Monday 27 June 2011

Heatwave Heaven

Well, well, it was the fourth fabulous morning on the trot today on the reserve and with the temperature approaching 25 degrees by 8.00, it was hot, sticky and sunny and for me personally, superb. I'd be more than happy to have a month of this weather - a few hours on the reserve in the morning, out on my bike cycling around Minster at lunchtime, sunbathing in the garden with a cold beer in the afternoon and sitting out till after dark in the evening - who needs winter!

Oh well, back from daydreaming and the heat brought out more butterflies today although they mostly remain Meadow Browns and Whites still. But I did spot the first Small Skipper. The reserve lways has hundreds of these through July and August so hopefully that one is the forerunner of them all. Lastly, I found this Small Tort. along the seawall, although several were seen in the Spring it still remains a reserve rarety at the moment.

With birds at a premium wild flowers still remain the most interesting subject at the moment and here we have Milk Thistle and Ragwort.

Lady's Bedstraw.

Sea Lavender on the saltings.

Seed heads of Goatsbeard along the top of the sea wall.

And this Emmits Cast with a Birds Foot Trefoil topping.

Midge is lucky in that when she gets hot she can just wander into the fleet for a cool down, however at the moment the mud is often deeper than the water and she ends up coming out dirtier than she went in.

On the subject of water levels take a look at this old and well used by me, ditch crossing, at one stage in the winter the water covered that.

Likewise, the Delph Fleet continues to drop in depth.

However, the regular showers over the last couple of weeks have at least freshened up the surface grass and kept it a nice shade of green as these cattle would agree with.

Well that's it, push bike is about to come out of the garage, shorts are on and another hard day's retirement coming up!

Sunday 26 June 2011

Wandering Dew

Quite a mixed bag from my wandering round this morning, but first- I left home at 06.00 this morning in blue skies and very warm sunshine. I stopped briefly at Capel Corner, along the Harty Road to admire Capel Fleet in the early sunshine.
(As always these photos are better viewed by double clicking on each and enlarging)

I then moved on to the reserve, to find this:-

and this - the reserve was being covered in bouts of mist and was wet through with heavy dew.

It allowed me to take this classic type of photo though of typical grazing marsh, home sweet home as far as I'm concerned.

Another effect of the dew, with an almost autumnal feel, was these cobwebs being lit up. This morning, instead of the usual upright build of the cobwebs, most had been built horizontal, like trampolines - perhaps the spiders were expecting insects to drop in rather than pass by!

One of the things that often fascinates me is how many blogs only post photos of the more glamorous wild flowers and ignore the commoner ones, which can be just as attractive. Take this clump of White Clover for instance.

Come in closer and the flowers get even better. Now if you double click on this picture and enlarge it even more, the flower structure is as good as any orchid - I think so anyway.

By the time that I'd got onto this track across the farmland the sun had started to burn through in ernest and it was getting very warm. I found several of these black slugs, who'd obviously been out on an overnight excursion and were now trying to get back to the shelter of vegetation before the track got any dryer and warmer.

Whilst on the farmland I sneaked a look at one of the shooting ponds, known as Flight Ponds. This shows only half of its length and it borders the reserve further on. These particular ponds were specially created last summer specifically for shooting purposes and now, a year later, are beginning to look really attractive for all manner of wildlife. There were ducks, Coots, Moorhens, Sedge Warblers and dragonflies there this morning. Its hard to believe that in just over eight weeks time that the shooting season will begin again, but here at this site, I see two compensations. I have become quite friendly with the chap that leases the ponds for duck shooting and I know that he shoots very sparingly over them and only takes small numbers of ducks during the season. Secondly, as a result of that small price to be paid during the winter months, wildlife in general benefits all year round from a valuable piece of habitat that wouldn't of normally been there. I guess that the more extreme of you will still cry foul but I can assure you that there are far worse examples of shooting on Sheppey, that give far less back. If you take the blinkers off sometimes and take the time to talk to some of these guys you will realise that there are often things to be gained from both their activities and working with them.

And lastly, as the sun now burnt down really hotly, Marsh Harriers were riding the thermals and I came across this family of swans sitting on the ditchbank.........

before returning to the water and returning to their journey round.

Friday 24 June 2011

Fabulous Friday

Wow, I had a fabulous wander round part of the reserve and the neighbouring farmland early this morning in near perfect weather. Clear blue skies, warm sunshine, and for once, only light winds. It was one of those days when you didn't bother with counting things, you just enjoyed being immersed in all the joys of a summer's morning in the countryside and let everything else go over your head.

