Tuesday 30 June 2015

Heatwave at Last

At last, after a pretty awful Spring and early Summer, we finally have some hot and sunny weather. It's fantastic, 30+ degrees and I'm loving it but I wonder how quickly the first moans about it being too hot will start.
Breasting the top of Capel Hill at 7.00 this morning and looking down across the flat lands of the Harty marshes, the predominant colour was yellow. The dry weather of the last few months has seen the grass struggle to grow at any acceptable rate and now, with a few scorching days, wherever livestock have been for some time the fields are looking dust dry and almost billiard table flat. The rape is also well forward and yellowing off and it can only be a few weeks before that is harvested. The only really green areas are the fields of winter corn but unless we get some appreciable rain over the next few weeks I imagine that there will be few plump grains in the ears as they ripen.

Here you can see the kind of dry and yellow pasture that the sheep are struggling with.

And the view down across Capel Fleet as it snakes it's way across the marshes towards The Swale in the distance.

Once on the reserve this view eastwards down The Swale towards distant Reculver shows the strong sun reflecting back off of the sea and making the blue sky look dark. You can also sea the light grey of a distant fog bank well out to sea.

It was low tide in The Swale this morning and so Horse Sands were high and dry but there was very little on them, not even the regular seals.

Just the other side of one of the boundary fences separating the reserve from the neighbouring farmland, the farmer has sown a ten metre wide cover strip consisting of many wild flowers, this Chicory is one of them. It has currently grown to around six foot tall and is in full flower and attracting countless bees.

I know that he, like many farmers, gets a subsidy for sowing such strips but who cares when we get such valuable habitat for wildlife - well done that farmer!

As for the reserve in general, well butterflies are becoming the main attraction as we now go into mid-summer heat and dryness and it looks like it could be a good one. Meadow Browns, Small Heaths, Small Skippers and some Small Tortoiseshells are all beginning to show in increasing numbers now. The 700-800 Peacock caterpillars that I counted a couple of weeks ago have now all disappeared, leaving large clumps of bare nettle stems behind, they will now be pupating close by, ready to emerge as beautiful new butterflies over the coming weeks.
Water levels have now dropped dramatically and the Flood is now struggling to be even a Splash but it does mean that for a brief period we have some shallow water with muddy fringes and as a result the first few returning waders have begun to drop by. Yesterday there were two Little Ringed Plovers and today, two Green Sandpipers.
Working my way back round the reserve I spotted these bulrushes now coming into flower, the male part is at the top and dark brown and the female part, which later becomes the brown part that we all know, is below.

Sunday 21 June 2015

Naked Egoism

After my last post showing the reserve in a pictorial light and giving an opinion or two that annoyed a couple of people, perhaps it's time to ease back on that crap and write more of what interests me, I rarely manage to properly portray my love of the reserve anyway. So more of the looking back and historical stuff - show myself in a different light - as this posting clearly does!
The photo below, cropped to save upsetting people again, is of me coming out of the sea in 1984 on the Sheppey Nudist Beach. I was 37 at the time and almost as fit as I've ever been and as you can imagine, it is a far cry from the tired old man of 68 that looks back at me from the mirror today - old age is so full of "if only's".

So how did this naked chapter of my varied life come about?

Well I've been obsessed with sunbathing for most of my life, though perhaps not so much nowadays, and around 1980/81 the local council had made the beach, close to Shellness hamlet, just 15 mins drive from my house, available for naturalists. As you can imagine it caused quite a storm with all the usual old fuddy-duddies and religious types, with one vicar threatening to set dogs on people seen parading themselves unclothed on the beach there. Nothing came of that though, as is normally the case, and the beach began to attract a number of people anxious to get an all over tan and I suppose, the odd person anxious to see naked women.
The thought of totally being free of clothes and tanning the only white part of my body left, quite appealed to me but I was unsure about being a lone male up there. Fortunately, talking to a workmate about it, he and his wife and young children had already started going there and he suggested that I do the same with my wife at the time and young stepdaughter. I discussed it with them and they thought it a great idea and so the very next weekend we joined up with the other family on the beach there. The beach was and still is, one of the few sandy ones on Sheppey and backed up by sandy hollows at the top of the beach, ideal for sheltering from any wind. 

Over the next few weeks we quickly established a small group of 4-5 families, one who travelled from Surrey each weekend, and would group our windbreaks in one continuous line behind which we would all pile in together, men, women and several young children, enjoying a laugh, a chat and serious sunbathing. We didn't have skin cancer and Factor 30 phobias in those days, just smothered ourselves in pure coconut oil and gently fried to a deep and amazing tan. Mind you, it was important the very first couple of visits there to only gradually tan white bits that had never seen the sun before, there was nothing more uncomfortable than starting the working week with a pair of sun-burnt bollocks and arse. Once they'd caught up with the rest of my body though they became as tanned and leathery as the rest of me - I swear by the end of the summer my bollocks were so leathery that you could of struck a Swan Vestas match on them. 

