Friday, 18 August 2017

Better Times

Since my last rant about the inclement weather, it has improved somewhat. We've had regular heavy showers and a couple of lengthy rainy periods and always followed by very warm sunny days. The rain hasn't added a single centimetre to the ditch levels, which are now at ridiculously low levels, but it has definitely greened up the grass on the grazing meadows. Harvesting operations on the surrounding farmland have almost all finished now and all the straw bales such as you see below have been carted away. Those wheat stubble fields will remain like that now and have already been re-sown with rape which is beginning to show as lines of green seedlings. All that's left to do now is to re-sow this year's rape fields with wheat for next year's crop and so the annual rotation goes on.


Back on the reserve, the bulls that have been servicing the cows through the summer months are due to be taken away to their winter pastures this week. One of them is shown below and I really was that close, they are a very docile and trustworthy breed thankfully.

Below is one of the other bulls with one of his harem. I was amused to be told the other day about one of several bulls on a nearby reserve. It has had to be withdrawn from "active service" for this year because the regular rearing up of such a huge frame onto a cow's back, put so much weight on it's back ankles that they became strained and swollen. Not all fun in the stud world it seems!

The pair of Mute Swans hatched seven cygnets this year on the reserve but only these four have survived, they are doing well though.
In the early mornings lately, when the grass is wet from rain or heavy dew, I been coming across numerous small frogs making their way through the grass away from the ditches. It happens most autumns and I guess they move into dense vegetation ready for winter hibernation. The photo makes it look a lot bigger than it was, it was only about an inch and a half long, probably one of last year's froglets.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Weather Dominates

After heavy-ish rain all afternoon and evening yesterday, the walk across the reserve this morning was wet, muddy and dominated by wind. Now yesterday's rain I was grateful for, we've long needed it, although one of the local farmers who still has to get his well ripe corn harvested, wouldn't agree. But being out this morning in wet conditions that were exacerbated by grey skies, spits of rain and a strong and cold NE wind was depressing to say the least. I needed to wear clothing very similar to what I would wear in the winter and had to continually tell myself that yes, really, this is the height of summer, if only by the date.
Last night I sat indoors watching the World Athletics Championships in London and to avoid putting the central heating on in mid-August, had to get up and put on a thick sweater. And the athletics, well they were taking place in non-stop rain and chilly winds, which affected the performances of many of them to some degree.
So this morning, as I wandered round hunched up in my winter coat, I also found myself reflecting on the fact that so far this year, our summer has consisted of two hot and sunny weeks seemingly many moons ago. Two rare weeks during which some people found it necessary to complain about how hot it was, well I hope that they are happy about these current awful weather conditions, because I bloody well ain't and I doubt many of the competitors at the athletics were either.

Friday, 4 August 2017

What a Pratt

We are still losing the battle against the endless dry weather that we've had all year. Every time that we've been lucky enough to get a few hours of rain or the occasional storm, it is immediately followed by drying weather. On Wednesday afternoon/evening we had a few hours of much needed rain but yesterday the whole day saw gale force, blustery winds and spells of warm sunshine and today is very similar. Within hours all semblance of dampness in the ground had disappeared and this has been the case after every wet spell this year, so the drought goes on. Mind you, with a few dry and sunny days now ahead, the local arable farmers will be pleased, they are well behind with harvesting the wheat and barley. They have been plagued by regular showers, which although not prolonged, have the effect of making the corn to damp to harvest for a day or so and so things have been very stop-start and frustrating.
The picture below appeared on the front page of our local paper this week. In one of the roads in our village, a road with houses both sides of the road, this dead fox appeared, hanging from the gates of a house, alongside the pavement, with a snare around it's neck. It has been suggested that the owner of the house snared the fox in his back garden but instead of quietly disposing of it, it was deliberately hung on the gate as some kind of trophy. As you can imagine, neighbours were appalled and called in RSPCA representatives who are also in the picture. Unfortunately there was little they or the police could do because the snaring of foxes is a legal pursuit in this country but what a pratt the owner must be to draw such attention to himself. Apparently he has had to take a stay away from the house now to escape local abuse .
Now I'm no Anti, I don't have a problem with foxes, or other pest species being culled, but not by the snaring method which involves the animal putting it's head through a wire noose which if it isn't set properly, slowly chokes the animal as it struggles to get free.  

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Surely not Autumn

There's a real feel of autumn out and about at the moment, something that others have commented on as well, so it's not just me. To all intent and purpose it's only the end of July and still mid-summer but so many signs are making it feel like autumn is making in-roads. A lot of heavy, grey skies, chilly winds and showers recently have aided that autumnal feel, as has the early disappearance of many birds. Early this morning large numbers of Swifts were passing through the reserve heading south, which is about right for the time of year but they were joined by many juvenile Swallows, leaving us already. The reed beds along the sea wall continue to quieten down, with only the odd call from a Reed or Sedge Warbler and today, seeing a family party of Yellow Wagtails, I was reminded that I haven't seen them for a while. There is a real deserted feel about the place. In just four weeks time the wildfowlers will be back to commence their six months of autumn/winter wildfowl shooting and I'm left wondering if those people who didn't like our mini heatwave, what seems like ages ago, might just be wishing for something similar again for a while.
To give even more credence to the autumnal feel I found these fresh horse mushrooms in the grazing meadow, defying the bone dry ground and springing up a month or two early.


