Another glorious day, (well it is as I write this) and I arrived at the reserve very early in order to enjoy what for me is always the best time of the day, even in winter. An area of mist quickly cleared and over the next couple of hours as the sun increased in power it turned hot and steamy - luvvly, jubbly weather! Hard to realise that some people are still in bed and missing all that, still it means I get the place to myself most days, or at least until September 1st.
All the usual residents bird-wise, were busy rearing young or serenading each other, a few raptors criss-crossed the sky overhead and it was just fantastic to be out and about. Notable by their absence at the moment out there are butterflies. After the brief flurry of good numbers of Peacocks in the Spring, presumably overwintered ones, I've only really seen one or two other varieties but presumably we're very close now to the main hatch of all the grassland varieties such as Meadow Browns, Small Heaths and Gatekeepers.
Another thing that is becoming noticeable as the vegetation begins to grow like mad is the absence this year of rabbit grazed areas. I've already spoken of the reasons for few rabbits this year but the small field in which our Tower Hide stands illustrates what their absence can mean. That field has always held a good population of rabbits and this is the first time in my 23 years out there that it hasn't been grazed down like a bowling green, at no harm to the reserve or its habitat. Similarly many other areas are showing signs of becoming overgrown for the first time this year.
On the subject of vegetation, its a good time to mention three of the reserve's star wild flowers now that they are beginning to come into bloom. Two of these I'm not aware of growing anywhere else on Sheppey and those two are Milk Thistle and Houndstongue.
Milk Thistle grows on the bunds and Salt Workings Mounds and has large, variagated light green and white leaves with vicious spines on each of the leaves. Its flower stem grows to a few feet high with one purplish thistle like flower to each and its seeds have been used by herbalists for thousands of years to treat chronic liver disease
Houndstongue is a smallish flower growing to about a foot high and with small, bright scarlet flowers. Its leaves when crushed have a strong smell of mice urine, so best not to fall into a clump of it. About 15 years ago I found the very first single specimen of this flower on the reserve and since then it has colonised about fifty per cent of the reserve, especially the dry areas. It seeds, as anybody walking through the plants will find, are coated in a velcro-like coating and therefore they are easily spread round the place by the livestock, etc. Later in the summer, on getting back to the car, I regularly have to clean loads of the seeds from off my boot laces, socks and trousers.
The last of the three, which I have mentioned before, is Spiny Restharrow, which grows along the grass banks of the reserve below Harty Church. Its a small and low growing, woody plant and as a member of the pea family has typical, small pea-like pinky-purple flowers and nasty gorse-like spiny foliage. I thought the reserve was its only site on Sheppey but have heard that there is some at Elmley.
And a small P.S. - I rarely get any comments about each blog, it would be nice to get some, to know if I'm writing anything interesting for other people, rather than just satisfying my own ego.