Monday, 30 May 2011

Not So Summery

This last week has been a tad disappointing weather wise culminating with early Saturday morning on the reserve being the coldest I've been since back in March. This morning wasn't a lot better, with overcast skies and a chilly wind, look at the photo below which demonstrates how gloomy that it was and it also affected the quality of the photos. Butterflies and the like have also been very noticeable by their absence and therefore it has beem difficult to find much of interest to blog about this week.

However there are always these snails along the top of the seawall, hundreds in fact, unfortunately walking along there tends to be accompanied by a crunching sound at regular intervals. My wildlife books suggests that they might be White-lipped snails.

The cows and their calves on the reserve have now been joined by three strapping Aberdeen Angus bulls, really lovely specimens, and walking past them across the grazing marsh this chap seemed reasonably happy for me to get quite close. I think he was more interested in what he was there for than me and Midge.

Just past him I came across this Redshank's nest tucked away in a tuft of grass, probably not the best of places to nest when you consider all those hooves walking about.

The swan family is still doing OK, although in recent years we have found that once they achieve almost full size as juveniles in the autumn, that is when they tend to die for some reason.

Close by in one of the ditches, this large spread of water lily is just coming into flower, it is normally quite huge by the autumn and is normally used as a roosting raft by various ducks and coots.

I've put this one in to show how fast The Flood is drying back now, I imagine it will be totally dry by the end of June. There's nothing we can do about it then until we get substantial rain in the autumn.

Back at home the Blackbirds are still suffering. Having failed to rear any young because of the Magpie attacks, they are now struggling to find much to eat because of the rock hard ground. As a result I have been putting out old apples and sultanas for them but even here they seem to suffer at the hands of other birds. The minute any food is put out down swoop large flocks of those avian locusts, Starlings and within minutes everything has gone - a real pain.
There has been one small success this last week however, the Magpies that unfortunately nested in a neighbour's tree and fed on Blackbird eggs and young, fledged three young. One immediately dropped into my garden in front of Midge and another was caught by a neighbouring cat - two less around next breeding season!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

May Flowers

An early morning walk across the reserve today was undertaken in superb weather with clear blue skies, very warm sunshine and no wind. Bird numbers continue to drop as the breeding season for some comes to an end and the dry weather starts to take a hold but alongside the normal species there were a few that stood out. These were mainly around the The Flood, or Puddle as it will soon become known. In there there were 4 Avocet, 7 Blackwit, 2 Little Egret, 2 Heron, 2 Med. Gull and to my great surprise, two really uncommon reserve birds, a pair of House Sparrows - perhaps on their summer holidays.
I also had my first Cuckoo of the year and watched the Barn Owls still hunting until well into the morning, obviously they must have young to feed, which we will have to ring before long.
Not immediately obvious but on the tail of the right-hand swan are its cygnets, trying to keep up. These were on a pond on the new RSPB reserve alongside The Swale NNR.

Back on the reserve and I continued to record the wildflowers as they appear. This is one of the Mallow family, Common I believe.

Looking like a purple version of the yellow Goatsbeard is this Salsify.

Quite featureless is Weld, but they can't all be colourful and eye-catching.

Unlike the Milk Thistle with its variagated foliage and nasty spines.

These next two wild flowers were photographed in my garden, the first being what probably looks like common Daisy. But anybody that holidays in Cornwall regularly will recognise it as a flower that can be found growing out of every crack and crevice, especially in the disturbed pointing of old walls - it is Mexican Fleabane.

And lastly, one I mentioned in a posting a few weeks ago, Dragon's Teeth. This flower of dry and shingly places makes a lovely rockery flower.

Another feature of my reserve visits at this time of the year is the daily collection of a variety of seeding grasses and Sow Thistle flower heads to take home for my breeding canaries. These three young Gloster canaries left the nest a couple of weeks ago and are now happily flying around the aviary flight. (If you double click on the photo and enlarge it you will see that there are two with Beatle type head feathers, these are known as coronas and the plain head ones are consorts)

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Swale NNR - Flora and Fauna

A couple of days ago when it was still warm and sunny I wandered down to Shellness Point again and here are a couple of views of the beach. (As always, these photos are much improved by double-clicking on each and enlarging them)
This first one includes the WW2 Observation Post on the beach with the Hamlet in the background.

