Friday, 20 July 2018

A Tad Wrong

In my last posting, I hastily made the suggestion that the heatwave was over, that has not turned out to be the case, a couple of gloomy, chilly days soon reverted to the relentless heat, sunshine and dryness that preceded those days. Yesterday in the media, appeared  Met. Office aerial photographs of the whole of the UK in May, coloured lovely and green and this month with it coloured mostly yellow/brown. So, with temps. over the next several days forecast to be in the high 20's-low 30's we remain in the throws of a heatwave that is fast starting to equal that experienced in the famous one of 1976.
On the reserve, the breeding season has more or less finished and we're now entering the quiet, between seasons spell which can become quite boring. Many of the birds are now beginning their annual moult and as a result don't sing much and have become quite secretive and listless. Birds such as Lapwings and Curlews, that probe the ground for invertebrates to eat, obviously haven't a chance of doing that in soil like concrete so have mostly moved out to the low-tide mudflats. The one think that this time of the tear is note-able for is Horse Flies and this year is no exception. These large flies follow you all round the grazing marsh, buzzing noisily around you as they attempt to alight on your skin and boy do they bite. Their bite is like someone sticking a red hot needle in your skin and can often turn septic, people watching me from a distance must wonder why I'm walking round with arms going like a windmill all the time.
On the farmland alongside the reserve the rape crop has now been harvested, albeit with low tonnages according to the farmer, thanks to the dry soil. The wheat and barley crops will now follow in the next couple of weeks, although opening up some ears of corn recently, it seemed obvious to me that the grains of corn were not very plump and so their tonnages are also likely to be low. All forms of farming are struggling due to this heatwave at the moment, crops are showing poor yields and livestock are also not finding a lot of joy in pastures full of bone dry, yellow and brittle grass.

I noted in the media the other day that the BTO, who annually tag cuckoos with tiny satellite devices, are advising us that already, several of the cuckoos that summered here, are transmitting the fact that they are already south of the Sahara on their way back to their wintering grounds in southern Africa. Swifts will soon be joining them before the main autumn migration rush begins in late August/September.

Well blow me down - within an hour of writing the above, rain started falling - not heavy torrential stuff but gentle, steady rain that if nothing else refreshed the plants and the gardens and took the humidity out of the air - and it lasted four five hours - the soil is hardly wetter but it looks better.

Monday, 9 July 2018

All things must pass

As I sit here writing this, it's early Monday evening, the heat and humidity of today have speedily ended. We now have heavy grey skies and a chilly and gusty N wind and in the space of an hour or so our lengthy heatwave has dramatically ended. All of a sudden windows are being closed and the prospects of being able to sleep tonight, after weeks of sweaty insomnia, seem to be rising greatly.

But oh, what a joyous two or three weeks it has been, non-stop blue and sunny skies, and relentless heat baking the gardens and the countryside to a tinder dry yellowness. Well, I say joyous but cracks are running through the flower borders of my garden that you can put an arm down, making watering simply a waste of both time and water and the lawns are a crisp white-yellow colour. How much longer the plants and indeed the farmland crops, can hang on for without rain before perishing, is hard to know but no rain is forecast in the near future.

Last week saw me celebrate my 71st birthday and on one of the days my partner and I spent most of it visiting a couple of favourite spots in the Kent countryside, Reculver and Faversham Creek, both on the coast. Later, in the evening, we visited an Indian restaurant and then decided to visit a site near to my bungalow called the Shingle Bank, to watch one of our famous Sheppey sunsets. Half a mile from my bungalow the road runs from my village to the local town of Sheerness, with countryside one side and the sea on the other. Acting as a sea wall a high and wide bank of shingle has been created on to which you can drive and sit there looking out to sea. As twilight began to settle we took this photo looking east along the bank to the cliffs that form the high northern side of the Island.

Behind the cliffs and looking out to sea, my bungalow is among those in this next photo.

 And as the light faded, the sun began to settle in the western sky, it was almost 9.30 then.

The following day we drove in to the centre of Canterbury and treated ourselves, on a beautiful hot and sunny day, to an hour's punt trip (not us in the punt). The River Stour runs right through and at times, under, the heart of the city and to see some of the old buildings from that aspect was really delightful.

We actually went under that old building and out the other side.

 So, the last few weeks have blessed us with superb weather, though once or twice exceptionally hot, and we have thoroughly immersed ourselves in it. I have been going to the reserve at 5.00 in the mornings to enjoy the cool and stillness of it and so that little Ellie doesn't get too hot. Apart from trips out I have been going for daily cycle rides along the nearby sea front and countryside and it's been a real joy to live in shorts and T shirts.

I'll leave you with one of my favourite annual photos - the caterpillar of the Cinnabar Moth.

