Monday, 27 May 2013

A Pictorial Ride to the Reserve

Early this morning the view from Capel Hill, across the flat Harty marshland was quite awesome.

This view looks south east towards Harty hill in the distance with the road hidden and following the bottom edge of the yellow field of rape

 Looking south-west with Capel Fleet winding its way through the marsh.

 Capel Fleet itself, taken from the corner of the road.

 The rape field in the second picture, now taken from the road itself and looking towards Harty Hill in the distance.

This family of rabbits was sitting alongside the road but in my haste to snap them before they scarpered I slightly blurred the photo.

 Once you carry on past the flat arable land of the marsh you rise up on to the higher ground around Harty Hill where the scenery changes to hedgerows and scrub bordering the arable fields, good bird habitat.

 Between Elliotts Farm and Brewers Farm my journey leads me to and through this thicket and back down onto the marshland of the Swale NNR.

 Here you see the short track that leads through it and out the other side where I then run down to the reserve's barn.

Below is a  view of some of the farmland that borders the reserve. Much of this scrubby habitat was deliberately planted many years ago to enhance the shooting prospects and has greatly enhanced all manner of wildlife ever since.

 Alongside the reserve's barn is the gate onto the flat marsh and grazing meadows of the reserve itself.

 The view immediately inside the gate looking south across the reserve.

 Some of the current occupiers of the reserve, enjoying an early morning cud chewing session.

 A view across The Swale at low tide with the mainland in the distance. This tidal width of water seperates Sheppey from the mainland - fortunately. (I couldn't get the photo to go back in line for some reason)

 A view over the Delph fleet reedbeds and across the reserve towards Leysdown.

 One of the reserve's mid-marsh old salt workings mounds (home to a small number of rabbits)

 One of the reasons for the reserve being there (Greylag Geese goslings)

And finally, in the distance north-westwards across the reserve, peeking over Harty Hill are the two land-based wind turbines in the grounds of Eastchurch Prison a few miles away. Hopefully this is not a glimpse of the future for the pleasant flatlands of Harty marshes.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Garden News

To the side of my bungalow I have a six feet high hawthorn hedge that separates my drive from my neighbour's and gives me some privacy. Whilst trimming his side of it yesterday (I leave my side unkempt all the time birds might be nesting in it), I could hear some cheeping. An inspection once I'd finished showed that their was a House Sparrow's nest in there with chicks, a good spot seeing as it's only a couple of feet above the bird table. They used to nest quite a bit in hedges years ago, an untidy mess of straw and feathers with a hole in the middle, not unlike the African Weaver birds whose family apparently they belong too. There is a Sparrow terrace nest box on the wall of my bungalow but clearly the hedge is preferable.
The hedge has done well this year because as well as the sparrows, a Blackbird has just built a nest a bit further along and a few weeks ago a pair of Robins fledged their chicks in it, and hopefully won't be the last.

My garden isn't very big but by planting all the right things for wildlife, and including the pond in the foreground, it does very well for all manner of things. Blue Tits and Great Tits are in nest boxes at the top of it, as are another, or the same, pair of Robins in the yellow shrub at the top.
Below you can see their chicks in a nest box in the shrub.

Bad news concerning Coots on the reserve again. The nest that I pictured recently with 13 eggs, now only has 7 left - bloody predators! Probably crows again but given how close it is to the bank it could be a fox - whatever it was it shows that we are going to have to intensify our controls if we are to prevent too many losses.
I was cheered though my both the sight of an adult black rabbit with a few normal ones and a singing Corn Bunting on the reserve boundary fence. The rabbits (dare I say it) are slowly beginning to increase slightly after the manic culling of their numbers in recent years and it's good to see one of the black ones surviving from those of that colour that used to be there. As for the Corn Bunting, well, what a rare and delightful sound that is, to hear one singing in the springtime around here. A little treat that is just as good as any Dusky Thrush, apparently being twitched at Margate today.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Moving On - Nicer Bits

Just one last addition to my little rant in the last posting, this Coot's nest had seven eggs at the weekend, today as you can see, it now three. The reason is laying on the bank alongside, as pictured below, a the eggs have been removed and eaten almost certainly by crows, I doubt there will be any left by Saturday. It raises concerns in respect of the Avocets that we have nesting on the reserve, which are very vulnerable to both crows and foxes, I've sat out there before and watched a fox working through a colony picking up eggs as it goes. It's heartbreaking to loss a whole year's breeding success to these pests and despite the fact that we have trapped a good number of crows this Spring, new ones continue to appear.

