Since my last post, some four weeks ago, we have continued to experience regular rainy days, with sometimes heavy rain and yet the reserve and it's neighbouring Harty marshes are still far from showing any sign of water-logging or flood. There is still a considerable way to go before the reserve will be showing the large areas of flood water that will attract the great numbers of wildfowl and waders that we would like to see and became used to up until recent years. It really does illustrate how dry the summer has been and to a degree, how much the reserve has changed in respect of water levels in recent years. The reserve was opened in c.1976, the infamous year of an incredible summer drought, and has suffered several dry summers since, but it has been the winters that have seen the most dramatic change. Until several years ago, the winter water levels on the reserve could be relied on to be at least average and very often, excessively wet. I have experienced many winters there where the grazing marsh was 50 - 70% waterlogged or flooded. Indeed, I can recall one October in the late 1980's when the field in front of the Sea Wall Hide was one large lake from bund to bund. Because of that and because it's the one field that we always try to pump water on to each winter, we know it as "The Flood Field".
Those waterlogged winter conditions lasting into the Spring, created ideal habitat for a large variety of birds and it was normal for Lapwing, Golden Plover and Wigeon numbers, for example, to be in the plus thousands. Sadly, for several years now, those numbers have plummeted to just a few hundred and in the case of Wigeon, to just several dozens if we're lucky. Unfortunately, before you ask, there is no satisfactory way of trapping any substantial amounts of as a form of reservoir. We have a large diesel pump in a brick housing at the end of The Flood Field and that can pump substantial amounts of water onto three different fields, pumping from the ditch system alongside it. That however, is dependent on regular rainfall re-filling the ditches and so in a dry winter, spring and summer that method is quickly lost. We also have a wind pump that draws up fresh water from the underground aquifer but that can only keep the ditch alongside it topped up.
So to go back to the present day, we may not have any floods but at least the current rainy conditions have seen the grass in the grazing meadows re-grow at some speed and green up, something the cattle are now appreciating. Likewise, the arable fields across Harty are now green with the young growth of rape and winter corn and so quickly, the dusty yellow of the summer drought is now but a memory.
As far as bird life goes, little has changed since my last posting, apart from the one exception. While taking part in last week's monthly Wetland Bird Survey (WEBS) on the reserve, I recorded the first visiting White-fronted Geese of this autumn. There was a group of 10 adults and 8 juveniles feeding alongside the resident Greylag Geese. This is a few weeks earlier than normal for these regular wintering visitors from northern Europe and during the week the flock increased to 25 birds and they still remain there today.