Wednesday 28 March 2018

Another Never Ending Winter

Back in March/April 2013 in my blogs, I gave the weather at the time the nick-name of the "Never Ending Winter" - this year seems to be following the same path. The Beast from the East, the Mini Beast from the East and now, continuing cold and wet weather forecast well into April, does not bode well for a decent Spring this year.
Today it is cold and it began raining steadily at 7.00 and is set to do so all day and it's looking pretty miserable outside. It's often the case in this country that if you wish for a type of weather for too long, that when it does eventually arrive it doesn't know when to stop. That appears to be the case at the moment, throughout our long drought we prayed for rain and lots of it and boy are we getting it now. Trouble is, it's a bit too much at the wrong time, as we go into April, it's warmer weather that we need now, to get the grazing meadows growing nicely and to aid the ground nesting birds.
Lapwings nest on the ground and not in a nest as such, they simply make a depression in the soil/short grass and lay their four eggs into that depression. Steady rain such as today's, falling on to fairly water-logged ground, will inevitably, despite the brooding bird, soak and chill the bottom half of the eggs causing them to fail to hatch. This cold, wet weather is not going to do any favours at all to the Lapwings if it continues as is forecast, which is a real shame because nationally, they continue to decline as a breeding species.


Another casualty of this cold weather has been the frog spawn featured in my last blog posting. Lack of warming sun and at least one night when the pond surface briefly froze, has seen around 80% of the spawn fail to hatch any tadpoles. Hopefully the newts in the pond will fair much better as their eggs are laid individually under the water with a weed leaf wrapped around each.

In my garden the House Sparrows have been busy starting to build their nests and so far I have identified four nests under way, two in my hawthorn hedge and two in nest boxes. The Blue and Great Tits are slow to start though, despite inspecting the nest boxes I have put out for them. This is probably due to the cold weather and the current lack of the insect food that the Tits will need to feed their chicks with. Getting the timing of that insect food right is crucial to when the Tits will start breeding.  

It's a frustrating time in the garden as well. During this last winter I reclaimed a largish section of the top end of the garden by digging out some evergreen shrubs that contributed nothing to either wildlife or scenery. I dug and manured that area and have recently been trying to plant all manner of plants that will add both massed colour and more importantly, attract and feed bees and butterflies, etc.. Unfortunately, cold wet clay is not best walked on and planted when the weather is as it is today, it's getting really frustrating watching pots of various plants stacking up on the patio waiting to be planted.

So, as I sit here looking at a cold and wet afternoon outside, the prospects of another Never Ending Winter increase by the day.

Monday 12 March 2018

Water, Water.

Today is another thoroughly wet and chilly day and is forecast to remain so all day. I got a thorough soaking this morning on the reserve going down there to put the big diesel pump on that we use to pump water from the ditch system onto The Flood Field and two neighbouring fields. This is pretty much the first time that the ditches have been full enough to do this for two years and we now have those fields looking as part flooded as we would expect at this time of the year.
All in all, I can confidently say that the reserve's two year drought is now well and truly over, ditches and fleets are full, the grazing marsh is water-logged and we now have some mini-flood areas, it looks perfect - dare I say it, this close to the breeding season for ground nesting birds, we don't really need a whole lot more rain - gawd, did I really say that after all my dry weather whinging!
Last week, just a day after the ice in my garden pond thawed out, I got up in the morning to find that the frogs had clearly come out of hibernation and left some clumps of spawn behind. I still haven't seen the frogs but hopefully the spawn will survive OK and for the first time ever, the tadpoles should avoid the hungry mouths of the goldfish that ate them in great numbers. At last it seems, the local Herons have done me a huge favour over the last couple of years and ate every last goldfish after my attempts at catching them proved fruitless.

Tuesday 6 March 2018

Springing out of Winter

Well, after the heavy snow of last week, then rain, then a rapid thaw over the weekend, water levels on the reserve are at last looking more respectable. Just look at the two photos of the ditch below, as it still was in January.......

........and how it was this morning.

Most of the ditches have recovered in the same way and while we still haven't got the typical surface water flooding across the grazing marshes, that we would expect at this time of the year, prospects are looking far better for the forthcoming Spring than they had done.
Below you can see one of several, long and shallow rills that were dug across the grazing marsh several years ago. They were only dug several inches deep and their main purpose is to benefit plover and wader chicks in the Spring by attracting various insects and flies to their muddy fringes as they gradually dry out. For the last two years these rills have been bone dry all year round.

All signs of last week's deep snow cover across the reserve have now disappeared, except along this one ditch for whatever reason. The snow is 2-3 ft deep along this stretch and will presumably take some time before it finally thaws away. It made me wonder about the fate of the Marsh Frogs that I normally see and hear along there through much of the year. Their built in time clocks must be saying that it is time to emerge from hibernation to begin breeding again and for any frogs that have hibernated along that stretch of ditch, will they be able to fight their way to the surface of the snow, will it cause them to perish?
And on the subject of Spring, today has felt almost Springlike, with good spells of warm sunshine and light winds. Walking the reserve this morning there were very encouraging signs that it is just round the corner. The first courtship displays of Lapwings were taking place across the meadows as they tumbled in the sky, issuing their lovely "peewit" calls as they did so. The skies all across the reserve rained with the beautiful song of many Skylarks and along the hedgerows, Chaffinchs helped swell the avian orchestra.
So hard to believe that just a few days ago we were enduring sub-zero temperatures and snow all day long.