Sunday, 10 December 2017

Days Past

During these short, dark, damp, cold days of winter I often find it easy to open a bottle of red wine from my collection and sink into melancholia. Days and delights, often well gone by - long, hot and delightful days with the sun on one's back, warmth in the bones, a treat round every corner on a dusty road. Does it matter which road that we take, let's see where we end up, will there be a nice pub at the end - sitting in their garden, a hot sun on one's back, a nice pint of ale in the hand. Those subtle delights carrying on into a warm and daylight evening, the last warm rays lingering until 10 pm or past.
At times such events seem to stretch back so far - was last winter really so long ago, did we really do so and so well back in March, the coming back after a hot day out, the warm and lingering evening, the BBQ, the wine, the mosquitoes and the bats as darkness gradually crept in. Playing silly CD's into the enveloping darkness, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Barry Manilow - another bottle - why not, and the eventually falling into bed, contended people.

Today started in the early hours with icy rain, which turned to snow at 7.00, giving us our first light covering since 2011 and then turned back to rain for the rest of the day. It's been cold, been wet and to be honest, bloody awful, and neither I or my dog have been out and the corkscrew is hovering. Will it of made much difference to the dryness on the reserve, without going there I know it won't of done as far as the ditches are concerned, but it will of made the surface of the ground muddier, especially where the cattle have walked. Rain is also forecast for tomorrow and so at last, are we finally coming to the end of our drought.
My rear garden at 8.00 - two hours later it had all gone.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Southern Water - or lack of it.

As you can see from the photo below, yet another ditch on the reserve has pretty much conceded defeat against the lack of rain that I've been bleating on about for the last year or so.

The roots that you can see in the top left of the photo are those of willow trees growing alongside, the roots should be in about three or four feet of water. The whole reserve, ditch and fleet-wise, is parched, with few wildfowl and waders but finally, the area's water authority, Southern Water, have gone public on the area's lack of water. On BBC TV local news last night they announced that we have a water shortage and that one of the largest reservoirs here in Kent, Bewl Water, is only a third full. They are now asking the public to cut down their water consumption by a quarter in order to avoid restrictions next Spring. And yet, and these two things must go hand in hand, new houses are being built in ever increasing numbers here in the South East and all those new households will expect to be plumbed into the ever decreasing supply, it's a nightmare that will continue to get worse.
To those in the north and west of the country it must seem unreal that we in the South East are in this situation mid-November but it's true and here on Sheppey seems the driest of all, it's as though we have some sort of anti-rain force field around this island. I've lost track of the number of times that rain, tracking from west to east across the southern counties has miraculously petered out just as it reaches us.
Never mind, at least this early morning was quite stunning as I walked round the reserve with little Ellie. Clear blue skies and the marsh white with frost as I arrived and gradually as the sun, still surprisingly warm, climbed up and slowly round the sky, it got warmer and the frost melted away. In the space of an hour I went from frozen to very warm and it was a joy to be there, if only for the scenery.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Tomorrow is a Long Time

It's a rare damp and misty afternoon here on Sheppey in Kent, after an even rarer couple of hours of rain. Best described as damp, murky and warm, oh how I wish it would rain regularly for weeks on end!
After spending the first couple of hours of the morning wandering round the reserve with Ellie, I spent the rest of it near breaking my back digging bone hard and bone dry soil in the rear garden of my house. I've cleared a largish area of all of it's shrubs and things, cleared the weeds, etc., and begun digging the site in the vain hope that the once normal winter weather of rain and frost will break up the ground and make it able to be re-planted in the Spring.  Now, I'm sitting in the conservatory, sipping a glass of beer, listening to a James Taylor CD and feeling quite wistful - James Taylor has that effect.

Dylan Thomas once wrote:-
"It is a winter's tale
that the snow blind twilight ferries over the lakes
and floating fields from the farm in the cup of the vales,
gliding windless through the hand folded flakes"......