The first part of my walk took me through part of the reserve where I came across both the Spiney Restharrow and Poppies below. Spiney Resharrow is extremely well named, double click on the photo to enlarge it and look at its spines, its quite viscious and is found in large numbers in one particular field.

Walking past the "S Bend Ditch" there were several Little Egrets, a good number of Black-tailed Godwits and three Green Sandpipers all utilizing the shallow water and soft mud. Its the second day running that the Green Sandpipers have been there and possibly indicates that autumn migration is beginning to start, despite its name it normally does in July.
A depressing observation there was the sight of a couple of rabbits with myxamatosis. Having been culled to near extinction last winter there have been encouraging signs that their numbers were re-building again but the return of this annual disease will quickly reduce them again - its a real pain because the reserve needs a decent number of rabbits as part of the food chain.
After a little more meandering around the reserve and finding little else of note I left the reserve and began to walk across part of the neighbouring farmland. Along the track-sides here large clumps of Marshmallow and Black Horehound seemed to have been energised by the sun and the warmthand were offering themselves up to every passing bee or butterfly. In the main this was mostly Large and Green-veined Whites and some Meadow Browns but I wasn't worried about their ordinaryness, I just took the time to sit amongst it all for awhile and enjoy it. See this Green-veined White on Horehound (a poor photo I'm afraid).

Even Midge got in on the act and sat there and watched the world go by.

Returning on my journey round I arrived at the very eastern end of Capel Fleet. Originally it would of continued past here before entering The Swale half a mile or so further on but a new seawall and part reclamation many years ago left it ending here in its original form. The large reed beds either side have gradually reduced its width but it still remains an attractive piece of habitat that this morning was ringing with the calls of many Bearded Tits.

Sandwiched between the end of Capel Fleet and the reserve are two fields that the RSPB aquired a couple of years ago with the intention of adding to the grazing marsh habitat there. After landscaping them last year they were then sown last autumn with grass seed and some other beneficial mixtures. This year the two fields have been allowed to run to seed so far and look a tad overgrown as the photo below shows.

However, its what they're overgrown with that matters. In those fields, all going to seed, there is a wide range of grasses, rape, corn, barley, marshmallow, Sow thistle, and a really valuable grass, known to us locals as Canary Grass. (See below) It appears a lot around Harty as it is in the mixtures that the two farmers sow around their field edges as cover/field strips for both game birds and wild birds. Its seeds are well loved by the smaller birds and, as its name implies, by canaries, and mine have been almost reared on the stuff this year.
What it means is that when these fields are cut in the near future they are going leave behind a real harvest of food for a whole range of birds this autumn and winter. Great stuff!

And finally, I'll leave you with some opening words from the Wind in the Willows - Chapter Seven.

"The Willow-Wren was twittering his thin little song, hidden himself in the dark selvedge of the river bank. Though it was past ten o'clock at night, the sky still clung to and retained some lingering skirts of light from the departed day; and the sullen heats of the torrid afternoon broke up and rolled away at the dispersing touch of the cool fingers of the short mid-summer night. Mole lay stretched on the bank, still panting from the stress of the fierce day that had been cloudless from dawn to late was still too hot to think of staying indoors, so he lay on some cool dock leaves, and thought over the past day and its doings, and how good they all had been".

How sad that some people cannot enjoy such days!

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Boredom and Books

Its getting a struggle at the moment to find anything new and recordable on the reserve at the moment and as a result I've been walking out into the farmland a bit more and the RSPB fields alongside the reserve.
Driving along the Harty Road yesterday morning the Barn Owl above got up from alongside the road and, ignoring a nice fence post to perch on, chose instead this telegraph pole tensioning wire. It stayed there just long for me to glide to a halt alongside and quickly take this photo through the open car window.

The weather is forecast to warm up considerably on Sunday and the beginning of next week, let's hope so, and all those people who complained when we had the earlier hot and sunny weather, and who are now complaining about the wet and windy weather, can return to complaining about it being too warm!

On the subject of the weather, while it was raining this afternoon I began to dust my many book shelves and found out the real reason for the word dust jackets, there was plenty of it! Anyway, as you do, I started to reappraise some of them and to trace where some of my interest in the great outside began and put a few together as below.
Obvious from many of my previous blogs is my love for the one book that I first read as a child and still read at regular intervals now - The Wind in the Willows. For me there is no equal to that book and when I feel like an injection of nostaglia for a particular season then out comes the book and I read the relevant chapter. The chapter "Wayfarers All" where Ratty is struggling to let go of summer, despite autumn happening all around him, is something many of us must experience at times, or in my case most years.
The next great book that I first read when I was probably only around 12-13 was Peter Scott's autobiography of his life from birth to 1960. That man's early life was a fabulous tale of so many different adventures, all connected to wildlife and so inspirational to me. Many years later I also bought the book by Elspeth Huxley which cronicled his whole life and was once again a fascinating read.
Not far behind Peter Scott in terms of making great strides in respect of the conservation of wildfowl was Jeffrey Harrison. Possibly not everybody's cup of tea because of his passion for wildfowling but boy did he give plenty back to conservation and was intrumental in setting up the Sevenoaks Wildfowl Trust.

