Saturday 23 April 2016

The Sands of Time

I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
In the violence of a summer's dream, in the chill of a wintry light
In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space
In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there's someone there, other times it's only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand .................... Bob Dylan

For me, the last few weeks have been nervously exciting in that I have made contact with an old and one-time best friend from school and early adult times. Unfortunately around forty years ago, we fell out through something that was totally my fault and although we live only a few miles apart on this small island, our paths have somehow never crossed again, seems hard to believe!
I recently came across his comments on a local Facebook page and as we began to agree answers to various postings by others it was clear that not all was lost from our old friendship. Now we have turned to regular Private Messages as a way of exploring where we are going with the re-emergence of a kind of friendship and the dissecting of forty years through the sands of time. Gradually we are describing the hills and valleys of our different lives and careers and in my case, clearly an overwhelming number of valleys, gawd, you don't realise until you start to describe it in chronological order, what a shambles one's life has been at times. There have been a number of "do you remember when's" and "have you seen so and so in recent years" and in my case the scrabbling through my diaries from those long ago times. For me it has been an education in how valuable the retention of old friends should be and I am hoping that the mending of something that should never of been broken in the first place, can take place. I know that my friend doesn't see absolute redemption as the likely outcome but at least we are back as some kind of friends and a good way down the road, to how it used to be.

One of the outcomes of this recent revival of an old friendship, was the sharing of a document that I began writing many years ago, about the day to day events in the lives of all of our circle of friends during 1965-67. Re-reading it was stirring for me and I hope that it had the same effect on my friend. I had entitled the document "In the beginning" and the very first paragraph explained why:-

"In the beginning there were two thirteen year old girls walking along Rose Street on their way home from school and as we drove by on our way home from work that summer's afternoon in 1965, there was something about one of them that made me look again. It was her hair, it was long and it tumbled in waves and curls down onto her young shoulders in the most wonderful deep, gingery-red colour that flashed gold in the sun. Other than that she was just a skinny young schoolgirl and it was only a moment an then the two girls were gone - I guess that in that moment, although I wasn't aware of it at the time, my dice were thrown but the gamble had still to be made".

Another whole year later and my life had changed dramatically. I was no longer the unknowing and immature person of 1965, I had become one of a group of denim clad and long-haired people, who when not working, hung around the town in their spare time, playing guitars, sleeping rough and living a hedonistic life. We had hitch-hiked to London and back a few times and I had had a couple of girlfriends but by the June of that year I had just quit a job that I had good prospects in. Three of us had decided that we would go hitch-hiking around the south for the rest of the summer, guitars, sleeping bags and where-ever took our fancy. It was a hot afternoon and we were sitting in a park next to the beach discussing our departure in a couple of days time. Suddenly, amid the swimmers and others that sat against the nearby sea wall, a flash of colour caught my eye, it was the red-haired schoolgirl again! I was captivated, was it just coincidence, was it fate, but I had to speak to her and went over. I needed a reason and so asked if I could borrow her towel to dry myself after a swim, she agreed and I swam in my jeans. After, as the jeans dried on me, we chatted, she was just past her fourteenth birthday and I was approaching my nineteenth, a five year gap but we seemed surprisingly evens in age. Later, I walked her home and for the next two days we hung out together, I liked her, suddenly the great hitch-hiking adventure to come was losing it's appeal.

But happen it did, with great farewells the three of us set off down the road. We went to London and spent time sleeping rough around there and then decided to go down to Brighton. It was a long journey, a lot of walking and no lifts for all of the way, we arrived weary and dirty and slept on the beach. Five days gone and we weren't enjoying it and so we travelled back, I don't know about the other two but I was missing the young girl with the flaming hair. She and I quickly re-connected, we stayed together and gradually my life began to change again and our time was spent together. Four years later, in 1970, we married, as did my friend above, the flame haired girl and I were happy, borrowing her towel seemed a lifetime away. In 1976 we split up and eventually divorced, the young girl with the red hair had grown up, I unfortunately, hadn't.

Monday 11 April 2016

Things are getting better

After Saturday's crap weather, yesterday continued the recent alternating daily weather scenario with it becoming warm and sunny after early frost. I waited an hour for the frost to melt away and then set off to the reserve as usual, thoroughly enjoying the early morning sunshine.
The heap of gypsum shown below in an arable field alongside the Harty Road, was taken under Saturday's heavy skies, not yesterday's clear blue ones and has been there for a couple of years now. This Spring it has been fun to watch it slowly being colonised by the roadside rabbits. There were no rabbit holes in it at all at the turn of the year but now there must be at least 50-60 and no doubt a thriving production line of baby rabbits.

The gypsum is a by-product of a local plasterboard factory and the farmers spread it on their fields because it is a good conditioner of the clay soils which of course dominate Sheppey. Unless the farmer takes early umbrage with the rabbits, it's unlikely that the heap will be flattened until the autumn cultivations begin, but it's likely to be unavoidable carnage once they do. 
On another part of Harty yesterday I also came across a guy with a huge video camera and stopping to chat with him, it transpired that he was a cameraman working for the BBC. He was getting shots of particular birds for next months Springwatch, so watch the programme and see what turns up. 

