"April Gorse, Campfield Marsh 27th April 2011" - a digital pastel-style painting by John Rogers
It's late April and the weather up here on the Solway is like the middle of Summer. Migrants are coming in early, flowers are blooming that shouldn't be and there are dragonflies and moths that we have never seen at this time of the year before. It's not May yet and I've already got a suntan not so much Ambre Solaire more 'old Roman sandal'!
Anyway, it was half past seven and I was only semi-conscious when I became aware of Judith darting around assembling photographic and optical equipment. "Are you coming?" she said, "I'm off down the lonning - it's the early birder that catches the Warbler and I need some good shots of them for the next blog. The light's perfect this morning." "Goodbye," I said, "and good shooting" - turning over for another half hours kip ... that bottle of red last night was pretty effective!
Scene changes. A decent lunch had just been consumed and I was settling down to a spot of midday News 24, when 'springheeled jack' came into the lounge arrayed with an assortment of cameras and lenses. "I'm going down to Saltmarsh pool - there are 3 good Ruff and a Common Sandpiper reported, according to Birding Cumbria (local Yahoo birding group). This was getting all too high tech for me and I knew she only wanted me down there as a packhorse, anyway. I didn't fancy carrying a heavy tripod and camera bag half a mile down the road in hot sunshine - even the thought of it was beginning to give me indigestion. "No thanks," I said, "I was going for a stroll down the lonning later - see you."
Scene changes once again. I walked fairly rapidly down the lonning ... I have found this a good way of getting Warblers to sing at you - and was duly rewarded: Willows Warblers; a Chiffchaff; Garden Warbler; a number of Sedges and a fine Male Reed Bunting, fluffing and preening, having just dunked itself in the ditch, sending fine spray left and right in the sunshine (a wonderful sight) - paying no attention to me only 2 to 3 yards away. I'm afraid that I don't think of distances in metres ... I don't even put litres into my car, they are gallons - whoever heard of miles per litre?
I was nearing the hide now, pausing only to listen to a fine Whitethroat, bubbling from the undergrowth. I wasn't a hundred percent certain but I thought I heard a Lesser, too. I'm not so good on birdsong nowadays, as my tinnitus tends to blank out much of the higher registers in the birdsong world - so I tend to rely on visual identification mostly.
Reached the hide and was delighted to find Dave (Reserve Manager) and Peter, a local renowned birder, firmly ensconced - scopes, cameras and notebooks arrayed. I was in good company - I would not have to struggle with identification anymore. Today, I was in the presence of the cognoscente. And, as if to complete a wonderful day, a fantastic ringtail Hen Harrier gave us a fly past. Unfortunately though, it was harassed by a dive-bombing Greenplover. "That'll upset Judith," I said, "all for a couple of Ruff. I know where my money is - wait 'til I tell her!"
Some recent activity
Male and female Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies, 20th April
Willow Warbler, 20th April 2011
Willow Warbler - wing fluttering display, 24th April 2011
Willow Warbler using feather to display to attendant female - 24th April, 2011
Four Ruff on Saltmarsh Pool - 22th April, 2011 (one male displaying)
Meadow Pipit singing from Hawthorn on Saltmarsh - 26th April, 2011
Large Red Damselfly - 27th April 2011 (have been flying here since the 18 04 11)
Red Admiral on Dandelion - 27th April, 2011. (Orange tips and Green-veined Whites have been regularly seen over the last week of very warm weather)
Sedge Warbler singing - 27th April, 2011 ( first one heard 20 04 11 )
Whitethroat on Bramble thicket - 27th April, 2011
Whitethroat in good voice - 27th April, 2011
Early brood of nine Mallard ducklings seen from the hide - 27th April, 2011
Peacock Butterfly, 27th April, 2011
Fearless Lapwing mobbing Chinook helicopter as it thundered over its nest on the wetlands near the hide - 27th April, 2011
A photo diary - early March 2011
A calm early March day on the estuary
An influx of finches to the area was noted today
Lesser Redpoll and Siskin (both males) feeding on nearby garden niger seed
Goldfinch in splendid Spring plumage
Wigeon, Teal and Pintail on wetland in front of the hide
Female Great Spotted Woodpecker
Pair of Stock Doves
Pair of Heron seen on hide wetland
One of three Little Grebe on 2nd Meadow Pool
Pair of Mute Swans on 1st Meadow pool
Pair of Siskin on sunflower heart feeder
Pair of Mute Swans still together on 1st Meadow Pool
Pairs of Mallard and Wigeon on 1st Meadow Pool
Rooks busy nest building
Results of Silver Birch coppicing carried out by the Campfield workparty.
