Wednesday 26 August 2020

Early Autumn

Since I wrote my last "It's a Scorcher" posting, the weather has taken a dramatic turn and seemed to have rushed head-long into autumn, despite it still being August. Over the last seven days we have had two Atlantic storms come rushing in, both the subject of now giving them silly names, in this case Storm Ellen and  now, Storm Francis. In the old days we were simply told to expect some stormy weather, which in autumn was normally par for the course, but now they have to be hyped up with name calling, presumably to make them sound more dramatic.
At the onset of Storm Francis yesterday morning, we had 4-5 hours of decent and much needed rain for the parched countryside round here. However, as seems to happen every time at the moment, immediately the rain stopped the afternoon became one of warm sunshine and severe gales - the result being much evaporation of that rain again.
Anyway, enough of that, what else has been occurring, well not a lot to be honest, thanks to the parched conditions, bird-life on the marshes and the reserve here, has been somewhat at a premium. Until that is, last Friday. I was walking across the reserve early in the morning, a tad bored because parched grass and almost dry ditches create very little interest to look at, when a different coloured heron, fast disappearing into a ditch, caught my eye. I slowly walked along the ditch until up sprung the heron in front of me. Yes, certainly a heron species and certainly different. It had a long and heavy, bright yellow bill and was basically a combination of light and brown colours with an almost gingery effect. It was also slightly slimmer and smaller than the normal Grey Heron. Although I'd never seen one before I had a fairly good idea what it was and went home to consult my bird books.
The next morning I walked along the same ditch and up it popped again to confirm what I suspected, it was a juvenile Purple Heron, an uncommon to almost rare bird in this country. Since then it has remained on the reserve.
In anticipation of the rain that was due yesterday and did briefly appear, the farmer next door to the reserve was out a couple of days ago, sowing the wheat stubble with rape seed for next years crop.  Driving across the marsh this morning it was clear that germination of the seed would take a while yet, the fields were dust dry and unless you live round here, it's hard to explain to people just how much rain we need to bring things back to normal.
The next main event in the reserve calendar occurs early morning next Tuesday 1st September, when the new wildfowling season begins. Before dawn on Tuesday wildfowlers will be in position the other side of the reserve sea wall, eagerly hoping for the chance to shoot any goose or duck that might fly over the sea wall towards them. I will be there at first light to watch events and to have a chat with them afterwards.

Monday 10 August 2020

It's a Scorcher

It's scorching hot, (the now daily 30 degrees plus), it's been bloody hot for weeks and shows little chance of not being bloody hot for the foreseeable future. It's not only hot, it's very humid with it and every bit of effort makes you break into a sweat and lastly, rain, proper soaking rain, just seems like something that other countries get.
As I look out of my bungalow window this afternoon, I'm looking at a distant heat haze that looks like a mist hanging over a grazing marsh that contains horses. Those poor animals are grazing their way across fields that are bright yellow, almost white, with no grass at all, just dry grass stalks.
In my garden, the regular dropping of apples from water starved apple bushes, is giving the Blackbirds something to feed from, there's very little else on offer. Their dreams of fat worms must be pretty much like ours of rain and plenty of it. And what of hedgehogs - no fat slugs, snails or worms in this dusty heat, things must be so hard for them.
The Swale National Nature reserve, on which I carry out my Volunteer Wardening, is just the same. It's official description is that of "an example of North Kent grazing marshes" - one that brings to mind  murky, boggy places, full of mists and wildfowl and Darwinian characters. At the moment it resembles a photo from some sun-baked African plain, with near dry and stinking ditches and cattle so desperate for sustenance that they are now plundering the tall reed beds of phragmites and with very little water that is drinkable.
On the surrounding farmland, everything but the maize has been harvested and it's straw baled and carted away. All the fields have then been tickled over for a few inches depth by tractors towing discs and everything sits dry and dusty waiting for rain that has to come one day.
Bird-life on the reserve continues to be disappointing, some morning we get shorts bursts of Swallows and Sand Martins hastily making their way south and a few ducks struggle on in ditches with very rancid water. Some passing waders such as Green Sandpipers stop off to probe the widening muddy fringes of the ditches but basically, it's only the Greylag Geese that are present in any numbers. During the day they feed in the neighbouring stubble fields and then fly into the reserve's sea wall fleet, the only one with any proper water, in order to drink and wash.
It's all a pretty depressing scene but it'll change, of course it will, but till then it's simply a matter of going out very early in the morning to beat the heat and waiting for the rain to come.