As I sit here now on this mild, damp afternoon with dusk creeping mistily nearer, I wonder if I will ever see such a snowy scene here again, experience that hushed silence that creeps across the countryside and that delicious feeling of being tucked inside the warm nest of a home while all the world freezes outside. Out in the garden a big, fat, Wood pigeon waddles it's way down the lawn towards the pond and takes a drink. It has spent the last hour or so scurrying around under the bird feeder tubes, filled with sunflower hearts and being gorged upon by thirty odd House Sparrows, scattering crumbs non-stop to the pigeon below. The mist is creeping in from the nearby seashore, evening is approaching and out further in the estuary the fog horns are beginning to sound their eerie wail, a sound that has been the backdrop to so many of my memories.

Time to stir, time to shower, time to cook my dinner - time to think about tomorrow - tomorrow is a long time.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Hard Times

Silly as this might sound, over the last couple of weeks I've been trying to dig some flower borders prior to the winter, should it actually occur. Being at the wrong end of the very long dry period that I keep harping on about and having clay soil, it's bloody near impossible to get a spade in the soil it's so hard. This is the silly bit - consequently, to make it a tad easier I'm having to put the garden sprinkler on for a couple of days in order that the ground softens up a bit and even then the soil is turning over in large clods like house bricks - plenty of rain and some hard frosts are needed.

The situation on the reserve and it's grazing meadows remains the same, endless drying winds, sunshine and just the occasional heavy shower. It really is ridiculously dry and talking to one or two farmers, it seems another problem is now rearing it's head as a result. Ditches and fleets on grazing marshes are always called "wet fences", i.e. all the time that they have sufficient water in them livestock cannot cross and stray where they shouldn't. Unfortunately, as you can imagine, with many such "wet fences" now dry thanks to the drought, livestock is wandering about all over the place, even on to neighbouring farmland and it's a real headache.
Now here is the bizarre bit, if you were to visit and look at the arable farmland alongside our grazing deserts, you'd almost say that the above was a lie, the recently sown wheat and rape is growing away like magic! Shortly after the crops were sown we had several heavy and prolonged showers, just enough to soak the top inch or so of soil, germinate the seed and start it into early growth, those fields look quite green.
Of course, several heavy showers are a long way short of the heavy and prolonged rain that we need to wetten and re-fill ditches to the average depth of three feet and indeed soften up the whole marsh so that birds can probe for insects.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

There was a Time

Back in the days when we still had four seasons each year, seasons that came with annual regularity and obvious signs, we knew what to expect. We never had rose beds still in flower at Christmas, lawns that still needed mowing in Jan and Feb and summer visitor birds such as Blackcap and Chiffchaff over-wintering in ever increasing numbers. Nowadays it's not unusual to find woods of trees still in leaf at the turn of the year. There was a time when fruit and veg. also came with and denoted a particular season and we eagerly looked forward to a season coming round. Parsnips and sprouts in mid to late winter, after a frost had been on them, strawberries in early summer, mushrooms gathered from the fields in early autumn. All that has gone now, everything is available all the year round and it ain't quite the same
Take snow, the photos below were taken round my house in Jan 1987 - 30 years ago. You can just make out my car on the drive. That snowfall was so severe that it pretty much paralysed the Isle of Sheppey here for a week and cut us off from the mainland.

 Note the icicles hanging from the guttering around my bungalow.

That was thirty years ago and I really can't see it happening again to that degree. Since then, as "winters" have become milder and dryer, snowfall has been at a premium, the last time we had snow was four years ago and that only lasted a couple of days.
Which brings us round once again to the dryness of winters now. The first two photos below show the result of a normal wet winter on the reserve. The last time that occurred was about five years ago, since then the winters have become progressively dryer. When the reserve was that wet birds such as Lapwings and Golden plovers could be counted in the several thousands, wildfowl likewise. Regular bird counts were hard work because there were simply so many birds to count over a large area.

Today, the scene above looks like this below, dry and waterless as far as the eye can see and it makes for a pretty boring walk round each day because there are so few birds to see. There was a time when we knew what season we were in but that's no where near as clear cut any more.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Some things just ain't changing

It's really quiet on the reserve at the moment, small parties of Swallows still go through at speed, heading south and occasionally a Chiff Chaff works it's way through the willows looking for insects. Stopping to pass the time of day with the odd wildfowlers as they come back along the sea wall inevitably turns to the same old subject - isn't it bloody dry out here!
Take this through pipe which allows the ditches either side of the crossing to be at the same level, the water level should be at or above the pipe but it's no where to be seen.

