Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Summer Days

The weather continues to yo-yo to and fro, this week it is very warm to hot, sunny days amd most appreciated.
Yesterday I made one of my irregular visits to the extreme eastern end of the reserve and the eastern end od Sheppey as a whole, Shellness beach. This long and narrow strip of sand and shell beach with it's old WW2 building looks quite beautiful on a sunny day such as it was. The tide was out otherwise it would of looked even better.



It'll be another month or so before the wide range of seashore wild flowers that it's known for, come into bloom but there was at least many clumps of Sea Campion, the maritime cousin of the Red Campion.

 Back on the main grazing marsh part of the reserve and it is worth mentioning again the efforts of the neighbouring farmers in respect of wildlife friendly strips round field edges. Wide strips of this purple flower was absolutely humming with the amount of bees swarming all over it.


Another farmer has these wide strips of weeds and long grass around his wheat fields, hopefully they'll be left until at least harvest time.

 Below, you see Ellie's favourite place on the whole reserve........

 ........and here's the reason why. She spends hours being led a merry dance by the rabbits, but yesterday her hard work and optimism paid off, she caught two.

Who remembers from childhood, this wild weed, barley grass. When it yellows up in the summer it tends to be home to tiny black beetles that look like fleas and we nick-named it "flea grass". As young lads we used to pick the yellow darts and throw them into girls' hair shouting "fleas in your hair", to much screaming by the girls. Boyish fun, I doubt youngsters know about such things these days.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Rainy Days

Well at long last, although possibly only for a short time, I'm not on here bleating away about lack of rain and droughts. It rained Tuesday night, it rained a bit harder Wednesday night and through Thursday night we had around twelve hours of non-stop moderate rain. Water seems to be running out of every drive and garden for a while on Friday morning. Surprisingly, there were few substantial splashes across the reserve to show for it all and certainly no rise in ditch levels, the ground being so dry and absorbed it all, but there was plenty of mud and boy how it had freshened the place up. Stagnant ditches had been rejuvenated by being re-oxygenated and grazing meadows looked so much greener. It won't take long for drying winds and sunshine to get to work but for the moment all is well out there.
This morning, despite a gusty wind, it was pleasantly warm in the sunshine and this Marsh Frog was enjoying the improved water quality.


This is a view across the tidal Swale to the mainland on the other side. The Swale is what maintains Sheppey as an island and lends itself to the reserve's name, The Swale National Nature Reserve.

Below are part of a collection of around forty Greylag Geese goslings of different ages that were in the sea wall fleet this morning.

A Common Blue butterfly settled for a while in front of me and opened it's wings to the sun. I also had the first Painted Lady butterfly of the summer as well.

 And of course, early morning, warm sun, just right for chewing the cud, as these two pictures show.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Here Comes the Sun

Finally, after the protracted cold weather of recent weeks, we have enjoyed a couple of not only sunny days but warm days. And if the rain that is forecast over the next couple of days actually comes, it is going to be warm rain, so we could have a win-win event there as well. It was a real tonic to get up this morning to blue skies and a rising sun outside and buoyed by such a rarity, I set off for the reserve and began my breeding bird counts in earnest as I wandered round. Thankfully, for several species at least, things are moving at last and the Coot's nest below was one of four of that species that I found, well down on last year's count but we're inching forward. A brood of nine recently hatched Mallard ducklings was another pleasant surprise.



It remains dust dry out there and some bird numbers are low but sunshine and warmth today but it all seem so much better and to cap it off I even saw the first Small Heath butterfly of this year.

On a different subject all together, Tuesday evening this week saw my long-time friend and I make what is now a bi-annual event, we went to London to experience Bob Dylan's latest visit. We first saw Bob at the Royal Albert Hall in 1966, hitch-hiking home through the night afterwards, and have seen him countless times since. Like us, he's getting old now, he's 75, but his Never Ending Tour continues to do just that and we, like a packed Wembley Arena on Tuesday, will continue to follow it as long it does. I'm always fascinated by those rare trips to London, because for someone who spends most of his life in the quiet backwaters of Sheppey, so much hustle and bustle always comes as a bit of a shock. You get off the train into a world of human ants, tightly packed and rushing everywhere and descend into the Underground. There humid and oppressive carriages are packed tightly with a kaleidoscope of nationals all governed it seems, by phones and ear pieces. Even more bizarre is the journey back, I find it hard to believe that so many people can be out and about on railway platforms at a time approaching midnight, more people than I normally see in a whole day.
Anyway, the concert was superb, I survived being temporarily swallowed up by an alien world and gratefully enjoyed the solitude of the marshes the next day.




