The day here at Campfield, as forecast by the weathermen, had developed into a full blown gale with estimated gusts of 60 - 70 mph. Gales we are accustomed to here on the Solway, but this was something special! We were hunkered down behind our picture window, gazing at the huge spectacle of the waves having their tops ripped off - filling the air with a blinding mist of spray. - with poor Gulls, Oystercatchers and Shelduck, some actually flying backwards, as they tried to retreat from their hightide roosts. The sycamores, ashes and damson trees in the garden were being flogged like grass - large branches being hurled to the ground. I said to Judith, "There goes our damson crop this year!" Squalls of rain and hail were chasing each other in quick succession across the estuary - you get the picture!
This all continued until late afternoon when, about 5 o'clock, the power went off. "There goes my teatime again - par for the course - little bit of a gale and our power always goes down. Surprised it hasn't gone before this!" We scuttled about getting the emergency calor gas cooker in the motorhome up and running. We knew the drill! We are used to it ... and in deepening gloom prepared for nightfall, dolefully watching the twinkling lights of Annan across the estuary in Scotland, sending out their cheery message. I wish I had a shilling for every time I've sat huddled in blankets here in England with our power down whilst our cousins across the border with their robust power grid, were tucking into their haggis and neeps, and gulping down flagons of the 'golden liquid'. Hey ! Ho! And we, like all good Englishmen, retired early to our beds whilst the storm raged and for all we knew were being showered with clouds of volcanic ash ... oblivious to the disaster unfolding not three fields away from our backdoor!
Oh! Thank heavens! The power is on. We awake and tremulously gaze outside, whilst drinking cups of coffee and consuming toast. Those linemen are heroes. They've got the power on. They must have worked through the night in those appalling conditions! I raise my glass to them. These guys should be paid in gold, hanging there on tops of poles in lashing gales and rain, just so that we lesser mortals can have our coffee and toast in the morning and that everyone's hot water, heating systems, cookers and TVs work perfectly and we can all go about our daily lives unhindered. Don't talk to me about the Big Society. These men are the Big Society - they care for us all!
It must have been the caffeine in the coffee. "Let's go down the Lonning onto the Reserve and see if everything is alright - we'll take the big camera and lens," said Judith. "OK. let's go!" I said, whilst struggling to remove a large branch which had placed itself across the front drive - "Glad that didn't hit the car, Dear," I said.
On reaching the Lonning entrance, I had a sense of foreboding; a sixth sense; perhaps that primative instinct inherent in man - that all was not well ... a strange car parked up near the entrance to the reserve perhaps? On reaching the workshop, the door was open, inside I could see what were obviously media men. Not wishing to intrude we hurried on down the Lonning. " Dave must be giving an interview for some reason," I said to Judith. My sense of foreboding increased! I swung into 'old Indian tracker and friend of Hiawatha' mode. Many heavy vehicles passed this way in the last few hours - gazing at the normally pristine trackway of the Lonning. No sooner had I thought this than we came upon one of the heavy vehicles. It was Stephen with the tractor and bucket, wrestling with the remains of a huge Willow tree that had split from top to bottom and was lying all over the place. "Bit of a rough night, Stephen," we cheerily shouted by way of encouragement. Stephen clambered down from his monster tractor and said,"That's not all - the Moss has gone!" "What!" said we. "The Moss has been burning all night," he continued. At that point a huge hail storm struck with hail the size of small peas. Stephen ran for the shelter of the tractor and we for the shelter of the hide. The noise of the hail on the roof was deafening. "We must have been very naughty," I remarked, "The Gods are really angry with us!"
As we discussed the plight of the Moss, we suddenly felt the need for the comfort of a cup of coffee which I had remembered not to bring in our haste - Judith's face was a picture of quiet disapproval! At which point Dave crashed into the hide already soaked to the skin. I could see in his eyes he had something to say - a man normally of quiet disposition, he was obviously quite shaken. "What's been going on, Dave?" we tremulously enquired. "The Moss has been burning all night," he replied. "We've had four fire appliances here - one from this end and three from Rogersceugh (the farm in the middle of the Moss). We think that a powerline must have gone down and set the Moss on fire over towards Anthorn. The firefighters have been trying to stay ahead of it in this gale and have managed to contain it before it reached some of the major woodland. Quite amazingly, the newly installed boardwalk had acted as a firebreak, saving quite a large section of the Moss. Further on the fire had jumped the boadwalk and had taken out quite large areas of the Moss, bird's nests and all, before being contained. I came across blackened and exhausted firefighters slumped at the Lonning entrance when I came in, hopefully requesting possibly sandwiches."
