Friday, 15 December 2017

A drop of water

Since my last post we have had a few more rainy spells and at long last a trickle of water is beginning to return to the reserve. Take the ditch below, photographed a month or so ago.....

....and how it looked this morning from a slightly different angle. It's only an inch or two of water and several other previously dry ditches are beginning to look the same - it may not be the feet of water needed but it's start.

While on the reserve this morning, under dark skies and a bitter and strengthening N. wind, I watched a Merlin hunting. Out over the saltings it flushed what looked like a Skylark and gave chase. The frantic Skylark rose up in to the air before plummeting downwards on several occasions, all the time being harassed by the Merlin making stoops at very fast speeds. If only the poor Lark would of landed in the vegetation it would of survived OK but it continued to keep flying up and eventually the Merlin snatched it and took it away to eat.
My rear garden, with it's canary aviary to one side, is not all that huge and this autumn I have spent a lot of time stripping out bushes in particular that had become very overgrown and were providing little for wildlife.  (Now that the large shrubs have gone the area at the top of the garden is bigger than it looks in the photo.) It looks a tad bare now but I have already begun planting plants that will cover the fences over the ensuing years, plants that will provide food and interest to insects of all kind. The same will apply to and bare areas in the borders, most things that I plant have to attract and feed bees and butterflies, etc., I'd rather plant wild flowers or some weeds, than pretty flowers that give back very little. Hopefully next summer I can post photos of it looking full and colourful.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Days Past

During these short, dark, damp, cold days of winter I often find it easy to open a bottle of red wine from my collection and sink into melancholia. Days and delights, often well gone by - long, hot and delightful days with the sun on one's back, warmth in the bones, a treat round every corner on a dusty road. Does it matter which road that we take, let's see where we end up, will there be a nice pub at the end - sitting in their garden, a hot sun on one's back, a nice pint of ale in the hand. Those subtle delights carrying on into a warm and daylight evening, the last warm rays lingering until 10 pm or past.
At times such events seem to stretch back so far - was last winter really so long ago, did we really do so and so well back in March, the coming back after a hot day out, the warm and lingering evening, the BBQ, the wine, the mosquitoes and the bats as darkness gradually crept in. Playing silly CD's into the enveloping darkness, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Barry Manilow - another bottle - why not, and the eventually falling into bed, contended people.

Today started in the early hours with icy rain, which turned to snow at 7.00, giving us our first light covering since 2011 and then turned back to rain for the rest of the day. It's been cold, been wet and to be honest, bloody awful, and neither I or my dog have been out and the corkscrew is hovering. Will it of made much difference to the dryness on the reserve, without going there I know it won't of done as far as the ditches are concerned, but it will of made the surface of the ground muddier, especially where the cattle have walked. Rain is also forecast for tomorrow and so at last, are we finally coming to the end of our drought.
My rear garden at 8.00 - two hours later it had all gone.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Southern Water - or lack of it.

As you can see from the photo below, yet another ditch on the reserve has pretty much conceded defeat against the lack of rain that I've been bleating on about for the last year or so.

The roots that you can see in the top left of the photo are those of willow trees growing alongside, the roots should be in about three or four feet of water. The whole reserve, ditch and fleet-wise, is parched, with few wildfowl and waders but finally, the area's water authority, Southern Water, have gone public on the area's lack of water. On BBC TV local news last night they announced that we have a water shortage and that one of the largest reservoirs here in Kent, Bewl Water, is only a third full. They are now asking the public to cut down their water consumption by a quarter in order to avoid restrictions next Spring. And yet, and these two things must go hand in hand, new houses are being built in ever increasing numbers here in the South East and all those new households will expect to be plumbed into the ever decreasing supply, it's a nightmare that will continue to get worse.
To those in the north and west of the country it must seem unreal that we in the South East are in this situation mid-November but it's true and here on Sheppey seems the driest of all, it's as though we have some sort of anti-rain force field around this island. I've lost track of the number of times that rain, tracking from west to east across the southern counties has miraculously petered out just as it reaches us.
Never mind, at least this early morning was quite stunning as I walked round the reserve with little Ellie. Clear blue skies and the marsh white with frost as I arrived and gradually as the sun, still surprisingly warm, climbed up and slowly round the sky, it got warmer and the frost melted away. In the space of an hour I went from frozen to very warm and it was a joy to be there, if only for the scenery.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Tomorrow is a Long Time

It's a rare damp and misty afternoon here on Sheppey in Kent, after an even rarer couple of hours of rain. Best described as damp, murky and warm, oh how I wish it would rain regularly for weeks on end!
After spending the first couple of hours of the morning wandering round the reserve with Ellie, I spent the rest of it near breaking my back digging bone hard and bone dry soil in the rear garden of my house. I've cleared a largish area of all of it's shrubs and things, cleared the weeds, etc., and begun digging the site in the vain hope that the once normal winter weather of rain and frost will break up the ground and make it able to be re-planted in the Spring.  Now, I'm sitting in the conservatory, sipping a glass of beer, listening to a James Taylor CD and feeling quite wistful - James Taylor has that effect.

Dylan Thomas once wrote:-
"It is a winter's tale
that the snow blind twilight ferries over the lakes
and floating fields from the farm in the cup of the vales,
gliding windless through the hand folded flakes"......

