Shelduck on the Estuary - a digital painting by John Rogers
February this year on the Solway anyway, has been notable for its lack of weather. In our case, this usually means wind - in this case the exception being two or three days at the beginning of the month. There seems to have been endless days of mist with lack of sunshine generally with very little rain. Though, strangely the Reserve and the whole of the Solway area has been standing in water: flood land everywhere. In all my years on the Solway I have never seen so much standing water. This, of course, must have been due to melt water from the snow and freeze-up.
From the Reserve’s point of view, this tended to mean that the geese, duck and swans were not as predictable with their comings and goings. The Whooper Swans, for instance, coming in late in the evening often after dusk, spending the night on the wetland and pools and then departing early in the morning. The only evidence of them having been there were masses of feathers seen floating about. If we’d taken them we could have filled up a duvet every night. Now there’s an idea: ‘Swan Down Duvets’… good way of raising money in these hard times!
The Pinkfeet and Barnacle Geese were using the Reserve unpredictably too, and one had to work hard to find them - after all, the Reserve is a vast area : just short of 1000 acres. We had the good fortune one day on receipt of a call from a neighbour, to find them on the wetlands in front of the hide at the far end of the Lonning. A wonderful scene: a vast sea of geese of both kinds, grazing contentedly together in the rare winter sunshine. A highlight of that day was seeing four leucistic Barnacles with the flock. Received wisdom in the area is that they are a family group … they certainly seem to stay together.
Another area of the Reserve of particular note is the drumlin on which the old Rogersceugh Farm stands. Right out there in the middle of the Moss - a lonely place requiring a good deal of walking to get to, but now made possible at all times of the year by the new boardwalk - itself an engineering feat of no small order. The drumlin is very popular with the Pinkfeet as they are largely undisturbed and have a good clear view of the whole of the Cardurnock Peninsula, with large open pastures for grazing. But, eventually they do eat it out and disappear to other areas of the Solway .
The Whooper Swans likewise have their favourite pastures - they also like a bit of floodwater and were spoilt for choice this winter. At the beginning of the month up to 120 had been coming at dusk if not later, to roost for the night and then could be seen departing early the next morning for nearby grazing pastures. We tracked them down on 16th, grazing the pastures round the far side of the Peninsula in the Longcroft area.
As I have said, the month had been sporadic when it came to seeing wildfowl - but here at Campfield we are right on the Solway Estuary and as such we are regularly feasted with the sight of Barnacles and Pinkfeet moving from the inner to the outer estuary - having been pushed from their salt marsh roosts by the high tide and seeking temporary respite on the stubble fields and pastures of Cardurnock. They can often be seen conveniently from the narrow road that circumnavigates the Peninsula. This is, of course, an enjoyable pastime for motorised birders of all persuasions, particularly at the weekend - but now, increasingly so at holiday times too. It is not an unusual sight to see 4 or 5 cars with scopes and cameras poking out of windows at a flock of geese, barely 20 or 30 yards away - who are totally unconcerned by this intrusion - as they do not appear to associate cars with danger… but don’t get out of the vehicle or they will be gone!
Towards the end of the month, bird numbers were building up towards their usual pattern after the Big Freeze Up - with small birds making good numbers. Yellowhammers, Reed Bunting, Green Finch, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll and Tree Sparrows - some of which have grazed well on the winter seed crops planted for them - are much in evidence. Teal, Wigeon, Pintail, Shoveler, Green Plover , Curlew, Shelduck and Oyster Catcher pre-breeding flocks are now increasing day by day on the Estuary.
Large groups of Starlings have been making an appearance on the salt marsh and meadows - apparently coming from a new roost that has recently appeared in the relatively nearby village of Newton Arlosh - much to the dismay of the residents as birds descend on the village in their thousands - covering every bush and tree. The good villagers of Arlosh may have some difficulty with the concept of Starlings being on the Red List but they can be assured that the birds will disperse within the next few weeks.
NOTABLE SIGHTINGS from Notceboard
15th February 1200 Teal, 65 Pintail, 40 Reed Bunting, 3000 Pinkfeet, Male Hen Harrier
23rd and 28th February Male Green-winged Teal
Teal on Meadow Pools
Wigeon and a Tufted Duck on Meadow Pools, enjoying the winter sunshine
Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler on Saltmarsh Pool
Barnacles at high tide pushing against a strong wind
Groups of oystercatchers were flying along tideline as the high tide pushed them from their inner estuary roosts.
Great Spotted Woodpecker (female) looking splendid in breeding plumage - in nearby hamlet garden
Barnacle flock overflying Campfield
Tree Sparrow numbers have remained high on the Reserve all winter
A small flock of Long-tailed Tits are frequenting the area. This one has got the latest cool spiky hair look - must have been using Andrew Barton hair gel for men!
Flocks of Oystercatchers now regularly seen on tideline at Campfield.
Massed Oystercatchers and grey waders are a regular sight at high tide.
One of the many flocks of Barnacles seen flying along the saltmarsh at high tide.
Wigeon in late afternoon sunlight on Meadow pools
There had been an influx of Siskin to the area. These were seen feeding on niger seed in a Campfield garden
Barn Owl hunting along the marsh at dusk
Shelduck are starting to gather on the mudflats
Shelduck feeding on the tideline.
Peregrine weighing up its chances!
Flock of Whooper Swans(121) grazing in pastures at Longcroft.
Presumably the same Whoopers who had been roosting at night, on the wetland pastures at Campfield.
Buzzard surveying Bowness Moss
Buzzards in tree tops on Bowness Moss
Shoveler on the estuary off Campfield Marsh
A Woodpecker with a liking for Chocolate Roll on West Common garden birdtable
Part of a mixed flock (1050 Pinks and 1250 Barnacles) on wetlands in front of the North Plain Lonning hide
These Toads and Newts were found huddled together under a mat in the hamlet. The sunshine seemed to break their torpidity.
Panorama across the Meadow Pools towards Skiddaw and the Lakeland fells