In 31 years of being involved with the reserve I've never seen this ditch dry out but it's looking likely that I will this year.

I've featured this fleet before, it snakes it's way for several hundred yards through the middle of the reserve and is normally where most of the wildfowl and waders can be found, it's currently bone dry and hard.

 And the shallow lake in the Flood Field remains steadfastly bone dry as well, as is the whole field.

 Alongside the Flood Field is the pump house that can be used to pump water from the ditch into the field but you will notice that the end of the pump hose is sitting above the couple of inches left in the ditch.

So, after around eighteen months of this dry weather, we can only hope for a wet winter, it will happen, it's just when?
In the meantime, look at this distant shot of two rabbits alongside their burrows, a normal brown one and a jet black one. Around 15/20 years ago the black ones were a fairly common sight on the reserve, breeding naturally in that colour but they have become much rarer nowadays. Breeding in that colour has some fancy scientific explanation but I can't recall what it is.

Friday, 1 September 2017

A New Season

It's the first of September today and therefore the first day of a new wildfowling season. Pre-dawn this morning wildfowlers will have been turning up across marshes and estuaries in an attempt to shoot their first duck or goose of this new six month season.
As I have done for the last thirty years, I made my usual dawn visit to the reserve sea wall to see how many wildfowlers had turned up and to chat with them as they returned homeward along the sea wall. As you can see below it was a spectacular dawn sky as I made my way across the reserve, through the cattle and a light mist that was rising and there was a surprising nip in the air as well, just 8 degrees at first.

On reaching the sea wall and glancing along the saltings I was able to make out just six wildfowlers spread out at regular distances and below you can see one of them, optimistically waiting for a goose or duck to fly past.
Now did they actually shoot anything, well no. With the tide in front of the saltings being low, there were around eighty Greylag Geese on the exposed mudflats and all becoming more and more vocal as they got close to flighting inland. Eventually, as the sun rose above the eastern horizon, there came a great clamouring of geese calls and rather than cross the saltings where the wildfowlers were waiting, they flew along the mudflats for several hundred yards and then turned inland where there were no wildfowlers. Now geese are incredibly intelligent and wary birds but I really feel that today they were simply just lucky. One thing's for sure, there were some incredibly frustrated wildfowlers who came back along the sea wall afterwards. 

Friday, 18 August 2017

Better Times

Since my last rant about the inclement weather, it has improved somewhat. We've had regular heavy showers and a couple of lengthy rainy periods and always followed by very warm sunny days. The rain hasn't added a single centimetre to the ditch levels, which are now at ridiculously low levels, but it has definitely greened up the grass on the grazing meadows. Harvesting operations on the surrounding farmland have almost all finished now and all the straw bales such as you see below have been carted away. Those wheat stubble fields will remain like that now and have already been re-sown with rape which is beginning to show as lines of green seedlings. All that's left to do now is to re-sow this year's rape fields with wheat for next year's crop and so the annual rotation goes on.

Back on the reserve, the bulls that have been servicing the cows through the summer months are due to be taken away to their winter pastures this week. One of them is shown below and I really was that close, they are a very docile and trustworthy breed thankfully.

Below is one of the other bulls with one of his harem. I was amused to be told the other day about one of several bulls on a nearby reserve. It has had to be withdrawn from "active service" for this year because the regular rearing up of such a huge frame onto a cow's back, put so much weight on it's back ankles that they became strained and swollen. Not all fun in the stud world it seems!