I then made my way onto the reserve and made a determined effort to find a Sedge Warbler, feeling sure that I must do in the beautiful weather. The first large patch of reedbeds came up short, all I was getting was bursts of song from wrens and chaffinchs along the hedgerows nearby. I really like the Chaffinch song, it has to be one of my favourite bird songs after that of the Skylark and the Blackbird. The grazier had put another dozen or so cows and their calves out on Friday on a long stretch of rank grass on the reserve below Harty church and several weeks of grazing there will see the grass's old, dead undergrowth cleaned out and new young growth replace it.
So, by then I was on top of the sea wall and had about half a mile of wide reed bed to follow, all the way to the Seawall Hide. Several Pochard and Tufted Duck were in the Fleet alongside and one or two Bearded Tits "pinged" as they sped along the top of the reed stems, but no Sedge Warbler. Occasionally, small brown birds would dart out of the reed beds to the top of the wall and hopes were raised but no, just female Reed Buntings. So it went on until I was almost at the hide and then yes, stop, listen, no doubt about it, the unmistakeable scratchy song of a Sedge Warbler as it rose into the sky from the reed bed. Fantastic!

This morning, early on at least, was another clear and sunny one, though a tad nippy in an Easterly breeze. Driving through the farm spinney onto the reserve, I got off to a good start with a Blackcap singing, what a lovely song. Just as good, on arriving at the reserve barn, was the sight and sound of several pairs of Lapwings going through courtship displays, they too had been woken up at last by the sunny weather. A couple of swallows briefly circled the barn before speeding off again and a Reed Bunting did it's best to be classed as a songster, from the top of a bush. I took the same route as yesterday, following reed beds and hedgerows round to the sea wall. Before going up on to the sea wall I walked over to the track that comes down from Harty Church and stood alongside the line of poplar trees that grow along it. Suddenly I heard the faint but unmistakeable "seep, seep" calls of a Yellow Wagtail. It was only faint so had to be passing over quite high up and I searched the sky with my binoculars, several times while still hearing it. I couldn't spot it at all and then suddenly it called a tad louder and I spotted it - it was sitting just above me at the top of one of the poplars, a nice male.
Apart from two Wheatears, the next best thing was the appearance of the first two broods of newly hatched Greylag Geese goslings in the sea wall fleet. That was all the excitement for this morning but I'm doing well, just need a Reed Warbler and Swift now.

Saturday 9 April 2016

Bad weather and bad attitudes

Well I'm getting really pissed off with writing about this topsy-turvy weather this year, just as any readers must be at reading about it. Yesterday was the first morning this year so far, that the blue skies and warm sun allowed me to walk round the reserve without a coat on. Today, under heavy grey skies, showers of rain and temperatures barely above freezing, it was back to the winter coat and gloves again - so depressing!

To increase my depression, today is the day that that alleged great spectacle of English sport takes place, the Grand National. A day which see many people spend an awful amount of money on clothes that make them look like clowns and even more money on betting which horse can survive the hardship and win the race. I find it incredible that so many people, even those that allege to be compassionate about their own livestock, can sponsor and enjoy watching, tired horses being twice forced round an arduous course that often sees them fall out of tiredness and get shot, because they will not be of any use any more. Yes, I know they're shot because broken legs are difficult and expensive to repair but with a bit of compassion they could at least have a full life. Perhaps if the shooting was also televised it might focus a few minds on what they're actually sponsoring.

Another example of how we are increasingly seeing animals as machines and altering their normal life-styles for profit with lack of compassion, was seen last week on BBC's Countryfile programme. It showed an example of an increasing style of dairy farming whereby the cattle are kept in huge barns for nine, or even twelve months of the year, purely to exist as milk machines. Their whole life consists of standing together in muck and straw and being milked twice a day in huge revolving milking machines. They never experience blue skies, sunshine, rain, or the joys of eating green grass and clover, they are purely milking machines kept in artificial conditions, just as many chickens still are for their meat and eggs. Contrast those cattle with another herd in the same programme that when let out into green meadows after the winter, ran around the fields for the first half an hour, kicking their legs up and being thoroughly delighted to be there.

You do have to wonder at times whether we are actually moving away from many of the bad practices of yesteryear.

Sunday 3 April 2016

Spring is gradually happening

I was away in Surrey over the Easter weekend and so missed the effects that weekend's Storm Katie had on Sheppey, though it was certainly dramatic where I was. On walking out onto the reserve last Tuesday though, on a fairly warm and sunny Spring morning, it was immediately clear that there had been substantial rainfall. Water levels on the reserve were easily back to those present in January, ditches were full and even overflowing in some places, there was a lot of surface water laying on the grazing meadows and The Flood field was well wet again.
However, Friday was the 1st April and with that new month came some warm and sunny weather which has continued through this weekend. It has been so refreshing walking round the reserve and feeling not only warm but flushed by the sun, the old arthritic bones feel better with each day! Not only that but a few summer migrants have started to trickle through the reserve, Chiffchaffs are present most days in the bushes, on Friday I had the first Wheatear and today, the real harbinger of Spring, a first Swallow - such joy.
Below, in the early morning sunshine today, you can see how much The Flood field has re-flooded, which technically, hasn't done some of the birds about to start ground nesting, too many favours, but this time of year it will dry back quite quickly.

 A closer-up view and most of the white birds in the distance are c. 70 Avocets.

The "S Bend Ditch" as we know the fleet below, is looking quite splendid and yesterday was holding 26 Pochard, 6 Tufted Duck and numerous Gadwall. All in all The Flood yesterday was still holding a wide variety of 452 wildfowl and many Coot and waders, numbers that wouldn't of been out of place in mid-winter. Couple that with the fact that no Coot or Lapwing nests have been found so far, it is clear that it will take a few more days of this lovely weather before the breeding birds start to catch up.

In the meantime the area around the reserve does look good in the warm sun......

.....catkins have burst out on the willow trees, attracting countless bees.....

.....and the new born lambs can enjoy the warmth.