The day was distinctly unpromising: low cloud and mist with pulses of rain crossing the Solway. For the first time in a couple of weeks the estuary had a bit of a chop on it - but with the high tide series falling back and an offshore wind, here at Campfield the valiant work party were ‘working the gorse’ at the top of the salt marsh. Heaven knows how, they had got several good bonfires going in the time-honoured way of disposing of the gorse cuttings, in line with the Reserve’s coppicing programme. This is the rough end of conservation … far removed from the gentle Dawn Chorus Watch or the fundraising ‘Spot the Birdie’ with barbeque to follow or even ‘Come and Listen to the Nightjar’, supper provided. No! this is wet prickly, backbreaking, smoke-in-your-eye stuff.
However, our neighbour, Joe, excitedly rang saying there were upwards of 3000 geese possibly, beyond the hide at the far end of the Lonning and, Oh Joy! the four leucistic Barnacles were with them. "But what about lunch?" I wailed to Judith, as she busily assembled tripod, lenses, and various cameras. "That can wait" she callously said, "You don’t get an opportunity like this every day and the sky is starting to clear - Come on!" So laden down like a pack mule, I staggered behind our intrepid photographer who was surging ahead down the half mile of the Lonning.. Halfway down, I said, "For pity’s sake, stop for a moment whilst I take a couple of puffs of my angina spray" But no, we were nearly there and we could now hear the clamour of the geese. On reaching the hide, we burst in upon the two gentlemen who were quietly enjoying the ambiance and took up the vacant vantage point at the end window (nearest to the birds) … and what a scene: thousands of mixed Barnacles and Pinkfeet, as far as the eye could see - some of them within 50 yards of the hide. Tripods clattered, cameras clicked and whirred - shaking hands fumbling with memory cards and batteries. "Where on earth are those leucistics?" Judith cried, "I can’t see them!" One of the polite old gentlemen indicated their approximate position over near the far fence. Wonderful! By now the sun had started to come out illuminating this vast array who were happily grazing the beautifully prepared grasslands.
Even the hundreds of duck were giving an excellent display: ‘fear-flighting’ owing to the presence of two Buzzards and a Merlin perched on various lookout points who made occasional forays over the floodwater. This must have purely been for the fun of it, as neither the Merlin or Buzzard would have been capable of taking these gathered waterfowl! It also made the geese a little jumpy as small groups occasionally got up and flew around for a while before returning to graze.
Judith fired off shot after shot for the next 20 minutes or so, of this sublime spectacle. This surely, we felt, was what Campfield was all about! … and as I pack-horsed back again homeward, I smugly reflected, "this was far beyond the call of duty - having sacrificed my lunch for my fellow birders!"
On regaining the salt marsh, with the odd skein of geese passing along the estuary on the now full tide, I could see Judith starting restlessly to fiddle with her camera once more. "No!" I said, seeing my late lunch already turning into an early tea …
Mixed flock of Barnacles and Pinkfeet (1050 Pinks and 1250 Barnacles) grazing meadows near to the hide.
Flock extended across meadows as far as this view infront of the hide.
Some restlessness showing possibly due to the activity of nearby birds of prey.
There were four leucistic Barnacles amongst the flock,
Three leucistics feeding together - probably a family group.
Leucistics showing faint Barnacle markings
Leucistic Barnacle showing main identifying features.
Some of the Pinks and Barnacles gradually moved nearer to the hide and settled down peacefully in the sunshine.
Wigeon, Teal, Pintail and Shoveler on flooded meadows near hide.
Geese flying off over Campfield Marsh at sunset.
Barnacles flighting at dusk, Campfield Marsh Reserve - a digital oil-style painting by John Rogers
This winter, as we will all know, started very early with the big freeze-up, snow and ice - the whole deal! The country was in crisis. We thought, "here we are in the middle of an Artic winter, and January hasn’t really started - was this the beginning of another Ice-age?" ‘Global warming’ seems to have disappeared from the vocabularly - ‘climate change’ is now the in-word. The cause of all this was the jet stream behaving in a naughty fashion.
Strangely, in the New Year, a thaw set in on the Reserve with the wetlands starting to ‘free up’. Water again started to appear and so did the birds: Pinkfeet, Barnacles and duck were starting to build up in good numbers. By the middle of the month we had had some more snow but this proved to be a minor event. With the moonphase coming up to full, at this time, there was plenty of wildfowl activity at night: geese moving to and fro to the estuary with a good flock of Whooper swans coming in at sunset to the reserve and leaving at dawn to graze in nearby pastures of their choice, for the day. This to some degree applied to the geese, both Pinks and Barnacles, with local ‘birders’ reporting their activities far and wide. The words "wild goose chase" took on a deeper significance for those of us who were looking for them. But numbers seem to be building up all the time - apparently, according to reports, Pinkfeet had been seen coming back north again, as is their traditional activity in January and we at Campfield are the beneficiaries of this movement.