The pair of Mute Swans hatched seven cygnets this year on the reserve but only these four have survived, they are doing well though.
In the early mornings lately, when the grass is wet from rain or heavy dew, I been coming across numerous small frogs making their way through the grass away from the ditches. It happens most autumns and I guess they move into dense vegetation ready for winter hibernation. The photo makes it look a lot bigger than it was, it was only about an inch and a half long, probably one of last year's froglets.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Weather Dominates

After heavy-ish rain all afternoon and evening yesterday, the walk across the reserve this morning was wet, muddy and dominated by wind. Now yesterday's rain I was grateful for, we've long needed it, although one of the local farmers who still has to get his well ripe corn harvested, wouldn't agree. But being out this morning in wet conditions that were exacerbated by grey skies, spits of rain and a strong and cold NE wind was depressing to say the least. I needed to wear clothing very similar to what I would wear in the winter and had to continually tell myself that yes, really, this is the height of summer, if only by the date.
Last night I sat indoors watching the World Athletics Championships in London and to avoid putting the central heating on in mid-August, had to get up and put on a thick sweater. And the athletics, well they were taking place in non-stop rain and chilly winds, which affected the performances of many of them to some degree.
So this morning, as I wandered round hunched up in my winter coat, I also found myself reflecting on the fact that so far this year, our summer has consisted of two hot and sunny weeks seemingly many moons ago. Two rare weeks during which some people found it necessary to complain about how hot it was, well I hope that they are happy about these current awful weather conditions, because I bloody well ain't and I doubt many of the competitors at the athletics were either.

Friday, 4 August 2017

What a Pratt

We are still losing the battle against the endless dry weather that we've had all year. Every time that we've been lucky enough to get a few hours of rain or the occasional storm, it is immediately followed by drying weather. On Wednesday afternoon/evening we had a few hours of much needed rain but yesterday the whole day saw gale force, blustery winds and spells of warm sunshine and today is very similar. Within hours all semblance of dampness in the ground had disappeared and this has been the case after every wet spell this year, so the drought goes on. Mind you, with a few dry and sunny days now ahead, the local arable farmers will be pleased, they are well behind with harvesting the wheat and barley. They have been plagued by regular showers, which although not prolonged, have the effect of making the corn to damp to harvest for a day or so and so things have been very stop-start and frustrating.
The picture below appeared on the front page of our local paper this week. In one of the roads in our village, a road with houses both sides of the road, this dead fox appeared, hanging from the gates of a house, alongside the pavement, with a snare around it's neck. It has been suggested that the owner of the house snared the fox in his back garden but instead of quietly disposing of it, it was deliberately hung on the gate as some kind of trophy. As you can imagine, neighbours were appalled and called in RSPCA representatives who are also in the picture. Unfortunately there was little they or the police could do because the snaring of foxes is a legal pursuit in this country but what a pratt the owner must be to draw such attention to himself. Apparently he has had to take a stay away from the house now to escape local abuse .
Now I'm no Anti, I don't have a problem with foxes, or other pest species being culled, but not by the snaring method which involves the animal putting it's head through a wire noose which if it isn't set properly, slowly chokes the animal as it struggles to get free.  

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Surely not Autumn

There's a real feel of autumn out and about at the moment, something that others have commented on as well, so it's not just me. To all intent and purpose it's only the end of July and still mid-summer but so many signs are making it feel like autumn is making in-roads. A lot of heavy, grey skies, chilly winds and showers recently have aided that autumnal feel, as has the early disappearance of many birds. Early this morning large numbers of Swifts were passing through the reserve heading south, which is about right for the time of year but they were joined by many juvenile Swallows, leaving us already. The reed beds along the sea wall continue to quieten down, with only the odd call from a Reed or Sedge Warbler and today, seeing a family party of Yellow Wagtails, I was reminded that I haven't seen them for a while. There is a real deserted feel about the place. In just four weeks time the wildfowlers will be back to commence their six months of autumn/winter wildfowl shooting and I'm left wondering if those people who didn't like our mini heatwave, what seems like ages ago, might just be wishing for something similar again for a while.
To give even more credence to the autumnal feel I found these fresh horse mushrooms in the grazing meadow, defying the bone dry ground and springing up a month or two early.

