciting than the mundane tasks of surveys and writing up Society bird reports - time will tell.
Despite the flooded areas that I have mentioned above, one other thing that I have commented on this winter is the lack of wildfowl and waders on and around the reserve. Both our WEBS and regular patrol counts, are recording some of the lowest totals for some years and its hard to fathom out, given the conditions. Perhaps that also explains why shooting around the reserve's perimeters has been at its lowest level for as long as I can remember, and while I don't have a particular problem with it these days, seeing an absence of birds as the bigger worry, I guess many will see that as something to rejoice about.
Certainly Wood Pigeons haven't come onto the "missing" list this winter, the enormous acreage of spilt maize crops on the fields around Harty has seen record flocks of c.4,000 birds most of the winter feeding on it. Foxes too, seem to be just as abundant this winter and without a degree of culling will continue to cause problems to the ground nesting birds such as Lapwings this coming breeding season. For many years now it has always been apparent that Elmley, with it's close proximity to the main road onto Sheppey, has been an illicit place to release foxes "rescued" in perhaps London boroughs. Just recently a van was seen leaving the Elmley track early one morning and three bewildered looking foxes seen standing on the track before slowly wandering off. Presumably people who see foxes as nice cuddly creatures that do no harm, think that they are doing them a favour by releasing them into the open countryside but in many ways they are wrong. Often these animals are diseased and mangy and risk spreading those diseases to a healthy local population - more importantly, these semi-tame city foxes, used to eeking out a living among humans in city streets, find it very hard to adapt to the rigours of open marshland and easily succumb to cold, hunger and pest controls, so are their saviours really being kind to them?
Finally, as I stopped at the reserve's entry gate yesterday morning, in an Alder bush alongside it I spied 12 Lesser Redpolls. I have always wanted to see a Redpoll, both on Sheppey and personally, and so it made a great start to the year. Not only that, it was a new addition to the reserve's bird list.