Saturday 29 December 2018

Year's End

After the beautiful day's weather that we had on Christmas Day - weather wasted for those who had to endure being stuck indoors being Christmasy, although not me, we have had three days of greyness, gloomyness and dampness, though not rain.
I have been on the reserve around dawn on every morning, dawn that rarely shows much light before 07.15. I've been going at, or just before dawn, for several reasons, the first being that I rarely get up later than around 05.30 in the morning and the first chinks of light not showing until around 07.00 finds me getting very impatient indoors.
A couple of weeks ago a new Marsh Harrier night-time roost was found in the the dense reed beds alongside the sea wall, with up to sixteen birds being seen to leave there at very first light in the morning. Unfortunately my pre-dawn visits over the last three days have come up blank, the birds appear to have moved somewhere else at the moment. There are still several of them to be seem flying around the reserve every day but not to/from the roost it seems.
The Christmas holiday period, with many companies shutting down for a couple of weeks, means that the wildfowlers that shoot the saltings in front of the reserve tend to be more frequent with their visits than during the rest of the winter season.  Slowly, as the reserve begins to wetten up much quicker this winter after two previous drought winters, so the wildfowl are beginning to use the reserve again. This has therefore seen more shooting going on around, and just after, dawn, as the birds fly out to the nearby tide and over the wildfowlers. However, chatting with them as they pack up and from what I've witnessed, there may be a lot of shots being fired but very few birds are being killed. I rather suspect that this is due to poor skills and in one or two cases that I've seen, shooting at birds too far out of range. But the wildfowlers are a hardy and mostly friendly bunch and I always make a point of chatting with them as they pack up, the shooting that goes on there now is minuscule compared to how it used to be twenty-odd years ago.
I've had a few chats with birdwatchers as well while wandering round over the last few days and have enjoyed the fact that both they and the wildfowlers have failed to speak ill of each other, they seem to accept what each other does and leave it at that.
And so this year draws to and end. It basically began with the "Beast from the East" spell of Siberian weather, went through the glorious mid-summer heatwave (please can we have another next year), is ending in increasingly perfect wetland reserve conditions and I'm into my 32nd year as a Volunteer Warden on the reserve - I guess that allows me to say that I know a bit about the place.

I've ended with two wildfowlers and their dog making their way back along the top of the sea wall in the gloom of the early morning.

Wednesday 26 December 2018

After the event

Dawn and soon after, on Christmas Day, saw the reserve looking just about as scenic as it could. There was a hard, white frost, a blue sky was just beginning to lighten up and a mist, only about 4-5 feet high, rose off the marsh to make some bushes and mounds look as though they were floating. See what I mean in this black and white photo showing a grass mound with a taller hide in front of it. I quite liked the atmosphere in that photo until someone I showed it to suggested that it looked like a nuclear submarine passing by! It was however, a magical and beautiful morning to be out and about, just me and the dog - bliss!

It looked less so in a coloured version.

 And eventually the sun began to rise, to highlight the frosty field in the foreground.

Returning to black and white this was the neighbouring farm track.

 And reed beds covered in frost

 And the full moon as it began to lose brightness in the western sky.

Today, Boxing Day, was different all together at dawn. Much milder and gloomier and grey with no wind and the wind turbines and solar panel farms in the area all mocking the reason that they were put there for. 
Boxing Day is always a traditional hunting/shooting day and so I made my way across the reserve, in the slowly increasing light, and up onto the sea wall to see if many wildfowlers were out on the saltings. As I got there two shots rang out and two ducks fell from the sky with one being picked up immediately but a second, despite much searching by the guy with his dog, wasn't. Very soon after another two shots rang out from much further along the sea wall but I was to far away to see the result, although when the two guys packed up and walked back to go home, they showed me a small Teal duck that they had shot. I left them to go out with their dog and assist the previous guy who was still looking for the missing duck that he'd shot. 

Friday 21 December 2018

The Equinox

"I dreamed that, as I wandered by the way,
Bare winter suddenly was changed to spring
and gentle odours led my steps astray"........Percy Bysshe Shelley

It's the 21st of December today, the Shortest Day, the one winter's day guaranteed to bring a smile to my lips. With, first every second, then minutes, then hours, we now start the process of longer days, inching nearer towards spring - to warmth, to flowers, to light evenings.

Just lately it seems as though everything is always wet or damp, it seems to rain part of every day. This morning, after overnight rain again, we awoke to a strengthening, gusty and warmish, SW wind. Being outside was liking around in a cool steam room, everything seemed to be dripping.
On the reserve, after two bone dry winters, this winter is most definitely not going to follow that trend. The grazing meadows are now showing numerous splashes of shallow water and the rills that were dug on the meadows are now full of water. The tracks and gateways are very muddy thanks to the cattle that were supposed of been taken off by now but still haven't been. The ditches are still only half full but overall, the reserve is well on it's way to looking like it should do in the winter and to be honest, in a brief sunny spell, it looks quite superb.

