You want water? Come on down! The Solway’s lovely - we’ve plenty here! It was coming sideways; from above and from below - Water World eat you heart out!
All this, as I was contemplating the scene from my front window. The Solway was raging in. Yes, a high tide series - at least a force 7 gale; racing white horses and breaking surf; already making the salt marsh with a couple of hours still to high tide. The rain had been bucketing down all night - the weathermen had amber warnings out which meant that the 7 or 8 rivers flowing into the Solway would be flooding quite nicely!
I shouted through to Judith, "this tide is going to be a big one, dear! We shall certainly be cut off for the next 2 to 3 hours." Our immediate area around Campfield and the Cardurnock Peninsula is regularly isolated by high tides throughout the year, unpredictably - in fact, we call ourselves locally ’the Island’… Motorists Beware!
"Just the ideal conditions," Judith replied, "the wetlands on the Reserve will be running with floodwater. The place will be swarming with wildfowl sheltering from the storm. I‘m just going to take the small Nikon camera out - it’s no good taking my long lens today." "It’s no good taking me either, dear," I said, as I realised that my not so far off lunch had turned into an afternoon one - we would be out there for an hour or so. But I knew Judith would need an assistant in these conditions: bird spotting; note taking and drying off optics. To this effect, I slung an old chequered towel round my neck - quite natty really! Bit like Lawrence of Arabia or Glub Pasha, for those who remember!!
So it turned out to be. The floodwaters seemed to be rising by the minute, as we gazed over the Reserve. Six Whoopers had landed on the floodwater in the middle meadow on the left-hand-side of the Lonning; Wigeon and Teal were flying everywhere … and as we struggled into the hide overlooking the wetland - right there in front of us, not 20 yards away, was the, by now, famous Great White Egret. It was having the time of its life, sloshing and wading about - must have been catching frogs and goodness knows what else! This bird has been on the Reserve since the 1st of this month. Everyone has speculated what would happen when the weather deteriorated, but it seems to be ‘a very happy bunny’ - completely in its element. This bird is an expert hunter … might we be seeing more of them?
As we retraced our steps back along the Lonning, a skein of Barnacles swung in low, searching for a place to land. Judith in the meantime, was recording all the new water features that had appeared in the last few days - good water management is certainly showing up in weather conditions such as these. Dave, must have been out there closing the ‘great’ sluice on the far wetlands - ideal timing: he’s catching all the water coming down now and it’s going to be here all winter. Ideal for roosting Whooper Swans, geese and a whole suite of duck.
As if to emphasise this, we came across Stephen in the middle of one of the flooded meadows, with his tractor and digger, doing a bit of heroic water engineering - far beyond the call of duty, I thought. But he’ll be OK in the comfort of his cab - What’s not to like?
Just then a large dark goose swung in overhead, soaking wet and fagged out …bit like me really! It was a Canada - unusual for the Reserve - but it soon made itself at home on the 1st Meadow pool amongst the Wigeon and Teal, upending and feeding on weed and water plants … which put me in mind of my own belated lunch!
As we flogged back along our little estuary road, a blue and yellow Coastguard vehicle came tearing along. "Hope nothing has happened," Judith remarked." "Maybe he was just doing a survey of the high tide flooding." I said. These people do look after us all!
But things seem to take on a rosier glow, when Judith assured me that lunch would consist of Baxter’s lentil and bacon soup and those delicious warm bite-sized sausage rolls to follow. And to guarantee my resuscitation, a small glass of Southern Comfort laced with Stone’s Green Ginger would put me in an adequately creative mood to write this blog - Enjoy!
1st Meadow Pool filling well.
Standing water between the Meadow Pools.
2nd Meadow Pool is full to overflowing.
Floodwater on LHS of Lonning - the Whooper Swans seem to like it!
Six of them in total.
Wetlands in front of hide - seemingly an ideal habitat for the Great White Egret.
Stephen, with the tractor and digger, doing some water engineering.
6 Barnacles suddenly appeared over the Lonning going south.
Canada Goose, having just landed in Meadow pool at the height of the gale.
Lone Canada Goose seen later on the tideline.
A Great White Egret has been reported here on Saltmarsh Pool, since 1st November. Today was the first opportunity we have had to view it and were fortunate, on arrival at 10.30 am, to see it immediately.
Although there were several birders in Maryland Layby, it showed no nervousness and continued to hunt both on the Saltmarsh and the Pool … very active but continually under attack from the resident Lapwings and, to some degree, the Gulls - although all kept a healthy distance away, not pressing home the attack. Two Grey Heron were present and from time to time made sudden and determined attacks but it merely moved 20 or 30 yards and proceeded to feed again.
A large group of Snipe now resident on the Pool, were very wary of it and, on its approach, quickly scuttled away or occasionally went into a couple of fear flights. Even Teal and Wigeon were clearly intimidated by its presence.
