Wind and waves at the height of the gale - Campfield Marsh
The weather men - no! that’s not right, they’re mostly weather women - no! that sounds like an article from Saga magazine … anyway, the folk at the Met Office had been threatening us all week with Hurricane Katia, Saskia, Katrina or some other Russian Cat, I forget which! Those American hurricane people must have been reading their Tolstoy’s . However, they’re very touchy these days since the Michael Fish episode that nearly took out the whole of southern England. Talk about early warnings - they had reduced the nation to a state of gibbering fear in anticipation of this monster storm that was coming.
But, sure enough, by 11 o’clock the wind had started to moan and whistle round the hamlet and to make it worse, the high tide series had started. What with that, the full moon and floodwaters coming down the various feeder rivers to the Solway estuary, the omens were not good. By lunchtime the brown swirling waters were flooding onto the saltmarsh and there was still an hour or so to go ‘til full tide!
The wind had now resolved itself into a permanent shriek and the trees were bending double. I said to Judith, “we’ve lost the damson crop and it was just about ready for picking, too” I gazed tremulously from the lounge window over this scene of tempest and surging water. “It was time for comfort food,” cutting myself an extra large slice of ‘Stottie cake’ and a slug of whisky in my ‘Douwe Egbert’s’ - which gave me the illusion of comfort and safety!
Just at that moment, Judith appeared in the lounge, fully decked out in boots and anorak, with the Canon and long lens slung over her shoulder already. “Come on, this is an opportunity of a lifetime! The birds are coming by in hundreds: waders; ducks and gulls, heading for the security of the Saltmarsh Pool area.” “Yes! I can see them from here, Dear!” I said, gulping down the last of the Stottie … I knew my fate was sealed, though. “ I need an anchor man literally, and someone to carry the spare camera,” she said. “Oh well! in for a penny in for a pound,” I thought, “needs must when the devil drives!”
Scrambling for my puffer jacket and balaclava - noting as we struggled out onto the marsh road, 2 or 3 decent sized branches had removed themselves from the old Ash tree - any one of which, had it struck one, would have made you a candidate for A & E.
By now, Judith was furiously clicking the Canon and long lens. “This is wonderful!” she exclaimed, “ I have never been so close to the estuary birds before,” as mixed flocks of Mallard, Teal and Shoveler came ripping past the gorse bushes behind which we were sheltering. A small party of Ringed Plover were thinking of landing but thought better of it and flew on … just the merest waifs, goodness knows how they cope flying into the full force of this tornado?
I was hanging onto Judith for grim life, trying to steady her as she focussed on flocks of Oystercatchers and duck streaming by. Then suddenly my cap was gone. “We’ll get it later,” cried Judith, “there are more flocks coming,” she shouted, as another flock of Teal came in, skimming the waves - in and out of the spray. We marvelled at their mastery of the air!. The continuous piping of Oystercatchers could be heard above the hurricane - their way of keeping in touch with each other. Amazing how such a sound carries!
“That’s it,” cried Judith, “the camera is exhausted. I’ve used up all my memory cards - it’s in the can.” Bent double, we struggled back to the security of our humble abode. Goodness knows what the wind would be registering on the Beaufort Scale! The water was now right up on the back of the saltmarsh - battering into the gorse; the spray almost completely obscuring the Viaduct. “ Good work, that!,” bellowed Judith, “I’ll get it onto the computer now,” as we crashed into the shelter of the hall - still dripping with salt water from the driven spray.
… a day to remember!
Thunderous waves as the high tide pushes in over the saltmarsh.
Oystercatcher, Starlings and Black-headed Gulls battling against the wind.
Oystercatcher flooded off the Inner Estuary, making their way to the more secure roosts on Campfield Marsh.
Hugging the tideline.
Wave on wave of Oystercatchers making the first move westerward.
A Curlew has joined in.
A Cormorant making good progress in such difficult conditions.
A Bar-tailed Godwit joins the movement.
Bar-tail safely tucked in behind the main group.
These Mallard are shown to be strong fliers as they battle against the gusts.