Between my front drive and that of a neighbour's, is a tall and fairly wide hawthorn hedge that I planted when I first moved here thirty odd years ago. It is populated for much of the year by up to fifty House Sparrows. In the spring and summer some nest in it and for the rest of the year they shelter in it in order to pop out on to the two bird tables alongside. Sitting in the conservatory the other afternoon watching the birds on the bird table, I suddenly became aware of two rats making their way up through the branches and then jumping across on to a bird table and eating the food. My Jack Russell was going mental with rage through the window but I couldn't let her out to catch them in case they ran out into the road alongside. So that night I put out my baited rat trap, which catches them alive for me to deal with later. Before I went to bed I noticed something was in the trap and on going out there, it was a hedgehog, which should of been hibernating by now and is likely to die if it does hibernate now because it clearly won't have a good enough fat store. I tipped it out, gave it some dog food and off it trotted. The next night I caught it again and so the trap idea was abandoned and I resorted to some securely placed rat poison that hedgehogs and other animals couldn't get to, some people might like rats but I don't. 

Friday 14 December 2018

Growing up - some of my lives.

A brief trip through my life.

Sometime before I was 5

 Sometime after I was 5 - at London Zoo

1966, aged 19 - the folk years

1967 - convincing myself I looked like Bob Dylan

1972-ish, married two years and the first of my continuous line of Jack Russell terriers.

1970-80's - the rabbiting me.

 1985 - the sporty and nude me.

Still 1980's

 1990's and well past 40

 Early 2000's and starting to show my age
 Gawd! - current day, 71 and looking every inch of it. Why did I do some things to excess!

Sunday 9 December 2018

Humbug and all it's enjoyment

We're now in that bloody awful run up to Christmas and the New Year, short dark days, crap weather and everywhere you go, Christmas and all it's expense is rammed down your throats - and bloody awful Christmas music in many shops!  The only good thing in this period is the Shortest Day, when at last, by just seconds in the beginning, then minutes and then hours, each day gets longer and Spring gets nearer.
I've hated Christmas for most of my adult life, partly because it heralds the depths of winter and everything I detest in winter, as I said above, the short dark days, the not being able to get out in the garden and do much, the endurance of suffering cold, wind, rain and sometimes freezing temperatures as I walk across the reserve. Even worse is the big day itself and all the excesses that your are encouraged to take part in because "it's Christmas" - the over eating, the over drinking, the waking up and over eating and over drinking all over again, because "it's Christmas".
One of the greatest joys of living on my own is that if I choose to, I don't have to endure that. I can put out some washing on the line on the big day, it it's a good drying day,  I can even have egg and chips for dinner rather than an over-flowing plate of turkey and veg.that I don't feel like eating.

But then of course, comes Boxing Day. After an exhilarating walk on the reserve with the dog, home for a bottle of wine or a rum and coke, probably a tad earlier than normal, and sport on the TV, until that is, the bloody adverts drive you nuts. Adverts every few minutes promoting bloody sales in the shops, whereby people, who only a few days before, had spent a small fortune on Christmas presents, waste their Christmas holidays in retail scrums incurring even more debt buying stuff that they can easily survive with purely because it's cheaper. Unfortunately the later credit card bills don't show the same Christmas spirit, they just increase.

After the brief breathing space, for some of at least, along comes New Years Eve, another festival of excess and noise. In recent years, instead of being able to ignore it, go to bed and wake up in a new year, fireworks have become the norm - every bloody where! I've lost track of the amount of times I've sat up till gone 2.00 in the morning consoling my trembling dogs as every drunken neighbour for miles shoots countless expensive rockets into the night sky.

Roll on January the 2nd when normal life returns.

Friday 30 November 2018

Happy Days

Joy of joys, a day to lift the heart strings, we are having clear blue skies, warming sun and light winds, it could of been early Spring. It was lovely to get up at 5.30 this morning, look out of the back door and see the moon and stars in the sky, rather than rain.
I arrived at the reserve just as the sun was rising from behind some distant clouds on the horizon and the effect that it had on the marsh was amazing, no more grey and gloom, oh no, the reserve looked green and sparkling. OK, it was still wet and muddy but it just felt better and the first bird that I saw, was a female Hen Harrier, gliding over the tops of a nearby reed bed. Ellie and I set off to walk round the whole of the reserve's grazing marsh, watching and listening to Curlews as they came off the arable fields alongside and made their way out to the nearby tidal mudflats, now becoming exposed as the tide ebbed away.
Next on my list were the grazing geese out on the marsh - 70 Greylag Geese (our resident birds) and 17 White-fronted Geese, truly wild birds that breed in the far north of Europe and visit us in the winter. As the winter progresses and especially if cold weather on the Continent gets bad, the flock will normally build up to c. 200-300 birds, they are lovely birds. Yesterday there was a lone Barnacle Goose with them but I couldn't find it today. We carried on through the 40 strong herd of young cows, next year's breeding stock and Ellie and they normally manage to ignore each other. It was then that my spirits really rose, I spotted the male Hen Harrier gliding across the reserve. I knew that there was one about but it had been evading me up till now. Seeing the male bird in flight with it's silvery grey plumage looking almost ghostly is a spectacular sight.

We carried on as the sun became warmer and brighter, Skylarks were springing up from everywhere, some resident, some winter visitors, and one or two even climbed into the sky to sing, now that really did make it seem like Spring! Two Buzzards, mewing like lost kittens, joined the raptor list, while several Herons and a couple of Little Egrets rose from the ditches. 
We walked up on to the top of the sea wall and begun to follow that for almost a mile, with the saltings and the tide to the left and all of the reserve's grazing marsh to the right. That stretch of sea wall has on it's landward side, the sea wall fleet, or Delph, thick with tall phragmites reed beds. As we carried on a couple of Bearded Tits "pinged" away with out showing themselves but I did eventually get a count of 22 Reed Buntings along that same stretch. Coming to the end of the sea wall we cut back on to the reserve and followed the reserve boundary ditch the mile back to the barn where I had left the car. On the farmland side of this ditch there is thick line of mostly hawthorn bushes and it is a magnet for smaller birds at this time of year and today was no exception. Feeding on the berries were several dozen Fieldfares, as they have been for a couple of weeks, also there were Linnets, Chaffinches, a few more Reed Buntings and the odd Wren and Robin.
That's been just a few of the birds that I saw today as we wandered round and boy, did the whole walk in that weather make me feel good.