He then sadly related the fact that one of his research video cameras, positioned near one of the curlew's nests, as part of a predation study, was a melted burnt wreck - even the memory card had gone! Mercifully the two other cameras had survived. The hail had by now subsided. We said to Dave, " We'll go out onto the Moss and get a photographic record while the disaster is still fresh"
There were some distressing sights: two or three pairs of Curlew were forlornly flying round the charred areas - obviously calling for their newly fledged young who would have had no chance in last night's inferno. Small numbers of Larks and Meadow Pipits were wandering around on the scorched earth in a similarly distressed way, looking for chicks they would not see again. The heavy smell of burning was still in the air. The hopeful signs this Spring of a good hatch, now lay in ruins. With another hail storm rapidly approaching, we were forced to retire from the Moss, only to receive another final buffetting and soaking before attaining the shelter of the hide. Again we met Dave who had just returned from resiting one of his cameras. We continued trying to piece together the events of the previous night, trying to visualise the efforts of the firefighters stumbling on the rough terrain of the Moss, amidst smoke and a howling gale, attempting to stay ahead of the fire - but eventually doing so, thereby saving one of the finest examples of Raised Bog in the country. Had they not acheived this it may have taken many years to recover to its present form, particularly had it reached some of the far woodlands and plantations. For this prodigious effort they must have our grateful thanks.
Tops of the waves being blown off by the gale.
Oystercatchers flying along tideline at high tide.
Oystercatchers keeping low in the shelter of the saltmarsh as they attempt to round Scargavel Point, into the full force of the gale.
Stephen dealing with the Willow which was split by the gale last night.
Broken Willow stump.
Working out how to deal with the problem.
View from the hide of some of the blackened Moss.
Track through the wood (thankfully not damaged by the fire) onto the Moss
Looking along the boardwalk which acted as a firebreak.
Where the fire leapt the track in the middle of the Bog.
View across the Bowness Common towards the Lakeland Fells, showing how the fire, in the strong wind, had moved swiftly only burning surface vegetation and also missing some tree plantations.
Some stands of shrubs and trees had caught the full force of the fire.
Fire had got away here.
Forlorn Curlew calling over blackened ground below.
Pair of Curlew searching.
Nest has gone!
There was at least one survivor!
Not all vegetation had been destroyed.
View back along boardwalk towards the wood we came in through.
Since new software installed no images are visible in existing Blog Posts. Have posted this blog to see if the same thing happens with new posts that include images.
News today! Effects of devastating fire on the Moss last night. Boardwalk thankfully acted as a firebreak otherwise more of the Raised Bog on the Reserve may have gone up.
Juvenile Common Gull and Crow hoping to partake of fragments from Heron's successful fishing activities. The small flatfish the Heron had caught presented no problem for it to consume but quite often, having caught a larger fish, they will dismember them before consuming and this is the time that Crows and Gulls get a chance to partake. Also when the Heron has a crop full of fish and is flying back to feed its young at the heronry, Gulls and Crows will attack it in flight in an attempt to make it disgorge the contents of its crop. It is quite usual to see half a dozen Heron here at Campfield Marsh, fishing the high tide when there are numerous flounders coming in to feed over the sands in shallow water.
Heron fishing with ever watchful Crow and Gull present.
Undaunted, fishing continues.
A movement has been spotted.
Gull anticipating a meal.
The question is, how to manage it without putting it down.
Profile of catch
Campfield Saltmarsh - 12th May 2011
Oh well! Not much luck today. It will be thin pickings for the cubs tonight.
I reckon I'll be in trouble with the vixen.
Hold on! Just a minute! A nice bit of saltmarsh lamb would go down quite nicely with the cubs - make a change from endless rabbit
Yes, think I'll try for the nice little fat one out there on its own.
Oh no! Not those blessed local crows again. They think they own the joint!
Oh well! That's made my mind up for me.
Rabbit again for supper!
The weather was really warming up; a strongish dry southeaster was blowing across the estuary; hardly a cloud in the sky. I said to Judith, "Just the day for the outer saltmarsh and the estuary sands. Let's see what exotica presents itself!" Adventure was in the air and the Gods seemed at peace. Estuaries can do this to a person ... it's that combination of sun, salt and sand - no cheap sangria here!
Out onto the saltmarsh, past the scrape - a few Wigeon and Teal still about and 4 or 5 of our colourful friends, the Shelduck ... onwards, outwards. Watch out for the runnels - you can easily break a leg or twist an ankle, if you're not careful as many of us know to our cost.
We found ourselves heading off to the recently repaired 'Extreme' fence as we wanted to see how the repairs and restoration had gone on, thanks to Dave's and Stephen's Herculean efforts out there on the edge of England. Besides, we were in the need to know group - a synonym for being proper pests!