Sunday, 7 May 2017

Went the Rain Well

Four days ago my blog celebrated the fact that we'd had that rare element, rain. Unfortunately, after the continuation of the non-stop and drying, cold NE winds, there is nothing to show that rain ever happened here. Those cold winds and grey skies seem to have been a daily feature for weeks now and other blogs from up the eastern side of England make it clear that many of us are sharing the same torment. Here we are just five weeks or so from the Longest Day and mid-summer and we have barely moved out of winter yet, this morning on the reserve I was wearing pretty much the same clothes as I wore in January. The photo below was taken on the reserve at 8.00 this morning, three hours after dawn but shows how poor the light levels are most days at the moment under the grey and wintery skies. (I'm afraid that all the photos below suffer from poor light). It also shows part of the reserve's Flood Field, so named because it normally retains water the best and longest each year. It shows what is normally a large area of shallow water with a couple of islands in it on which Avocets normally nest - today it is simply dry mud with no Avocets! However, all is not lost, allegedly, the wind is going to go round to the south this week and warm sun is forecast for us, now that would be nice.


On a lighter note a few pairs of birds are now starting to appear with young, such as these Greylag Geese goslings.

I came across this single, early flower on a dog rose bush......

.......in the ditches throughout the reserve, Celery-leaved Buttercup is now flowering......

......and the young livestock still retain their attractiveness.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Rain has Appeared

As I write this, it's lunch time on the 3rd May and the conditions outside my window make it look like a typical winter's day. Heavy grey clouds are being sped across the sky on very cold NE winds and since early morning sheets of heavy drizzle and rain have blasted across the fields opposite. In short, it is cold, wet and windy and I have just briefly put the central heating on to take the chill off of the house, there is little sign of late Spring or early Summer yet.
April has now been officially recorded as one of the driest on record and last week, the end of the month, it was also bitterly cold, but for the gardens at least, our drought seems to be over for the moment. The regular bouts of rain that we've had this last few days have not been heavy or prolonged enough to make any difference to water levels on the marsh or the reserve but they have at least softened up the lawns and flower beds. If only the wind direction would now change for a prolonged spell, it seems to have been from a cold northerly direction for ages now and the forecast for the next seven days is more of the same.

It was heart-breaking during a brief, wet and cold visit to the reserve this morning, to see newly arriving swallows skimming low as possible across the marsh, heading into the bitter cold and rainy wind as they made their way north for the summer, insects must of been in very short supply! So, April was bone dry and rarely very warm and now May has started both cold and wet, it's looking pretty dire for wildlife so far. Talking of the reserve, thanks to April's drought, breeding counts continue to remain very low, just six broods of Lapwing chicks so far, at least 50% down on previous years by this time and just one successful Coot family. Unfortunately it's one of those situations that is out of the reserve management's hands, the water supply comes from one source, the skies above. All the storage areas available are of no use if they aren't re-filled by winter rains and not only that, in one of those vicious circle, can't win events, now we have some rain, that too could now be harmful because it's cold rain. Imagine those little fluffy, few days old plover chicks, getting soaking wet in this rain and then being chilled all day by an icy wind. Wildlife has very fine balances to negotiate a lot of the time.

Friday, 14 April 2017

April News

There are several reasons why my blog has become quite infrequent lately, one of them is because I have been busy writing elsewhere and secondly because it became difficult not to write about the event affecting the reserve most this last nine six months or more, the lack of rain. Unfortunately this one too is going to start off on that same theme.
Last autumn began dry and that dryness intensified as we progressed through the winter, it meant that the wet areas needed to attract winter wildfowl and waders were almost non-existent and we had some of the lowest counts for years. Now in mid-April, the Spring, things look even bleaker and the prospect of a summer drought look almost certain. Several years ago we dug a series of shallow rills across the grazing fields of the reserve and after an average wet winter these should still be half full of water. Their purpose being to provide insect life along their muddy edges for newly hatched Lapwing and Redshank chicks to feed on - this is how they currently look.



