Saturday 28 January 2017

Shooting Soon Ends

Driving along the marsh road to the reserve at first light this morning my car was registering an outside temperature of 8 degrees, almost tropical after the severe frost and freezing fog of the last few weeks! Walking back across the reserve later on, with the sun on my back, it felt as though Spring had arrived overnight, which of course it hadn't, but a forecast of milder weather for the next couple of weeks is long overdue.
Next Wednesday 1st February, sees the end of the game shooting season for this winter, while the day before also sees the end of the inland duck shooting season. Since New Year, the farmland game shoots around here seem to have intensified, with sometimes two or three a week, which I suppose is all about making money from the sport. It's of no real consequence to me, they're only shooting and killing artificially reared birds but the habitat that is preserved and maintained for such shooting is of great benefit to all manner of real wildlife. If there is one down side to game shooting it's the fact that licences are now being applied for and amazingly, issued, for some gamekeepers to "control" some raptors that are guilty of harassing and killing some of the millions of these game birds that are artificially reared to be shot.
With those two shooting seasons coming to an end, that won't be an end to the farmland hunting activities though. It is normally followed on Sheppey by one or two visits from the Fox Hunt and Beagle packs. Both hunt illegally in the traditional way, which is ignored by those in authority but it is particularly galling in the case of the Beagle pack which is often chasing and killing hares pregnant with young. There will also of course be pigeon and crow shooting, both officially classed as pest species.
The end of wildfowl shooting inland on the 31st January does not mean the end of the wildfowl shooting season completely though. For the first three weeks of February wildfowlers are still allowed to carry on shooting below the Mean Hide Tide mark. In respect of the reserve that means out on the saltings in front of the reserve just as they have been all winter. For me, that isn't a problem, because as regular readers of this blog will know, I get on very well with the wildfowlers there now, have even become an Associated non-shooting Member of their Association. As far as various types of shooting goes, these are the real tough guys. No sitting round corn-fed inland duck ponds, a few yards from their cars, no being driven from field to field to shoot gamebirds, these guys do it the hard way and often on their own. They will often have to walk long distances along sea walls, then walk out across mudflats or saltings, often in pre-dawn darkness. They will then spend the next few hours standing in deep mud in freezing temperatures, in the optimistic hope that a duck or goose will just happen to fly in their direction.
This winter, as far as the area in front of the reserve goes, the wildfowlers have had a pretty lean season, due mainly to the dryness of the reserve attracting few wildfowl. They're a hardy bunch and I have just one complaint about them, this season seems to have seen an increase in out of range birds being shot at. Even to my inexperienced eyes it has been clear at times that birds up to 100yds or more away have been shot at, which is well outside the effective killing range. This can see some birds carrying around injuries for some length of time before they expire.
It is now looking extremely doubtful that any serious volumes of water are going to rain apon the reserve before the Spring and so we can expect some pretty serious drought conditions to affect us and the wildlife this summer.