Kestrel hunting along the saltmarsh driftline
Badger paw prints in wet mud along the side of the Lonning. Other scrapings and dung pits(marking territory) can also be seen.
Moorhen on ditchside
Pair of Crows seen carrying twigs and starting to nest build
Super Moon - nearest to earth for at least a decade. Taken from the entrance to the Reserve Lonning
Meadow Pipit lustily declaring its territory from Hawthorn bush on Saltmarsh
Male Pheasant resplendent in breeding plumage.
Barnacles on the Estuary - a digitally manipulated photograph by John Rogers
Photo diary - 21st (Spring Equinox) to 31st March 2011
Daffodils in hedge bottom along Lonning
Willow coming into bloom
High Spring tides were flooding the Inner Solway Estuary marshes causing the Barnacle Geese who frequent them, to flight west to the Outer estuary pastures round the Cardurnock Peninsula. They could be viewed from Campfield Marsh, on several consecutive days, flying along the estuary at high tide.
Barnacles flighting along the tideline in small skeins.
Skein after skein stretched out along the Estuary - some over the Campfield Saltmarsh.
A strong westerly was blowing causing some skeins to tuck in above the tideline as they rounded the corner of the marsh to fly directly into the wind.
By this stage several thousand had flown past, probably in the space of an hour.
Two of the three Little Grebe that had arrived on the Meadow Pools.
Little Grebe amongst the reeds of the Meadow Pools.
Little Grebe can be quite aggressive, even to birds much larger than themselves
In this case though, it was two male Mallards who were squabbling.
The chase went on for a good ten minutes, with them flying back and forth over the Lonning
Moorhen testing the water. The Little Grebe won't be best pleased.
Signs that the Mute Swans had been here overnight.
Meadow Pipit on Saltmarsh shrub
Pair of Mallard prospecting
Sunset over Criffel
Recent Sightings from Noticeboard
23/3 Ruff, 4 Black-tailed Godwits, Sand Martins
25/3 Saltmarsh: Meadow Pipits, Reed Buntings
Meadow Pool: 3 Little Grebe
Hide Wetland: 4 Black-tailed Godwits
27/3 21 Whooper Swans, also heard overnight.
29/3 Saltmarsh: Wheatear, 2 Black-tailed Godwits
"Oh to be at 'Campfield' now that April's here" - a pastel-style digital painting by John Rogers
Already the mighty pendulum, that governs all life on this planet, is well on its way. The Vernal Equinox is nearly a month past but the bird world would have been stirring even before this, responding to changing light far away in Africa. Warblers would have moved north, not all in one mighty journey but stopping off from time to time in small hops, as it were (pun intended). Even establishing small territories along the way in some particularly favourable spot or whilst waiting for some adverse wind or weather conditions to subside. But now, these mere mites are with us. We observe their variable numbers each year with interest - endlessly speculating as to why one species is there in good numbers and another has not arrived as yet. But the drums of the birders bush telegraph beat loudly these days and we have become well informed as to the variables of movement and arrival - so, in a sense, we await in informed readiness. Looks like this year the Willow Warblers are in good numbers, Chiffchaffs are being heard and seen and some Blackcaps too. No Whitethroats as yet, but who can say! The Pendulum is still swinging ...