Moving on, before it starts to get boring, and the reserve looked great this morning, at last I wasn't having to battle round in gale-force winds. This last five months must of been one of the windiest periods for some years. The grass is growing well, perhaps too well in places and as a result we have two small herds of cattle and calves at either end of the reserve. Can you imagine their sheer joy that first morning in real, green meadows after a winter penned into the stock yards. They will endeavour to keep the grass to a manageable height and in the process supply the Dung Flies with plenty to feed on and the flies will then feed the various birds out there, a nice food chain.

The phragmites beds along the Delph Fleet are also springing into life and these green shoots grow at an incredible rate, several centimetres a day, and even as I took the photo two Reed Warblers were singing their heads off at the rear.

Continuing the Springtime feel, the saltings on the other side of the sea wall are doing their bit as they become clothed in the white flowers of Scurvy Grass.

Also along the sea wall were swarms of newly emerged St. Mark's Fly, a tad late this year, with St. Mark's Day being 25th April, but then so is everything else.

The sea wall itself, looking west past the new Sea Wall hide.

Two views of The Flood field from the sea wall, with water levels now diminishing fast after the drying winds of late.

The Delph Fleet looking quite serene under blue skies and no wind to rough it up.

These tiny blue flowers are Field Speedwell, in quantities that I've never seen before, they look almost like Forget-me-nots. This year round some of the wheat fields, they have appeared in great thick swathes, almost as if they've sown deliberately, perhaps they have.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Hiding the Nasty Bits

Looking at the visit numbers on my blog in recent weeks it's clear that not a huge number of people view it and subsequently, even fewer people comment on it. It's not a problem as such, I don't make my postings in order that every night I get euphoric, back slapping comments on what a wonderful person I am, as clearly one or two bloggers seem to do. But it does however, naturally cause you to question why the blog is being by-passed - how does it compare with others, why do some of them do very well, is there a particular theme on mine that pisses them off.
Trawling through other blogs, two things different from mine become commonly clear, the others contain lots of excellent, almost professional photos of wildlife and they pretty much all, stick to the same "three wise monkeys" control, i.e. see no evil, hear no evil and definitely, speak no evil. Even if you accept, or even agree that  nasty things have to happen in the countryside, never mention them or admit to it, stick to repeating lots of photos of nice cuddly things that get you lots of praise each night. How often is there a photo of a lovely and cute fox or cub on some - the fact that it probably ate their missing Coot or Moorhens chicks is conveniently overlooked. Tell them that a fox or a pair of crows can systematically clear a nesting colony of Little Terns or Lapwings of eggs and chicks and they'll deny it and blame it on somebody else, like the regular Mr. Nasty, the farmer. It's quite amazing how blinkered these people can be when having to accept that some of these creatures actually do harm in the countryside  In short, they are all clones of each other, and many take it in turns each night to back slap each other. Look on many blogs and you will see comments from the same people on each, all congratulating each other. Ah, ha you say, jealousy, no, amusement at how they all copy each other, and a determination to continue writing about some of the nasty but real sides of the countryside!

The BBC's Countryfile programme seems to have been ambushed by the same people, apart from the excellent "Adam's Farm" section, the rest is little more than weekly adverts for the English Countryside Tourist industry. When do you see any features on basic countryside management topics such as ferreting, pest controls and the reasons why they're necessary, wildfowling, pigeon shooting, etc. etc, they all go on in the countryside but not in Countryfile's country. Why, because once again they're pandering to the new generation of English wildlife watchers, you can show a cheetah killing a deer in Africa but daren't show a dog killing a hare in England. Years ago there used to be an excellent and much revered programme on TV called "Out of Town" with Jack Hargreaves, in which he not only showed country sports taking place but also showed you how to make things with which to catch or trap them - not likely to happen these days!

The RSPB have also fallen into the same trap and despite the fact that they actively practise pest controls on their reserves, and use legal methods such as Larsen traps to catch and kill crows and the like, they still hide the fact from their subscription paying members in order to keep the money coming in and subsequently these members don't believe it happens. When did you ever see an article in the RSPB'S Birds magazine entitled "Pest Controls and Why We Need To Use Them" and yet I could show you today an RSPB managed reserve with Larsen traps on it.

All of the above is fair enough, but all this hiding the facts thing is doing is creating a whole generation of people that believe none of these nasty bits actually happen, that the whole countryside is as Springwatch portraits it. That if it does happen it's done by nasty men who like killing things, it couldn't possibly be carried out by people such as the RSPB. What a shock these people would get if they actually spent some proper time on a nature reserve and saw how many creatures kill each other and how some of them have to be caught and killed in order to maintain a realistic balance.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Ending in Eels

 Wandering round the reserve in recent days counting nests, I came across my 19th Coot's nest in a ditch and what a nest it was - 13 eggs must be some kind of record! Possibly two birds have laid their eggs in the same nest and left it to just one to brood them but it's doubtful that all the eggs will be kept sufficiently warm enough to eventually hatch, I shall try and see the outcome.

