Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Waiting for Spring

We're now into those few weeks of the year that I hate the most, the between the winter and spring seasons time, when time seems to drag as we wait for those first few warm spring days to happen. Winter visitors start to trickle away and summer visitors are slow to arrive and we end up in that vacuum of little happening. Saying that, its been pretty much that way since winter begun this time, it and the birds that come with it, haven't really happened. Personally, I've enjoyed the mild and dry conditions for comfort reasons but the two have combined to create a dearth of birds, especially wildfowl, and with a dry spring/summer looking increasingly likely, a poor wetland breeding season looks like being the outcome as well.

This morning as I begin writing this it has taken ages to get light, rain has just begun falling and a day of wet and cold weather is forecast, leading to a not very inspiring, indoor day. However, the twice daily Jackdaw event has just happened to brighten things up somewhat. The flock of some 400 birds strong, feed on the Scrapsgate marshes across the road and at the first glimmer of daylight, down the hill behind my bungalow they come, this great black, cawing mass. They sweep past at just roof-top height, over and between the houses like some blizzard of large black snowflakes, and in an instance they are gone again, to be repeated in reverse later in the day.

I found this, slightly hazy photo in my files this morning (it comes up a bit better if you click on it). It was taken during a light aircraft flight over Sheppey for my 60th birthday in July 2007 and shows the edge of Sheerness and the neighbouring marshes. Those in the top corner are part of the Scrapsgate marshes that lie opposite my bungalow.

These marshes, minus the holiday camp now in the middle, were my playground as a young lad growing up in Sheerness in the 1950's - that escape from the back streets and alleys into the great wide countryside outside the town. Here, between the ages of eight and fifteen, I wondered alone exploring ditches and fields and developing the love for the flat marshland landscape and its wildlife that I still have today.
The long stretch of straight water is the Sheerness Canal as it is known locally and it was originally longer than it is now, so that it ended just short of the sea at both ends. When first dug it was intended as a kind of moat as part of the Sheerness defences necessary due to the town for many years being home to both a naval dockyard and an army garrison.
Looking little more than a bridge from the air, is the main road into the town, which splits the canal into two halves. The bottom half is the freshwater scenic half, full of wildlife and the top half is the sterile half, regularly topped up with seawater, in order to keep Bartona Point lake alongside from getting too low. The very final stretch of beach at the top of the photo, to the right of the canal's end, is known as The Shingle Bank and both that and the Bartons Point lake often feature on the Kent Ornithological Society's website with bird postings. The lake was dug in recent years and now forms a large part of the Bartons Point Coastal Park but in my youth that particular area of the marshes was a restricted area. It was a military firing range where various servicemen came to practise their shooting skills, out in the open air and at large, raised targets.

But going back to my childhood, aged 8-10, an age these days considered far to young to be out there on one's own, I learnt all about the trials and tribulations of falling in ditches, crossing water-logged marshes and wandering amongst live-stock. I would return home muddied and wet but triumphant, with tadpoles, voles, slowworms and dare I say it, birds eggs to be blown.
An education that was priceless and free but is seldom sought by today's youngsters, or encouraged by many parents.


  1. Oh what memories you always manage to evoke Derek. I consider myself so fortunate to have spent my formative years around Sheppey and its marshes. Life was carefree, there was so much to do and it was impossible to become bored.
    The photograph is interesting - I didn't realise that the holiday camp had grown so large - and what are the buildinds along the bottom of the picture?
    Ken L

  2. Did you ever apply to the SAS? I think you had the skills by the sounds of it. At least it seems your blog is fixed!

  3. Ken,
    The buildings are the Queensway estate.

    Skills much needed when keeping an eye on "visitors" to a nature reserve in the hours of darkness.