The ditches are just as bad, the example below is how we would expect them to look in late summer, not early spring. They should be three quarters full at the moment and providing good nest sites for birds such as Coots but a few inches of water has little appeal to the birds.


Even the foot path along the top of the seawall is suffering, with cracking appearing along it's length. And if you look at the current weather forecast for North Kent and the South East until the early part of May, it's basically one of little if any rainfall and below average temperatures. No wonder we have few signs of the normal marshland birds attempting breeding yet.

To maintain the depressing news for a moment longer, take a look at this line of small oak trees on the nearby farmland. They were having a minimal effect, if any, on the farmland alongside them but last week the farmer decided to trim them back for whatever reason. The now traditional tractor driven hedging flail was used and struggled quite a bit against the thickness of many of the branches, leaving them looking quite mangled and doing the trees little good I imagine.



But we might not get the rain but we have at least had some nice sunny days and last weekend had for one day, heat befitting mid-summer and although it hasn't lasted it did bring about the first cows and their calves being put on the reserve for the summer.


And although the dominant cold Northerly winds have seen summer bird visitors arriving in barely a trickle so far this year, they are starting to come, as this newly arrived Yellow Wagtail shows.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Harrier Roost Counts

It was the last of this winter's six, monthly, WEBS counts last Monday and yesterday evening also saw the last of the six, monthly, Harrier Roost Counts around parts of Kent and Essex. There was a chilly and gusty wind blowing under grey skies as I made my way across to the reserve sea wall at 17.15 to await dusk and hopefully, some Hen Harriers. As I have said before, only Hen Harriers roost on the reserve, on the saltings towards Shellness Hamlet, the Marsh Harriers go elsewhere on Harty. Normally I would position myself by the Sea Wall Hide and watch the traditional roost site from there using my telescope. Last night, I chose to walk further round the sea wall and closer to the roost site and bunkered down at the base of the wall out of the wind. Being almost as low as the tops of the salting gave me a much better view, especially as the harriers tend to come in skimming the vegetation and can sometimes be missed if looking down on them.
It was quite pleasant tucked down there and while Ellie amused herself looking for mice or voles in the grass, I enjoyed watching the to and fro-ing of various birds. Small parties of chuckling Shelducks passed overhead, leaving the marsh and heading for the tidal Swale and a female Marsh Harrier tracked it's way slowly along the distant saltings edge, raising my hopes of a Hen Harrier. A little later the Marsh Harrier crossed over the sea wall and headed across the reserve to it's favoured roost site, the light was decreasing fast now. Finally, as the light decreased even further, two adult ringtail (female) Hen Harriers suddenly appeared to my right, I almost missed them. I no sooner saw them than they dropped like stones into the saltings vegetation, not alongside each other but several yards apart. The reason I almost missed them was due to the fact that they chose to roost this time opposite where I normally stand by the Sea Wall Hide, mocking my decision to go further round and watch their traditional roost.
So that was the last Harrier Roost Count of this season until we start again next October, and it's unlikely that the Hen Harriers will be seen much more as they begin their return to breed on the moors of Northern Britain.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Last WEBS

Yesterday, Monday, was the best day of this early Spring so far. It was warm and sunny and the first time that I was able to walk round the reserve without a coat on, I really enjoyed it. Today, under grey skies and with a chilly wind, we're back to square one, it's not particularly pleasant.
Getting back to yesterday, we carried out the last of the Wetland Bird Surveys (WEBS) until next autumn, planned as always, to coincide with the high tide, due on this visit at 13.00. The warm sunshine and a gentle breeze had made the ground seem even dryer and harder as I walked round and I wasn't expecting to record that many wetland birds as a result.
The wind pump does it's best to pump up fresh water from the underground aquifer but in reality it only keeps wet an area inside a 100yd radius around it.

The rest of the reserve remains in rainfall denial, as this old but vital crossing plank demonstrates. The ditch isn't as deep as it looks, only about six inches, normally at this time of the year the water would be level with, or over it.

