Saturday, 7 December 2013

Grey Skies

It was a grey and gloomy morning as I arrived at the reserve mid-morning today, it was one of those less picturesque winter mornings, sun was forecast but it never arrived while I was there. As I began walking away from the barn I could hear the repeat shots of a game shoot in the distance, somewhere back towards Eastchurch, the weekly Sheppey farmers shoot.
It's a muddy old trek round the reserve's tracks now as the cattle continue to churn up the soft ground and the gateways but it's all part of the winter scene on the marsh, just a matter of accepting it. As I approached and then went round the back of the Flood field, the resident flock of mixed geese began to drop in from the farmland alongside (above). This morning the flock totaled 130 Greylag Geese and 70 White-fronted Geese and what a beautiful sound the Whitefronts make as they fly in and settle, all the time calling with that high-pitched, wild goose sound of theirs. The earth bund around the Flood field has numerous teasel and thistle heads along it's sides and from there a flock of 80 Goldfinch and a dozen Greenfinch got up in front of me as I walked. They've been around a few weeks now and despite visiting the same plants most mornings they never seem to tire of looking for the very last few seeds that might still be about.

Raptors are slowly starting to increase now, unlike the ducks. Marsh Harriers and Kestrels are there every day but there were also two ringtail Hen Harriers and a superb male about yesterday, plus single S.E. Owls, Peregrines and Merlin are also being seen, so gradually things are looking up at last. Certainly that's the case with the Brent Geese, they've taken up daily residence in a field of winter corn close to the track down from Harty Church and every day they provide a spectacular sight as 2-3,000 fly in from out on The Swale (see below). It can't be much longer before they incur the wrath of the farmer and suffer whatever action that he takes in order to protect his livelihood, so many geese acting as lawn mowers as they graze across the crop do not provoke friendly thoughts.

Skylark numbers are also a feature of the reserve at the moment, no doubt swollen by visitors from the Continent, most fields seem to have half a dozen or more birds get up and we have had as many as 40 birds so far this winter and always great to see. And just as their numbers have swollen so those of Coots have slowly decreased to nil, as I have mentioned before, this is a new feature of recent years, they never used to disappear in winter.
It was grey, it was gloomy but slowly brightening, and by the time I got to the top of the sea wall, it was also fairly mild, or so it seemed. I could see several bird watchers making their way out to Shellness beach, it seems to be coming quite popular all of a sudden, although with a very low tide this morning most birds were going to be quite distant. It seems quite amusing at times to see birdwatchers adopting the same tactics as the birds that they watch and flocking together, perhaps I'm the odd one out, preferring to do my bird watching on my own. But back to the sea wall and I was interested to see how far up it was the tide-line after Thursday's record tide surge. Clearly the saltings were well flooded but the sea wall did it's job and although the new tide-line of old plant material was a metre short of the top, it must of still been a scary scenario to have witnessed at the time, especially at Shellness Hamlet where there is no sea wall at the front.

Tomorrow morning I think I'll forsake part of my pre-dawn vigil watching the last couple of hours of the Test Match and be on the reserve at first light, it'll be interesting to see if the wildfowlers have been tempted by the geese numbers. Hard to believe that inland of the seawalls that there is only seven weeks of shooting time left, with it ending at the end of January.

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