Monday, 25 June 2018


Time and it's attendant weather have moved on considerably since the depression of my last posting and with increased regularity the weather has become sunnier and hotter. This week as I write this the weather is hot with unbroken sunshine and due to remain so for some time yet - we're into a heatwave!
After my last posting I looked back at those of the earlier years, when I believe that they said something meaningful, had content and venom,and was minded to give up all together, because I wasn't really saying anything new or interesting, but we'll see.
April ended with a 20 hr period of heavy and continuous rain and cold N. winds on the 29th/30th that brought about a lot of surface flooding on the reserve. Some nests in the ditches and fleets were submerged and many nests or chicks of Lapwing and Skylark in the flat marsh were either covered in water or the chicks died of cold and wet in the long vegetation. For the Lapwings at least, the breeding season on the Swale NNR has been pretty much a non-event - too few pairs and bad weather affecting those that did breed. The other significant aspect has been the late and reduced return of summer migrants, Reed and Sedge Warbler numbers are well down from previous years -it was a funny old Spring!
As has already been mentioned, since then the weather has improved to a state of hot and sunny but the water levels on the reserve are beginning to drop away quite fast and the ground is very dry and hard, but so far, the grass levels have held up and the cattle and their calves are doing very well. This year, given all the activity in the fields, after two years of hay shortages, it looks as though hay will be plentiful - it may not be much cheaper but it will be plentiful. One of the Harty farmers this year has sown several fields of spring barley, a crop just beginning to re-appear on Sheppey, and it's good news because it means that the fields it's currently growing in were either fallow over the winter or with a catch crop and all benefiting wildlife.
In my garden last winter I cleared, re-dug and manured a new border and this Spring planted it with perennial flowers that attract and feed bees and butterflies. They are all flowering well, as you can see below, but where are the bees and butterflies?, they just haven't appeared this year, a whole border of lavender in my front garden, but not a bee in sight, I am so disappointed and worried.


This last few days I have been on the reserve by 05.30 to avoid the heat, little Ellie doesn't like it, and anyway it's so fresh, cool and quiet, quite superb. The evening sunsets have also been quite magnificent, this first one, looking west across the grazing marshes opposite my house, shows the sun just disappearing below the horizon at near 22.00 at night.

and this one, an incredible 22.30 as I went to bed. Just think, in winter we'd of had six hours of darkness by then, oh happy summer days!

 Lastly, as I drove back along the Harty Road on Sunday morning at around 8.00, this young Kestrel was spotted on a fence post beside the road and so I leaned my camera out of the car and took a photograph from just five foot away.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Shit Weather

Well, after the euphoria in my last two postings, due to a seven day spell of almost hot and sunny weather after a wet and cold early Spring, this week has slowly sunk back into that cold and wet Spring. It rained off and on most of yesterday and coming home after most of the day out and about, I had to put the Central Heating back on in order to warm up.
As I write this, early on Saturday morning, it is raining hard, it's gloomy and it's cold. Fortunately, by going out with little Ellie at 06.00, I managed to get a less than enthusiastic walk round a wet reserve before this current rain begun. Long, wet grass and cold conditions do not bode well for ant Lapwing chicks that are getting wet and cold without being able to dry out in warm, sunny weather.

To further add to my depression there is a weather warning currently out for Sunday night and all day Monday here in the South East, for heavy rain and gale-force N winds that could lead to some surface flooding.  It's very difficult to feel any kind of positivity at the moment.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Another Early Morning

I was on the reserve by 06.30 this morning and with blue skies and sunshine beginning to quickly disperse the early mist, it looked quite superb.
This is what it looked like when I turned up.

Quickly the mist burnt off and as it did so, from the reed beds on the reserve, came the "booming" calls of a Bittern, a sound like somebody blowing across the top of a bottle, but amplified.

 Not a breath of wind and total calmness, with the variegated foliage of Milk Thistle in the foreground.

 The Flood Field looked as it should do, with a few white birds in it........

 ........which turned out to be these Avocets.

 The Tower Hide

The Coot's nest from yesterday's blog had increased to nine eggs!

Ellie, looking as lovely as ever,

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Early Reserve

A few photographs of the reserve looking quite good early this morning.
How we and the wildfowl would of loved to have seen it look back in mid-winter.

Two views of the "S Bend Ditch" - bone dry at the end of February. Although you can't see it, it curls across the marsh in the shape of an S

 Looking across towards the neighbouring farmland, with the reserve barn part hidden in the bushes in the foreground.

This Coot was doing it's best not to be noticed on it's nest.

And a second Coot's nest nearby. I will monitor it to see if all 8 eggs survive the attention of the local crows.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Here comes the Sun

After an awful week's weather last week where on most days it was grey skies, dampness and difficult to see further than about half a mile through the mist and gloom, the light finally came on. But the weather on Saturday was like coming out from a tunnel, it was sunny all day and reasonably warm, would it last though, boy has it. We have had three days so far of increasingly warm and sunny days, with today being cloudless all day and a temperature peaking at 25 degrees and tomorrow could see us reach 28 degrees. All of a sudden it feels great to be alive, the grass on the grazing marsh looks greener, the flowers of bulbs are bursting open in colour and lambs frolic in the fields - at last a belated Spring has finally arrived!
Not only has Spring arrived but with the wind coming up from the south, the Spring migrants, those birds that travel north from Africa to share summer with us, have also started to arrive, an exaltation of good times ahead. So far I've seen Swallows, Sedge and Reed Warblers, Yellow Wagtails, Wheatear, Whimbrel and Whitethroat, the best mid-April for migrants I've had for a few years.

The reserve couldn't look much better than it did today in the sunshine. Plenty of wet areas, plenty of fresh, green grass for the cattle and their calves that are expected soon, everything looks good.

Away from the reserve the Parish Council Speedwatch team that I'm part of, were out earlier this morning monitoring one of our busy roads. We've endured several minus chill factor mornings doing it since the New Year but today was our first really warm and comfortable sessions. We're very visible but out of 405 vehicles that passed us in one hour, we still recorded for the Police website, 17 speeding motorists. A low total when you consider that at one site we often record 60 speeding motorists in one hour, virtually one a minute! We get some abuse from people, such as "get a life you silly old farts" (we're all retired), but it's difficult to understand why some people expect to be able to speed and potentially cause deaths without being recorded.

Also this afternoon, my bicycle came out of winter storage and I had a pleasant ride along the nearby seafront, where the tide was high and calm. No actual swimmers yet but many in shorts and T shirts enjoying the beach.

It's been a good few days, how could anybody not enjoy experiencing it.