In the last week, even with somewhat changeable weather, there has been plenty of activity on the bird front. Waders seem to be assembling on the estuary now, day on day: Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Golden Plover and Oystercatchers in ever increasing numbers.
Black-tailed Godwits on estuary at Campfield, 10th July 1710 hrs 2010
Bar-tailed Godwits on high tideline at Campfield, 9th july 2010
Bar-tails in flight, Campfield. 9th July 2010
Small group of Golden Plover feeding on the ebbtide, Campfield. 10th July 2010
On the farm part of the Reserve at North Plain we have seen encouraging activity regarding young birds: House and Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Sedge and Willow Warbler and Linnet families. On the 2nd Pool we’ve watched Moorhens continuing with their nest building - the female now appears to be sitting. The female Little Grebe is presently feeding a growing youngster and there are increasing numbers of butterflies and dragonflies all along the track.
Water levels in all the pools and scrapes appear to be holding their own, with the rain of the last week - all this culminating in a great day today. When we went for our usual morning stroll down the lonning, we were immediately confronted by splendid examples of female Southern Hawker dragonfly, Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshell and Meadow Brown butterflies and Silver Y Moths. I think the rewarding moment was coming upon two splendid Emperor dragonflies hawking over the 2nd pool along with several families of swallows – whether these represent a present danger to the dragonflies, we are not sure!
Red Admiral on brambles, North Plain Lonning, 14th July 2010
Meadow Brown on nettles, Lonning 14th July 2010
Silver Y Moth on bramble flowers, North Plain Lonning, 14th July 2010
Emperor dragonfly (male) hawking on 2nd Pool at North Plain, 14th July 2010
Having taken a number of photos of Southern Hawker dragonflies in the last few days, we were amazed at the way this colourful dragonfly’s marking matched, in many ways, the various foliage that they had chosen to land on. Although in the three examples below, the background foliage was entirely different, the dragonfly’s colouring seemed to pick out and emphasise certain elements, to give themselves most effective camouflage. One supposes that had they landed on some other coloured vegetation the same might have happened. As a major predator this would have greatly assisted in its hunting technique. Also, obviously, it would have been a major protection against predation on itself – say from birds. This goes to show that even gaudy colouring which some dragonflies can be said to have provides surprising protection
Female Southern Hawker on wild roses, North Plain Lonning, 12th July 2010
Female Southern Hawker in garden adjacent to RSPB reedy meadow, on dried leaves, 12th July 2010
Female Southern Hawker on nettles, North Plain Lonning, 14th July 2010
The sun was warm and the wind had dropped. The air was alive with insects. On our return journey home we had the good fortune to come across two cheerful visitors accompanied by our very own Norman Holton. On introduction, they turned out to be Bill Kenmir, Cumbria RSPB Reserves Area Manager, and Johann Holt, RSPB Visitor Services Advisor from the Lodge, Sandy. They had certainly chosen the day – what with the weather and the like.
Johann Holt, Bill Kenmir and Norman Holton, 14th Jully 2010
We, again, ran across them later in the day at Saltmarsh Pool Lay-by, where they were treated to the spectacle of upwards of 1000 Oystercatcher, numerous Curlew, Gulls and Golden Plover, not to mention about 40 Bar-tailed Godwits in all shades of plumage from deep summer red to the palest grey – all basking on the hightide roost, not a hundred yards away.
Oystercatchers and Curlew resting on Campfield saltmarsh, 14th July 2010
Bar-tailed Godwits ( in varying degrees of plumage) with oystercatchers at high tide on saltmarsh, 14th July 2010
Golder Plover, Saltmarsh Pool, 14th July 2010
The Lay-by, full of happy birders – many of whom were RSPB, had certainly given our visitors a splendid show.
Birdwatchers, Saltmarsh Pool Lay-by, 14th July 2010
Crow on the lookout from the garden.
Our house, as you may have gathered, is within the precincts of the Reserve, so we always consider that a bird seen in the garden is automatically a bird for the reserve – and we view it accordingly. We also feed the birds in the garden intensively, as indeed does Norman at the farm (North Plain) - only a couple of hundred yards away . . . so, in the immediate area, we have a good number and variety of species – which is excellent.
However there is a downside to all this: we seem to be 'raptor central'. I can't tell you how many birds of prey we get on a regular basis. Some of them you could nearly set your watch by (No! Really!) - and regularly little piles of feathers are to be found here and there, which we endlessly speculate about. We also have foxes and feral cats putting their sixpenn'orth in. OK! while we are at it, we have badgers coming in from the Reserve, which fortunately don't take birds but do rotavate the lawn and orchard in search of worms – their main source of food. We have long since stopped worrying about the fact and just go with the flow now. Ray Mears, on TV the other night, came up with the sentiment by 'Grey Owl', that famous naturalist and conservationist – that we do not own nature, we are part of it!