Wednesday 28 November 2018

Wet and Miserable.

Since my last post, going on about the damp and gloomy weather, we are currently enduring our fifth day since then, of wet and gloomy weather. It has rained for part of every day and night, sometimes heavily but often light and drizzly and it has been cold. Everywhere and everything seems damp, even indoors when the heating isn't on.
Now I know that I've spent most of the last year or so praying for rain, just as the Librarian is in Germany at the moment, but with any type of weather there comes a time after enduring it endlessly, that you scream enough is enough. One day of blue skies and sunshine would be so uplifting after all this depressing damp but it seems like a dream at the moment.
And the reserve, is it now getting wetter?, well on the surface it is. Walking round is fast becoming hard work in the mud and the splashes of water, especially if one is getting soaked through by the constant rain at the same time. It doesn't bother Ellie my dog though and there she shows her perversity. At home, when it's wet or rainy, she has to be almost shoved out of the door for a pee. She will then go to absurd lengths to avoid walking on the wet lawn and when she finally does, it is by gingerly lifting one foot at a time as though she is walking on hot coals. Take her to a wet and muddy marsh and she'd gambol about on there all day if you let her.
But incredibly, so far, water levels in the ditches and fleets have barely risen, although they look much refreshed. It takes a surprising amount of constantly heavy rain to water-log the marsh after a prolonged dry spell and earlier this year it was only a heavy snow fall, slowly melting, that cured last year's drought.
So, as I sit here looking out at wet roads, wet gardens, a pond that is lapping over on to the lawn and heavy grey skies, I find myself looking very much forward to the Spring.

Friday 23 November 2018

A Winter's Day

This early morning on the reserve was simply a repeat of yesterday - low cloud, gloomy, slightly misty and  drizzly damp. In summary, everything I hate about this time of year and a good reason why I become easily depressed in the winter.
I guess that there are people that like short hours of daylight, damp, cold and dreary days, but I'm not one of them. How that they can like such days is beyond me, what can be better than getting up in daylight at 5.00 in the morning to be greeted by a warm sunrise and to know that that would continue through a warm and sunny day until gone 9.30 at night. No thick and heavy winter clothes, no head and neck recoiled down into your coat to keep out the cold, no every hardship going in order to battle the elements of winter. I took this photo this morning in black and white because by doing so it emphasised the bleak greyness that met me there when I arrived.

Yesterday however, in my local supermarket, I bumped into a special friend who I hadn't seen for a couple of years. She has an unpleasant illness that results in too many bad days and nights, but yesterday was one of her "good" days. We chatted at length about various things but in the main, about her illness and she so inspired me with how she faces it, how she stays remarkably cheerful about it and above all, how she has retained her sense of humour.  It kind of put my depression at having arthritic bones and a dislike of grey winter's days into perspective.
Lastly, I have to apologise for resorting to "Wind in the Willows" again and the following, an extract from the Toad's imprisonment in gaol and the kindness of the gaoler's daughter. 

"When the girl returned, some hours later, she carried a tray, with a cup of fragrant tea steaming on it; and a plate piled up with very hot buttered toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with the butter running through the holes in it in great golden drops, like honey from the honeycomb. The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cosy parlour firesides on winter evenings, of the purring of contended cats and the twitter of sleeping canaries.

I guess most of us can identify with such moments.

Monday 19 November 2018

Winter begins

I'm sitting here writing this in my south facing conservatory. Today it is far from warm in here, I haven't got the central heating on and outside heavy grey clouds race across the sky, pushed along by a gusty and cold ENE wind. Added to that are frequent light showers of icy rain, it's the 19th November and winter is finally beginning to appear on the horizon, made all the more obvious by flocks of Fieldfares, fresh in from Scandinavia and feasting on the hedgerow berries.
I've been out in the garden briefly today, digging a piece of border and pruning a Cotoneaster shrub, but as a whole, the garden is almost pruned, dug and mulched as I want it and ready for it's winter sleep. Let's face it, today is one of those days when it's simply better being inside, looking out, drinking a glass of something, reading something or just just mulling over what the last eleven months have been like. 
So I've been sitting here,  reading a newly published book by Matthew Dennison entitled "Eternal Boy - The life of Kenneth Grahame " who of course wrote "Wind in the Willows, and was captivated by a passage in it that seemed to express the way that days such as today, should end.
Kenneth Grahame and a friend had been walking in the countryside on one cold weekend. "we came home happy and tired, bought some chops and fetched a huge jug of beer from the pub. We cooked our dinner over the open wood fire, then great chunks of cheese, new bread, great swills of beer, pipes, bed and heavenly sleep". Oh yes, the summer is a time of very long and busy days, with short, hot nights, but the winter offers the reverse - rising late, a brief day and the snugness of giving in to lethargy, early darkness and the comfort of a long winter's night wrapped in blankets, planning next year and re-living this year.