Throughout the 4-5 years that we all regularly socialised and sunbathed there the beach was always a very much family orientated place, it was only many years later, after we'd all long stopped going there, that it gradually became a known meeting place for gays and the like. Many friends and workmates found it hard to understand or accept how we could sit stark naked, shoulder to shoulder with friends wives but in all honesty it was never much different to talking to them in Tescos with their clothes on. I firmly believe that the young children also grew up with a far less inhibited view of both theirs or adults' naked bodies as well. Talking these days to my now, 46 yr old stepdaughter, she feels that by exposing her to all the mysteries of adult bodies at an early age that she grew into teenage life far better equipped to deal with such things.
Did we have any wife-swapping, sex parties, or men walking about with erections that they couldn't control - no to all of it and we weren't weird or perverted either, just ordinary families enjoying sunbathing. There were the occasional "gawpers" that walked along the beach but they never caused any problems and were always easily identifiable. They were normally pure white, because they didn't really sunbathe, and often were of the pot-bellied older type with very small cocks that they rarely saw, hidden beneath their pot-bellies. They would appear at one of the beach and very self- consciously remove their clothes, fold them neatly and then walk the length of the beach, pretending that they weren't actually looking at anybody in particular. We would all stand up and wave to them, causing them to rush back to their clothes and disappear quickly.

They were great times and after the first year we had all enjoyed it so much that our group of several families also spent two weeks together of the next two summers at one of Britain's largest nudist camps near Ringwood in the New Forest. There we all had individual family cabins, a communal kitchen cabin where we took it in turns to cook breakfasts, an evening club house and numerous other like minded families from all round Europe. Regular days out were spent at the fantastic long nudist beach at Studland Bay, close to Poole Harbour.

All in all they were a fabulous 4-5 years but gradually other family needs/interests made inroads into our times at the beach, we gradually stopped going, we drifted apart, I found it just as easy to sun-bathe naked in my garden and it all ended.

Saturday 20 June 2015

Early Reserve

Rising as normal at 5.30 this morning, it was quite beautiful out and with possible rain due later this morning I headed straight for the reserve, arriving at 6.00. I then spent two hours wandering round thoroughly enjoying a classic summer's early morning - blue skies, warm sun, no wind and a good number of butterflies on the wing - superb!
Blogs lately seem to be infatuated with a steady stream of photos of various odonata, all very well but most simply seem to be jumping on a bandwagon excellently begun last year by Marc Heath. Have a look at Marc's superb blog www.marcheath.blogspot.co.uk and you'll realise how far ahead of the rest that he is. Nuff said.

This morning as I wandered round I thought I'd take some photos of the more ordinary things that occur such as common wildflowers. Few blogs feature flowers these days, perhaps because they are too ordinary and walked by without a glance and because they don't jump up in front of you spectacularly like a rare bird. Sadly, many visitors are only interested in the reserve when something like a Richards Pipit turns up, they miss a lot.

The Flood is fast drying out now but some Avocets still remain, although we don't believe that they have fledged as many chicks as they should of done this year.

It's always impossible to resist a cygnet photo and here one has hitched a ride on it's mother's back.

And of they go, with the youngster being rocked asleep.

This old salt working mound is covered in stinging nettles........

......which have fed and reared around 700-800 Peacock butterfly catterpillars, which are fast dispersing now to pupate.

Birdsfoot Trefoil

White Clover

I've always called this Scentless Mayweed but the books suggest that it is Chamomile.

A classic reserve ditch, lovely to me but possibly not to others.


Agrimony (thanks to Steve Gale)

Red Clover

The view west along the sea wall.

Meadow Vetchling.


Seed head of Crow Garlic.

What I know as Parsley Water Dropwort.

And no walk could take place without Ellie and Midge, the reserve's pest control officers.

So there you have it -, no macro'd to death shot of a dragonfly, no spectacular shot of a rare bird, just ordinary photos of what I see as I wander round the reserve - my idea of being out in the countryside.
Back home, my resident flock of around 30+ House Sparrows have really rewarded me this year with exceptional breeding successes. They have had at least three nests in this hawthorn hedge along my drive.

Two nests in this Sparrow terrace nest box.

And the latest is in this climbing rose outside my bedroom window - well done the "spuggies".