Who else, oh yes, Gavin Maxwell and his "Ring of Bright Water" about his otters in Scotland. If you haven't read it, his life story by Douglas Botting is hard to put down and you will read about a complex man who, like Peter Scott, had many diverse adventures as he meandered through life before Mijbil and Edal entered his life as young otters.
There is also my battered old copy of "A Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe" by Peterson, Mountfort and Hollom. A book surely, on most serious birdwatcher's shelves and even today one that is very hard to beat. It must of been sensational when it first came out in 1954.

And finally, although many more led me along my path, there is the truly wonderful " Wildings - The Secret Garden of Eileen Soper". This beautiful and touching book is illustrated throughout by her superb water colours of wildlife in and around her huge and overgrown garden. And if you don't know who Eileen Soper is, well she illustrated amongst many others, all of Enid Blyton's Famous Five books, which if you scroll down, you will see I have the whole 21 of, all in their dust jackets - they really do hark back to an age of innocence in the countryside that only us old'ns can truly remember.
The dusting? - it never actually got finished.

Sunday 19 June 2011

Two Reserves

Getting up at 05.30 this morning, as I do every day, there was clear blue skies and sunshine. I quickly cleaned and fed my canaries and with clouds beginning to appear to the west in an increasing wind I quickly sped off to Shellness Hamlet in the hope of enjoying a sunny spell on the Point there. The sign below will explain why I was there but it wasn't to be under sunny skies, with some speed the clouds arrived just after me and out on the Point under cloudy skies and in a surprisingly cold and gusty wind it was very un-June like.
Just 5 weeks ago I was reading how June and July were going to be heatwave months, with temperatures sometimmes exceeding 100 degrees but with the Longest Day only two days away and this unsettled weather forecast to last well in to July, it seems we're about to miss out on some long and balmy evenings this year.

With the tide out this morning there wasn't too many birds to see along the beach, although there were a few Barwits out on the mudflats. Along the upper reaches of the beach there were some Ringed Plovers with chicks of various ages, some nesting Oystercatchers, some Little Terns and two my surprise, a Red-legged Partridge with some two/three day old chicks!
As you can see from the two photos below, a large stretch of beach is roped off and explanatory signs giving the reason why but we still find the public inside this area, fishermen being the worst offenders. Its amazing how some people still can't accept that some bits of countryside, even on nature reserves, still need to be out of bounds, normally for obvious reasons as the sign states. The whole point of a nature reserve is to preserve a special piece of habitat from both disturbance and damage for both posterity and wildlife but some people, including those interested in these things, still need some convincing at times when you say you can't go there.

Also on the beach I found a few specimens of my favourite caterpiller, of the Cinnabar Moth, feeding on the much maligned Ragwort plant.

Yesterday a rare event occurred, I travelled off of Sheppey to visit another nature reserve, part of the Stodmarsh complex at Grove Ferry. Dave Rogers, one of Natural England's Kent Team managers had recently voluntary left NE (its a job to see how NE can continue to exist as a credible force for many more years with lack of workforce and finances) and had invited friends and ex-colleagues down to Grove Ferry for a two hour walk round and then an excellent buffet at lunch time in the Grove Ferry Inn.
We walked round the section opposite the Inn and it was the first time I had ever been there and it was nice to see places I've seen written about many times such as The Ramp and the David Feast hide, especially as David Feast was with us. However, for me, as well as the fact that there was far too much reed bed and not enough open water, it was a quiet day birdwise and little of note was seen. Mind you, given the fact that much time was spent looking down to avoid numerous dog poos along the paths, that could of been the reason, they certainly do seem to have a problem down there with un-curteous dog walkers.
It was lovely scenery though and must be great in winter when there is more flooding and winter wildfowl numbers are higher and the Inn was great inside and serves a nice pint of Sheps.