Wednesday 7 November 2018

All Quiet on the Reserve Front

It was a wet, muddy and windy walk round the reserve earlier today after a couple of hours of rain. We've has several rainy days over the last month or so and they've certainly done a good job of making the gardens wetter and the surface of the reserve, it is muddier and greener. There isn't, however, still any surface water showing across the reserve, nothing in the still dry rills and ditches still a few feet below decent levels, but it's not looking as dry as it did this time last year, yet.

All of the cattle were taken off the reserve last Friday, which is earlier than usual, but really good news because as it starts to wetten up on these rainy days it means that they cattle won't churn gate-ways, etc, into boggy and difficult areas to walk through. The grazier has taken both the calves and their mothers back to his stock yards a few miles away and there the calves will be separated from their mothers for weaning. The adult cows have reached the end of their reproductive lives now  and will therefore be fattened up in the yards for a while before being sent for culling and presumably turned into various meat products - tough but all part of the livestock cycle of things. Next Spring we will presumably have a new and younger herd on the reserve, grazing and eventually entertaining the bulls.
It has also been noticeable over the last week, on a smaller farm near the reserve, that the rams have been put out with the ewe sheep. This always takes place around November 5th and it's always easy to spot because the ewes that have been impregnated will each have a coloured mark on their rear end, left by the coloured block that is strapped across the ram's chest.
So, going back to the reserve and without the livestock now, it seems quiet out there walking round. The cattle can be a pain at times but they do add to the sights and the sounds of the place.

The other noticeable feature of the place as vegetation starts to die down for the winter, is the lack of rabbits. They were always a normal part of the reserve and indeed much of Sheppey, but not any more. When I first became a Volunteer Warden there in 1986 and for many years afterwards, every earth bund  salt-working mound and even the flat ground, was inundated with them in their thousands. They conformed to the old-time photographs that we used to see of rabbits in plague proportion and most people who lived in and off of the countryside, carried out rabbit shooting, trapping or ferreting at some stage. Then around twenty years ago a combination of myxomatosis and a new disease that cause them to haemorrhage, began to see their numbers plummet. At first it was seen as a blessing because of the damage that rabbits do to crops and infrastructure and controls by shooting ferreting continued in the same old way. But gradually, as numbers dropped to really low levels, controls became both unnecessary and unattractive to those who enjoyed such sport.
At first some places on Sheppey still hung on to really good numbers of rabbits but now even they have seen a massive drop in numbers and these days the traditional sight of rabbits sitting out in fields or along hedgerows at dusk is becoming rarer. These days as I enjoy my daily walks around the reserve I would estimate the population of rabbits over the whole reserve, to me no more than about fifty rabbits. It's a real shame because rabbits have always been an iconic part of the countryside and more importantly, a vital part of the natural food chain. Without an easy and widespread choice of young rabbits to feed on the likes of birds of prey, foxes, stoats, etc., are forced to become a nuisance by turning to other food items such as ground nesting birds and game birds for example. Hard to believe but we need to leave rabbits alone to replenish their stocks.

Sunday 28 October 2018


I rarely sleep well and normally wake up and stay awake, from 3.30ish in the morning (sometimes earlier) and then read until getting up at about 5.30.
Lat night, with British Summertime ending, I put all my clocks back an hour in order to be in Winter Time when I woke up, a daft idea but that's what we have to do. Anyway, this morning I woke up with rain lashing against my windows in a very cold and strong NE wind (such rain is a rare event lately and worthy of noting). The clock was showing 3.15 and I groaned, that would of been 4.15 yesterday but we'd gone back an hour, that meant even longer laying in bed this morning and it was still four hours until the paper shops open. OK, it means that it gets light an hour earlier, the dog and I can get down to the reserve earlier but of course it was lashing down with rain this morning so even that was out of the question, it was clearly going to be a long day
The dog was also pacing round the kitchen when I got up at 5.00, which would of been 6.00 yesterday, not able to understand why her breakfast was an hour late, it'll take both of us until we retire tonight to get back into sync. with normal timings again and in the meantime I'll spend all day thinking, "this would of been an hour later yesterday".
So here I am, it's 6.20 as I write this, it's getting light enough outside to see angry black clouds rushing across the sky, dropping icy rain at regular intervals - winter has arrived at the same time as Winter Time, I feel depressed already but glad that I planted my last lot of tulip bulbs yesterday.

Thursday 25 October 2018

More Books

As I mentioned in my last blog, I had finished reading the latest book about Enid Blyton and I then moved on to a newly published one about E. Nesbit, author of "The Railway Children". I have never read a scrap of her work but was attracted to the book by the bohemian lifestyle that she and her husband led. It was a good and interesting read, as most things about bohemians normally are for me.

Anyway, that has now gone to my bulging bookshelves and I have now started the third of those that I bought, the one shown below. Billy Connolly in my book, is the funniest comedian that I've ever seen and I look forward to many good laughs while reading it.

The weather so far this week has been quite beautiful. Clear, starry nights lit by a large full moon, chilly starts and then sunny and fairly warm afternoons. The two ends of the days have also been spectacular. Every morning I've been on the reserve as a huge, fiery-orange sun has risen above the horizon and then early evenings has seen a repeat as the sun has set surrounded by skies in all manner of pink, orange and yellow colours. I have spent all week de-weeding my rose borders, by hand in some places, and yet there is still a lot more to catch up on and I have ordered another load of tulips to plant among the roses.
With the chilly nights this week it was apparent that my two tortoises had slowed down considerably and so they were weighed and then put into their hibernation box in the garage. It'll be the end of February/early March before I see them again.
The reserve remains very quiet bird-wise, the result of a third consecutive dry Autumn but I did record a Jay this week. Surprisingly, Jays are a very uncommon bird here on Sheppey, I've only seen 3-4 in my whole 71 years living here. We don't have the large areas of woodland that they favour, especially oaks, it's mostly marshland. 

