Monday 27 June 2016

Flowers at the Point

Unfortunately, early yesterday morning I chose to go to Shellness beach and Point, on the gloomiest morning of the week and so the light for the photos wasn't too brilliant. This most easterly point of the reserve hardly features in my postings these days. Up and till a few years ago I would walk all the way there and back from my normal park at the reserve barn but it started to play havoc with my painful feet and ankles. The only other alternative, which I used yesterday, is the Shellness track, which is only really suited to 4x4's and tractors. But anyway, I resolve to do better. It is the only habitat of that kind on Sheppey and as well as featuring some spectacular and daily, high tide bird roosts it can also have some great displays wild flowers relevant to sandy beaches and dunes.

This photo was taken on a sunnier day and looks across the sand and shell beach towards Harty, note the Oystercatcher roost by the shore.

A part of the beach is roped off and out of bounds for the reasons given below.

Here we have Sea Spurge, which is a fairly new coloniser of the beach.

A forest of Prickly Lettuce plants.

Sea Campion

Biting Stonecrop. There were great yellow carpets of this flower.

Yellow-horned Poppy


Vipers Bugloss

Sea Holly, yet to come into flower

Sea Lavender

Saturday 25 June 2016

Fond Climates

I so love this time of year. I went to bed last night at just after 10 'clock with a degree of daylight still lighting up the bedroom and a Blackbird still singing in the garden - just magical.
Taking a leaf out of my good friend, The Weaver of Grass, I was on the reserve at 5.45 this morning, away from the madding crowd, away from the doom and gloom from the Remainers, away from the jubilation of the Leavers (of which I was one), just the early morning stillness of the marsh. "Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly come in the morning where I wandered and listened" as Dylan Thomas wrote, and I happily absorbed the early morning glory that so many people miss. Kenneth Graham captures it so perfectly in the Wind in the Willows and the chapter "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn".
And indeed, as the dawn clouds broke up, a very warm sun sped across the marsh and bathed it in pleasant stillness and I was serenaded by the larks above and the marsh frogs below. A few Swifts circled the grazing meadows and the cattle, Oystercatchers noisily advised me that they had chicks near by

Brewers Farm, outside the reserve, looked snug among it's trees and in the foreground were the white flowers of the grasses.

 Grasses must be one of the most over-looked features of the countryside. People barely notice them in their rush to record or photograph birds, butterflies or flowers but in flower, they do have a subtle beauty. Just look at this clump here......

 .....and in close up, what not to like, the colour and the shape are as good as any orchid.

 And so many different types, the names of which I don't know.

 Even the rampant Club Rush can look quite amazing if you get up close to it, the whole genus are so over-looked.

I also came across some mushrooms this morning, an early reminder of how wet and warm it has been.

The Tower Hide watched over me and the whole of the reserve as I ambled by and on it's roof in the RH corner a Kestrel sat, a gatekeeper perhaps.

 Before I left, I had to take yet one more photo of a ditch. I love them and all that they contain and represent. Sixty odd years ago, as a nine year old, I would often wander across the marshes near my home and spend summer's evenings sitting beside the ditches. I would be fascinated by the sticklebacks, the pond skaters, the Moorhens and everything else that made up a ditch. They have always been there in my life, given that I have spent sixty years exploring the marshes of Sheppey.

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Wet and Warm Weather

Gawd, what a wet week this is shaping up to be, every afternoon so far, there have been a number of heavy or torrential downpours. Combine those with high humidity and very warm sun between the showers and all plant-life is growing like it would in the jungle, and if my garden is anything to go by, creating a jungle. Gardening has been difficult this week, especially lawn cutting, because in the morning the grass is still wet from dew or the overnight rain and by lunch-time just as they become dry, the showers start.
Earlier this morning though, there were some good long spells of very warm sunshine and I was on the reserve by 7.15. Warblers seem to be everywhere this year and just simply getting out of the car at the barn you are serenaded by both Whitethroats and Reed Warblers and the occasional explosive song of the Cettis Warblers, deep in the willow/phragmites scrub. I let the dogs out of the back of the car and the distant sound of a cuckoo quickly began to get closer and closer until suddenly, a pair of them suddenly burst over the willows alongside me. My unexpected presence startled the male and he gave a kind of doubled "cuckoo" call rather than the usual single one and then they were gone. These two have been quartering the phragmites reed beds on the reserve for over two weeks now and judging by the number of singing Reed Warblers, must of been successful in finding hosts for their eggs.
One of the oddities of Sheppey is that, despite being an island of around 12x8 miles, the weather can still be very variable and this was apparent this morning. Easily two thirds of the Island this morning was soaking wet as I drove down and yet the dirt tracks on the reserve were bone dry, it clearly hadn't rained in the last 24 hrs. Anyway, we set off and eventually made our way past "The Flood Field" where a peek over the earth bund round it found that several pairs of Avocets and some chicks were still present.

