Monday 26 June 2017

Flora, Fauna and the Seashore

It has been an unexpectedly hot and sunny day here in North Kent and even better, without the wind that seems to blow most days this summer.
Walking past one of the large reed beds on the reserve this morning I could hear the familiar "pinging" calls of Bearded Tits. They do breed in the reed beds and I quickly came across four juvenile birds working their way through the reed stems, two of which are shown below.

Every year I look for these, my favourite caterpillars, the larva of the Cinnabar Moth. Such distinctive colours as they munch their way through the leaves of the Ragwort plants.

I also came across this thistle, heavily infested with black aphids, to the delight of the local ants. Ants milk the aphids for a sticky substance that they produce and which the ants feed on. Quite often the ants will carry aphids to new plants so that the infestation cycle can continue and the ants maintain their food supply. If you look closely in the center of the photo, you can see a black ant in the process of milking some of the ants.

 Several hundred yards from my bungalow is one of the main routes into the town of Sheerness. We know it as the "Coastal Road because just the other side of the shingle bank to the right, that acts as a sea wall, is the sea. In the center of the photograph is the cycle path that I ride most days during the summer months.

This is the view from the top of the shingle bank, looking out into the Thames Estuary, where large ships pass daily, making their way into near-by Sheerness Docks or carrying on up the Thames towards London. I have this view, a tad more distant, as I sit in my study writing this.

And looking back eastwards along the seaward side of the shingle bank towards the ever eroding clay cliffs, a mile or so away. A wide promenade runs along the base of those cliffs for part of their length.

Lastly, as I cycled through the local cemetery this afternoon, I was delighted to come across large numbers of this lovely coloured wild flower, Orange Hawkweed. I've never seen it anywhere else on Sheppey but it is apparently common in churchyards and has the delightful country name of Fox and Cubs.

Saturday 24 June 2017

Summer was nice but brief.

After this last week's glorious but brief taste of real summer it was a bit of a shock to the system and somewhat depressing,when I arrived at the reserve early this morning. We were back to heavy grey skies and a cool and gusty wind. Two days ago I walked round wearing a thin polo shirt but today I needed a jumper as well. As I walked round in the less than perfect conditions, you'll forgive me for cursing those people, who after just a few days of decent weather, complained about it being to hot - presumably they're much happier now and will look forward to the week ahead, which is forecast to be cool, cloudy and showery.

So, back to the reserve and what's happening. The breeding season for some birds is already drawing to a close and various juveniles are being seen on a regular basis now. This morning I had both Pied and Yellow Wagtail juveniles and for the latter it has been the reserve's largest number of breeding pairs for many years. The Greylag Geese have also done particularly well, fledging around 60 goslings, although unfortunately, many of these possibly have only a couple of months to live before the wildfowlers return on the 1st September. The Barn Owls are also doing well and although the five chicks have now reduced to four, they were all successfully rung this week.
On the down side, Coots have done badly with only a few broods and Lapwings are pretty much a write-off, producing very few chicks. The reserve has been predominately dry now for almost a year and that lack of wet/damp habitat has has not produced the conditions or insect life that the Lapwings need.
The Cuckoos fell silent earlier in the week and are no doubt already part of the way back to their winter quarters in Africa and Swifts won't be long before they join them. It's not unusual, both of these species only make a brief visit to this country to breed and then they're off again.
The hot and dry weather of the last week has also favoured butterflies with a surge in their visible numbers. Meadow Browns have been a joy to see flitting across the longer grass of the grazing meadows in big numbers and in the last few days have been joined by the first Small Skippers, I just hope that the down-turn in the weather doesn't depress this lovely sight.

Lastly, the yellow wild flower known as Lady's Bedstraw, so known apparently, because in the Middle Ages women used it to stuff mattresses and pillows with, has always been a common, annual sight on the reserve. Today I noticed, that a couple of meadows have huge spreads of it in flower, carpeting the grass in a quantity that I have never seen before. I of course, forgot to take my camera with me.