But not to worry, the walk round had Lapwing pairs doing their lovely "peewitting" courtship displays and Skylarks rose up high into the blue sky at regular intervals and sent down waterfalls of song to cascade over us. I only had small counts of the waders and wildfowl that I was there to record but had a good variety of species, including Mallard, Teal, Pochard, Coot, Shoveler, Shelduck, Curlew, Lapwing and Little Grebe. There were 80 of the resident Greylag Geese and best of all, 160 White-fronted Geese (below) still lingered on before returning to their far northern breeding grounds.
A total of eight Marsh Harriers were active across the reserve, often soaring high into the sky to become small specks, only noticeable by their plaintive call notes that made you look up and search for them. It was a real, small taste of the summer to come and I sat on the sea wall and savoured it and as if to confirm my thoughts, the first butterflies of the year came by, two Small Tortoiseshells and a Peacock, such simple joys.
Ellie meanwhile, bored with such inactivity, had wandered off a short way to inspect some mole hills in the vain hope that one of the little, furry tunnellers might be near the surface and catchable but they rarely are. It was a really uplifting day and a shame that today couldn't of been the same.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Winter is Slipping By

It was still three parts dark as I made my way along the Harty Road yesterday (Sunday) morning to the reserve. However, by the time that I had made my way across the reserve to the sea wall the sky had lightened considerably, although it was heavily grey rather than blue, but it was very mild. It was the second to last day of the wildfowling season and I had arrived early to see if many wildfowlers were taking the opportunity to bag a duck or two on this last weekend of the season. There was just the one, who throughout the hour and a half I was there never fired a shot, which pretty much summed up their season adjacent to the reserve.
Progressing much further along the sea wall to where I could see another birdwatcher, who I knew would be looking at Hen Harriers leaving their overnight roost, sun-rise began to happen. The mainly grey sky had broken into several slits and in one of those brief slits a great red sun briefly appeared, like a blood shot eye in a grey face, until it blinked and was gone again. I chatted with the other birdwatcher, who had as expected seen Hen Harriers leave their roost, three ringtails, and then departed back along the sea wall for home, I was due back that evening for the monthly harrier roost count.
The day had been almost warm, with good sunny spells, as I made my back along the Harty road again at 16.45. There were numerous bird watchers along the road side as I drove past, the legacy no doubt of last week's BBC television's Countryfile feature about what a superb place to view birds of prey, Harty was. Just a shame that so many choose, out of laziness I suppose, to use the small, vehicle passing places as car parks rather than the car park supplied at the Raptor Viewing Mound.
It was a pleasantly mild and windless late afternoon as I climbed the sea wall again and the light was just starting to fade. Several hundred yards away three wildfowlers were no doubt swapping tales of how the season had been for them and so I walked along and briefly joined them for a chat. It was clear that with just one day to go, that the shooting season in front of the reserve had been pretty dire and in no way matching the above average bags seen elsewhere around Kent. It was also clear, just standing there looking across the reserve as we spoke, of the reason why, we could of been looking at the reserve in mid-summer, no flooded areas and no deep ditches. The reserve's wildfowl counts this winter have been some of the lowest for years, if not ever, and it was quite apparent to us all that by the time the wildfowlers returned next September that the reserve could resemble a desert unless it's an exceptionally wet summer.
As the dusk began to rapidly settle across the marsh the wildfowlers and their dogs left me and walked out to their chosen spots on the saltings, in the hope that an odd duck or goose might fly over them, while I remained on the sea wall. I began to earnestly watch the normal harrier roost site through my telescope pausing briefly for seconds at a time to take in the other bird world out on The Swale. The tide was rising and several hundred waders were noisily being pushed off of the mudflats where they fed, still desperate for that last morsel before they went to roost. In the increasing gloom and way across on the mainland side, several hundred Brent Geese rose up, almost disappearing into the darkness and came across to the Sheppey side before settling down on the tide and letting it flow them along with it. For a moment birds were calling from everywhere, Coots and the odd Water Rail along the sea wall fleet, pheasants and a few Mallard out in the marsh and suddenly, I had a Short-eared Owl hunting in circles round me. Ellie, who was off hunting for voles herself in the sea wall grass, suddenly had company, for a while the owl followed her, hoping that she would flush out a vole that it could catch.
And then, it was suddenly almost dark, I had seen the three Hen Harriers go back into the same roost that they had left early in the day, it was time to leave. I waived to the barely visible wildfowlers tucked down in the gullies and threaded my way back across the marsh in the darkness, Ellie a constant white flash, ahead of me and nose to the ground, still hoping to pick up the scent of something worthy of chasing. It'd had been a good day.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Opinion Differences