Looking the other way, this one shows the small bay with the mainland and The Swale in the background and a roost of non-breeding Oystercatchers in the foreground.

Yesterday I was back on the main reserve in a cold wind and under cloudy skies but snapped various things that took my fancy, especially some of the current flowers to be seen, although this first is one of the Avocets on the Flood.

Another view of Thrift on the saltings.

Goatsbeard along the seawall.

Silverweed and Sea Milkwort growing on one of the stone paths across the marsh.

Houndstongue. If rubbed, the leaves of this plant have a strong smell of mouse-urine - a lovely small, red flower but a nasty smell. I found the first specimen of this plant on the reserve about fifteen years ago and since then it has increasingly populated around 50% of the reserve, the reason being its small, velcro covered seeds that stick to animal fur, bootlaces and trousers and spread easily.

Hoary Cress. Great clumps of this plant are to be found in a couple of fields to the east of the reserve.

I found several specimens of this distinctive froghopper which doesn't appear to have a common name and is known as Cercopis Vulnerata.

Red-legged Partridge. A common and basically ignored bird, counts-wise, due to its annual release for shooting purposes.

Alongside the entry gate to the reserve is an old and almost dead Elderberry bush with lichen covered trunks and branches. I couldn't understand why a pair of Long-tailed Tits were always hanging around it, I couldn't see an obvious nest. Eventually I realised that a thick clump of lichen towards the bottom of the trunk was actaully the nest. It now has chicks waiting to fledge.

Midge demanded to be included in the list of photos.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Sheerness Canal - Two Halves.

Many moons ago when the tip of Sheerness, alongside the sea, housed both a naval dockyard and an army garrison, one of its defences was a waterway called officially Queenborough Lines but always known to local people as The Canal. This waterway ran from the seawall in the east all the way around the outer edge of Sheerness town to the seawall in the west, alongside the dockyard, although half of the western section was filled in many years ago. It acted as a kind of wide moat all round the outside of Sheerness, split into the two halves by the main road into Sheerness. As children growing up in the 1950's it was one of our main play areas and was the closest we were able to get to real nature and wildlife.
Surprisingly, all these years later, it has survived to look exactly as it always did - it hasn't been drained or cleaned up, it hasn't been built on or polluted and in some ways the western section is better than it ever was for wildlife - but it still remains a Canal of two halves.
Standing on the road into Sheerness and looking down the eastern section below, which stretches for about a mile or so and becomes narrower, it looks great but it has always been ruined by the regular topping up with seawater through a sluice at its seaward end. This has always rendered it pretty useless for wildlife, with no water weed, no birds such as Coots, no edging plants such as sedge and phragmites, just bare, sterile water. Its banks, featured below, look as dead as this alongside both sides for its full length and all because of the salt water.

Now, by simply walking across the road and facing west, look at the difference, look at the wide borders of sedge and club rush and the Yellow Water Iris and how natural it looks. The difference is purely because many years ago, the tunnel under the road that linked the two waterways was blocked up, allowing the western half to become purely fresh water. OK, there have been a couple of drought years when it has completely dried up but all in all its the best wildlife corridor that Sheerness has. Walking along there today I had nesting Dabchick, Coot, Moorhen and Reed Warblers, a few pairs of Tufted Ducks and a pair of swans and Common Blue butterflies along the grassy edges. What a shame that the other, much longer and larger section is left the way that it is and full of seawater, what a wildlife area is being missed.

Earlier on day and back at the reserve, I was chuffed to see this section of ditch looking so good. It used to be just a bare section of ditch alongside the reserve barn but about fifteen years ago I pushed loads of willow branches into the ditch bank in the hope that they would root and this is the result. Not only does it screen the barn but passing warblers feed in the trees and Coots, Moorhens and Dabchicks nest underneath them.

This Marsh Frog also enjoys the ditch. (Double click the photo to enlarge it and look at him giving you the eye)

As does this Celery-leaved Buttercup.

This Dog-Rose alongside it.

