After the recent couple of postings that have seen me looking backwards to very earlier times, it is now the last day of January and time perhaps, to come back up to date with the nature reserve that I look after as it's Voluntary Warden.
The last couple of months have been very quiet weather-wise. December saw us suffer endless days of grey, very damp and gloomy weather that, despite little actual rain, rarely saw anything outside actually dry up. January started off in a similar vein but we did at least get some frosty and sunny interludes but it has changed today, with a combination of strong N.W. winds and sunshine, something we haven't experienced for a couple of months. As a result the ground is drying out and there is some relief from roaming round the nature reserve each day in large areas of soft, clinging mud, left behind by the heaviness of the cattle before they were taken off before Christmas. In their place came the flock of 200 ewe lambs and they haven't churned up the soft ground anywhere near as like as the cattle did. They were brought in to graze the grass over several of the reserve's fields, down to the tight, short sward that will give ideal breeding conditions for the Lapwings in a couple of months time. They will probably be taken off the reserve at the beginning of march.
My little Jack Russell terrier was a puppy when she last saw sheep on the reserve and so I was initially worried at how she might react to encountering them now at ten years old. Many dogs are notorious for chasing them and it might of meant that all walks would have to be done with her on a lead. But no, the very first morning that we walked into the field where they were, she looked up and then carried on sniffing along the ditch bank that she was following and completely ignored them all and that's how it has continued.
To go back to the weather, while the reserve for the last couple of months has been soft underfoot and always wet and muddy, rainfall has been pretty much absent, apart from the odd bout of drizzle. That means that as we start February tomorrow the water levels in the ditches and fleets on the reserve are at best, average. At this time of the year they should be brimming or overflowing and their should be large areas of floodwater across the grazing meadows, making it ideal for wading birds and wildfowl. March is normally a drying month, with regular dry easterly winds combining with sunshine to dry up wet winter conditions. Should that be the case this year then it's looking very likely that we will be heading into another drought summer as far as the reserve goes.
So, that's enough of meteorological matters, what else is happening on the reserve apart from enduring the cold and the damp and telling myself that Spring will eventually happen, and knowing that some summer birds have already begun their long journeys back to here from Africa. Those winter favourites of mine, the White-fronted Geese that I reported on before Christmas, disappeared for a few weeks but then came back to eventually total their current counts of around 360 birds. The calls of those beautiful birds on a frosty and sunny winter's morning as they fly around the reserve are just so magical and equal easily that first Swallow sighting of the Spring. To date, as far as I know, very few have succumbed to the guns of the wildfowlers that await them on the seaward side of the reserve's sea wall, and hopefully the majority will return to their northern European breeding sites before returning again next winter.
Other than that, little else is happening and I walk the reserve most early mornings, through damp and murky conditions. But there are some dawns when the sky is blue and when from behind the hills over on the mainland, the very first edge of the sun begins to climb above those hills and in literally minutes becomes a great orange ball of fire in a dawn sky - magical. This morning as I left the reserve, in the small farmland copse that I have to drive through, the buds on the crack willows are just starting to burst and the a glimpse of the catkins to come are evident. February can be a particularly harsh month but those bursting buds and the Snowdrops in my garden tells me we haven't got long to wait for Spring now.