Yesterday morning at first light I stood on the reserve sea wall talking to three wildfowlers. The reserve was white with a light fall of snow that had only just stopped, a bone numbing N.E. wind was picking up and icy rain had just started to blow in on the wind. It was exceptionally cold and we didn't chat for long, just long enough for me to ask them if they had shot anything that morning, no was the answer. Three hours sitting out in the mud in falling snow and the dark and not a single shot fired had left them frozen stiff. People who lump these coastal wildfowlers in with the molly-coddled large bird number, shooters elsewhere, should try experiencing those conditions and also see how few birds that actually get shoot.
This last week I got embroiled in a debate on the Kent Ornithological Society's Facebook Page to do with the continuing persecution of Hen Harriers in this country. Despite the fact that I also deplore the persecution of such a beautiful and fast declining bird of prey, I found myself airing different opinions on the subject with two guys in particular, who were quite clearly disciples of Chris Packham and Mark Avery. I haven't got a problem with much of that, most of these people work hard at battling against the persecution dished out against Hen Harriers by grouse moor owners and their employees and keeping it in the public eye. Where I did start to disagree with their points of view though was (a) when I suggested that despite all their petitions, etc, Harriers were still going missing, grouse shooters were still sticking two fingers up, (b) when they found it impossible to accept any criticism of the RSPB, (c) when I accused them of taking the traditional birdwatcher's stance in that every missing/dead Hen Harrier has to have been caused by actions taken by those involved with grouse shooting. Particularly in the case of missing birds, evidence has never been produced to support the purely assumptions that it was grouse shooters that caused them to be missing. Of course, as soon as I starting stating those opinions, then accusations of me being both cynical about the anti grouse moor protesters and therefore a supporter of Hen Harrier persecution, came out. The fact that I have no problems with a few forms of shooting and pest controls does seem to mark me down as not a true and serious bird watcher in some people's eyes. There seems to be a trend in modern day birdwatching these days that in order to be one you have to openly loathe any form of shooting, without actually having any experience of the subject that they are loathing.
I'm regularly vilified for being too opinionated, a trait I can't deny but find too easy to fall into. I'm all to often criticised because (a) I don't like twitching, (b) don't always share rare birds that I've seen, not that I see that many, and (c) don't take the normal birdwatcher line and automatically despise anyone that shoots or kills wildlife. All my life I've always been a natural loner when it comes to wandering about in the countryside, and I take part in several lonesome annual bird counts and supply those records to the appropriate people. What I don't do is carry a pager or smart phone that allows me to immediately alert the outside bird watching world to what I've just seen, they're capable of getting off their arses and doing that themselves. Neither do I rush off to the latest rare bird alert, no matter how close, and join a murmaration of twitchers swirling about on a roadside or riverbank. Neither do I carry a long lens camera with which to impress people with my stunning photos that I always claim are still not quite sharp enough, I have a free running dog (a huge black mark in birdwatching circles) and lastly, probably the greatest sin of all, I'm an Associate Member of the Kent Wildfowling and Conservation Association, despite having no interest in shooting myself.
And finally, just to bring down the curtain on Opinion Differences, I'm currently reading and thoroughly enjoying, an old book called Morning Flight, written by that great conservationist Peter Scott, about his very many wildfowling days in the 1930's.

Friday, 10 February 2017

February Blues

I don't know why but this winter here on Sheppey seems to be showing a great reluctance to allow it to gradually get light earlier each week in the mornings.The evenings definitely are but not the mornings. OK that fact has been exacerbated this week by a series of very gloomy and sun-less days but the mornings are definitely not keeping pace with the evenings. Look at the view that greeted me at 8.00 this morning as I arrived at the reserve and looked across the grazing marsh, instead of broad daylight and a rising sun, it was poor light, poor visibility and pretty depressing.


 It never really got that much better throughout my walk round, below is a view of a ditch by the entrance gate some time later as I made my back.