 On the same day, in sedge stems alongside a ditch, I was led to this recently emerged Hairy Dragonfly by my dog. It was standing close to the sedge and snapping it's head back as it does when coming across a grass snake, which I thought it was going to turn out to be. However a close inspection found this dragonfly, just emerged from its larval case and still drying it's wings out. Apparently the Hairy Dragonfly is usually one of the earliest to emerge in the spring.

 The strong winds and sunshine this week have really begun to dry the reserve out quite dramatically and we now find ourselves, after a very wet winter, in that never satisfied position of saying that we could do with some rain. The Flood field above, still looks well wet in the photo, but only a few weeks ago all that vegetation was under water and it is now beginning to recede back to the normal large splashes. Mind you, it has been a very successful part of the reserve this winter/spring, attracting large numbers of birds and even now has one of the best Avocet colonies that we've had on the reserve for years.

Every spring I can never resist a photograph of one of my favourite sights, the combination of dark green and gold when the rape is in full bloom. Even on a dull day the yellowness of the rape can brighten things up and give the appearance of sunshine and millions of insects must benefit from it's flowers.

Finally, those of us who have wandered various marshes throughout our lives, or indeed been involved in eel trapping, as I once was, will know that in recent years the eel populations in our ditches and fleets have plummeted dramatically. Indeed eels in Britain are now considered as under threat as their numbers have fell by more than 80%. The most dramatic fall seems to have occurred over the last thirty years because when I was catching eels in the 1970's/early 1980's it was still possible to get really good catches in fyke nets on Sheppey each week. A couple of years ago, by way of experiment, I spent a few days with a small rod and garden worms on the reserve, trying to catch some eels and see how many were about. Three lengthy visits saw me catch just two eels (which were put back), something I found quite shocking given that we used to catch them on rods every few minutes at times.
I was therefore at first heartened and then dismayed, to read an article in the Daily Telegraph yesterday that reported that fishermen have seen a tenfold rise in elvers (baby eels) returning to the Severn in Gloucestershire this spring. Fantastic news until I read on to see that fishermen there in recent times have only caught just a few million elvers each season but this year they claim to have already landed up to 100 million already. Some catching stations along the river have been recording one to two tons (four million elvers) per night, which to me seems appalling at a time when the fish is becoming almost rare throughout the country, and all to be simply ate in restaurants like whitebait.
Apparently this year, 660,000 Severn elvers have been donated for restocking rivers elsewhere in the country, but when you consider the predation threat to these tiny fish from all manner of other species, just 660,000 out of 100 million caught already, seems a minute amount to give back and hope that stocks will increase.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Bank Holiday Blues

The Bank Holiday was gloriously warm and sunny, well except Saturday, and brought with it the influx of "smoggies", down from London to clog up Sheppey's roads and making it difficult to get out to the rural parts  after mid-morning. Those awful road-side boot fairs didn't help, as people queued in their cars on the only road to eastern Sheppey in order that they could sort through other people's junk. That moan aside, it was a real joy to be able to lay in the garden sun bathing, get out on the bicycles and actually feel warm walking round the reserve at last, first thing in the morning.
A lot of my time is being taken up at the moment with identifying how many nests have survived the onslaught of various pest species and thanks to the controls that we have in place, it appears that things are looking OK at the moment. I've identified 18 Coot's nests so far and the latest Lapwing count has found 27 pairs with nests and several more potential breeding pairs (see Lapwing's nest above). Redshanks also appear to be nesting in high numbers this year and so walks through the middle of the flat marsh are now limited to the odd foray along a ditch in order to monitor the Coot breeding success.
Other than that, summer visitors are still very much depleted in numbers so far with only ones and twos of warblers in the reed beds, I still haven't heard a Cuckoo on Sheppey and still haven't seen a House Martin, although they rarely nest on Sheppey now anyway. By far the commonest summer visitor at the moment, appears to be the Whitethroat, every bit of scrub seems to have them in it.

An unusual sight for the time of year has been this herd of Mute Swans that are roosting overnight in The Flood field on the reserve. The highest count so far has been 61 birds but unfortunately they're not making themselves very popular with the neighbouring farmer by spending much of the day feeding in his rape fields.

Harty Ferry also had a visitor on Sunday in the shape of this sailing barge that moored up there overnight.

And finally, looking out of my study window towards Sheerness on Saturday evening I was entranced by this beautiful sunset, it was quite spectacular.