Well, in my last post I mentioned that the "S Bend Ditch" was still holding onto some water this autumn, a week later and things have changed dramatically. After several days of often heavy rain, the reserve's water levels are now pretty much back to how they would normally look in January in an average winter. Ditches and rills are almost full, and in some cases ditches have flooded across tracks, and many splashes of water are showing across the grazing fields. It's some years since I saw it this wet by early November and it leaves me wondering if we're heading for a repeat of last winter's flooding.
This was the sight that greeted me yesterday afternoon (Sunday) as I arrived at the reserve to carry out my part in the second Harrier Roost count. Three days earlier this gateway had been dry but heavy overnight rain had caused the ditch to overflow across and onto the track and the dogs are back to swimming across it just like last winter. The water was flowing so fast in fact that they were almost swept off their feet. Without anymore rain these levels will continue to rise for a few days as water drains off the higher farmland alongside.
On the grazing marsh the shallow rills have all re-filled and spread into the surrounding grass and beginning to attract increasing numbers of wildfowl and among them the 40+ Pink-footed Geese were back this afternoon with the Greylag Geese.
It was a gloriously clear and sunny afternoon as I made my way across to the sea wall but it quickly turned very cold once the sun had set behind Harty church. There were no wildfowlers on the saltings for the evening flight, but then clear skies are not the best conditions for their sport so it wasn't surprising. I had the place to myself then and as the sun began to set I was entertained for a while by a Short-eared Owl that hunted the reserve not to far in front of me. The dogs were busy snuffling about in the grass, trying to find with out any success any voles or mice, and as the dusk began to settle and grow cold, I wished for my gloves that I'd left in the car. It's a really great place to be at that time of day, Curlews called from the mudflats along the Swale, large flocks of Brent Geese were noisily "barking" to each other as they tucked in to the rape alongside the Shellness track and the wind turbine farm out to sea looked almost ghostly. I watched two duck shooters on the farmland at the back of the reserve, work their way along a bund until close to the reserve's boundary fence and eventually a couple of hundred yards short of the Pinkfeet geese flock at roost on the reserve. Hopefully the geese would stay where they were and remain safe for the night. I rang a colleague who was watching the eastern section of Capel Fleet from the hillside behind the Leysdown holiday camps, who stated that thankfully, the regular duck shooters weren't along there this month to mar the harrier roost there.
It was getting darker and finally, repeated scanning of the saltings close to Shellness hamlet brought dividends, a ringtail Hen Harrier suddenly appeared and quickly dropped down and disappeared into the vegetation to roost. Just the one bird but this year's counts were up and running and it was one more Hen Harrier than I had for the whole of last winter. Elsewhere eventually, the Kemsley roost near Sittingbourne, had 26 Marsh Harriers, the western section of Capel Fleet had 50 Marsh Harriers but unfortunately, despite the absence of no duck shooters, Capel Fleet east still only recorded 3 Marsh Harriers.
there was nothing else to do then but make my back across an almost dark, cold and watery marsh as the last rays of light fast diminished in the western sky.