Friday 19 October 2018

Enid Blyton

Throughout my whole 71 years of life, two sets of books have always dominated. The Wind in the Willows and the Famous Five series. I have read most of the books about Kenneth Graham and Enid Blyton, have several editions of the Wind in the Willows and all twenty one of the Famous Five books, all in their original covers.
Even to this day, when I'm feeling depressed or nostalgic, I simply pick up one of those books to read and they're like a comfort blanket. They give me the same simple escape from life that they did all those years ago as someone suffering an unhappy childhood.
This week I took receipt of the latest book about Enid Blyton's life and read it over two days and nights.

 It is not as detailed as the one below, which I bought some years ago but in it's final chapters does detail the degree to which both she and her books became black-listed in later life.

It may also come as a surprise to a lot of people to find that, despite being the favourite "auntie" to millions of children worldwide, always finding time for them if she met them, replying to every letter that they sent, that in her private life, Enid virtually ignored her own two daughters as they grew up. She could be a quite a nasty person at times.
Anyway, to get back to the good bits, she was adored by children worldwide, and in her prime was writing c.8,000 words a day and publishing dozens of books, magazines and articles a year, all for children of various ages. However, in the mid 1950's adults got involved - all of a sudden they branded her books as sexist, racist and just about everything else-ist. Teaching establishments that had used her books and methods as educational tools and libraries for years, gradually removed her books from their shelves. Despite the fact that for donkeys years her books had encouraged children to read, to form clubs, to collect money for charities, all of a sudden adults found her a bad influence on their children.
And even today, this denying children the escapism that they get from such simple books and films is still going on, putting adults thoughts into tiny children's minds. In my paper today, I read of how one actress is telling her little girls that the scene in Snow White where the handsome prince kisses Snow White while she is asleep is "weird" and has warned her daughters about the male character's behaviour. One Japanese person went even further and accused Snow White of perpetuating "quasi-compulsive obscene acts on an unconscious partner". So it now seems that Walt Disney, that mainstay of childhood pleasure and dreams, is going to be picked apart by adults and denied to their children.
What a sad world we live in.

Tuesday 16 October 2018


There is an LP that has been one of the features on the shelves in my study for countless years, I bought it around 1964. It was Bob Dylan's second album and was released in 1963 and the album cover, below, has become an iconic feature of those early 1960's folk years for a lot of people. It shows the young Bob Dylan and his then girlfriend Suze Rotolo walking down a frozen Greenwich Village street in early 1963, posing for a series of photographs.
I've lost count of the times my eyes have been drawn to that album cover over the years, especially now in old age, and been taken back to those same years of my youth.

Taking me back to times like this, in late 1966 or early 1967. I was 19 and my girlfriend, who later became my first wife, was several years younger.

Those times seem an awful long way away now and I guess after 51 years, they most definitely are. But how simple life was then, no latest communication technology to crave after, no need to save wages, listening to the latest music releases by standing in a booth in your local record shop. Only the responsibility and financial restraints of marriage changed everything. This week for my Autumn reading pleasure in the coming weeks, I have bought three newly published books - "The Real Enid Blyton" by Nadia Cohern. I have read many books about Enid Blyton (she was not such a nice person) and have all 21 of the Famous Five books, and anything to do with her takes me back to my childhood in the 1950's and how her books allowed me to escape from an unhappy childhood.
 "Made in Scotland - My Grand Adventures in a Wee Country" by Billy Connolly - easily the funniest comedian Britain has ever produced, I could watch him all night.
"The Extraordinary  Life of  E Nesbit" by Elizabeth Galvin. I've never read any of her well known books but was drawn to this book by the fact that she lived a bohemian life-style and I have quite a collection of books now about people that have lived that kind of life-style, such as the Bloomsbury Group. I can so easily identify with that way of life in the 1920's/30's and would love to have lived it - the best I could do was the 1960's, when we indulged in some drugs, lots of drinking and group sex - I miss it.

Tuesday 11 September 2018

Johnny Kingdom R.I.P.

It was sad to see that Johnny Kingdom was killed recently when a digger overturned while he was working on his farmland in his beloved Devon. He was 79, lived most of his life on and around Exmoor and was one of those countryside characters still steeped in all the old ways that you rarely see or hear about these days.
Throughout his life Johnny was a farm labourer, poacher, quarryman, lumberjack and gravedigger and in his latter years, an excellent maker of wildlife documentaries that were shown on BBC2. In one hand he probably had more knowledge of the countryside, it's wildlife and weather, than all the presenters on the awful BBC Countryfile put together. He came from the mould that made the likes of Jack Hargreaves, Olly Kite, Phil Drabble and several others, people that didn't need a script, fancy clothing and make-up to present a wildlife programme.
I had a lot of time for him because he spoke of a countryside and it's ways that I can identify with and have dabbled with throughout my life.