Saturday 13 June 2015

Shots in the Foot

Now I've never been shy at defending parts of the hunting/shooting fraternity in recent years, they, like many farmers, do a lot for wildlife and conservation these days, despite what those "conservationists" with tunnel vision might think. However, they do have a habit of shooting themselves in the foot at times (poor pun) as has been happening recently.

As we all know, the Hen Harrier is almost extinct in England as a breeding species and it has been particularly depressing this last few weeks to read the news that five male Hen Harriers have "disappeared" from their traditional nesting sites on the grouse moors of northern England. This has meant that some female birds on nests have abandoned them in order to hunt for food that normally the males would provide. Now, many in the grouse shooting fraternity, make no secret of their dislike of these harriers because of the fact that they feed on grouse chicks at this time of the year. This, of course, has meant that the majority of conservationists have immediately blamed those connected with grouse shooting i.e. gamekeepers, for the "disappearance" of these birds. Despite their obvious and strenuous denials of being involved, gamekeepers, or friends working on their behalf, do seem an obvious candidate for the blame, but in fairness, nothing has been proven and larger birds of prey will kill harriers at times.
Although they are presumably not related, we then get this article in a national paper today (Sat), which shows how absurd the current raptor -v- gamebird situation is getting. (Click on it to make it easier to read)


This is the second year running that such applications concerning buzzards have been made and it can only be hoped that this particular appeal is turned down. There is no disputing that Buzzards are now Britain's commonest bird of prey and that they will take pheasant chicks/poults, especially where they are put in front of them in massively artificial numbers, or that other such predators such as crows and foxes, are legally allowed to be controlled. But for me at this moment in time, to also start adding birds of prey to such lists purely because they are feeding on game birds, artificially reared in their millions, each year, to shoot at, would be a worrying development. You could imagine the flood of applications from numerous shooting estates all over the country to follow suit and it wouldn't stop at Buzzards. Also perhaps, some householders could also apply to shoot Sparrowhawks because they're being attracted to artificially high numbers of songbirds attracted to bird feeders in their gardens.

Also on BBC national TV this week, was the news that police in Yorkshire were led to a small barn in which 16 young fox cubs were being kept. They were only 6-8 weeks old and obviously came from several litters and had access to food and water but the police were investigating why they were being kept there and by whom. The fact that the kennels of the local Hunt were only several hundred yards away immediately caused many people to come to obvious conclusions although the Hunt, through the Countryside Alliance, denied any knowledge of the cubs or involvement.
All I would say is that in the past it wasn't unknown for hunts, where foxes were in short supply on their land, to import young stock and release them in order to maintain the need for the Hunt to be in existence. I suppose it would also assist arguments for repealing the current hunting ban if foxes could be shown to be doing well in many areas since it came into force.

Just a few examples of the bad side of shooting and hunting and when I continue to see them reported, or hear of them, it makes me realise how maligned the traditional old wildfowler is. Sitting alone on a freezing salting in the dark with the hope of getting the odd duck and yet being lumped in with people such as the above. A bit like calling a true birdwatcher a twitcher - shudder the thought!

Monday 8 June 2015

Summer at Last

At last, a week after my last posting, it appears that summer really has arrived, we've had the hottest day of the year so far, followed by several very warm and sunny days.
The recent early mornings on the reserve have seen clear blue skies and rapidly warm sunshine after surprisingly chilly nights and everywhere has seemed new and fresh. Just after dawn yesterday morning I stood on the reserve below Harty Church and admired this local sailing barge as it sat at anchor just off the mouth of Faversham Creek.

The large dark area on the saltings, below, is a depression that normally fills with water at each Spring Tide and during late summer into winter is used as a site for catching and ringing wading birds at night.

This is a rear view of the tiny Harty Church with it's fantastic views across The Swale to the mainland.

A closer view of the church rear and graveyard.

A view across the flat grazing marsh of the reserve towards Leysdown, a habitat that makes up c.70% of the reserve.

The seawall fleet (known as The Delph), and it's reed beds and the sea wall with a bush atop it.

Some of the resident Greylag Geese flock. The flock disperses across Harty during the Spring and Summer and only 40-50 remain on the reserve during that time. By early winter their numbers will normally increase to c.300-400 birds.

This last week I have been making an attempt at getting some kind of idea of the number of the smaller breeding birds that there are on the reserve. Birds such as Reed and Sedge Warblers are always difficult to count accurately due to the fact that their nests are always hidden away in reed beds and the like. Really, the best one can do is count how many cock birds are singing and therefore advertising territories and as a result I came up with 46 Singing Reed Warblers and 5 Sedge Warblers. If we class those numbers as breeding pairs then the Reed Warblers are clearly doing very well.