Golden Samphire along the edge of the saltings

Sea Lavender on the saltings

Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Doldrums

Reading the latest RSPB magazine today I was intrigued by some comments in the latest Simon Barnes column in there. He was writing about how mid-summer to a lot of birdwatchers in particular, is known as "the doldrums", that period in the year when bird activity is at it's lowest and least noticeable. It's surprising how many birdwatchers just settle for that and don't allow their interests to widen out because in fact, there is actually a lot still going on in the countryside at this time of years. Butterflies are having a prolific time this summer and to spend time wandering fields and hedgerows identifying them can be very therapeutic, and why not learn the names of the many wild flowers they pass without even noticing them.
The two below I found on the reserve this morning. Common Toadflax first, looking similar to our garden antirrhinums.......


......and then Perennial Sweet Pea

It was also sad to read in the same RSPB magazine, that last autumn on a British military base in Cyprus, that a record level of more than 800,000 songbirds, including robins and blackcaps, were illegally killed according to research by the RSPB and Birdlife Cyprus. The birds are caught using nets or branches coated with adhesive and sold via the black market to restaurants that serve them up as a local dish, a dish that has been banned since 1974. Many of these songbirds are on a southerly migration having bred in the British Isles and it's appalling that despite the best efforts of the British Sovereign Police there, that so many songbirds are still being killed, so many that won't return here each year.

On the reserve, the rabbit population is starting to show signs of the annual myxomatosis returning as it does each summer. Ellie caught this one this morning showing early signs of it. Some rabbits do actually catch it and survive it but most don't and it soon decimates the population there.


And after a hot session chasing rabbits there's nothing like a nice cooling session in a ditch, a shame the water doesn't smell better!

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Changeable times

Well the best way to describe the weather here on Sheppey at the moment, is changeable and sometimes by the hour! The week started hot, sunny and humid and then broke down overnight Tues/Weds into massive storms and torrential rain that caused a lot of damage in some places. Getting up yesterday morning the garden at last, looked pleasantly wet, but scraping the surface of the soil back do you know, it was only wet to an inch deep, so dry has it been. That rain yesterday was followed all day by a strong and warm wind and so it wasn't long before it started to look dry again. Today has seen heavy grey clouds and a couple of heavy showers which have dampened things down again but it's still windy so we're not getting anywhere wet-wise.
The other point of interest for me as I crossed the marsh yesterday morning was what effect the torrential rain and gusty winds from the overnight storm would of had on the ripe wheat fields. In past years the result would of been flattened and sodden crops and heavy losses for the farmer but as far as I could see the fields were undamaged. I imagine that this is in part due to new wheat varieties that have shorter stems. Wheat straw has little commercial value, unlike barley straw that has, and so it makes sense to grow shorter stemmed crops that are less prone to collapsing under the attack by rain and wind. The farmer that I spoke to yesterday, when I mentioned the storm, was happy to shrug and say "that's farming" but his lot has certainly been made easier by the newer varieties of crop.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned one of our local Speedwatch sessions whereby our team of four make hourly visits to roads in the parish area that are known for speeding vehicles. early this morning we had a one hour session recording speeding motorists on the same road as a fortnight ago, when 54 were recorded in one hour, almost one a minute! The road in question has a 30mph speed limit and we only record the details of those who are doing 35mph and over, today we recorded another 45 motorists exceeding the limit by that amount. The sessions are not always harmonious, this morning two separate motorists slowed down enough to call us f...ing c...'s and to clear off and get a life. Clearly many see us as just a bunch of bored pensioners with little else to do but annoy people who are speeding in built up areas but it is a role that the local police and parish council have asked us to undertake. The stretch of road we were on today goes past a primary school entrance halfway along it and therefore to expect to speed past it unchallenged does seem a tad stupid and thoughtless.

More autumn wading birds were recorded passing through the reserve this morning and many other reserves are experiencing the same, it really does seem as if autumn is coming early this year.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Seasonal Confusion

When I arrived at the reserve early this morning it was under an overcast sky but it was very humid and there was a total stillness in the air. Small parties of Sand Martins passed across the grazing meadows heading south and ultimately Africa, just stopping briefly to circle round the cattle and feed on their attendant flies. On the power wires above the entrance to the reserve, large groups of young swallows were perched, twittering happily among themselves as they do and no doubt thinking about joining the Sand Martins. On the fluffy seed heads of thistles small family groups of Goldfinches were plucking out fresh seeds to eat and, strange as it may seem, this whole scene gave me an over-whelming feeling of autumn being just around the corner. As I wandered around the reserve that mood stayed with me, crazy you might say, you're getting ahead of yourself, it's only the second week of July, but what is normal about our seasons these days, are the birds sensing something that we haven't quite grasped yet.
Unfortunately the weather remained pretty grey all day and with a fresh and chilly breeze and a few spits and spots of rain occurring it seemed even more autumnal, I know some people don't like hot sunny days in summer but it would be nice to have such a traditional summer last a bit longer than it currently is.
Oh, and if Wilma reads this - it'd be nice to see a new blog from you and an up-date on your life in paradise.