… the words of Tom Jones’ song come to mind.
The family were up for Christmas from the arid east Midlands. They couldn’t remember the last time it rained down there and were just amazed at the amount of rain and water we had here at Campfield - and were fascinated by the grey surging waters of the Solway, with the countless thousands of Barnacle Geese struggling through the rain and wind - not to mention the beautiful Swans which overfly the hamlet.
They took a walk onto the Reserve in between the rain showers - along to the hide and were rewarded by the sight of 77 Whoopers spread out across the wetland, feeding and chattering to each other with their gentle whooping sound … a wonderful memory for them to take back home!
Whoopers on hide wetland, 31st December
3rd January, 2012 - Barnacles at Campfield
‘Hide Fever’ by John Rogers
“I must go down to the hide again,
to the lonely hide and the sky.
For I’ve left my gloves and Collins there,
and I only hope they’re dry.”
No, seriously folks, I’d decided to foresake the warm comfort of the lounge and face the bitter Arctic gale blowing down the Solway, in an attempt to rid myself of the New Year excesses. Our cousins living only a mile or so away, on the northern shore of the estuary, will know exactly what I mean!
I proceeded down the Lonning at a fast pace, meeting Dave, the Reserve Manager, halfway along. “Anything down there, Dave?” I enquired. “Up to 3000 Barnacles, smack in front of the hide, John,” came the reply. “Oh Heavens!, I’ll have to go back to get Judith. She’ll never forgive me if I don’t tell her!” “No need,” he said cheerfully, generously handing me his mobile phone …(isn’t technology wonderful!). “You carry on down to the hide and I’ll be down straight away,” Judith said. Thanking Dave, I proceeded so to do.
I approached the hide slowly and carefully and entered as silently as possible. … 3000 geese feeding contentedly - the nearest within 25 yards! I immediately set about arranging the hide for the arrival of ‘the photographer’ - moving benches for ease of access and opening two windows inch by inch, so as not to unduly alarm the flock. They, of course, knew I was there! The trick is to do everything in slow motion, thereby not triggering a mass eruption amongst the more nervous members of the host. I noted two leucistic birds amongst them and whilst waiting amused myself watching the antics of our resident Peregrine making sweeping passes across the wetland floods - trying to goad the hundreds, if not thousands, of duck assembled into flying. Peregrine only kill in the air and, from my experience, do not take from the ground. However, it got no takers: the wily duck sat tight on the water. The Peregrine eventually tired of this game and ventured to pastures new i.e. a flock of fat Woodpigeon feeding nearby - its favourite tucker!
Judith duly arrived - arrayed like a Christmas tree with photographic paraphernalia - Canon with Sigma long lens, Nikon digiscope and a ‘point and shoot’, just in case. Within seconds she got down to work with the Canon, clicking madly, whilst I struggled with fitting the hide camera clamp and digiscope … still at slow motion pace, of course, according to best wildlife photographic manuals. I do have all my ‘bush craft badges’ by the way! This was not easy as my hands were already numb from the Arctic gale blowing through the open hide windows and having to remain as still as possible - already having been in the hide for some half hour or so, previously …but it is strange how intense excitement can make one oblivious to bodily pain!
Judith had now activated the digiscope into its video mode, working the flock which was now parading gloriously in front of the hide - their continual chatter and bickering adding to the spectacle, with occasional family groups jumping into the air - leapfrogging the front of the group, thereby all moving on. A tractor on the nearby farm suddenly arrived and spooked half the flock, which only did a couple of circuits of the Reserve and then happily returned - lending more drama to the occasion.
Eventually Judith triumphantly declared, “I’ve got it all in the can, now! (TV news speak). All memory cards and batteries totally exhausted.” These comments I noted with great pleasure, as now I was hovering on the edge of hypothermia and all we had to do was face a mile or so of Arctic gale head on, to regain the warmth of our abode - but spurred on by the thoughts of Southern Comfort with Green Ginger and ‘are there muffins still for tea?’
Honestly, the things we do for the Blog are far beyond the call of duty!
Barnacles grazing peacefully in front of the hide.
Flock stretched out over the wetland meadows.
Their heads were up - a tractor had appeared in a neighbouring farmer's field.
Half the flock took to the air.
... and flew over the grassland.
...towards the floodwater.
... were they flying away?
... high into the sky they went.
Thankfully they only circled the Reserve and then came back into land.
One of the two leucistic members of the flock.
These six Whooper Swans have been recent visitors.
Suddenly a Hen Harrier appeared out of nowhere and attempted to panic the Teal into flying - unsuccessfully, however.
We spent one and a half hours mid-afternoon watching the spectacle of several thousand Barnacle Geese grazing the meadows in front of the hide on Campfield Marsh RSPB Reserve and what a sight it was! On this icy day with a galeforce westerly wind blowing, the flock were spread out over the grassland, contentedly grazing and sheltering from the brunt of the gale out on the Solway Estuary. Half the flock took to the air, at one stage, as a nearby farmer's tractor came into view, but quickly settled down again to graze. The adjacent wetland pools were filled with good numbers of Teal, Wigeon, Mallard, Shoveler and Pintail, not to mention six Whooper Swans who have been recent regular visitors to the Reserve. A Hen Harrier made an unsuccessful pass at the gathered Teal.
Today was overcast with a brisk wind blowing - however, it was much milder than of late. We had been hearing ‘whooping’ from the Reserve wetlands all night and throughout the morning. A walk down the Lonning mid-afternoon revealed, in total, some 70 Whooper Swans on the Meadow Pools and wetlands. There were a small number of juveniles amongst the flock which was accompanied by good numbers of Teal, Wigeon, Pintails, Shoveler and Mallard. The Whoopers were peacefully preening and feeding on the vegetation in the pools which they sometimes need to upend for, to access.
On this occasion, their attention was latterly drawn to a small group flying over from the wetlands into the Pools which they had been able to hear in the distance.
Early snowdrops at the Lonning entrance.
Splendid day: clear frosty sunshine with very little wind - only a slight breeze from the east. The Solway was flat calm at high tide.
We walked down the lonning onto Campfield Marsh Reserve early afternoon. The Meadow Pools held 21 Whoopers with plenty of Wigeon and Teal. Heard the sound of Pinks nearby but carried on to the hide... 400 Pinks promptly appeared, disturbed by neighbouring tractor activity. They landed on the wetland beyond the hide. Dave Blackledge, who had just joined us, indicated that one did have a neck collar and he was going to check out the implications of this. Not too sure where the Pinks had come from but the presence of 5 diggers, immaculately lined up on the skyline at Rogersceugh, might be an indicator!.
Hope the Pinks are prospecting the Reserve for the coming weeks.
All in all, a very pleasant afternoon. Good to have a change in the weather!
Some of the Whoopers on the Meadow Pools, enjoying the early afternoon sunlight.
Seen from the Lonning - they were still there later on in the afternoon.
Pinkfeet flying over the wetlands.
Pinkfeet coming into land on the wetland meadows in front of the hide.