Mallard making good headway.
Ringed Plover rounding the Point.
Coming down and looking for somewhere to land.
Attempting to land.
Another small flock coming along, this time Teal.
Shoveler confidently flying over the breakers.
A very purposeful group of Shoveler taking the rough weather in their stride.
Shoveler banking as they change direction going round the Point.
Mixed group of Oystercatcher, Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls having reached the shelter of the Saltmarsh Pool area.
Safe haven from the wind has been reached.
18th - 31st AUGUST
Looking inland across the 'sands' towards Campfield Marsh
Cold wind from the west today. Wader numbers are starting to build up: predominently Oystercatcher with small numbers of Grey Plover, Black-tailed Godwit and Dunlin. Whimbrel could be heard calling. Norman indicated that there were still 5 Ruff on the floodwater in the meadows left of the Lonning and a Greenshank had joined them. No evidence of the Wood Sandpiper seen there of late, though. The Barn Owl could still be seen regularly hunting along the saltmarsh. Butterflies and Dragonflies were flying on the saltmarsh and on the Lonning trackside, enjoying the afternoon sunshine.
Mixed Waders (mostly Oystercatcher) flying along as the tide comes in.
A male Common Darter on the Lonning track.
Black Darters mating.
Female Southern Hawker landed on hawthorn stems and stayed there for quite a few minutes while we observed it.
Male Wall Brown butterfly seen flitting restlessly between Hawkweed flowers amongst vegetation edging the saltmarsh.
Small Copper flying in the same vicinity.
As the tide came in mid-afternoon, there was plenty of bird activity along the tideline.
Oystercatcher, Golden Plover, Common Gulls and Godwit being pushed in by the racing tide.
Curlew coming in to land.
Oystercatcher flying ahead of the incoming tide.
Flocks of Oystercatchers, other waders and Gulls had been pushed up the 'sands' into the the corner near the viaduct.
Norman had reported the presence of this juvenile Marsh Harrier and sure enough it was still there flying infront of the hide . . . surprising the Teal in the pools along the edge of the Moss.
The chase continued.
It was most rewarding to be able to watch this bird from the hide for a good half hour, hunting over this stretch of the Reserve.
A warm, very still day with intermittent sunshine. At low tide we walked out on the sands down to the tideline which is much further than you would think. We could see waders, gulls and cormorant all feeding along the waters edge. The land seemed to disappear behind us and strange mirage effects were visible on the horizon.
Looking back towards Campfield Marsh. The mudflats are pitted with worm casts indicating the rich pickings to be had for the many birds that frequent them.
Looking across the 'sands' towards Scotland.
Mixed Gulls flying along the tideline.
Waders, Gulls and Cormorant peacefully taking advantage of the warm stillness.
Bay looking west towards Criffell.
Two Herring Gull landing.
Mirage effects observed looking west, due to the refraction of light through different temperature gradients above the 'sands'.
Tide stayed well out today. Very few birds about. A brisk walk down the Lonning yielded a number of Green-veined Whites flying.
Ripening barley and seeding thistles in bird seed field.
Sunflower crop well on its way.
Heather in bloom on the Moss.
A warm humid day in the sunshine. A few Swallows were hawking about. Plenty of Teal on the floodwater down the Lonning. A few waders and gulls on the Estuary.
Flock of Teal taking off from the floodwater (80+)
A Greenshank and a Spotted Redshank reported on Saltmarsh Pool.
Cooler northerly winds today. Plenty of waders on the tideline. Reports of Ruff (2), Little Egret, Peregrine and Sparrowhawk from Saltmarsh pool.
Bright early on but clouded in and rained in the afternoon. Reports of 25 Common Snipe seen on Saltmarsh Pool. Common Darter flying down the Lonning.
Flock of Lapwing (200+) flying over the saltmarsh.
Young visitors to the hide.
Groups of Oystercatcher could be seen roosting all along the saltmarsh at hightide - probably in the region of 2000, although accurate counting was not possible. Also amongst them were small groups of Grey Plover. 5 Black-tailed Godwit could be seen picking around the tide's edge.