The Egret was clearly recognised as a strange and potentially dangerous interloper. Its dramatic stride and obvious height, coupled with its quickness, illustrated its potential as a hunter - obviously finding food in the grass, water and in the air. Its method in the water was to trample quite vigorously to stir up mud to release food - continuously pacing quickly forward - then backtracking.
We had a very entertaining couple of hours with this graceful adroit visitor to Campfield and have made a video of the session, as the weather and lighting conditions were good and presented a unique opportunity.
Criffel and the Solway after the Storm, 17th October.
A very warm misty morning with a rosy dawn. Small parties Barnacles could be seen and heard flying west most of the morning. Lots of Gulls out on the channel with a single Whooper on the tideline.
Small party of Barnacles flying west
Still warm with sunshine and intermittent rain showers. During the morning, the mudflats and saltmarsh were alive with waders and duck: 22 Wigeon,18 Shelduck , c 500 Lapwings, Oystercatchers and Curlew. Mid-afternoon, 10 Black-tailed Godwit were on the tideline. Reports from other birdwatchers of 60+ Shoveler, 3 Black-tailed Godwit and 7 Grey Plover near the Viaduct. After lunch, saw about a dozen Wigeon and a Coot on the Meadow Pools down the Lonning. Red Admirals were nectaring in the sunshine, on Ivy flowers in the hedgerow.
Shelduck and Lapwing on mudflats
Black-tailed Godwit flying off the tideline.
In late Autumn, like today, these ivy flowers were producing nectar which was attracting the few Red Admiral butterflies who were still flying. Every time one passes this plant along the North Plain Lonning a haze of flies and other insects fly off, even on overcast days. These plants, which line the Lonning, produce black berries from the flowers later on, which are then often eaten by birds.
The day started off windy and as the tide came in late afternoon, it stepped up to gale force, with the rain coming sideways across the marsh. Apparently it was a cold front coming in - the temperature certainly dropped substantially! The evening cleared to give a dramatic vivid red and turbulent sunset. A long way out on the channel small skeins of geese could be seen fying west.
Dramatic sunset over West Common.
A skein of geese a long way out over the 'sands'.
Waders on sunlit estuary at dusk.
Cold and windy still, with frequent heavy showers. Flocks of Lapwing, Gulls and Dunlin with a few Oystercatcher, Godwit and Curlew, were flying about the estuary. When the sun shone the light was most dramatic.
Lapwing against a dark sky.
There was a cold biting wind from the west today - it was also a low tide series. Early morning a Gull feeding frenzy was taking place over the river. There were a few Curlew, Oystercatcher and grey waders about with good numbers of Lapwing - a small party of Wigeon came in with the tide.
A large flock of Barnacles, in the region of 2000, flew east along the saltmarsh.
Robin singing in the sunshine.
At 18.10 pm watched 8 Whoopers (3 adults and 5 Juveniles) come into land on the mudflats just this side (West) of the viaduct. They settled down near the edge of the marsh, as if they were intending to roost there for the night.
Whoopers had just landed on the mudflats
Whoopers settling down for the night?
Small flock of Linnets could be seen on Hawthorns along marsh road at 11.25 am. Near the hide a flock of about 30 Redwing with a few Fieldfare flew off along the wetland hedgerow. On the 1st Meadow Pool, Wigeon, Mallard and a Coot were basking in the early afternoon sunshine. At 2.40pm a lone Whooper came calling all along the marsh before flying over the hamlet in the direction of the Reserve wetland. Later on at 17.00 pm, eight more were reported just west of the viaduct.
Mallard and Wigeon on Meadow Pools
Wigeon in sunshine
Coot amongst the rushes.
Solitary Whooper - calling as it came.
During the morning, as the tide went out, a flock of Dunlin flew in onto the wet mud. Good numbers of Oystercatcher, several Shelduck, Godwit and Curlew and two pairs of Shoveler were picking about the tideline too. A couple of skeins of Barnacles, of about 40 each, flew over the marsh going west at midday.
Other reports: from the Viaduct area of good numbers of Shoveler and a few Pintail; from Saltmarsh Pool, 100 Snipe and a Peregrine.
Barnacles going west.
Adult Grey Heron landing on the marsh.
Damp and misty early morning, with a strong southerly wind. A skein of Barnacles were flying east along the marsh. Watched Fox's confrontation with Corvids and Shelduck, as it tried to cross the outfall on the marsh near the hamlet (http://www.rspb.org.uk/community/placestovisit/campfieldmarsh/b/campfieldmarsh-blog/archive/2011/10/24/early-morning-confrontation-at-campfield-24th-october-2011.aspx).
Sun came out after lunch and Meadow Pipit seen on roadside hawthorn bushes. Mallard, Wigeon and Teal are now using the Meadow Pools on the Lonning. As we walked back a Heron could be seen in Saltmarsh dubs near the Lonning entrance.
Mallard and Wigeon enjoying the afternoon sunshine on Meadow Pools.