Tuesday 31 December 2019

Midsummer Dreams

So here we are, New Year's Eve, a dull, misty and very damp day, one to easily forget. The excesses and once a year fakery of being religious for a few days are now almost behind us and already we are ten days past the Shortest Day. Tonight we step over the threshold into not only a new year but a new decade. It'll still be several weeks before the days lengthen enough for us countryside and wildlife lovers to begin to get excited about a new Spring but I console myself with dreams of one of my favourite times of the year - Midsummer.

At that time of the year it's quite usual for me to rise, after a sleepless and hot night, at around 4.30 and set off with my dog to the nature reserve on the marsh. There, in the brief freshness at the start of another long hot day, is a wondrous place. The first thing to greet me as I step onto the marsh is a great avian chorus - the geese the backing group, the Skylarks the lead singers and the Curlews the bubbling orchestra in the background.
As I begin to walk round, there will be faint wisps of mist rising from the surface of the ditches and fleets and I will be surrounded by the business of parent birds as they rush to feed offspring before the heat of the day starts to take effect. Coots will be "tucking" at their chicks, shushing them into the cover of the reed stems to hide from me. In the reed beds themselves, dozens of Reed Warblers will be constantly uttering their song, which is little more than the same couple of notes monotonously repeated over and over. Then there are the Marsh Frogs, noisy as hell as their loud croaking spreads like a bushfire throughout the whole marsh, to suddenly stop in an instant as some threat or other appears in their vision.
On the clumps of Ragwort large clusters of the stripey yellow and black Cinnabar Moth caterpillars feed hungrily on the leaves while assorted butterflies feed from the yellow flowers. Moving across the longer grass of the grazing meadows, where the skylarks continue to serenade me from far above, there are the butterflies. Meadow Browns, Small Heaths, Small Skippers, lazy in flight and giving a peacefulness to the avian frenzy all around. It's a lot to take in and enjoy but soon, as the heat begins to build again, it's time to head back home again and the rigours of the day.
In the evening, as the first zephyrs of cooling air begin to peck away at the lingering heat, it's time to sit in the garden and mull over the events of the long, hot summer's day. Small parties of Swifts will circle,high overhead, screaming down at me as they feed on rising insects. Then, as dusk begins to lessen the light, bats begin to appear. They circle my garden like large dark moths, happily feeding on the mosquitoes above my garden pond. Soon it is gone 10.00 and only in the western sky is there the last lingering brightness in the sky as the the day tries hard not to die, but it's time to draw a curtain on it all and go to bed, a midsummer's day to dream about.

Monday 23 December 2019

Sunshine came softly

"Sunshine came softly,
through my window today" ........Donovan

At last, I actually got up early this morning to dry roads and clear skies, in other words, no rain! Eventually those clear skies became blue skies, filled with sunshine and no clouds - after several days of trudging round the reserve in mud and deep water, in rain and wind, the sunshine made it seem so much more bearable.
Despite all the rain that has fell, the reserve still isn't as flooded as I've seen it in past years, more a case of ditches and fleets full up and overflowing and waterlogged grazing fields. Two weeks ago the ditch below was three feet lower than it is now.

The one below was a simple ditch last week, now turned into a fleet.

Two examples below of how the reed bed fleets have filled up and spread out, just need the ducks now.

After spending two hours on the reserve wading through or swimming the wet conditions, Ellie laughs in the face of dogs that wear coats, she's fit and tough.
The White-fronted Geese numbers continue to creep up on a daily basis, yesterday there were 74 and this morning 81, which seems odd. Normally we would expect them to arrive as cold weather pushes them across from Holland, etc. but our winds are currently from the south or south west.
With sunshine forecast for tomorrow and Christmas Day it will be great wandering round the reserve for the next few days, brightening up the one week of the year that I hate the most. If I hear one more person say that people should never be on their own at Christmas, I will scream. Some of us do actually enjoy missing all that Christmas crap, roll on the New Year!

Tuesday 17 December 2019

A Wet Winter

Well, after several dry winters the tide has finally turned, or at least the weather has. It's been a fairly wet couple of months up till now and finally, over the last week or so, it has been noticeable that many of the ditches on the reserve are close to normal winter levels. We still haven't got large wet splashes of water across the grazing marsh, the type that attract the wading birds and wildfowl in large numbers, but I have a feeling that that is about to change.
As I write this we're just coming to the end of 14 hours of continuous unbroken rain, water is pouring down the roads and out of every drive and garden around here, it is bloody wet!
When it does eventually stop I'll go down to the reserve and see what a difference this last lengthy session has made but it'll be over the next week that changes will really start to show. The reserve is lower than the arable farmland alongside it and therefore all that rainfall on the farmland will gradually drain into our boundary ditches. They in turn will then over-top and spread out into the grazing marsh and quickly produce the conditions we have been missing for the last 4-5 years.
That all sounds perfect, my moans about dry winters will be at end, but it then creates a new moan, daily walking round in part flooded and very muddy conditions is bloody hard and tiring work, especially when you have arthritic joints as I do, but you won't see me stop.

Apart from that, wildfowl and wader numbers on the grazing marsh part of the reserve have continued to be low so far, except for the geese. They have remained fairly constant over the last few weeks. Yesterday, when our team carried out this month's Wetland Bird Survey (WEBS) on the reserve, part of my count produced 220 Greylag Geese, 41 White-fronted Geese and 1 Tundra Bean Goose on the reserve and 600 Brent Geese feeding on the winter corn alongside the reserve. There were also 5 Pink-footed Geese for a few weeks but they appear have transferred to nearby Harty marshes for the moment. Apart from the Greylag Geese, the other geese species are truly wild geese that winter in the UK from the far north of Europe. The Greylags are semi-feral, here all year round,  breed throughout much of the South in large numbers and despite regular attention from the local wildfowlers and duck shooters, never seem to diminish in numbers.

Lastly, joy of joys, this Sunday sees the Shortest Day - nothing will change much in day lengths for another month, but it'll kind of feel like it is and that's good enough. So, hopefully my next blog posting will contain photos of a part flooded reserve and perhaps news of an increase in bird numbers.