2 of 5 Black-tailed Godwits with a Black-headed Gull.
Late morning a group of Godwit (mostly Black-tailed) on the incoming tide. Again Oystercatcher were all along the estuary flats. Middayish - Swallows, Larks, Pippits and Martins were seen from the hide, hawking over the wetlands and the Moss. A Kestrel was hunting there too. At 2 pm, on a receding tide, Golden Plover and large groups of Oystercatcher were visible on the saltmarsh. Could hear Whimbrel and Curlew calling too. 7.45pm, a little Egret was spotted flying west along the saltmarsh. Shortly after, a Barn Owl flew east and hunted the marsh near the Viaduct for a good 20 minutes, eventually disappearing into Bowness-on-Solway Nature Reserve.
Young Chiffchaff on fence to Bird Seed field.
Barn Owl hunting along the marsh towards Viaduct, in evening light.
Male Hen Harrier reported on the Reserve today.
Waders and gulls feeding on the mudflats.
As the tide came racing in and the channel started to fill, birds were taking advantage of the shallow water to bathe in.
After overnight rain this Chaffinch was thoroughly enjoying a good bathe and was not at all put off by our presence on the track nearby.
Green-veined Whites are still to be seen.
Stephen has been cutting the rushes in the wet meadows infront of the hide for a few days now.
Heron dropping in to see what was happening to its hunting ground.
Crows were on the lookout too, from the nearby wood.
Heron eventually headed back to the estuary - presumably to quieter hunting.
Part of month's Noticeboard
Autumn has arrived on the Reserve or should I say ‘descended’. The night had been pretty continuous rain and gales. By morning the rain had subsided and a distinct chill was in the air. Floodwater was starting to show in the fields and it had obviously been decided to get on with cutting the rushes as it was unlikely that the meadows would dry up anymore between now and the Winter.
So, as we wandered down the Lonning, we were presented with the sight of Stephen already hard at work with tractor and cutter, attacking the floodwater and abundant rushes. This is not as simple a job as it might sound. You’ve really got to know what you are doing in this area negotiating these floodlands, as one minute you’re on more or less firm ground and the next, you’re up to your axles in mud and spray - and getting stuck becomes a distinct possibility, nay, a strong likelihood. Then the old question comes up, “what pulls out a huge tractor from its potential grave?” The answer is, “an even larger tractor or some kind of caterpillar vehicle,” which can become very irksome and expensive … and as we all know, the RSPB’s pockets are not endless!
So for Stephen, this could be quite a stomach-churning task! - not for the faint-hearted … but as he comes from a line of local farming stock and has been working the stubborn mosses and pastures of the Cardurnock Peninsula since he was a lad, he knows what he is doing. They start them early in this area, as farms tend to be run by family members - Yes, daughters as well! It is not unusual to see a slip of a lass, perched high on some massive agricultural machine, seemingly without a care in the world! … the whole family involved in the haymaking, harvesting and silaging. So we are, indeed, fortunate to have his valuable services, as there are many tales of lost machinery and equipment on these acres of unforgiving moss and marsh. You can see he loves his work - I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without a smile on his face or a cheery grin and greeting - even with the rain, hail and snow coming sideways. Up here conservation isn’t only about Sea Pinks and Summer days, as might be the impression given by some of our previous Blogs. But today, watching him from a distance, he was making good progress - with rushes and spray flying left, right and centre; seagulls following in much the same way as they would a farmer on traditional ploughlands - looking for whatever tasty morsel the cutter had turned up; even the cattle savour the freshly cut herbs and grasses that presented themselves. What a wonderful sight!
How rewarding this business of conservation is … preparing these wetlands for geese, duck, swans and, of course, next Spring’s breeding waders!
"Rush Cutting" by John Rogers
Stephen attacking the rushes and floodwater.
Gulls have already spotted a good thing.
On to further pastures.
Gulls and corvids quickly put in an appearance.
Even the catlle savour the fresh cuttings.
"Up to the Axles" by John Rogers