Tuesday 29 January 2019

Limbo Land

We're currently experiencing a series of very cold days at the moment. Sometimes they're just grey and bitter cold with a bone-chilling wind and sometimes they start with a hard frost and stay sunny and frozen for most of the day. Both the countryside and I are in limbo, seeing out each day waiting for the Spring to begin. Minute by minute the days are lengthening, heading in that Spring-time direction but too much time is spent doing nothing, spending very cold afternoons staring out of the windows.
The garden, visually at least, is giving me some solace from the urge to be back out there again. The snowdrops, aconites, heathers and helebores are all in flower and the daffodils and tulips are chasing them, inching gradually upwards out of the frozen soil.
For the moment, the early morning visits to the reserve with little Ellie are pretty much my only daily highlights. There the early morning daylight sees the wildfowlers packing up, with or without a duck or two and it's always nice to have a chat with them. Later perhaps, as the weekly farmland game shoots starts, I'll perhaps say hello to some of them as they pass by on the other side of the fence, even retrieve a freshly shot pheasant for them from the reserve.
One frosty dawn last week, with the frost so thick it looked like snow, I captured these White-fronted Geese as they flew into the reserve in front of me, such a lovely sight and sound.

But the shooting season is winding down now. Thursday sees the end of the wildfowl shooting on the land above the tidal high water mark and Friday is the last day of the game (pheasants and partridges) shooting season. That just leaves the wildfowlers with twenty days in February to carry on shooting ducks and geese below the tidal high water mark, which basically means that they must be standing in the mud at low tide. Peace and quiet will soon resound around the reserve and farmland as we look forward to a new breeding season.
On the farmland close by most of the fields are green with autumn sown wheat and rape but there are still several fields of stubble, un-touched since last summer's harvest. To these for the last week, tractors have been hauling trailer loads of manure from the stock yards full of cattle, a few miles away. This manure has been spread across the stubble fields and lightly turned in ready for what ever spring sowings that the farmers have planned.

So for now, it's just a matter of of getting through the boredom that is February and looking forward to those first mild and sunny March days, the first bumblebee, the first butterfly, the joy of Spring in my 72nd year.

Sunday 20 January 2019

All Quiet

Today began at 6.00 as I sat at my laptop, catching up on overnight bits and bobs and with a beautiful full moon shining in the window in front of me. A frost that was quite intense in the middle of the night when I got up for a toilet break, had begun to lessen as a degree of cloud cover had appeared. It's a frustrating time of the year, a month after the Shortest Day and yet I'm found still hanging around indoors waiting for the first glimmers of daybreak so I can go out. That became apparent at just after 7.00 and I set off for the reserve, arriving there as the eastern sky was showing a wide range of yellows, pinks, oranges, although the actual sun rise was still almost an hour away. The large flock of White-fronted Geese (350+) that had been roosting overnight on the flooded scrape on the reserve must of sensed that I was there and got up with a huge clamouring of their very musical and beautiful calls. They flew quite low over my head in the half light, wheeled round and took up their usual day-time place in a stubble field on the next door farmland.
Very high above me as I headed towards the sea wall, came the plaintive calls of a circling Marsh Harrier, while lower down several other Marsh Harriers drifted slowly across the reserve, fresh out of overnight roost sites in various reed beds.
Up onto the sea wall in the increasing light and a quick scan along the saltings to see how many wildfowlers were out enduring the freezing conditions in their pursuit of wildfowl meals, just the one, who never fired a shot the whole time that he was there - wonder why it's always a he, and never a she wildfowler, more sense I suppose.
 Some way further along the sea wall I could see the distant figure of a fellow birdwatcher, one I had expected, and I spent some time walking along to join up with him. He'd been there last night until after dark to count in the roosting Hen Harriers on the saltings and achieved one of the best counts for some time - probably two male HH's and three female HH's. He was there this morning in the dark to count them back out as it became light. As we stood there talking and watching the sun beginning to rise above the hills to the east, the reserve and surrounding farmland looked almost Springlike with it's green fields and blue skies, only the cold temperatures spoiled that effect. We also discussed the absence of so many bird varieties and indeed the very low numbers of birds that has become apparent over the last few years. Low water levels has to be the most obvious reason, wetland bird species need large areas of part-flooded marshland to find such sites attractive and that continues to not be the case and to be honest, doesn't look realistic either in the near future.
We parted and my dog and I made our way back across the reserve, four Snipe got up from one ditch, as did several Mallard and I could hear the Whitefronts calling in the distance but that in all honesty was pretty much it until I got back to the car. There, I could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming in a nearby farm copse and a Shetland Pony that someone had left in a farm field alongside the reserve, came forward for the carrots that I give it every morning. It had been a beautiful but quiet walk round the reserve and now heading home too where people were still just waking up, unaware of the day that had already taken place..

Thursday 3 January 2019

The New Year

Little change on the reserve at the moment, re. birds and conditions and given the extended Christmas holiday that many companies have these days, the wildfowlers have been regular in their sometimes twice daily visits to the saltings in front of the reserve. Talking to some of them this morning though, it seems that few of them have been successful at shooting themselves a duck or goose before going back to work next Monday. I counted the White-fronted Goose flock this morning and it still numbers around 160 birds and so they seem unscathed, which is good news, they are beautiful wild birds.

So a change of subject. It.s 3.00 and I've just come in from the garden, the lovely cold but sunny day has now been replaced by heavy grey clouds which have rendered early near darkness upon us.
After returning from my daily visit to the reserve I have been working in the garden, pruning and then manuring, two thirds of my rose beds, you can see one of the beds below. Between the roses there are large numbers of tulips planted, so it should look quite good in the Spring.

Tomorrow, if my aching back allows, I shall complete the task and if "Beast from the East Mk.2" does return as forecast in the next few weeks, everything will be ready for it and snug under it's mulch of manure. The manure by the way, comes from my local garden center at 3 sacks for £10, is good quality manure and equally good value.
My dahlias, a variety called "Bishop of Aukland", have also been left where they grew and given a good covering of manure and will be OK. I know that the experts always advise digging up the tubers and  dry storing them indoors through the winter but mine have remained in the ground for six years now and have come up just as good each year, despite snow and frost.