Saturday 1 September 2018


Yesterday, Friday 31st August, after sleeping poorly as usual, I got up at 04.30 and was on the reserve at first light 05.30. The day was forecast to be sunny and warm and indeed it did turn out that way, very warm and sunny to be exact. However, when I arrived at the reserve, grey clouds were drifting across the sky, a light mist was rising from the ditches, it was a chilly 9 degrees and the dew in some of the hollows hinted at possible frost.
A few small parties of duck flew along the sea wall fleet, flying just above the mist they turned, flew back a few yards and then quickly dropped into the fleet. Further across the reserve the sounds of geese calling caused me to look through the binoculars at what were a small gaggle of Greylag Geese rising up from their overnight roost in the middle of the marsh. In the reed beds along the sea wall fleet one or two Reed Warblers still called but most have already left for their winter quarters in Africa, they arrived late this year and most have left early. Those that did arrive were in much lower numbers than previous years and as a result the breeding records showed over 50% less pairs than the last couple of years.
It was one of those early morning visits that was totally serene and perfectly silent and I meant to enjoy the quietness and solitude of both the reserve and Harty in general yesterday, because today meant I have to share it for the next six months with the wildfowlers. The wildfowl shooting season always begins at midnight on the 1st September and the silence of dawn and dusk will now regularly be broken by the sounds of gunshots. I have no problem with true wildfowling, it's one of the hardiest forms of shooting and requires a lot of stamina and skill, I just begrudge, perhaps selfishly, having to lose my little bit of early morning serenity, not have it all to myself.
So, after yesterday morning's early start, I was back on the reserve this morning at 05.15 to see how many wildfowlers were seeing in the start of the season, only trouble is, as you can see below, seeing wasn't exactly an option. It was only 7 degrees, there were clear, light blue skies beginning to show above the marsh, but also a mist that obscured forward vision up to height of about 20 feet. I heard a couple of shots be fired the other side of the sea wall so knew that somebody was there but couldn't see who fired them.

 Eventually the sun began to appear above the eastern horizon and was pretty much the only indication of where the land and the sky met.

 Few wildfowl were moving flying about and that was obvious by the fact that I only heard two more shots for the rest of the time I was there and as the sun began to rise into the sky, the mist briefly thickened again. Below is the top of the sea wall, to the right is the bird watching hide on the landward side and to the left are the salting where the wildfowlers were.

 Gradually the sun began to increase in power and colour and the whole marsh begun to look very picturesque. I was also able to eventually see and talk to the seven wildfowlers as they packed up for the morning. They were disappointed at the lack of first day shooting but like me, simply enjoyed being there to experience such a lovely sight.

All along the sea wall, on what seemed like every clump of grass, thousands of cobwebs had been highlighted by the damp and the mist.

As I walked back across the marsh to return home, it was 7.00 but the mist was still as thick and the cattle begun to appear as they made their way past me. It had been a lovely September morning.

Thursday 9 August 2018


We seem to be dropping into a two week weather cycle now. Since my last posting we have had another fortnight of sweltering hot and sunny weather which broke down a day ago with a brief storm. As I write this, today is forecast to be very wet all day although it has yet to start, but we remain in hope.
The harvest is coming to a close now, with just the bales to be collected off the fields and stored in outside stacks or in barns.

These corn straw bales illustrate the way that cereal straw tends to be baled here on Sheppey, while the rape straw is baled in large square bales.

 One of the large rape stubble fields left after harvesting, note the dust dry soil.

In my last post I mentioned how dry sewerage material is collected by the farmers and spread as a manure, well below is a second by-product material that is currently being spread across the stubble fields, prior to cultivations. It is gypsum from a local plasterboard factory and can help clay soils, such as we have, stay more open and viable.

 Here you see stubbles having the top few inches of the soil broken up prior to later seed sowing, these were rape stubbles that will later be sown with wheat, or possibly barley. Note the dust from the dry ground following the tractor.

The game shooting season is only a couple of months away and this week saw the first arrival of several thousand young pheasants that will be introduced to numerous pens around the marsh. They have access to and from the pens via small openings and spend a lot of the day foraging nearby before going back into the pens at night to be safe from the local foxes.

Monday 30 July 2018

Surely not Autumn and what's that smell

Since my last posting the intense heat, sunshine, humidity and drought was endured right up until last Friday night when we had a storm and the first proper rain for two months. Saturday saw hot and sunny weather with strong winds that quickly nullified the effects of the rain.
However, yesterday and so far this morning we have been in the throws of constant two days of heavy grey skies, regular bouts of heavy rain and drizzle and a strongish warm wind. After several weeks of mostly enjoying a Mediterranean summer, it's as though literally overnight we have suddenly morphed straight into an English autumn. The desert scenario that last week was my garden, has plants now dripping with water and though not soaked, the soil is at least moist down to a couple of inches, and will benefit my plants for a few days, far more than me and my hose would of done.
Walking round the reserve this morning under heavy skies, drizzle and a really warm wind, it was like walking in a sauna and my clothes were damp from sweat, (not that you probably want to know that.)
To continue the autumnal feel, large numbers of Swifts and mostly juvenile Swallows, were passing through the sky in a south-westerly direction, not rushing but still starting their migration south. And the autumn wader movement has begun as well. This always begins in late July/early August and so the name Autumn movement is a tad wrong but it's always been that way. Common Sandpipers and the odd Green Sandpiper are now stopping off along the marsh ditches and fleets as they re-fuel on their way south, there's a lot of hot and sunny summer yet to come but clearly these birds, having done their breeding in northern climes, see no point in hanging around anymore. 
In an attempt to beat the rain, huge acreages of corn were harvested both day and night last week but some fields of corn and spring barley had to be left and will have to be left now until a few days of hot sunshine dry them out again. The most noticeable after-effect of the harvest now is the strong and not exactly nice smell that is drifting across Sheppey on the warm and damp winds. For many years now, the local arable farmers have taken in, and are presumably paid to do so, the by-products of sewage farms. Throughout the spring and summer months large heaps of this black, compost like product, are created in the corners of fields. With the surface quickly drying out there is very little smell, until now as the heaps are being dug into and tractors spread it across the stubble fields. The smell is quite awful and with several holiday camps down wind a few miles away, complaints are constant every year but it is the countryside after all and farmers have always manured their fields.

