Thursday, 15 December 2016

Things ain't changed

It's been some time since I last wrote about the reserve and to be honest, it's been some time since anything worth writing about, happened. Here we are almost at the end of December and the main talking point, surprisingly, remains that of the lack of water. After this summer's prolonged drought we finally got a few days of rain several weeks ago and things began to look as though they might catch up water-wise. Since then however it has been either dry and frosty, damp and drizzly, or just plain grey and damp, but certainly not very wet. Sure, when I go out to the reserve each morning the grass is always wringing wet from dew, drizzle or mist, and the bare areas are soft and a tad muddy, but the shallow rills are bone dry and the ditches are barely any deeper than they were in July. I was talking to a birdwatcher out there a couple of weeks ago who hadn't been there for some time and he was amazed at the lack of water and as a result, the lack of wildfowl. It is blindingly obvious therefore, that unless we get a high amount of rainfall during the next three months, we will have serious water problems out there by the end of the Spring once drying winds and warm sunshine come along.
Mind you, both the cattle and their owner are enjoying the current conditions. It's mostly mild, the grass is ticking over nicely, the gateways, etc., haven't become impassable due to cattle damage from excessively wet conditions and no doubt they will be taken off for calving much later than is normal.

Bird-wise, well things aren't too bad in respect of variety, it's mainly the wildfowl numbers however that are well below what would be expected there in a normal wet winter. The very low water levels in the fleets and ditches and a bone dry Flood Field, have meant that numbers of Teal, Mallard and Shoveler are well below what used to be recorded 10-15 years ago, only Gadwall are present in reasonable numbers. The 300+ feral Greylag Geese  are surviving the shooting that is going on all round the reserve well though, they always seem to find the safest routes in and out of the reserve on a regular basis. Their numbers are regularly boosted as well by 48-50 truly wild White-fronted Geese, always a joy to see and hear.
What else, well the day-time roost of Short-eared Owls out on the saltings seems to be holding their own at around 10-12 birds and encouragingly, they are regularly joined for a night-time roost, by two female and one male, Hen Harriers, a far better number than in recent years. The only other birds of note are a long stay Crane and a Richards Pipit. This Skylark sized and rather plain Pipit, an autumn/winter vagrant from Asia, is back to the exact same spot along the reserve sea wall for it's third winter running. Other than that, on a day to day basis, the reserve can be pretty boring at times due to the low numbers of birds.


  1. Derek, how I envy your owl and harrier roost - they are welcome to come and visit me any time!

    1. And how I envy your stunning wild flower meadows Steve.

  2. It's so hard to believe that you have so little water at this time of year. I hope it improves for the sake of the birds. I'm enjoying your blog, BTW :D

  3. Most winters the situation does eventually rectify itself Yarrow but this year it is going to be a close run thing. At the beginning of the 1990's we had a similar situation, a drought summer, a dry winter and a second drought summer.

  4. I am envious of those various birds of prey roosting Derek. We do have a couple of barn owls around and always a few little owls (who are out in the day time of course). We occasionally see tawnies, but short eared owls - never. I think they prefer wide open spaces rather than small fields.
    I miss it when you dont tell us about the reserve, although I do appreciate that often there is little to tell, especially this time of year.

  5. It was a pleasure to see a post from you today. What you report about the natural forces at play/work around Sheppey provide such a contrast to what I am likely to notice around my urban neighborhood.

    I was in the UK last week, spending most of the time in London. However, I did travel up to Cambridge to meet some friends. One of them, Celia Hart, is an artist whose work you may know. She told me recently of about a day she and her husband spent looking for some short eared owls that had been sighted in the Cambridge area. They never saw any on their day outdoors.

    When I read your mention of a Richards Pipit, I knew that was the first mention i'd ever seen of that bird, and thank you so much for your enlightening me.

    Our weather turned suddenly very cold and windy today. When I bundled up to do a brief neighborhood errand mid-afternoon, the temp without wind factoring was 27 F. I kept that errand brief.

    Best wishes to you.

  6. Pat, the S.E. Owls are splendid birds and hunt across the fields and marshes both day and night. They used to breed here but these days they are mostly only a winter visitor with numbers swollen by birds coming in from the Continent.

  7. Frances, I saw from your comments elsewhere that you had been in the UK recently. I don't know of Celia Hart but then I'm not into art that much. When the Richards Pipit first appeared three winters ago it was the first time that I had seen one or heard of one as well.

  8. Derek, yes, I had a very brief visit to the UK...spent mainly in London. I've posted a couple of blogs about my very enjoyable holiday.

    Celia is a fabulous printmaker, who draws much inspiration from nature.

    Thanks for the additional info about that Richards Pipit. I really love its name.