We set out each day, here at Campfield, with hope and expectation - welcoming new friends and noting departure of our old ones. The Pinkfeet seem to have almost left us now. The Barnacles, though, are not in a hurry to get back to those snow and icebound nesting cliffs in Svalbard, with the prowling Arctic Foxes and bitter snowstorms - can't say I blame them! Wigeon and Pintail numbers are falling day by day as they head further north to their isolated meres, pools and wild mosses. Black-tailed Godwits are coming through now, in good numbers, here at Campfield. We always enjoy these spectacular heralds of the Spring Passage and keenly await their arrival. A few Ruff are perhaps mixed amongst them - you know when you've seen a Ruff: it tends to look like a lot of other waders, but isn't! That's our take on it anyway. With our recognition skills diminishing with fading hearing and eyesight, we await the arrival in the hide or by the screens, of younger sharper birders - in the hope of confirming our speculative indentifications.
Nesting activities are well advanced now in some cases whilst others are still involved in the bickering and the toing and froing of premating flocks. Shelduck are infinitely amusing to watch out on the edge of the Saltmarsh - these spectacular birds are so easy to observe, as well. We are down from a flock of approx 24 a month ago to a rough half dozen now. The others have dispersed in pairs back onto the moss, amongst the pools and Rabbit warrens, where they will nest - to emerge in a few weeks time, back onto the estuary with their little troops of ducklings. Those which have survived the attentions of fox and buzzard, to form creches amongst the creeks and runnels, are often seemingly tended only by a couple of adults. Professional childcare in the Shellduck world is a well advanced discipline that we humans are only just beginning to understand! I digress dangerously!
Yes, April is a time of continuous change, where anything can happen weatherwise. You can experience all the seasons in one day and we must be prepared each day as we set out with scope and camera, to follow that great saying by the philosopher, Confucius: "Always expect the unexpected!" Did he really say that or was it Bono?
... very unexpectedly, in our case, a raft of 107 Red-throated Divers just off Campfield Marsh (most in summer plumage) showed up on the 14th. No one can remember a similar such event here. It was also reported that a further 46 were sighted in the Luce Bay area that day ... another birding mystery to speculate on during our moments of leisure.
As this article was being put to bed, reports of Whitethroat on the Saltmarsh and Sedge Warbler down the Lonning, were coming in. I shall sleep easier tonight in the knowledge that these waifs have made it back to enrich our lives, once again!
Photos from the last few days
Chiffchaffs have been with us for a fortnight or so now
Chiffchaff in full song
A flush of Willow Warblers arrived early this month. The males can be heard declaring their territory at regular intervals along the lonning.
Willow Warbler distraction display
Secretive Moorhen on North Plain farm pond.
Two of the four Tufted Duck with some of the Black-tailed Godwits
A good collection of duck and waders can be seen on sunny days such as this, on the first Meadow Pool.
Even the Heron finds this pool profitable.
Something caused a stir!
Wheatear (male) and Oystercatchers seen from Ist Screen, across the wet meadows.
Male Mallard resplendent in breeding plumage
Fresh new butterflies are now appearing everywhere - small tortoiseshell and orange tip have been flying in the last few days.
A last year's survivor - Peacock butterfly, looking worse for wear.
Spring growth on Meadow Pools - a panorama
RECENT SIGHTINGS FROM THE NOTICEBOARD
Fencing in progress, 14th March 2011
Setting out along the estuary road for our daily constitutional down the lonning onto the Reserve, we reached the corner where the wide vista of the outer Solway opens up. It was one of those rare Spring days, with no wind - you could feel the heat of the mid- March sun! The tide was well out and miles of golden sand stretched before us.