Interesting anecdotes from others, from either the Noticeboard or via the grapevine, would include 3 Gadwall on the pool in front of the hide (27th), a Green-winged Teal on Saltmarsh Pool (1st), a Little Egret flying along the saltmarsh (14th), 4 male Hen Harriers (10th), an Otter on the wetlands in front of the hide (24th), Foxes hunting in the dubs along the Saltmarsh on several occasions, and large flocks of Yellow Hammers, Reed Bunting and Tree Sparrows - all appearing to have done well on the planted grain crops especially.
We have, living as we do virtually in the middle of the Reserve, in excess of 25 Tree Sparrows coming into the garden feeders and have noticed large flocks of Wood Pigeons appearing to benefit, with increasing numbers of Stock Doves as an attractive feature too.
Some Herons do appear to have survived the severe winter but numbers seem to be significantly down. Normally these birds do seem to do reasonably well hunting on the estuary and the saltmarsh but in the deepest part of the freeze-up, the saltmarsh was frozen and iceflows were forming, with pack-ice making hunting for the Herons very difficult - as it would do for other waterbirds, such as Moorhen and Coot. We even had two Water Rail coming into the garden - most unusual for these extremly shy birds - but for us, a welcome sight, as we know they live on the Reserve but are rarely seen. Perhaps the same applied to the Woodcock too. At the height of the freeze-up and snow, we had up to 10 Woodcock feeding during the day in the garden. Winter brings many opportunities!
We leave January with vast sheets of water forming on the pastures . We have never seen so much water around ...
Small flocks of Barnacles were flying along the marsh at high tide, towards the inner estuary.
Wigeon on semi-thawed waters in front of the hide
Wigeon in flight over the causeway
Wigeon coming into land.
Grey waders awaiting the outgoing tide
Oystercatchers roosting on the edge of the saltmarsh at high tide. Groups of wigeon kept floating by.
Wigeon at sunset, out on the estuary
Barnacles flying along Campfield Marsh
Barnacles flying low over the mudflats at Campfield
It had been raining heavily for a while now and the meadows were well flooded. View from 1st screen.
Wet meadows with good collection of wildfowl - viewed from the hide.
Panorama of wigeon on Meadow Pools
Group of Wigeon enjoying the afternoon sun - Meadow Pools
Wigeon - Digital interpretation in Photoshop by John Rogers
Lapwings (910 reported on 25th) coming into land in front of the hide with a good sized collection of Wigeon and Teal.
A pair of Pintail dibbling in pool on the righthand side of the causeway. Numbers built up to 65 on 25th.
Oystercatchers and Wigeon on the receding tideline, Campfield Marsh.
Tree Sparrows on garden feeder at West Common
Campfield Marsh in crisp winter sunshine
Group of Pinkfeet flying over the Reserve
Shelduck are now returning to the Estuary - these were viewed from Campfield.
Flooded Meadow Pools see the month out.
The pools and wetlands are well flooded and wildfowl numbers are now building up. Today, in the region of 1000 Barnacles and 2000 Pinkfeet were moving about the pastures and meadows of North Plain, Biglands and Rogersceugh farms. Wigeon, Teal and Pintail numbers are also increasing with early morning reports of upto 120 Whooper Swans using the wetland in front of the hide.
Flock of Pinkfeet seen from the Lonning flying towards the hide wetlands
Further flock flying adjacent to the lonning
The air was full of activity as we walked towards the hide - with even more Pinks flying in.
By the time we arrived at the hide this group of Pinks were circling above the other geese already there.
Pinks grazing on wet meadows.
Barnacles grazing further over towards the wood
A few more Barnacles dropping in to join the flock
Where the two flocks meet.
Pink and Barnacles happily grazing along side each other.
The sound of a jet in the distance initially disturbed the Pinks leaving the Barnacles looking alarmed
Pinks repositioning in pastures towards Biglands, after the jet had disturbed the whole flock
Pinks which had also been feeding at Rogersceugh took to the air too.
This flock eventually settled back again into the distant meadow near Rogersceugh.
3 of 4 Whoopers which had been feeding in the pools at the end of the causeway - with a stationary Heron in the background