That is a pretty bleak view of how the reserve has looked and felt this last few days. Heavy grey cloud, a bitter cold N.E. wind and spits and spots of light rain or drizzle - for a warm weather lover and SAD sufferer as I am, it ain't been much fun. February in my book, shares with November as being one of the worst two months of the year, especially when it teases us with the odd warm, sunny and almost Springlike day, before dumping us back into winter. 
Fortunately, nature doesn't get depressed like some of us do at such conditions, behind that bleak facade it can sense Spring is close by. Snowdrops and Aconites are in full bloom, hazel catkins hang from their bushes and the Rooks are already repairing their nests. All it will take to cheer us up is one or two warm and sunny days, a bumblebee, a butterfly - I do wish it would hurry up.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Shooting Soon Ends

Driving along the marsh road to the reserve at first light this morning my car was registering an outside temperature of 8 degrees, almost tropical after the severe frost and freezing fog of the last few weeks! Walking back across the reserve later on, with the sun on my back, it felt as though Spring had arrived overnight, which of course it hadn't, but a forecast of milder weather for the next couple of weeks is long overdue.
Next Wednesday 1st February, sees the end of the game shooting season for this winter, while the day before also sees the end of the inland duck shooting season. Since New Year, the farmland game shoots around here seem to have intensified, with sometimes two or three a week, which I suppose is all about making money from the sport. It's of no real consequence to me, they're only shooting and killing artificially reared birds but the habitat that is preserved and maintained for such shooting is of great benefit to all manner of real wildlife. If there is one down side to game shooting it's the fact that licences are now being applied for and amazingly, issued, for some gamekeepers to "control" some raptors that are guilty of harassing and killing some of the millions of these game birds that are artificially reared to be shot.
With those two shooting seasons coming to an end, that won't be an end to the farmland hunting activities though. It is normally followed on Sheppey by one or two visits from the Fox Hunt and Beagle packs. Both hunt illegally in the traditional way, which is ignored by those in authority but it is particularly galling in the case of the Beagle pack which is often chasing and killing hares pregnant with young. There will also of course be pigeon and crow shooting, both officially classed as pest species.
The end of wildfowl shooting inland on the 31st January does not mean the end of the wildfowl shooting season completely though. For the first three weeks of February wildfowlers are still allowed to carry on shooting below the Mean Hide Tide mark. In respect of the reserve that means out on the saltings in front of the reserve just as they have been all winter. For me, that isn't a problem, because as regular readers of this blog will know, I get on very well with the wildfowlers there now, have even become an Associated non-shooting Member of their Association. As far as various types of shooting goes, these are the real tough guys. No sitting round corn-fed inland duck ponds, a few yards from their cars, no being driven from field to field to shoot gamebirds, these guys do it the hard way and often on their own. They will often have to walk long distances along sea walls, then walk out across mudflats or saltings, often in pre-dawn darkness. They will then spend the next few hours standing in deep mud in freezing temperatures, in the optimistic hope that a duck or goose will just happen to fly in their direction.
This winter, as far as the area in front of the reserve goes, the wildfowlers have had a pretty lean season, due mainly to the dryness of the reserve attracting few wildfowl. They're a hardy bunch and I have just one complaint about them, this season seems to have seen an increase in out of range birds being shot at. Even to my inexperienced eyes it has been clear at times that birds up to 100yds or more away have been shot at, which is well outside the effective killing range. This can see some birds carrying around injuries for some length of time before they expire.
It is now looking extremely doubtful that any serious volumes of water are going to rain apon the reserve before the Spring and so we can expect some pretty serious drought conditions to affect us and the wildlife this summer.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