As we approached, we had collected ahead of us, a few non-hefted sheep and lambs from next door's stint. We gently herded them towards the fence. I remarked to Judith that this would be interesting to see how they would return to their own side. As with any group of sheep, there is always a leader. I thought that they would go right to the very edge of the fence right out on the sands - but no, I should have known, they had found themselves a little hole and duly returned to their own stint in good order.
The words 'heft' and 'stint' have a vaguely Viking sound to them, but I could be wrong! Here in Cumbria, there are many words with Viking origins - in fact, Cumbrians have indicated that on visiting places like Denmark, they are able to follow a conversation reasonably well. Not being Cumbrian or having visited Denmark, I have no way of attesting the veracity of this statement.
Oystercatchers, Redshank, Shelduck and large groups of pre-breeding Curlew - the flavour of the day - were reasonably disinclined to fly. They were well content and we presented very little threat. It was so warm and had been for a few days, with strong easterly drying winds coupled with a low tide series, vast areas of the estuary sandy mud had completely dried out and whitened with a fine crust of salt.
By now, we were well out on the sand and had become aware of great columns of fine sand spiralling hundreds of feet into the air, chasing each other across the estuary. Most spectacular and reminding me of the 'dust devils' encountered in the desert. Desert! - do I hear your eyes glaze over? Well, just for that I won't tell you which desert. Suffice to say - it wasn't fun! We do experience these whirlwind effects on the Cardurnock Peninsula - as they pass across taking leaves and grasses etc. high into the air ... usually a sign of changing weather!
We were now becoming rather tired and heat exhausted and didn't wish to let our delicate complexions be ruined by too much wind burn, so carefully picked our way back across the creeks and runnels to the inner saltmarsh and road once again - noting that the Sea Pinks were now coming out and the Scurvy Grass was well in bloom. For the few of you who might not know, Scurvy Grass is so named owing to the fact that it was eaten by sailors on long distance voyages round the globe in times past, to avoid that dreaded malady of the same name - a deficit of vitamin C, I believe. No danger of this in our case, as we religiously take our vitamin C tablets each morning and, of course, do not take long sea voyages to distant parts of the globe ( due to Judith's tendency to extreme seasickness when we have so travelled.)
We reach the road at the marsh gate (annoying for motorists but necessary to keep the cattle in which roam freely on Solway's wild and wonderful marshes - occasionally, the odd uncaring motorist leaves it open and herds of cattle have been found in strange and distant villages, generally grazing on beautifully tended hedges and flowerbeds - Eh, it's 'ard in the north!) All the Warblers were in full song - some of them even posing for photographs. One particular Whitethroat followed us for some distance, trying to get in on the scene! Jackdaws and Rooks were busy in the plantations and beech trees of the nearby farms. These beech trees are truly magnificent specimens of 'many winters' - honed and shaped by years of burning salt-laden prevailing winds. A few, in recent years, leaning so far, have crashed to the ground during very strong gales which occasionally stream across the Peninsula. Those remaining are so grooved and holed that they have become perfect nesting hosts forJackdaws - we call it 'Jackdaw Central' - who form a strong subscribing presence to the bird feeding stations here at Campfield. Fantastically intelligent and great fun to watch - as, of course, are all the corvid family!
Cattle grazing near Saltmarsh Pool
Criffel and the outer saltmarsh
'Extreme fence'- the last post in England. The recently restored fence
This was probably the old root which previously took out this section of fence at high tide. The marsh is littered with such roots.
Non-hefted sheep and lambs making their way back to their stint.
"This way" - very small access hole in the fence which the sheep joyously found within hours of repair. Shepherds and graziers in this area can lose the will to live!
"Come on, don't be afraid"
All safely round.
Driftwood does have its uses too!
Group of pre-breeding Curlew on the outer saltmarsh.
'Dust devils' or thermals crossing the dried out estuary sand - usually a sign of changing weather.
Scurvy grass in runnel.
Scurvy Grass and Sea Pinks coming into bloom.
Whitethroat in good voice.
Willow Warbler well distributed along the marshland hedges - seem to be good numbers this year. This one was fluffing and preening. It had obviously just recently dunked itself in a pool.
Rook guarding nest from dodgy neighbours.
Fine stand of beeches.
Jackdaw's nest in one of the old beeches at 'Jackdaw Central'.
This lay-by is a favourite for motoring birders. At weekends 'book early'.
Information board in lay-by overlooking Saltmarsh Pool.
View of Saltmarsh Pool from lay-by - good for the odd casual visitor or vagrant. "The birds are interesting too!"
Shelduck on Saltmarsh Pool.
Wigeon and Teal having a fly round the 'Scrape'. The majority of Wigeon have gone north now.
A gang of rogue male Mallard looking for trouble.