Golden Samphire along the edge of the saltings

Sea Lavender on the saltings

Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Doldrums

Reading the latest RSPB magazine today I was intrigued by some comments in the latest Simon Barnes column in there. He was writing about how mid-summer to a lot of birdwatchers in particular, is known as "the doldrums", that period in the year when bird activity is at it's lowest and least noticeable. It's surprising how many birdwatchers just settle for that and don't allow their interests to widen out because in fact, there is actually a lot still going on in the countryside at this time of years. Butterflies are having a prolific time this summer and to spend time wandering fields and hedgerows identifying them can be very therapeutic, and why not learn the names of the many wild flowers they pass without even noticing them.
The two below I found on the reserve this morning. Common Toadflax first, looking similar to our garden antirrhinums.......

......and then Perennial Sweet Pea

It was also sad to read in the same RSPB magazine, that last autumn on a British military base in Cyprus, that a record level of more than 800,000 songbirds, including robins and blackcaps, were illegally killed according to research by the RSPB and Birdlife Cyprus. The birds are caught using nets or branches coated with adhesive and sold via the black market to restaurants that serve them up as a local dish, a dish that has been banned since 1974. Many of these songbirds are on a southerly migration having bred in the British Isles and it's appalling that despite the best efforts of the British Sovereign Police there, that so many songbirds are still being killed, so many that won't return here each year.

On the reserve, the rabbit population is starting to show signs of the annual myxomatosis returning as it does each summer. Ellie caught this one this morning showing early signs of it. Some rabbits do actually catch it and survive it but most don't and it soon decimates the population there.

And after a hot session chasing rabbits there's nothing like a nice cooling session in a ditch, a shame the water doesn't smell better!

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Changeable times

Well the best way to describe the weather here on Sheppey at the moment, is changeable and sometimes by the hour! The week started hot, sunny and humid and then broke down overnight Tues/Weds into massive storms and torrential rain that caused a lot of damage in some places. Getting up yesterday morning the garden at last, looked pleasantly wet, but scraping the surface of the soil back do you know, it was only wet to an inch deep, so dry has it been. That rain yesterday was followed all day by a strong and warm wind and so it wasn't long before it started to look dry again. Today has seen heavy grey clouds and a couple of heavy showers which have dampened things down again but it's still windy so we're not getting anywhere wet-wise.
The other point of interest for me as I crossed the marsh yesterday morning was what effect the torrential rain and gusty winds from the overnight storm would of had on the ripe wheat fields. In past years the result would of been flattened and sodden crops and heavy losses for the farmer but as far as I could see the fields were undamaged. I imagine that this is in part due to new wheat varieties that have shorter stems. Wheat straw has little commercial value, unlike barley straw that has, and so it makes sense to grow shorter stemmed crops that are less prone to collapsing under the attack by rain and wind. The farmer that I spoke to yesterday, when I mentioned the storm, was happy to shrug and say "that's farming" but his lot has certainly been made easier by the newer varieties of crop.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned one of our local Speedwatch sessions whereby our team of four make hourly visits to roads in the parish area that are known for speeding vehicles. early this morning we had a one hour session recording speeding motorists on the same road as a fortnight ago, when 54 were recorded in one hour, almost one a minute! The road in question has a 30mph speed limit and we only record the details of those who are doing 35mph and over, today we recorded another 45 motorists exceeding the limit by that amount. The sessions are not always harmonious, this morning two separate motorists slowed down enough to call us c...'s and to clear off and get a life. Clearly many see us as just a bunch of bored pensioners with little else to do but annoy people who are speeding in built up areas but it is a role that the local police and parish council have asked us to undertake. The stretch of road we were on today goes past a primary school entrance halfway along it and therefore to expect to speed past it unchallenged does seem a tad stupid and thoughtless.

More autumn wading birds were recorded passing through the reserve this morning and many other reserves are experiencing the same, it really does seem as if autumn is coming early this year.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Seasonal Confusion