Tuesday 17 January 2017

A Dawn of Many Colours

After a light frost this morning we had a dawn of many colours. As I drove across the marsh road towards the reserve, the sky in the area where the sun was imminently about to rise, was an amazing range of red, pink and yellow colours with a backing of blue. Soon after, a fantastic orange glow preceded the great orange-red sun as it slowly began to climb above horizon and buildings and trees in the distance became burnished in gold. It was a dead still, beautiful dawn, to a day that remained cold but sunny for the whole of it, if we could of added ten degrees of temperature it would of been the perfect Spring morning, but it's coming. And now, as I'm writing this, I have the red sun creating an amazing sunset as it goes down behind the trees to the west of me, it's been a good day.
Yesterday afternoon, myself and two others, carried out our monthly Wetland Bird Survey on the reserve. Each of us has a particular section in which we count all the wading birds and wildfowl that we see. Judging the huge amount of birds that I could see at the Shellness Point end that particular guy must of been recording a good count and I was really pleased to see a pair of Bewick Swans in the bay there, my first this winter.
My section, the main marsh part of the reserve, didn't produce huge numbers of birds due to the continuing dryness but I was pleased to record c.160 White-fronted Geese and the ever present Crane as it noisily walked around the marsh. The light was just beginning to fade as I finished my count and a damp chill began to set in under the clear sky, the precursor to the frosty evening that we ended up with. I stayed on the sea wall to count in the Hen Harriers as they went in to roost out on the saltings as part of our Monthly Harrier roost census and to chat with a local wildfowler who I could see making his way towards me. The dusk increased, the geese called to each other over on the winter corn and Curlews "bubbled" away out on the saltings as they waited for the tide to drop, it was magical and the place to be.
I eventually counted in three Hen Harriers going in to roost as the cold darkness began to descend and briefly chatted with my wildfowler friend about what has been a pretty dire wildfowling season so far. Pretty quickly he needed to get out on the saltings and in position to ambush himself a duck or two and I left and followed the small white shape of Ellie in the near dark as she made her way back across the marsh on the scent of a hare that she was never going to catch. We had both enjoyed a particularly good winter's afternoon.

Sunday 15 January 2017

Damp and Depressing

As I sit here writing this it's early afternoon, it's Sunday, it's been raining all morning and still is, it's cold and it's bloody depressing. I've had to keep the central heating on and I'm sitting in the conservatory looking out at a garden about as far removed from it's mid-summer glory as it could be. The borders are bare and muddy and the bushes and trees are bare of leaves and looking like skeletons after their plump, mid-summery greenery. There are a couple of dozen Sparrows on the bird feeding tubes and a Blackbird wanders up and down the lawn snatching at worms that it seems to be mostly missing.
The rain began lightly at 6.45 this morning and anxious that it might get heavier, which it later did, I left for the reserve in total darkness in order that Ellie and I could get a walk of some sort in. By the time that I got on top of the sea wall the damp, near dark gloom, had become a gloom bright enough for me to just make out a hardy wildfowler out on the saltings with his dog. I walked about a quarter of a mile along the sea wall but by then the rain was setting in heavier and I wasn't enjoying it, I turned back and made for my car and home, I don't do cold and wet very well, in fact I don't do the winter, period. I came home, made a cup of tea, ate my porridge and read the papers, the crappy Sunday Mail and the excellent Sunday Telegraph. After that, well it was down to staring boredly out at the rain, listening to Michael Ball on Radio 2 and longing for the Spring.
Readers of my increasingly fewer blogs this winter will have become used to my regular mentions of how dry the reserve, which remains the case despite several hours of rain recently. Well on local TV this week the Environment Agency finally made public that it has been the driest December on record and indeed it has been dry for the last few months, hooray, we got there, it's an official drought. Reservoirs in the area are only 45% full and water restrictions look increasingly likely for the coming summer, ain't I been saying that!

I read several blogs on a daily basis and most of them are very good but some others have become, presumably because the owner prefers it that way, quite clicky and in doing so rarely allow in new people 's comments, especially those with comments that disagree with the general flow of that particular blog. In other words the blog has become nice and comfortable and the dozen or so daily followers always avidly congratulate the blogger, despite the fact that they have never met that person and are accepting everything about them at face value. One that I read on an almost daily basis and don't ask me why, because I loathe it's falseness and pretence, is written by a woman here in England who maintains her high degree of avid followers by immediately deleting comments from anyone outside the daily clique who might contradict her postings, before her followers can see that such other opinions exist. She has become very adept at creating this weird mystique about herself that seems guaranteed to daily gain extraordinary praise from her followers, almost to a disciple level, and yet I'm left thinking, they've never met her, how do they know she's really as she says she is?
Probably too late now for me to re-model myself as an expert birdwatcher who never has a bad word to say about anybody. Perhaps I'll open a bottle of red wine and settle down later to watch Liverpool play Man Utd.