Saturday 24 September 2016

Reserve Dawn

I was on the reserve just as the dawn sky was beginning to brighten and look quite beautiful in it's various colours. Here see the sky behind farm buildings in the distance.

Gradually getting lighter

The sea wall fleet in the dawn light, looks like a lot of water but only a few inches deep now.

The sky continues to brighten as the sun climbs.

 and at last the sun appears on the horizon.

I reach the sea wall top and look along the saltings for any wildfowlers, ah yes, there's one easily spotted, why don't they use camouflage netting of a lighter colour?

Anyway, after we all had a jovial chat they all made their way back along the sea wall in the dawn light.

Here Ellie has her eyes fixed firmly on a rabbit that was several yards in front of her and is poised to strike.

This the end of what is normally our largest and longest fleet, now showing the results of our continuing drought.

As is this ditch, reduced to a shallow puddle at one end. In the winter this will be full of water to the top of the bare soil on the bank side, meaning it is around four foot lower than normal in winter, that's a lot of rain needed.

Cattle at the calf feeder bins, notice how yellow the grazing marsh is.

Mother and son. In a few weeks time all the calves will be taken away from their mothers to be weaned off.

 Midge and Ellie.

Discing on the farm field alongside the reserve, ready to sow winter corn. Notice the dust rising from the bone dry soil. And below that, a field of bulls in their winter quarters, 25 in all. Once again note the parched grazing.

Friday 23 September 2016

Blogging Oscars

I don't have a side bar of long lists of blogs that I follow, mainly because I don't follow that many, probably around half a dozen. Too many these days have become very cliquey and having captured an audience of devoted, sycophantic even, daily readers, reject totally and in one case, using foul language, any person that dares to disagree with a particular posting.
That said, there is one blog that I have become very fond of lately and it written by a charming lady in her eighties who describes brilliantly her day to day life living in the Yorkshire Dales. Despite some physical pain and problems this lady still goes to her exercise classes and does everything that she can to stay young. Her and her husband, written of as "The Farmer", live on a small farm in the Dales and her blog daily describes the kind of rural life that most of us don't think exists any more. The trips into the small local villages for shopping and the weekly meetings in small cafes with regular lady friends to discuss books and poetry over well described items of delicious sounding food. Seasonal life on the farm is described and pictured in beautiful detail as are recipes of food that she has cooked ( as a lousy cook, she has even sent me a couple of easy recipes to help me out).
Reading the blog it is like going back in time to when much of England was like that rather than just isolated patches, have a look at the latest posting at

Wednesday 21 September 2016

Who knows where the time goes?

Across the evening sky, all the birds are leaving
But how can they know it's time for them to go?
Before the winter fire, I will still be dreaming
I have no thoughts of time

For who knows where the time goes?.........Sandy Denny

Summer is doing it's best to hang on as long as it can, despite the lengthening nights and the overnight nip in the air, it's not going anywhere just yet. Walking round reserve at 7.30 this morning it was distinctly warm since the sun has been up for an hour. Some Swallows and Martins still skimmed fast across the grass but they're not tarrying to think about it any more, the few that are left are in a hurry, South is calling, it's whispering gently on the breeze, "hurry up." Red Admiral butterflies were hurrying in their fluttering way in the same direction, the reed beds are quiet, everything is leaving. I stood and watched and wistfully hummed the above song to myself and thought, who knows where the time goes?
Back home in the garden this afternoon, summer still played tricks with me, sitting there in my shorts it became almost hot under clear blue skies. Bees and Large White butterflies were as busy as ever, feeding hungrily on the purple flowers of Verbena bonariensis and the white flowered Alliums. No they were saying, we don't think summer is over yet and it certainly felt like that was the case.

Saturday 17 September 2016

What happened to our rain?