In these conditions, mirages are quite usual: where distant objects appear quite large - for instance, cattle or sheep or a distant boat will appear to be huge, set in a shimmering haze. This was very much the case today. Right out there on the headland of the marsh were two huge tractors and two giant figures. "What on earth are they doing?" I said - 'they' being Dave, the Reserve Manager and Stephen, the Estate Worker. Bringing the faithful scope to bear on the subject, it became apparent that they were working on the far fence of the Reserve which is essentially an historic boundary, keeping in the cattle and sheep who graze these wild marshes - hopefully 'hefted' within their own traditional boundaries. 'Hefting' is a mysterious word from the mists of time, particularly applicable to sheep. This means that a sheep will not roam beyond its own birthing ground. In Cumbria, with large areas of open common land, fell and estuary, farmers and shepherds very much rely on this innate imprint in the animal's brain, to manage their flocks - but walls and fences do help to reinforce this tradition! But the advent of 'foot and mouth', particularly severe here in Cumbria, put the 'cat amongst the pigeons', so to speak - with historic flocks being decimated and new replacement flocks being introduced. So the poor farmers and graziers of Cumbria have a completely new situation to cope with and are bravely so doing, on a day to day basis.
To return to the subject of the Campfield marsh fence - this, we can safely say, is the furthest fence in England before our part of the kingdom drops off the map into the restless surging waters of the Solway Firth. It does continue well out onto the sands beyond the grass of the saltmarsh, in the vain hope that this will hold back wandering herds of cattle and 'hefted' sheep ... unfortunately, no one has told the sheep! And, of course in summer, cattle spend much of their time out on the furthest sands where it is cooler and free from pestilential cattle flies. They have been known, at times of very low tides, to cross over to our distant cousins in Scotland where the ancient rule of possession being nine points of the law, no doubt, used to hold good! You've got to remember, we live in 'Reiver' country here ... but that is a whole other story!
Another undesirable outcome of this situation, is that cattle like to stand in cool water and mud in Summer - but in so doing become completely transfixed. This may not be a problem in the inland gentle home counties and shires, but here on the Solway the tides sweep in twice a day and drowning becomes a distinct possibility for these animals. Fortunately, this predicament is usually spotted by some alert marshland resident and then it becomes exciting, with all hands to the rescue: tractors appear from everywhere; ropes and hauling gear; planks of wood etc and as many people as can be assembled before the creeks and runnels fill with the gurgling muddy waters of the swiftly rising tide. Rescues are usually successful but it is a desperate muddy business with lots of shouting and the use of language which one does not often hear in polite company - and no little danger to the rescuers too!
I can recall one instance where Dave, the Manager, manning the tractor and rope attached to one well entrenched animal, suffered some no little trauma when the rope snapped and came snaking back, catching him on the arm. But this, of course, is all in a days work for a Reserve manager: working heavy machinery in rough conditions can be difficult dangerous work. Health and safety is all very fine when conjured up in some remote panelled and polished office, in triplicate, of course - but when the Solway tide rushes in faster than a man can run and everyone is pretty much covered with mud, with a screaming animal stuck in a six foot deep creek - it's hard to remember precisely which paragraph or clause might be applicable! However, the outcome to this situation was a happy one, that is, for the animal - with a valuable creature saved. But, no doubt, for a few weeks after his checkup in hospital, Dave's arm wasn't too comfortable. I don't think there is a particular conservation medal issued for this type of heroic action - perhaps one should be struck!
Returning again to the fence, from which I have digressed. This is an arduous and problematical affair: huge posts embedded in soft sand and mud; tangles of barbed wire to be sorted out and many hours of work with man and machinery. All this can be frustratingly undone on the very next high tide when a giant root or trunk of some pine tree from an inland forest or riverbank, comes floating along on its own merry way, demolishing several metres of fence at a stroke. This, the sheep joyfully detect within hours and we are all back where we started. Don't suppose they teach this at conservation seminars in distant marbled halls - but, believe me folks, you are getting your money's-worth here - let it be said!
Summer cattle out on the sands