Over the last several days the weather this March has continued to veer between very bad, to reasonable and back to bad again, but rarely good. As I mentioned in my last posting, Friday the 8th saw many hours of continuous rain that re-flooded the reserve again and this was followed on Sunday 10th by arctic winds and frequent and heavy sleet and snow showers. That day was due to be our last harrier roost count of this winter and so late afternoon on that Sunday saw the four of us that count in the harriers to their various roosts on and around Sheppey, set out in some appalling weather. As I made my way across the flooding and mud on the reserve towards the sea wall hide there was an icy E. gale blowing that chilled me to the bone and I got soaked once in a heavy and gusty sleet shower. At least I had the shelter of the hide from which to do my count in the decreasing light but even in there I gradually became colder and colder with every snow shower and gust of the icy wind.
No such luck for another of the guys, whose regular watching point is on the edge of the high ground behind Leysdown, where he has a view down across the Leysdown marshes towards Capel Fleet and Harty. A couple of times I saw his dark shape in the distance disappear as the white fog of a heavy snow shower was blasted across the hillside engulfing him. But each time he would quickly re-appear, like some dark scarecrow but still looking through his telescope and I did shiver at the thought of what such exposure must of felt like, although his comment after was simply that "it was a tad chilly". The other two observers suffered a similar fate apparently but the roost counts were encouraging, despite being down on previous years.
I had 2 Hen Harriers go into roost on the Shellness saltings, at two sites on Harty a total of 39 Marsh Harriers roosted and finally, at a site on the mainland opposite Elmley, 33 Marsh Harriers roosted.
The following day three of us were due to carry out our last WEBS count on and around The Swale NNR but the weather was even worse and common sense prevailed. The arctic NE wind was gusting to excess of gale at times and a combination of -5 degrees chill factor and heavy snow showers made the thought of one of us standing in that in such an exposed place as Shellness Point for a couple of hours, a definite no go and so we cancelled the count for a couple of days. It was a good decision because two days later on the Wednesday of last week, the weather had changed yet again to light winds and sunshine, certainly not Spring but far better. My section, all the main marsh part of the reserve, which included The Flood field, now very much living up to it's name, not only looked superb in the sunlight but was covered in record numbers of wildfowl and waders which some counting from the Seawall Hide. Here is a flavour of what I saw there.
210 White-fronted Geese - 70 Greylag Geese - 10 Canada Geese - 5 Barnacle Geese - 350 Brent Geese - 450 Shelduck - 900 Wigeon - 1100 Teal - 190 Mallard - 200 Pintail - 30 Shoveler - 14 Pochard - 14 Tufted Duck - 110 Coot - 30 Avocet - 130 Grey Plover - 150 Lapwing - 800 Dunlin - 18 Snipe - 60 Blackwit - 120 Barwit - 280 Curlew - 180 Herring Gull - 1 Hooded Crow and a few other bits and pieces. That was just my count and despite one of the others having a poor count, I feel sure that the guy at Shellness Point would of also had a few thousand mixed waders at the high tide roost.
For the three of us that have done these WEBS counts on the reserve for many years, it was our very last count, we have retired from them, we are all past our middle 60's in age and enduring weather conditions as described above, on a specific day, can often be a commitment too far these days. We will still continue with the harrier roost counts next year and will still continue to record on the reserve most weeks but it will be when it suits us. We feel it is time to hand over the WEBS counts there to younger people if they can be bothered, because it's surprising how many of these counts are undertaken by older people.
Continuing with the weather theme of last week, the morning after our WEBS count was also one of warm sunshine out of a chilly breeze, to the extent that I accidentally stood on the tail of a first lizard of the year, which it promptly discarded as they do in order to escape. It is shown in the photograph above, still looking a bit cold, lethargic and tail-less. Since then the weather has returned to a cold, wet and windy mode and winter continues to eat away at what should by now be Spring, the title of my previous posting still rings true!