As I sit here now on this mild, damp afternoon with dusk creeping mistily nearer, I wonder if I will ever see such a snowy scene here again, experience that hushed silence that creeps across the countryside and that delicious feeling of being tucked inside the warm nest of a home while all the world freezes outside. Out in the garden a big, fat, Wood pigeon waddles it's way down the lawn towards the pond and takes a drink. It has spent the last hour or so scurrying around under the bird feeder tubes, filled with sunflower hearts and being gorged upon by thirty odd House Sparrows, scattering crumbs non-stop to the pigeon below. The mist is creeping in from the nearby seashore, evening is approaching and out further in the estuary the fog horns are beginning to sound their eerie wail, a sound that has been the backdrop to so many of my memories.

Time to stir, time to shower, time to cook my dinner - time to think about tomorrow - tomorrow is a long time.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Hard Times

Silly as this might sound, over the last couple of weeks I've been trying to dig some flower borders prior to the winter, should it actually occur. Being at the wrong end of the very long dry period that I keep harping on about and having clay soil, it's bloody near impossible to get a spade in the soil it's so hard. This is the silly bit - consequently, to make it a tad easier I'm having to put the garden sprinkler on for a couple of days in order that the ground softens up a bit and even then the soil is turning over in large clods like house bricks - plenty of rain and some hard frosts are needed.

The situation on the reserve and it's grazing meadows remains the same, endless drying winds, sunshine and just the occasional heavy shower. It really is ridiculously dry and talking to one or two farmers, it seems another problem is now rearing it's head as a result. Ditches and fleets on grazing marshes are always called "wet fences", i.e. all the time that they have sufficient water in them livestock cannot cross and stray where they shouldn't. Unfortunately, as you can imagine, with many such "wet fences" now dry thanks to the drought, livestock is wandering about all over the place, even on to neighbouring farmland and it's a real headache.
Now here is the bizarre bit, if you were to visit and look at the arable farmland alongside our grazing deserts, you'd almost say that the above was a lie, the recently sown wheat and rape is growing away like magic! Shortly after the crops were sown we had several heavy and prolonged showers, just enough to soak the top inch or so of soil, germinate the seed and start it into early growth, those fields look quite green.
Of course, several heavy showers are a long way short of the heavy and prolonged rain that we need to wetten and re-fill ditches to the average depth of three feet and indeed soften up the whole marsh so that birds can probe for insects.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

There was a Time

Back in the days when we still had four seasons each year, seasons that came with annual regularity and obvious signs, we knew what to expect. We never had rose beds still in flower at Christmas, lawns that still needed mowing in Jan and Feb and summer visitor birds such as Blackcap and Chiffchaff over-wintering in ever increasing numbers. Nowadays it's not unusual to find woods of trees still in leaf at the turn of the year. There was a time when fruit and veg. also came with and denoted a particular season and we eagerly looked forward to a season coming round. Parsnips and sprouts in mid to late winter, after a frost had been on them, strawberries in early summer, mushrooms gathered from the fields in early autumn. All that has gone now, everything is available all the year round and it ain't quite the same
Take snow, the photos below were taken round my house in Jan 1987 - 30 years ago. You can just make out my car on the drive. That snowfall was so severe that it pretty much paralysed the Isle of Sheppey here for a week and cut us off from the mainland.

 Note the icicles hanging from the guttering around my bungalow.

That was thirty years ago and I really can't see it happening again to that degree. Since then, as "winters" have become milder and dryer, snowfall has been at a premium, the last time we had snow was four years ago and that only lasted a couple of days.
Which brings us round once again to the dryness of winters now. The first two photos below show the result of a normal wet winter on the reserve. The last time that occurred was about five years ago, since then the winters have become progressively dryer. When the reserve was that wet birds such as Lapwings and Golden plovers could be counted in the several thousands, wildfowl likewise. Regular bird counts were hard work because there were simply so many birds to count over a large area.

Today, the scene above looks like this below, dry and waterless as far as the eye can see and it makes for a pretty boring walk round each day because there are so few birds to see. There was a time when we knew what season we were in but that's no where near as clear cut any more.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Some things just ain't changing

It's really quiet on the reserve at the moment, small parties of Swallows still go through at speed, heading south and occasionally a Chiff Chaff works it's way through the willows looking for insects. Stopping to pass the time of day with the odd wildfowlers as they come back along the sea wall inevitably turns to the same old subject - isn't it bloody dry out here!
Take this through pipe which allows the ditches either side of the crossing to be at the same level, the water level should be at or above the pipe but it's no where to be seen.

In 31 years of being involved with the reserve I've never seen this ditch dry out but it's looking likely that I will this year.

I've featured this fleet before, it snakes it's way for several hundred yards through the middle of the reserve and is normally where most of the wildfowl and waders can be found, it's currently bone dry and hard.

 And the shallow lake in the Flood Field remains steadfastly bone dry as well, as is the whole field.

 Alongside the Flood Field is the pump house that can be used to pump water from the ditch into the field but you will notice that the end of the pump hose is sitting above the couple of inches left in the ditch.

So, after around eighteen months of this dry weather, we can only hope for a wet winter, it will happen, it's just when?
In the meantime, look at this distant shot of two rabbits alongside their burrows, a normal brown one and a jet black one. Around 15/20 years ago the black ones were a fairly common sight on the reserve, breeding naturally in that colour but they have become much rarer nowadays. Breeding in that colour has some fancy scientific explanation but I can't recall what it is.