When I arrived at the reserve early this morning it was under an overcast sky but it was very humid and there was a total stillness in the air. Small parties of Sand Martins passed across the grazing meadows heading south and ultimately Africa, just stopping briefly to circle round the cattle and feed on their attendant flies. On the power wires above the entrance to the reserve, large groups of young swallows were perched, twittering happily among themselves as they do and no doubt thinking about joining the Sand Martins. On the fluffy seed heads of thistles small family groups of Goldfinches were plucking out fresh seeds to eat and, strange as it may seem, this whole scene gave me an over-whelming feeling of autumn being just around the corner. As I wandered around the reserve that mood stayed with me, crazy you might say, you're getting ahead of yourself, it's only the second week of July, but what is normal about our seasons these days, are the birds sensing something that we haven't quite grasped yet.
Unfortunately the weather remained pretty grey all day and with a fresh and chilly breeze and a few spits and spots of rain occurring it seemed even more autumnal, I know some people don't like hot sunny days in summer but it would be nice to have such a traditional summer last a bit longer than it currently is.
Oh, and if Wilma reads this - it'd be nice to see a new blog from you and an up-date on your life in paradise.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Death is not the end

Well for once, the rain that was hinted at in my last blog, actually arrived. Overnight Tuesday into Wednesday we had almost 14 hours of rain, although not always heavy. It was quite a shock to the system, after endless days of hot and sunny weather, to get up early yesterday morning to poor light, heavy rain, a cold N. wind and water pouring down the road in torrents. It was like we'd jumped into winter overnight, but all was not lost, by the afternoon we were back into very warm and sunny conditions and today is the same - the benefits of the rain will soon be gone again.
On Tuesday, I did something I rarely do and attended a funeral, that of my older cousin. He and his family live locally and I worked with him in the docks for many years and so I went and represented my side of the family. And for once it wasn't the usual format. Although it was held in the crematorium chapel there was no real religious nonsense, no vicar and no singing of hymns, etc. Just an independent guy who stood up and read out the family's prepared summary of my cousin's life and their own individual thoughts about him, played a couple of his favourite songs and that was it, simples, I take my hat off to the family. While sitting there listening to the various platitudes I found myself day-dreaming about what people would say about my life, would anybody be there to say anything! what songs would I want played, perhaps one such as Bob Dylan's below.

"when the storm clouds gather 'round you
and heavy rains descend
just remember that death is not the end
and all your dreams have vanished
and you don't know what's up the bend
just remember that death is not the end"

This morning as I wandered round the reserve enjoying the warmth and sun of a summer's day, I took some photos so that you see some of what I saw. The sea wall was heaving with butterflies, some are here.


 Small Tortoiseshell

This Heron was keeping guard on the other side of the fleet

Meadow Bindweed, seemed to be a favourite of several butterflies

Prickly Lettuce, much taller than me

Common Fleabane

A bit of green and smelly water left in a ditch by the barn

The neighbouring farmer might not be happy to see seed heads of these thistles blowing towards his fields soon but in the mean time the humming of hundreds of bees feeding on the flowers was really intense.

Lastly, the wheat fields across the Harty marshes are now looking really golden as they await the harvesters.

Monday, 10 July 2017

The Heat Goes On - or maybe not

Walking round the reserve early this morning at 6.00, I was struck at how all of a sudden the amount of bird song is beginning to decrease, the reserve is getting quieter as mid-summer takes hold and the drought increases. Although we're pretty much entering a second year of these very dry conditions, we still haven't yet reached the intensity of the 1976 summer, or that of the first couple of years of the 1990's here on Sheppey, but we're getting closer. Having said that, the weather forecast for here is for some rain over the next couple of days, a forecast these days which rarely seems to come true. That leads me to the latest type of warning from the Met. Office, such as for today and tomorrow, a Yellow Warning (be prepared) of rain. Presumably that is because any showers might be heavy and intense but come on, all of my life I've never known it come down to being warned that it might rain, seems silly!
The countryside around here is mostly burnt yellow, bone hard and tinder dry, a colour exacerbated by the fact the rape crops are being harvested and the wheat and barley fields are also that bright gold colour. Given that the ground that all these crops are growing in is cracked and dust dry, it will be interesting to see how much the yields will be affected this year. It's certainly done away with the need to mow the garden lawns this summer very much, mine is burnt brown and yellow now and has only required a light mow just once this last month.