A Dawn of Many Colours

After a light frost this morning we had a dawn of many colours. As I drove across the marsh road towards the reserve, the sky in the area where the sun was imminently about to rise, was an amazing range of red, pink and yellow colours with a backing of blue. Soon after, a fantastic orange glow preceded the great orange-red sun as it slowly began to climb above horizon and buildings and trees in the distance became burnished in gold. It was a dead still, beautiful dawn, to a day that remained cold but sunny for the whole of it, if we could of added ten degrees of temperature it would of been the perfect Spring morning, but it's coming. And now, as I'm writing this, I have the red sun creating an amazing sunset as it goes down behind the trees to the west of me, it's been a good day.
Yesterday afternoon, myself and two others, carried out our monthly Wetland Bird Survey on the reserve. Each of us has a particular section in which we count all the wading birds and wildfowl that we see. Judging the huge amount of birds that I could see at the Shellness Point end that particular guy must of been recording a good count and I was really pleased to see a pair of Bewick Swans in the bay there, my first this winter.
My section, the main marsh part of the reserve, didn't produce huge numbers of birds due to the continuing dryness but I was pleased to record c.160 White-fronted Geese and the ever present Crane as it noisily walked around the marsh. The light was just beginning to fade as I finished my count and a damp chill began to set in under the clear sky, the precursor to the frosty evening that we ended up with. I stayed on the sea wall to count in the Hen Harriers as they went in to roost out on the saltings as part of our Monthly Harrier roost census and to chat with a local wildfowler who I could see making his way towards me. The dusk increased, the geese called to each other over on the winter corn and Curlews "bubbled" away out on the saltings as they waited for the tide to drop, it was magical and the place to be.
I eventually counted in three Hen Harriers going in to roost as the cold darkness began to descend and briefly chatted with my wildfowler friend about what has been a pretty dire wildfowling season so far. Pretty quickly he needed to get out on the saltings and in position to ambush himself a duck or two and I left and followed the small white shape of Ellie in the near dark as she made her way back across the marsh on the scent of a hare that she was never going to catch. We had both enjoyed a particularly good winter's afternoon.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Damp and Depressing

As I sit here writing this it's early afternoon, it's Sunday, it's been raining all morning and still is, it's cold and it's bloody depressing. I've had to keep the central heating on and I'm sitting in the conservatory looking out at a garden about as far removed from it's mid-summer glory as it could be. The borders are bare and muddy and the bushes and trees are bare of leaves and looking like skeletons after their plump, mid-summery greenery. There are a couple of dozen Sparrows on the bird feeding tubes and a Blackbird wanders up and down the lawn snatching at worms that it seems to be mostly missing.
The rain began lightly at 6.45 this morning and anxious that it might get heavier, which it later did, I left for the reserve in total darkness in order that Ellie and I could get a walk of some sort in. By the time that I got on top of the sea wall the damp, near dark gloom, had become a gloom bright enough for me to just make out a hardy wildfowler out on the saltings with his dog. I walked about a quarter of a mile along the sea wall but by then the rain was setting in heavier and I wasn't enjoying it, I turned back and made for my car and home, I don't do cold and wet very well, in fact I don't do the winter, period. I came home, made a cup of tea, ate my porridge and read the papers, the crappy Sunday Mail and the excellent Sunday Telegraph. After that, well it was down to staring boredly out at the rain, listening to Michael Ball on Radio 2 and longing for the Spring.
Readers of my increasingly fewer blogs this winter will have become used to my regular mentions of how dry the reserve, which remains the case despite several hours of rain recently. Well on local TV this week the Environment Agency finally made public that it has been the driest December on record and indeed it has been dry for the last few months, hooray, we got there, it's an official drought. Reservoirs in the area are only 45% full and water restrictions look increasingly likely for the coming summer, ain't I been saying that!

I read several blogs on a daily basis and most of them are very good but some others have become, presumably because the owner prefers it that way, quite clicky and in doing so rarely allow in new people 's comments, especially those with comments that disagree with the general flow of that particular blog. In other words the blog has become nice and comfortable and the dozen or so daily followers always avidly congratulate the blogger, despite the fact that they have never met that person and are accepting everything about them at face value. One that I read on an almost daily basis and don't ask me why, because I loathe it's falseness and pretence, is written by a woman here in England who maintains her high degree of avid followers by immediately deleting comments from anyone outside the daily clique who might contradict her postings, before her followers can see that such other opinions exist. She has become very adept at creating this weird mystique about herself that seems guaranteed to daily gain extraordinary praise from her followers, almost to a disciple level, and yet I'm left thinking, they've never met her, how do they know she's really as she says she is?
Probably too late now for me to re-model myself as an expert birdwatcher who never has a bad word to say about anybody. Perhaps I'll open a bottle of red wine and settle down later to watch Liverpool play Man Utd.