Sunday 22 July 2018

Thinking Ahead

As I sit here today on yet another day of endless heatwave, looking out on a panorama of yellow, baked hard and cracked countryside, I find myself having thoughts of autumn and winter, how weird is that! Weird because I loathe the winter with a vengeance, those days of getting light late, dark early, and short days of daylight in between. Days when another year of your life seems to disappear in just six moths of doing nothing-ness.
Last night, as the light began to fade on yet another long day of heat and humidity, I sat in my conservatory relishing the cool breeze that was beginning to blow in the door and pulled the cork on a bottle of red wine. I gradually worked my way down it as twilight became dusk and dusk became darkness. Ellie, my terrier, sat in the doorway and watched the movement of moths on the Verbena bonariensis flowers and the occasional "plop" of something in the pond. A small bat flew round the garden, a late Wood Pigeon landed on the fence, my mood grew more nostalgic, a half moon appeared, it became completely dark as I sat there, the bottle was empty, I unsteadily rose and went to bed.
But back to today and those thoughts of autumn and winter, those seasons yet to come. I love those thick mists that envelop the marsh and make walking across it a challenge, I love the hard, white frosts and blue skies of a frozen dawn when a great, orange sun rises with no warmth and creeps round, hugging the horizon. But that is about it, I don't know why I'm spending this hot, sunny afternoon thinking that way.

"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 chilly premonitions of the passing year..............there was a feeling in the air of change and departure".  (Wind in the Willows)

Friday 20 July 2018

A Tad Wrong

In my last posting, I hastily made the suggestion that the heatwave was over, that has not turned out to be the case, a couple of gloomy, chilly days soon reverted to the relentless heat, sunshine and dryness that preceded those days. Yesterday in the media, appeared  Met. Office aerial photographs of the whole of the UK in May, coloured lovely and green and this month with it coloured mostly yellow/brown. So, with temps. over the next several days forecast to be in the high 20's-low 30's we remain in the throws of a heatwave that is fast starting to equal that experienced in the famous one of 1976.
On the reserve, the breeding season has more or less finished and we're now entering the quiet, between seasons spell which can become quite boring. Many of the birds are now beginning their annual moult and as a result don't sing much and have become quite secretive and listless. Birds such as Lapwings and Curlews, that probe the ground for invertebrates to eat, obviously haven't a chance of doing that in soil like concrete so have mostly moved out to the low-tide mudflats. The one think that this time of the tear is note-able for is Horse Flies and this year is no exception. These large flies follow you all round the grazing marsh, buzzing noisily around you as they attempt to alight on your skin and boy do they bite. Their bite is like someone sticking a red hot needle in your skin and can often turn septic, people watching me from a distance must wonder why I'm walking round with arms going like a windmill all the time.
On the farmland alongside the reserve the rape crop has now been harvested, albeit with low tonnages according to the farmer, thanks to the dry soil. The wheat and barley crops will now follow in the next couple of weeks, although opening up some ears of corn recently, it seemed obvious to me that the grains of corn were not very plump and so their tonnages are also likely to be low. All forms of farming are struggling due to this heatwave at the moment, crops are showing poor yields and livestock are also not finding a lot of joy in pastures full of bone dry, yellow and brittle grass.

I noted in the media the other day that the BTO, who annually tag cuckoos with tiny satellite devices, are advising us that already, several of the cuckoos that summered here, are transmitting the fact that they are already south of the Sahara on their way back to their wintering grounds in southern Africa. Swifts will soon be joining them before the main autumn migration rush begins in late August/September.

Well blow me down - within an hour of writing the above, rain started falling - not heavy torrential stuff but gentle, steady rain that if nothing else refreshed the plants and the gardens and took the humidity out of the air - and it lasted for five hours - the soil is hardly wetter but it looks better.

Monday 9 July 2018

All things must pass

As I sit here writing this, it's early Monday evening, the heat and humidity of today have speedily ended. We now have heavy grey skies and a chilly and gusty N wind and in the space of an hour or so our lengthy heatwave has dramatically ended. All of a sudden windows are being closed and the prospects of being able to sleep tonight, after weeks of sweaty insomnia, seem to be rising greatly.

But oh, what a joyous two or three weeks it has been, non-stop blue and sunny skies, and relentless heat baking the gardens and the countryside to a tinder dry yellowness. Well, I say joyous but cracks are running through the flower borders of my garden that you can put an arm down, making watering simply a waste of both time and water and the lawns are a crisp white-yellow colour. How much longer the plants and indeed the farmland crops, can hang on for without rain before perishing, is hard to know but no rain is forecast in the near future.

