"I leant upon a coppice gate
When frost was spectre-gray
And Winter's dregs made desolate
the weakening eye of day"...............Thomas Hardy
The title pretty sums up this last month. So many days have been so grey, gloomy, rainy, windy and cold, that it's been a real challenge to walk round the reserve at times. I'm not a great lover of wearing wellie boots but so wet and muddy are parts of the reserve, that their wearing has been a necessary requisite in order to navigate some parts. No such comfort for my little Jack Russell, Ellie, she has spent a lot of her time swimming through flooded ditches or across lakes of flood water but she takes it all in her stride.
This month also saw us rid of the cattle herd, finally taken away to pens in the grazier's farm yard. They were left on the reserve far longer than the wet conditions allowed and now we have been left with a number of earth crossing points across ditches, that are almost non-traversable on foot due to the depth of the quagmire of mud churned up by their feet. They have now been replaced, for a couple of months, by a number of sheep. As well as being less damaging to the ground, their purpose is to graze the grass down to a very short sward and leave several of the fields perfect for Lapwing breeding this Spring.
But apart from the discomfort and pain of getting around the reserve on foot, it has quite clearly, looked better for wildfowl and waders than it has for the last 4-5 years. Frustratingly, however, we haven't seen a rapid rise in the numbers of either this winter so far. The flock of wintering White-fronted Geese rose to a maximum of 121 birds before they moved into the nearby Harty marshes and continuing to increase in numbers there. That left just the large flock of resident Greylag Geese and sometimes, odd Barnacle, Pink-footed and Tundra Bean Geese. As for ducks, well the days of flocks totalling hundreds, if not thousands, seem well behind us now and we're still only counting them in tens and twenties. My weekly chats with the wildfowlers on the sea wall only finds myself and them swapping the same frustrations - where are all the birds these days? They've had a lot of really cold and gloomy days hunkered down out on the saltings, waiting for wildfowl to shoot, just for nil returns.
It's been a pretty poor month all round and to be honest, I haven't enjoyed several of the visits but hey-ho, just the four weeks of February to endure and things will hopefully, slowly begin to improve - to much cold and wet does not do my old bones any good at all.