Just like the Avocets in this year's Springwatch, some of our Avocet chicks have suffered predation from sea gull neighbours but the overgrown state of the vegetation this year has saved many. Many pairs of adult Avocets have led their chicks away from the open-ness of the water and it's nesting islands and further up the field amid the long grass and club-rush.
The dogs and I then carried on past one of the herds of cows, their calves and the visiting bull. Fortunately the cattle are of a very placid nature and as the dogs and I walked partly through them they take very little notice of us, although I always pick up both of the dogs to be on the safe side and never take the cows for granted. The bull meanwhile, gradually rose to his feet, eyed us up and down, had a few grunts and then slowly wandered off towards the rear of what I imagine was to be his next conquest.
Up on the sea wall, the vegetation has become very tall, with a mixture of grass, Cow Parsley, Alexanders, Salsify and Goatsbeard. It is hard work to walk through and when wet from dew or rain, normally leaves you soaked from feet to hips. When it is wet as well, there is the uncomfortable sound and feel of countless snails crunching under foot, unfortunate, but you just can't see or avoid most of them. Looking in a wildlife book I think that they might be White-lipped Snails.

They also share the long vegetation with these large black slugs.

For those first-timers along the sea wall, we have sign posts indicating how far there is to go, east to Shellness and west to the church.

While I was taking the above photo I was being constantly scolded by the Sedge Warbler below, who I imagine probably had a nest nearby. We carried on and left it to it, heavy clouds were starting to gather.

Friday 10 June 2016

June is upon us

It was very warm and humid on the reserve this warm under milky skies. One of those pleasantly still mornings when the only sounds heard were those of the wildlife and easily the noisiest were the many hundreds of both marsh and edible frogs. Several of these will suddenly start their very loud croaking close by and then like a vocal Mexican wave, frogs from all round the reserve suddenly join in like the aquatic version of an orchestra tuning up. Creep close to the nearest stretch of water and it stops instantly, you might just be lucky and see the odd snout and a pair of eyes watching you from the pond weed.
Many of the reserve's wild flowers are now coming into bloom and one of the tallest is this Milk Thistle. It can reach 3-4 feet high, has variegated foliage, large blooms and long and vicious spines. It is also of course, used as a herb.

But nothing is as high as this Giant Hogweed, in places it almost forms a hedge along the reserve's boundary. Standing alongside it, it was still around three feet above me.

A Surrey blogger this week also mentioned this flower, Grass Vetchling. One comment suggested that it was a ruby among the grass and how true that is, with just the one ruby-coloured flower per stem. It is however, not as conspicuous as this slightly blurred photo suggests, hiding among the taller grass stems of the meadows.

And talking of inconspicuous, this Pink Water Speedwell, is totally that, especially if only tall and gaudy wild flowers rock your boat, which is normally the case. It spreads widely across shallow and stagnant wet areas on the reserve here and with it's tiny pink flowers is easily missed. But I like to champion these unfashionable species, those that can be considered plain and boring, the wallflower of the dance hall, the non orchid.

Species such as this Prickly Sow Thistle and why, it has a charm as good as any other wild flower and can be just as photogenic and if nothing else, my canaries love to feed the seed heads to their chicks.

So far this summer, butterflies have been thin on the ground, or across the meadow, whatever. This week however, this year's first Small Heaths and Common Blues have started to appear. I captured this Small Heath this morning and hopefully it will be the first of many, hot, grassy meadows are not the same without butterflies going on their urgent ways across the grass tops.

And lastly, on the butterfly front, the first nurseries of Peacock butterfly caterpillars have started to appear on the stinging nettles around the reserve. Oh joy, it was a good walk round this morning.

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Winter, Summer and Bullshit

I've been struggling this last few months, to find enough inspiration to keep this blog going and what memories I think about I've been posting onto a local history Facebook page called the Sheppey History Page.
Last week's awfully cold, windy, wet and gloomy wet (almost wintry), was particularly hard on the wader and plover chicks on the reserve. Chicks that are still at the downy stage soon get soaking wet in the long, wet grass and then stay wet and cold until eventually dying. A mid-week review of their numbers found many missing. Surprisingly, something also occurred to this Mute Swan brood. Somehow the cygnets became separated from the parents and I eventually found one dead and the others missing completely, perhaps fox food. Unusual for adult swans to allow that to happen.

More cattle and their calves have been put on the reserve but they are making little progress against the relentlessly growing grass. For ground nesting birds it's not turning out to be a very good spring at all but livestock must be doing very well, lambs on nearby farmland look very fat and healthy. This week, with the weather turning very warm, sunny and dry, two bulls have been put out on the reserve with the cows - a summer holiday enjoying the fruits of labour! They're quite placid, I was only a few yards away from this one as I took the photo but then I've had 30 odd years of walking among them to know the risks. Had it been a horse, I wouldn't of been in the same field, they scare me witless!

Other than that, the reserve is now settling down into an approaching summer lull. The Greylag Geese goslings are almost fully grown, as are many of the Coot chicks and ducklings are starting to belatedly appear in the ditches. Most of the noise at the moment is coming from the reed beds, where Reed and Sedge Warblers are busy rearing first broods and isolated bushes and scrub along the reserve boundary echo to the relentless song of Whitethroats. Butterflies remain very scarce so far, although Common Blues have started to appear in the meadows this week but normally by now we would have hundreds of Peacock butterfly caterpillars feeding on the nettles, but none so far.

Springwatch is back on our screens for another three week session from RSPB Minsmere. What a shame that a potentially very good programme from a superb location is being ruined yet again by the inane witterings of the three presenters. Chris Packham comes across as such an up his own arse pratt who looks down his nose at most people, the Strachan woman stands alongside him like some nodding donkey and always grinning and the other bloke, well, an idiot.