Last week saw me celebrate my 71st birthday and on one of the days my partner and I spent most of it visiting a couple of favourite spots in the Kent countryside, Reculver and Faversham Creek, both on the coast. Later, in the evening, we visited an Indian restaurant and then decided to visit a site near to my bungalow called the Shingle Bank, to watch one of our famous Sheppey sunsets. Half a mile from my bungalow the road runs from my village to the local town of Sheerness, with countryside one side and the sea on the other. Acting as a sea wall a high and wide bank of shingle has been created on to which you can drive and sit there looking out to sea. As twilight began to settle we took this photo looking east along the bank to the cliffs that form the high northern side of the Island.

Behind the cliffs and looking out to sea, my bungalow is among those in this next photo.

 And as the light faded, the sun began to settle in the western sky, it was almost 9.30 then.

The following day we drove in to the centre of Canterbury and treated ourselves, on a beautiful hot and sunny day, to an hour's punt trip (not us in the punt). The River Stour runs right through and at times, under, the heart of the city and to see some of the old buildings from that aspect was really delightful.

We actually went under that old building and out the other side.

 So, the last few weeks have blessed us with superb weather, though once or twice exceptionally hot, and we have thoroughly immersed ourselves in it. I have been going to the reserve at 5.00 in the mornings to enjoy the cool and stillness of it and so that little Ellie doesn't get too hot. Apart from trips out I have been going for daily cycle rides along the nearby sea front and countryside and it's been a real joy to live in shorts and T shirts.

I'll leave you with one of my favourite annual photos - the caterpillar of the Cinnabar Moth.

Monday 25 June 2018


Time and it's attendant weather have moved on considerably since the depression of my last posting and with increased regularity the weather has become sunnier and hotter. This week as I write this the weather is hot with unbroken sunshine and due to remain so for some time yet - we're into a heatwave!
After my last posting I looked back at those of the earlier years, when I believe that they said something meaningful, had content and venom,and was minded to give up all together, because I wasn't really saying anything new or interesting, but we'll see.
April ended with a 20 hr period of heavy and continuous rain and cold N. winds on the 29th/30th that brought about a lot of surface flooding on the reserve. Some nests in the ditches and fleets were submerged and many nests or chicks of Lapwing and Skylark in the flat marsh were either covered in water or the chicks died of cold and wet in the long vegetation. For the Lapwings at least, the breeding season on the Swale NNR has been pretty much a non-event - too few pairs and bad weather affecting those that did breed. The other significant aspect has been the late and reduced return of summer migrants, Reed and Sedge Warbler numbers are well down from previous years -it was a funny old Spring!
As has already been mentioned, since then the weather has improved to a state of hot and sunny but the water levels on the reserve are beginning to drop away quite fast and the ground is very dry and hard, but so far, the grass levels have held up and the cattle and their calves are doing very well. This year, given all the activity in the fields, after two years of hay shortages, it looks as though hay will be plentiful - it may not be much cheaper but it will be plentiful. One of the Harty farmers this year has sown several fields of spring barley, a crop just beginning to re-appear on Sheppey, and it's good news because it means that the fields it's currently growing in were either fallow over the winter or with a catch crop and all benefiting wildlife.
In my garden last winter I cleared, re-dug and manured a new border and this Spring planted it with perennial flowers that attract and feed bees and butterflies. They are all flowering well, as you can see below, but where are the bees and butterflies?, they just haven't appeared this year, a whole border of lavender in my front garden, but not a bee in sight, I am so disappointed and worried.


This last few days I have been on the reserve by 05.30 to avoid the heat, little Ellie doesn't like it, and anyway it's so fresh, cool and quiet, quite superb. The evening sunsets have also been quite magnificent, this first one, looking west across the grazing marshes opposite my house, shows the sun just disappearing below the horizon at near 22.00 at night.

and this one, an incredible 22.30 as I went to bed. Just think, in winter we'd of had six hours of darkness by then, oh happy summer days!

 Lastly, as I drove back along the Harty Road on Sunday morning at around 8.00, this young Kestrel was spotted on a fence post beside the road and so I leaned my camera out of the car and took a photograph from just five foot away.

Saturday 28 April 2018

Shit Weather

Well, after the euphoria in my last two postings, due to a seven day spell of almost hot and sunny weather after a wet and cold early Spring, this week has slowly sunk back into that cold and wet Spring. It rained off and on most of yesterday and coming home after most of the day out and about, I had to put the Central Heating back on in order to warm up.
As I write this, early on Saturday morning, it is raining hard, it's gloomy and it's cold. Fortunately, by going out with little Ellie at 06.00, I managed to get a less than enthusiastic walk round a wet reserve before this current rain begun. Long, wet grass and cold conditions do not bode well for ant Lapwing chicks that are getting wet and cold without being able to dry out in warm, sunny weather.

To further add to my depression there is a weather warning currently out for Sunday night and all day Monday here in the South East, for heavy rain and gale-force N winds that could lead to some surface flooding.  It's very difficult to feel any kind of positivity at the moment.

Sunday 22 April 2018

Another Early Morning

I was on the reserve by 06.30 this morning and with blue skies and sunshine beginning to quickly disperse the early mist, it looked quite superb.
This is what it looked like when I turned up.

Quickly the mist burnt off and as it did so, from the reed beds on the reserve, came the "booming" calls of a Bittern, a sound like somebody blowing across the top of a bottle, but amplified.

 Not a breath of wind and total calmness, with the variegated foliage of Milk Thistle in the foreground.

 The Flood Field looked as it should do, with a few white birds in it........

 ........which turned out to be these Avocets.

 The Tower Hide

The Coot's nest from yesterday's blog had increased to nine eggs!

Ellie, looking as lovely as ever,