But getting back to the birds on and around the reserve, well with each visit more and more of the Reed and Sedge Warblers in the reed beds are falling silent. The Marsh Harriers have fledged their young now and therefore becoming more solitary again and the wildfowl are entering their eclipse, or moult, period. This moult sees them lose their flight feathers for a short time and become vulnerable to predators and so many tend to skulk about in waterside vegetation and become less noticeable. There are still a few pairs of birds breeding, some will go into late August, but in the main many are now in family groups as they fly around, Linnets this morning were noticeable in small flocks again. I read somewhere recently that Linnet numbers are starting to drop, well that's definitely not the case around the reserve, they are easily the commonest finch.
Following on from their disastrous breeding season this year and with very few feeding opportunities for them in the bone dry conditions, Lapwings have mostly left the reserve now, I doubt that we'll see many of them back now until wet conditions return. All in all we're now entering the annual period of wildlife inactivity where for the next couple of months the countryside seems to go to sleep. The only major activity to look forward to now is the harvesting of crops and then the readying of the fields for next year's crops.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Butterflies, Speeding and Old Age

Earlier this morning was about as good as it gets weather and reserve wise, one to be thoroughly enjoyed. Under clear blue skies with no breeze at all, it was already very warm, hot even, by 8.00 and the reserve looked beautiful. Everywhere was a mass of butterflies fluttering to and fro across the grazing meadows, Meadow Browns, Small Heaths, Small and Essex Skippers, and a few Red Admirals, Peacocks and Painted Ladies, it was amazing.
But I'm jumping forward, before that, between 6.00 and 7.00, our four-man Parish Council Speedwatch Team, of which I am one, carried out one of our weekly sessions recording speeding motorists along one of six stretches of police assessed roads around the parish. The speed limit on the stretch of road that we did today is 30mph and we record the details of motorists travelling at 35mph and over. We recorded 54 speeding motorists - that's almost one a minute! - and some were doing 45mph and more.

Lastly, today is my 70th birthday and time to reflect on how being 70 and over these days is so different to how I saw it when I was much younger. Today many, if not most of us, get to 70 looking and feeling pretty fit, looking allegedly, good for our age. Blimey, when I was in my 20's or 30's, looking forward to people in their 70's they always seemed to be old and frail, in wheel chairs and pissing themselves all the time. Yet nowadays most of us get to this age, still very active, walking, cycling, still getting a "leg over" now and then and testament to the modern day fit and healthy pensioner.
I have to admit that July 4th 1947 seems a bloody long way ago but I'm really chuffed to have got here still doing what I do and although the next decade will probably be a long road on a downward slope, life is pretty good at the moment.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Flora, Fauna and the Seashore

It has been an unexpectedly hot and sunny day here in North Kent and even better, without the wind that seems to blow most days this summer.
Walking past one of the large reed beds on the reserve this morning I could hear the familiar "pinging" calls of Bearded Tits. They do breed in the reed beds and I quickly came across four juvenile birds working their way through the reed stems, two of which are shown below.

Every year I look for these, my favourite caterpillars, the larva of the Cinnabar Moth. Such distinctive colours as they munch their way through the leaves of the Ragwort plants.

I also came across this thistle, heavily infested with black aphids, to the delight of the local ants. Ants milk the aphids for a sticky substance that they produce and which the ants feed on. Quite often the ants will carry aphids to new plants so that the infestation cycle can continue and the ants maintain their food supply. If you look closely in the center of the photo, you can see a black ant in the process of milking some of the ants.

 Several hundred yards from my bungalow is one of the main routes into the town of Sheerness. We know it as the "Coastal Road because just the other side of the shingle bank to the right, that acts as a sea wall, is the sea. In the center of the photograph is the cycle path that I ride most days during the summer months.

This is the view from the top of the shingle bank, looking out into the Thames Estuary, where large ships pass daily, making their way into near-by Sheerness Docks or carrying on up the Thames towards London. I have this view, a tad more distant, as I sit in my study writing this.

And looking back eastwards along the seaward side of the shingle bank towards the ever eroding clay cliffs, a mile or so away. A wide promenade runs along the base of those cliffs for part of their length.

Lastly, as I cycled through the local cemetery this afternoon, I was delighted to come across large numbers of this lovely coloured wild flower, Orange Hawkweed. I've never seen it anywhere else on Sheppey but it is apparently common in churchyards and has the delightful country name of Fox and Cubs.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Summer was nice but brief.

