18th July 2011
Opened the curtains . . . Whoosh! The rain was coming in bucket loads; the light across the estuary was hard and sharp; the wind was definitely in the North West.
"Mark my words," I said to Judith, "it's Autumn. We are nearly a month past the Solstice, now!" "But we haven't had Summer yet," Judith wailed. "That's as maybe," I said, "this year, it's been a good old-fashioned English Summer up here on the Solway: all the seasons in one day"
We've had a series of Atlantic depressions, chasing each other - squeezing that continental high well out of the way. People in Kent have been praying for rain and baking in impossibly high temperatures out on their Cinque Port beaches. So what! . . . who wants skin cancer? Give me the streams, rivers and wetlands of the good old North West, any day. Mind you we could do without the midges, mosquitoes and clegs (horseflies). This year we've been badly bitten despite using Jungle Spray before setting off down the Lonning or onto the Moss.
Speaking of which, we bravely set out today along the very same, having decided to chance our arm and brave the weather. "Glad we did" (not by Sir Hubert Parry). The sun came out from behind the thunderous clouds, with a wonderful toplight to which Constable, Seago or Arnesby Brown would have done great justice. Those amongst you who are artists will know what I mean: with the meadows and trees glistening after the recent rain - the pools, scrapes and wetlands standing in water . . . wonderful! The hay meadows full of flowers, butterflies were everywhere as were huge quantities of all kinds of insects, intent on taking advantage of the sudden sunlight.
Down on the wetlands beyond the hide, several families of Swifts were hurling themselves across the area at all altitudes, intent on fattening themselves up ready for that migration soon to take place for them. Apparently, the young once having left the nest, spend the next three years continuously in the air - even sleeping on the wing. These incredible birds (nothing to do Swallows and Martins, by the way!) have come down to us from pre-history - superbly adapted for life on this fickle piece of whirling rock, we lesser beings call 'earth'. When man eventually chooses to destroy himself, the Swifts will still be there - screaming round their chosen cliff nesting sites or round the ruins of man's puny attempts at building! But we are happy to observe that Campfield's wetlands are providing them with sustenance. Numbers are impossible to count with any degree of certainty - have you ever tried to count Swifts? They live contemptuous of predators - their speed outclassing all Raptors. Some people say that the little Eleonora's Falcon in the Mediterranean, does have some success with Swallows and Martins as they flop down onto their sea cliffs exhausted during migration .. but I doubt that they catch many Swifts!
As I said, Autumn is upon us and the Swifts will be the first to depart to the more productive insect-rich pastures of Africa. Oh Yes! as we write, the wind is swinging round to the North. The Scandinavians have a way of dealing with this time of the year: a rather melancholic festival to say goodbye to Summer. They gather round in small groups where they eat huge platters of crayfish, drink vast quantities of beer and schnapps, hardening their bodies by plunging themselves into the near freezing waters of the Baltic - before the sun disappears below the horizon . . . listening to old Abba records.
More Dancing Queen, anyone?
A series of depressions coming in from the West.
Cattle out on the estuary keeping cool and clear of the dreaded 'Clegs'.
Lonning after thunderstorm of which there have been more this year than usual.
Meadow pools with good water levels after recent extensive rains. Also indicative of increasingly high water table on the Reserve this year.
Recently excavated pools taking the advantage of the old marshland configuration.
Herons have seemingly done well this year at the local herony and can be seen every day now fishing/hunting on the Reserve wetlands/saltmarsh and the open estuary.
Seems to have been plenty of Little Grebe activity on the Meadow Pools in recent weeks, but due to extensive reed cover cannot always be seen. However, their distinctive 'whinnying' call can be heard from time to time.
This year the herb and flower-rich meadows are looking particularly fine due to the years of beneficial management and good water tables. A fine hay crop is to be expected. When the sun suddenly emerges from behind the clouds the place becomes alive with butterflies, much as we remember from our childhood back in the 1940's.
The lonning after rain, alive with the buzz of myriad insects which happily provide food for the numerous broods of young birds - all of which seem to have done well this year, despite a cold and blowy Spring.
A good example of Umbelliferae showing a profusion of insects and a good indicatator that bees are not the only pollinators. We, with some justification, worry about the honey bee being in trouble but numerous insects do seem also to fill this role very well. Bumble bees were showing well earlier on this year but, unaccountably, seem to have become somewhat scarce in this last few weeks and people are starting to become concerned over this factor. The reason may emerge on research.
Red Admiral on trackside nettles, occasionally seen now.
Numerous Meadow Browns are taking advantage of herb-rich meadows.
Green-veined White on the newly flowering Brambles.
Rosebay Willow Herb is also to their liking.
Families of Swifts hawking over the wetlands and the Moss.
A study of one of these beautiful birds which can only be likened to a flying scimitar.