Saturday, 16 November 2013
As you can see I was on Harty at dawn this morning for one of my early morning patrols around the reserve. The one above was taken from the top of Capel Hill, with a touch of mist swirling low across the fields, whilst the one below was from the reserve seawall just as the sun broke the horizon. One thing that always fascinates me as the winter progresses, is how far round below the horizon that the sun travels before it eventually comes into view. During the summer it rises behind the Shellness car park but by now it is right round behind Seasalter before it comes into view behind the hills in the distance.
And what an early morning it was, no wind, clear blue skies a moderate frost and then warming sunshine, quite spectacular and very refreshing after the mild dankness of recent weeks. It's just disappointing that the birdlife still continues to fail to match the conditions, wildfowl especially. Sure we have a resident flock of geese, with a combined total of c. 100 Greylags and c.20 Whitefronts, seen below as they began to move around this morning, but ducks remain the real mystery, a count of 50 is a rarety this autumn.
One thing's for sure, any that are seen aren't shot by the Kent Wildfowlers, those guys rarely shoot in front of the reserve these days because its so quiet. Even the inland duck-pond duck shooters on Harty seem to be having a quiet time. Despite regularly seeing their vehicles parked along the Harty road, I hear very little shooting taking place when I'm out and about and they even released several hundred Mallard for easy shooting. So perhaps Harty is finally reaching pay-back time for all that intensive duck pond shooting that has taken place in recent years, it was certainly an out-come that I and the genuine wildfowlers thought might happen. In conclusion I suppose it's tempting to think well at least it means that ducks aren't getting shot, but that's only because there's bugger all there to shoot and if there's bugger all there then us birdwatchers aren't seeing anything either, it's a double-edged sword.
So where are all the wildfowl, well those that actually are on Sheppey are to be found at the Elmley NNR and in very large numbers in some cases. The very wide and flat marshes and water there, allow the birds to feel secure from any danger and coupled with the un-shot waters of The Swale at Spitend Bay, just over the seawall, have the perfect refuge. Sheppey is very fortunate to have such a reserve as that one.
That little tale of woe aside, the Flood Field, in front of the Seawall Hide on The Swale NNR, is finally starting to wetten up quite well. There's still some way to go before we reach the excellent wet conditions of the early part of this year but waterlogging of the grassy areas is beginning to happen and with it yesterday came the first signs that waders are beginning to re-use it as a high tide roost, as small flocks of Dunlin came in.
I came across the little fellow above, on the reserve yesterday as I wondered around. It wasn't much bigger than a grapefruit and I imagine that it's chances of surviving the winter must be pretty slim.
Anybody travelling along the Harty Road recently cannot fail to have noticed the intensive ditch digging that has taken place alongside the road as the farmer tries to prevent the annual waterlogging of his arable fields each winter. It's easily the deepest that I've seen those ditches dug and I certainly wouldn't want to slide off the road this winter, a coach would barely be higher than the ditch top. It also makes one wonder, given the unstable nature of the road itself, if perhaps it might now begin to slowly slide towards the ditch, time and wet weather will tell.
I've had numerous comments recently made to me about those two hideous blots on the Sheppey landscape, the wind turbines at Eastchurch Prison. Close to them and seen from the Harty Road, is the huge purple field of solar panels and as you drive along the Lower Road at Minster you pass the near town-sized development of houses that continues to expand. Now we have news of a second 55 acre solar panel farm that is seeking planning permission (at Southlees Farm, facing the Elmley Track), 4 more wind turbines at the Prison and 4 more wind turbines on a farm close to the Prison. How glad I am that at 66 I will drop off the perch before having to witness the complete rape of what's left of Sheppey's countryside.
And finally and happily, as someone who has a weakness for too much red wine and the eating of good quality bread, let me recommend one of several jewels in Sheppey's crown, the excellent Leysdown Bakery. Their fresh bread and cakes are second to none and any birdwatchers passing through to Shellness should make a point of stocking up in there, the earlier in the day the better. Oh, and they also do very good take-away food and hot drinks - give them a try - yum yum!