After this last week's glorious but brief taste of real summer it was a bit of a shock to the system and somewhat depressing,when I arrived at the reserve early this morning. We were back to heavy grey skies and a cool and gusty wind. Two days ago I walked round wearing a thin polo shirt but today I needed a jumper as well. As I walked round in the less than perfect conditions, you'll forgive me for cursing those people, who after just a few days of decent weather, complained about it being to hot - presumably they're much happier now and will look forward to the week ahead, which is forecast to be cool, cloudy and showery.

So, back to the reserve and what's happening. The breeding season for some birds is already drawing to a close and various juveniles are being seen on a regular basis now. This morning I had both Pied and Yellow Wagtail juveniles and for the latter it has been the reserve's largest number of breeding pairs for many years. The Greylag Geese have also done particularly well, fledging around 60 goslings, although unfortunately, many of these possibly have only a couple of months to live before the wildfowlers return on the 1st September. The Barn Owls are also doing well and although the five chicks have now reduced to four, they were all successfully rung this week.
On the down side, Coots have done badly with only a few broods and Lapwings are pretty much a write-off, producing very few chicks. The reserve has been predominately dry now for almost a year and that lack of wet/damp habitat has has not produced the conditions or insect life that the Lapwings need.
The Cuckoos fell silent earlier in the week and are no doubt already part of the way back to their winter quarters in Africa and Swifts won't be long before they join them. It's not unusual, both of these species only make a brief visit to this country to breed and then they're off again.
The hot and dry weather of the last week has also favoured butterflies with a surge in their visible numbers. Meadow Browns have been a joy to see flitting across the longer grass of the grazing meadows in big numbers and in the last few days have been joined by the first Small Skippers, I just hope that the down-turn in the weather doesn't depress this lovely sight.

Lastly, the yellow wild flower known as Lady's Bedstraw, so known apparently, because in the Middle Ages women used it to stuff mattresses and pillows with, has always been a common, annual sight on the reserve. Today I noticed, that a couple of meadows have huge spreads of it in flower, carpeting the grass in a quantity that I have never seen before. I of course, forgot to take my camera with me.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017


Well here we are at the Longest Day, with the depressing thought that as from today, the days start to shorten and if we get cloudy weather, it can happen quite quickly.
Really pissed off today when reading blogs, the newspapers and listening to the radio - gawd, there's almost a national crisis - we've had five days of hot weather and people can't handle it. I know that summer in England isn't supposed to happen, or if it does it isn't actually supposed to be hot but come on, five days can't surely justify being called a heatwave.
Some blogs this morning are talking about how their dogs can't be taken for walks because they and their owners are too hot, well if the owner is lying sleepless in a sweaty bed, why then, get up earlier as I do, and get out with the dog in the early morning cool and freshness, both will benefit from it. Radio 5 Live went on and on with people ringing in to say how hot they were at work and asking if it was acceptable under H&S guidelines to actually be at work when it was hot and so it has been going on. Bloody hell, in the 1976 real heatwave, we didn't have just five days of hot weather, we had it continuous for three bloody months, every day, blue skies and hot sunshine! Yet we went to work throughout those three months and still lived to tell the tale.
I wonder how many people complaining about this current "heatwave", spend two weeks a year holidaying in some very hot and sunny country.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Another Dawn Patrol

After a hot and sunny day yesterday it looks like being even hotter today and so Ellie and I were out early on the reserve. This is how it looked.

A few across the marsh

One of the reserve ditches

The sea wall fleet and it's wide reed beds from the sea wall, noisy this morning with Reed and Sedge Warblers

The Sea Wall hide

Which was being used as a perch by this pair of Oystercatchers

The sea wall fleet at ground level, it is almost a mile long and was probably created when the soil for the sea wall alongside was dug

 Horsetail, a very invasive water weed that is clogging up a lot of ditches and fleets on the reserve

 as this photo shows

A side ways look at the flower of Goatsbeard

 And lastly, Spiny Rest-harrow, the only place on Sheppey that I know of it growing.