And this Yellow Water Iris in it.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Things Besides Birds

(All photos can be enhanced by double clicking on them and enlarging)

It was an increasingly gloomy walk round the reserve early today, gloomy in that it started out fairly sunny but the sky soon clouded over quite darkly. There was still a fresh wind blowing as well, although it had become more S.E. rather than the chilly E. of recent days.
There was also the first inkling of the quieter days to come as a dry summer sets in. The resident birds are now breeding and so less conspicuous and with far fewer summer birds around compared with the large numbers of winter birds, then things do tend to get a tad quiet. I did however come across a Sparrowhawk this morning along the seawall, busy plucking a male Reed Bunting.
In order to maintain interest on the walks round whilst we await the arrival of things like butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies, the plant life comes to the fore. In my own limited way I aim to show some of this as the summer plods on, although the flowers tend not to be as exciting and colourful as the ones that regularly feature in other blogs - marsh plants tend to be more subtle and subdued.
Coming through the farm thicket to unlock the reserve gate this morning, I was struck by just how much it has re-grown this Spring. This first photo was taken in March.

This was taken from almost the same spot this morning. It is obvious why several pairs of Whitethroats love it so much.

In one or two places where the grass used to be grazed short by rabbits we have largish clumps of this sorrel - Sheep's Sorrel, I believe.

And along the seawall, the first dog-rose flower - a simple beauty that no HT rose can match. (poor focus I'm afraid)

On the saltings, the first flowers of Thrift (Armeria Maritima) are starting to appear.

On the subject of the dry weather and its effect on the reserve, this photo shows the footpath along the top of the seawall and how it is pulling apart in the dryness. This was a boggy, mudbath in the winter and now look at it. It is like this for a lot of it's length and dodgy for the cyclists that use it.

A few weeks ago I posted a shot of the newly-emerging Mare's Tail in one of the ditches, this is taken from the same spot and shows how quickly it can clog up and spoil a ditch.

This also shows Mare's Tail beginning to spread out into the Delph Fleet but more interesting is the pale tide-mark along the reeds in the background. It demonstrates how much the water has dropped due to the dry weather over the last month.

A few of the Red Devons happily grazing in The Flood.

The remaining feral Greylags on the reserve. These birds tend to disperse all across Harty during the summer months, leaving just a few pairs to breed on the reserve. However, regular as clockwork, come the 1st September there will normally be around 300+ back for the winter.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Dry Days and Shoreside Flowers

The last few days haven't been too great due to a combination of not feeling very well and the awful wind that has been blowing non-stop from the East.
I seem to have some sort of virus that means as soon as I do anything energetic I feel all shaky and weak and consequently visits to the reserve have been brief, just to monitor one or two things that can't be left.

But it is the wind that has been, and still is, the most annoying feature of the last four days. We have had non-stop blue skies and warm sunshine which would of made for perfect summer days but unfortunately they have been spoilt by a continuously strong E. wind, which this morning was gusting up to 40mph. As I drove down to the reserve this morning some of the roads were even coated by leaves that had been blown off the hedges and trees. Watching the buffeting that some of the larger trees were taking at times, it made me wonder how many things like Rook eggs or chicks are thrown from the nests in such conditions, raptors nests the same. Watching the way in which the tall phragmites reed beds were being pulled in all directions by the gusts also made me realise how susceptable to the wind Reed Warblers nests are when just suspended between the stems.
But the one major effect of this sun/drying wind combination is dryness, its like a giant hairdryer effect across the marshes. Certainly on the reserve, all of the shallow wet areas have now dried up and in the last week alone our small Flood has probably lost a third of its water area. With all of the summer months yet to come, the prospects for avoiding another seriously dry autumn like last year are not looking good.
Back home I have been putting the sprinkler on the lawns and flower beds at regular intervals in order to maintain a supply of worms and things for the Blackbirds, because the ground was cracking up through dryness and they must of been really struggling to feed their young.
This picture shows some of the bushes on the reserve being buffeted by the wind today.

Near to my house is The Shingle Bank at Minster beach and it is host right now, to two wild flowers that I particularly like. Hopefully by double clicking on them they'll come up in better detail.
This first one is not a common wild flower but seems to do quite well on the north shores of Sheppey, it is called Dragon's Teeth. It is a member of the pea family and forms large, prostrate clumps of flowers which easily re-produce by the seed pods bursting and flinging their seeds in all directions. They are a delightful and colourful flower, much loved by bees, and after raising a few from seed I now have them all over my garden and they're very welcome.

This one is also a typical and colourful shingle beach wild flower, Sea Campion.