Well, I've just come back from the reserve wet through, the second soaking in three days as torrential rain has hit just as I'm half way across the marsh between hides.
It's been just four days since my last posting and a mention that so far this winter it hasn't been as wet as the previous two and in that short time things have changed dramatically for the wetter. Each of the last four days and today in particular, has seen bouts of heavy rain and as a result a lot of the grazing marsh is now waterlogged and in places, under water. Those conditions unfortunately, have meant that the cattle have created some pretty awful areas of deep mud in gateways and along tracks and even the grazing fields, while looking green, are riddled with deep foot-holes. Couple that with the fact that few graziers walk anywhere these days to look at their livestock, everything is done from quad bikes or 4x4's, which leave their own trail of ruts and tyre marks in the soft areas. For the next 2-3 months it now makes for some challenging access routes around the reserve for both me and the two dogs, either wading through seriously deep water or getting bogged down in clinging mud. Worst of all, the continual painful wearing of wellie boots. As a result, the cattle were taken off the reserve yesterday and back to the stock yards for the next two or three months.
It's been a difficult balancing act this winter with the cattle and the grazing conditions. In an ideal winter the cattle would be taken off the reserve in Nov-early Dec and then cold weather and regular frosts would hold the grass back from growing much, if at all. The mildness of this winter has seen the grass growing at an unprecedented rate which would leave it too long this Spring and therefore less than ideal breeding conditions for the reserve's main target species, Lapwings.
And so we're back to this, the dogs are walking ahead of me on part of the main track round the reserve, or at least, Ellie is, Midge in her old age is not so keen and I know how she feels.
Lingering darkness and poor light has also been a feature of the early mornings in this wet weather, this view across The Swale was at 9.00 in the morning!
But one huge up-turn in recent days, thanks to the waterlogged conditions, has been the rise in bird numbers and variety. With the boggy ground making it easy for birds to probe for earthworms and the like, Lapwing, Curlews, Redshanks, etc, are returning in daily increasing numbers and they are joined at high tide by the birds that normally feed on the tidal mudflats. So all of a sudden, bird wise things are looking up, bolstered by the wonderful White-fronted Geese, whose numbers creep up by tens and twenties each week, currently there are c.190 birds. You can't help but be inspired by the beautiful wild goose calls of these birds as they rise each morning and flight to find food. So much better than the boring farmyard goose type calls of the resident Greylag Geese.
Below, you can see this party of Whitefronts as they flew over me this morning to feed on the grazing marsh at their favoured end of the reserve. The main threat to these birds is the shooting on the farmland throughout Harty but so far they seem to have survived OK and with only three weeks left of that season, hopefully that will remain the case.