Wow! it's a long time since I can recall such an immediate transformation from one season to another. Just two days ago I was still walking round the reserve early in the morning in just a polo shirt and trousers after over two months of doing the same, every day has been so hot and humid. This morning at 7.00 along the reserve seawall I had on almost my normal winter clothes, with a thick sweater and my winter coat and needed them. There was a strong and chilly NW wind gusting to 40 mph, heavy grey skies and brief showers of light rain, a day not un-typical of early winter and a change in the weather being celebrated by the one wildfowler present. It really was hard to comprehend such a rapid change.
The one thing that hasn't changed though, is how dry it remains. I took the photos below a couple of days ago, once again to emphasis the degree of drought that the reserve is suffering and despite the weather of the last 24 hrs they are still factual. The first below is the Flood Field and what is normally one of the large splashes of water in it, now bone dry and cracked up.

Alongside the Flood Field is the main distributor pump house. When ditches are full this can pump water in three directions, though we mostly use it to pump water into the Flood Field. Below the reeds you can see the end of the pump's suction pipe and it's square filter box. That is sitting just above the last inch or two of water that is left in the ditch, normally it is under three feet of water, or more!
Amazingly, despite being surrounded quite closely by areas on Thursday night that suffered violent thunderstorms and torrential rain, our little island got none of it. We eventually got 3-4 hours of rain yesterday afternoon but in the strong winds overnight and this morning, that has done no more than wet the ground to about a centimetre's depth, basically we're just as dry as we have been for the last three months.

Sunday 11 September 2016

More hot weather

After another hot, sunny and bone dry week, last week, there was much hope and expectation shown on Friday when the weather forecast predicted a spell of rain, often heavy, moving from west to east across the south of the country on Saturday. I drove to my partner's house in Surrey yesterday morning (Sat), 80 miles by road by not that far in a straight line. There it rained, not always heavily, from late morning to early evening and bearing in mind that this was going east towards Sheppey on the Kent coast where I live, I was quite jubilant, until I rang a friend there in the evening and found out that once again, Sheppey had remained very cloudy, but dry. So we enter our third month of bone dry weather and this week's weather is once again predicted to be hot and sunny and possibly breaking September records for temperatures. Being made of a clay soil, some of the flower borders and lawns in my garden now have cracks opened up in them that you can put your hand down and watering them is just an expensive waste of time.
The farmers on Sheppey are split into two schools of thought. The livestock ones are becoming quite concerned at not only the extreme lack of grass but the quality of the water in the fleets and ditches that the cattle and sheep normally drink from, it's quite stagnant and rank. The arable farmers have had an excellent harvest and after cultivations in the sunny and bone dry conditions and everything that needs to be done has been done and all next year's crops in the ground as seed. The slight  nagging worry there is that we might get a few days of rain and then it turns hot and dry again, in the past this has seen the seed germinate and then the seedlings wilt and die, bringing the need to completely re-sow whole fields again at some expense.
Going back to the livestock, the cattle on the reserve were driven into the pens one day this week and the three bulls, in the hope that all the cows were now pregnant, were separated and taken away until next year again. At the same time, all the cattle were given a dosage of copper, a mineral that Sheppey's grazing marshes are deficient in and one that is vital for the good health of the cattle. Next month all the calves will be taken away from their mothers for weaning.
So, here we go again for another hot and dry week in North Kent.

Saturday 3 September 2016

A Time of Change

"The Water Rat was restless, and he did not exactly know why. To all appearances the summer's pomp was still at fullest height, and although in the tilled acres green had given way to gold, though rowans were reddening, and the woods were dashed here and there with a tawny fierceness, yet light and warmth and colour were still present in undiminished measure, clean of any premonitions of the passing year. But the constant chorus of the orchards and hedges had shrunk to a casual evensong from a few yet un-wearied performers......" the Wind in the Willows.

Despite the fact that we have another hot, sunny and bone dry week ahead forecast, to add to the eight weeks of drought that have already occurred, there are signs that autumn is almost upon us. I feel like the Water Rat, no matter how hard I try to pretend it's not happening, the season is changing. The swallows and martins have sped though heading south for the last couple of weeks, Cuckoos and Swifts are distant memories and more than anything, the days are getting shorter.
The situation I seem to be obsessed with at the moment is the drought, almost ten weeks with just 2mm of rain has left the area looking very yellow and dust dry, (see below). The ditches stink with stagnated and inch deep water and are failing to act as wet fences to keep the cattle in and there are cracks on the sea wall that you could break your leg in. But it's the normal weather cycle that we come to accept on the North Kent marshes, I can guarantee that at some stage in the winter I will be complaining about how wet it is.