Wednesday 21 June 2017


Well here we are at the Longest Day, with the depressing thought that as from today, the days start to shorten and if we get cloudy weather, it can happen quite quickly.
Really pissed off today when reading blogs, the newspapers and listening to the radio - gawd, there's almost a national crisis - we've had five days of hot weather and people can't handle it. I know that summer in England isn't supposed to happen, or if it does it isn't actually supposed to be hot but come on, five days can't surely justify being called a heatwave.
Some blogs this morning are talking about how their dogs can't be taken for walks because they and their owners are too hot, well if the owner is lying sleepless in a sweaty bed, why then, get up earlier as I do, and get out with the dog in the early morning cool and freshness, both will benefit from it. Radio 5 Live went on and on with people ringing in to say how hot they were at work and asking if it was acceptable under H&S guidelines to actually be at work when it was hot and so it has been going on. Bloody hell, in the 1976 real heatwave, we didn't have just five days of hot weather, we had it continuous for three bloody months, every day, blue skies and hot sunshine! Yet we went to work throughout those three months and still lived to tell the tale.
I wonder how many people complaining about this current "heatwave", spend two weeks a year holidaying in some very hot and sunny country.

Sunday 18 June 2017

Another Dawn Patrol

After a hot and sunny day yesterday it looks like being even hotter today and so Ellie and I were out early on the reserve. This is how it looked.

A few across the marsh

One of the reserve ditches

The sea wall fleet and it's wide reed beds from the sea wall, noisy this morning with Reed and Sedge Warblers

The Sea Wall hide

Which was being used as a perch by this pair of Oystercatchers

The sea wall fleet at ground level, it is almost a mile long and was probably created when the soil for the sea wall alongside was dug

 Horsetail, a very invasive water weed that is clogging up a lot of ditches and fleets on the reserve

 as this photo shows

A side ways look at the flower of Goatsbeard

 And lastly, Spiny Rest-harrow, the only place on Sheppey that I know of it growing.

Friday 16 June 2017

A Summer's Night

My dog Ellie got me out of bed at 4.00 this morning barking at a cat that had dared to walk across the garden, I let her out and the cat was fortunate to clear the fence just ahead of Ellie. It was broad daylight then and with clear blue skies and the sun about to rise, I decided to make an early visit to the reserve, arriving there at 5.00.
The rather distant shot below shows the Little Owl peering out from the old nest box on the side of the reserve's barn. For the last two years a pair of Kestrels have successfully nested in that box but it has been a bit cramped and so this year we gave them the much larger luxury one that you can see higher up, which they have ignored. We hoped that the regular sighting of the Little Owl in the old box might mean that it was nesting there but that has not been the case and it simply uses it as a roost site.

When I got up on to the sea wall, this Thames sailing barge was making it's way down The Swale and out to sea in the early morning sun. I was surprised that it didn't have it's sails up because there was a pretty stiff wind blowing from behind it.

Last year a pair of Great Crested Grebes successfully bred on the reserve for the first time and they have returned again this year, although they have only managed to rear the one chick. This rather distant shot was the best that I could get with my camera and they kept on diving if I got any closer.

The weather for the last week has been sunny and warm to hot and looks like continuing in that way over this weekend - drying the garden out too fast but well enjoyable all the same.
It's also that time of the year again where the nights are pleasantly short - too much time gets wasted in bed. I just love going off to bed at 10.00 in the half light and waking up at 4.00 to daylight and birds singing. Last night at 10.00 as I waited for Ellie to come in from the garden, I stood there in the half light looking across the marshes over the road and listening to a Blackbird in full song - 10.00 at night, magic!
People who know their Wind in the Willows will recall that wonderful chapter "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" which reflects the current weather and time of year. Kenneth Grahame captured perfectly the emotions and sights of that short mid-summer's night as the Mole and Ratty spent it rowing the River looking for the Otter's lost son. The pleasant coolness as the approaching darkness ushered away the heat of a long hot day. The eventual rise of the moon to light up the surrounding countryside in silvery stillness, the gurglings of the river and the occasional "cloops" as an unseen animal dived into the water and then, in the whispering of the reed beds, how they became aware of the presence of the Piper at the Gates of Dawn, a mystical creature that left them in awe.

I wonder how many people bother to experience the countryside of a warm summer's night after midnight, you may not see the Piper but it can still be a magical experience.