Sunday 12 June 2011

Super Sunny Start

Just as yesterday I arrived at the reserve at 06.30 but today I managed over two hours of lovely warm, sunny and wind free weather before the wind and cloud eventually arrived to spoil the day.
I may of given the impression yesterday by going on about the mud and wet that we'd had a fair bit of rain but that has not been the case, only the top inch or so was wet. The ground under that remained bone dry and rock hard and one of the effects of that which is fairly common in such conditions is pictured below. Its something that people might not realise occurs but unless moles can find the same hole to re-enter the soil they find it impossible to dig their way back into the hard ground and then get stranded on the surface and eventually die.

On a more pleasant note I came across this juvenile Coot that was making its way along the edge of a ditch. What broods that I've seen this year have all been of only one or two chicks.

A few more butterflies were about this morning, mainly Meadow Browns and Small Heaths, but I did come across my first two Painted Ladies of the year. Unfortunately my little camera needs me to get fairly close to them to get photos, which scares them off, so its back to nice easy static things like wildflowers. As always they are better viewed by double clicking on each photo.
Firstly is this Black Horehound.

Scentless Mayweed

Birdsfoot Trefoil.

A bit gruesome I know but I also came across this spot on the farmland where de-horning of the cattle obviously took place at some time.

My little garden has managed to look quite good this year so couldn't resist a couple of shots of it. Wherever possible I have planted flowers and shrubs beneficial to bees and butterflies. Sitting alongside a large clump of Marjoram on a sunny afternoon watching its flowers covered in various types of bees is a simple pleasure as enjoyable as finding any rare bird. To the side you can just see the flight for my canaries aviary.

And lastly, taken through my conservatory window, something that is a normal sight to many bloggers but a rare and exciting sight for me, a family party of Goldfinches on my feeders. Hopefully my neighbours, who are further away than they look, didn't think I was aiming the camera at their bedroom.

Saturday 11 June 2011

Topsy- Turvey weather (seems like April)

I arrived at the reserve this morning at 06.30 to find cloudless blues skies, warming sun and no wind - super, but it took exactly an hour for that to change. By 07.30 a chilly NW wind had sprung up and was bringing in increasingly heavy, grey clouds that began to blot out the sun. The second hour was spent walking round with an eye to the north where the clouds were turning increasingly blacker and did eventually drop some brief light rain.
Here you can see the onset of the weather change.

One of the disadvantages of the heavy showers that we had yesterday evening here is the change in conditions as you walk round. Most of the paths round the reserve are soil based and this morning, with the top couple of inches now being muddy, my walking boots gradually found mud building up underneath them until I gradually became a few inches taller. Coupled with that, with vegetation being tall at the moment, as soon as you had to walk through any of it, which was dripping wet, trousers quickly became dripping wet as well. Personally I would of been happy to have enjoyed the bone dry and sunny weather for another couple of months, its so much easier and enjoyable to walk round in!

My route round was planned to take me through the gate below but with this bull on sentry duty I decided that perhaps discrection was the better option. These bulls are very placid and I only took this photo from around fifty yards away but there are limits to my bravery and that gate was one of them.

When he brought in reinforcements I was even more certain that I wasn't going that way. (Double click this photo to enlarge it and look at the superb specimen of a bull that the RH one is)

And when it got to three of them "beefing" it up you can see that I had already started to retreat. In reality, I suspect that it was not this arthritic old Volunteer that had captured their attention, more likely the delicious and "in season" cow that they were encircling, nostrils flared and testing the breeze for the right scents and so I left them to fight it out for the honour of being her beau.

The breeding season on the reserve is winding down fast now and with it the bird numbers. Many Lapwings are already forming small post-breeding flocks and moving away and they in particular have had a very poor breeding season on the reserve. Many pairs just haven't bothered to breed at all and those that have have reared few chicks to a fully fledged stage. Breeding now will be mainly left to the Reed and Sedge warblers in the reed beds and the odd late brood of ducks.
As part of an exercise taking place across a lot of North Kent this year we have put a mink trap into one of our wider ditches, as you can see below. Mink have'nt been recorded on the reserve and still haven't so far but it was encouraging this morning to find fresh Water Vole droppings on the platform. Its always nice to get confirmation that they are still active on the reserve although we rarely see them.
Whilst looking at this trap I became aware of a drake Wigeon swimming away from me which eventually struggled to fly about fifty yards further along the ditch. Possibly it was a winged bird left behind after the winter's shooting activities.

Earlier in the week I drove down to Shellness Hamlet and walked out towards Shellness Point and was able there to add another couple of wild flowers to the list this year. One that does very well with numerous plants on the higher beach there is Viper's Bugloss. The flowers act as a bit of a cafe for the bees along that fairly barren stretch of sand and shingle.

Against one of the groynes was also this specimen of the Yellow-horned Poppy.