Normally at this time of the year I would be thinking about gathering in some sloes to make my annual bottle of sloe gin but this year the hedgerows look quite bare, it could be a struggle to find enough. I tried a sip of last year's the other day and it has turned out really well, how well a small glass goes down after returning in the dark from a bitter cold afternoon on the marsh!

I mentioned the wildfowlers in the last posting and have chatted with several over the last couple of days as they come back to the sea wall from dawn flights out on the saltings. Below, taken from the seawall, you can see a couple having a chat out on the saltings before packing up, notice how even the saltings are burnt yellow from the heat and sun this year. What you can't see in the photo are the deep and muddy gullies that meander through the vegetation, that are filled by the tide during high tides and can make it quite hazardous in the dark. Talking to the wildfowlers this morning it seems that the geese that I mentioned in my last blog have continued to frustrate the wildfowlers by flying the length of the reserve each morning, well inside the reserve - almost laughable.

Shopping in Morrisons at lunch-time I stopped to read a poster put up outside by a member of the public. It related to a small terrier type dog that had escaped from a car en-route to the vets for some treatment to some serious ailments. It was last seen running across a main road and into some farmland and has been missing for over a week. As a dog owner myself I have been constantly thinking about that poor, terrified dog out there somewhere and imagining how I would be if it were one of my two, don't bear thinking about!
Lastly, as an avid reader of anything to do with well known people who lived through the 1920's-1950's, especially the Bloomsbury group, I am thoroughly enjoying this new book about the six Mitford sisters.

Thursday 1 September 2016

A New Season

This morning, an hour or so after dawn, I wandered along the reserve sea wall. It was a still, warm and sunny morning and large numbers of swallows and martins zipped past me, stopping now and then to snap up an insect, but generally, speeding south to their winter quarters. I stopped at the Sea Wall Hide and scanned along the saltings, nine wildfowler's heads were pretty obvious, peeping out from the rills and gullies. Today is the first of September, the first day of a new shooting season, the first day of meteorological autumn and for me at least, that awful gnawing feeling that summer is pretty much over. For a moment I was lost in thought, no more long, hot summer days, warm and balmy evenings and eighteen hours of daylight. Every day now darkness inches forward in the mornings and backwards in the evenings with ever increasing haste.
Three quick shots rang out and woke me from my daydream. A Mallard duck, clearly out of killing range, wheeled round in the sky and hastily made it back on to the reserve and dropped into the safety of a ditch. I continued along the top of the sea wall, wildlife-wise it was pretty quiet, just a few Reed Warblers and Bearded Tits in the reed beds, who were suddenly out-sung by a Cettis Warbler.  I felt confident that this first morning at least, was going to be a bit of a waste of time for the wildfowlers, although I know that for some of them, just being back out again is good enough. That was certainly not the case somewhere in the distance across Harty, probably the lower reaches of Capel Fleet and the stubble fields around it. From there could be heard periods of heavy shooting that went on at regular intervals over a couple of hours, clearly the comments that I made about the geese in my last posting was coming true!
Another two shots rang out across the saltings and two ducks fell from the sky, later confirmed by the guy that shot them, as a pair of Gadwall. The sun was getting warmer, the mosquitoes were beginning to bite and the wildfowlers began to pack up and walk in to the sea wall, two ducks among nine men was a pretty poor but acceptable return, unlike the numbers taken by the inland duck shooters this morning. For the last three weeks, at around 8.00 each morning, around 200+ Greylag Geese have risen from the stubble fields near to the reserve and flown the length of the reserve, on the inland, safe side of the sea wall to spend the day at one end of the reserve. Chatting with some of the wildfowlers this morning I explained this goose routine to them, stating that none of the geese fly out over the saltings where they might be shot. The wildfowlers had barely digested that disappointing news when six geese flew straight towards us and making me out to be completely untrustworthy, flew out over the saltings where the guys had just come from! That prompted an immediate return to the saltings by those guys, in the hope that more might follow and I, disgusted with the stupidity of the geese, left for home. I shall ask the wildfowlers tomorrow if the main flock of geese did as I said they would, later fly within the safety of the reserve.