That being said, I have been known to go out and shout at the Sparrowhawk or the two Buzzards, when I see them sitting in the garden trees. The Buzzards decimate the rabbit population that spend time in the garden. The horticulturists amongst you may say, “Well, that's OK!” But when a dear little rabbit, no bigger than your hand, turns up to nibble the lawn grass – which is pretty well all they do – one forms quite a deep attachment to these little furry folk.
The redeeming feature of all this are the two resident Carrion Crows, who nest and reside in the trees at the end of the garden and who, over the years have raised many successful broods. Last year was particularly good, in their having brought off 4 fledglings who are still hanging around the family nest and act as a sort of support group to the old male Crow in his policing activities, which he enthusiastically pursues throughout the course of the year - not only in the garden but on the adjacent saltmarsh and estuary. Nothing – and I say this from long experience – escapes his attention. He is the ultimate 'Warlord'. Should, for instance, a party of Rooks, often accompanied by Jackdaws (of which there are a good number on the Reserve), arrive on the saltmarsh in front of us, to eat and disport themselves amongst the rich detritus the estuary tides have to offer – he will descend amongst them with his retinue of 'crowlets' and make his corvid cousin's lives intolerable: chasing and jostling; so that they eventually leave in disorder. Whereupon the gang returns to the garden, cawing and strutting – displaying their satisfaction and ownership of the area. This action they metre out, without fear or favour, to any predator or raptor that misguidedly wanders into their marshland kingdom..
We have seen them remove Harriers - both Marsh and Hen; Buzzards; Sparrowhawk and Peregrine. They even harass Kestrels and local Owls of all species – and it's a brave fox that enters into their domain, although they do try it out sometimes on the saltmarsh, but tend to get a good drubbing for their pains and run off to more peaceful areas, further away. Sparrowhawks, though I have to say, are quite brave folk, as they also see the area as their territory too – but, in the end, are driven away.
About a week ago, we observed a real classic, out on the estuary 'sands', a couple of hundred yards beyond the saltmarsh. A Peregrine had just made a kill of a duck( a Pintail, we think) and was consuming the same when our doughty crow pair went out to do their thing. The male Crow stood in front of the Peregrine, a couple of feet away, crowing right into the Peregrine's face and generally making himself disagreeable. This gained the raptor's attention whilst the female cunningly hopped up behind him, eager to gain a tasty morsel or two. At which, the Peregrine spun round, and with a couple of gestures, discouraged the female from her thieving activity. I was watching this through the scope with great interest to see how this would all play out. The Peregrine tolerated this situation for a while but was clearly beginning to suffer from indigestion and made a determined lunge at the male Crow. Now, to use a well known metaphor, this was the 'yellow card' - which predictably the crow did not accept. Bad Plan! This was now becoming serious and and I began to fear for 'our' Crow's safety. But the fearless corvid could not back down, as this would have meant losing all his 'street cred' on the marsh – especially in front of his lady love! Push had come to shove!. Now a Peregrine is a serious animal when it comes to 'shove' and has all the advantages. But I was seriously surprised when it leapt into the air and started flying in ever increasing circles – gaining height and speed. Now I, as a humble human, recognised this as the 'red card', as this is the Peregrine's method of attack. The two Crows also recognised the implications and made a dash for the safety of the garden trees which they gained in some disarray. The Peregrine in close pursuit – buzzed the house a couple of times too, giving us an excellent view of this magnificent bird. The old male Crow, being a warrior of many summers, wisely chose to cut his losses and live to fight another day.
Amusingly, this opportunity arose two or three days later, when he decided to enter into a game of chicken with one of our visiting Little Egret – again right in front of the house on the saltmarsh. The game consisted of the Crow repeatedly standing right in the path of the approaching Little Egret who was peaceably and vigorously feeding amongst the creeks and dubs of the marsh. The game developed with a certain amount of wing fluttering and manoeuvring - the choreography becoming increasingly sophisticated. But the Egret, obviously growing tired of this to the point of exasperation, eventually trampled the Crow who was determined to still hold its ground. Although surprised at this turn of events, the Crow seemed to decide that honour had been sufficiently satisfied on his part and not wishing to receive a second trampling, returned to the garden to preen his ruffled feathers whilst digesting the experience of being flattened by a Little Egret. We suspect that there will be further sequels to this game – with the score being 1-0 to the Egret.
I, as a mere human, can offer the Crow no advice but I do hope that he will watch the Egret's long sharp beak in future or he will, as is his wont, learn the hard way! But in our eyes – his 'street cred' has risen substantially this last couple of weeks and he will be rewarded with an extra ration of fruit cake – his favourite.
Valiant crow seeing off Buzzard.
Peregrine episode - 10 2 13
Peregrine with duck on the mudflats - Scargavel Point
Oh, Oh! What's this?
This requires a closer inspection.
This could be a tasty morsel!
Perhaps a distraction tactic would work better!
Little Egret encounter - 26 2 13
Little Egret hunting along the dubs on the saltmarsh.
Crow arrives to inspect this activity.
Unperturbed the Egret marches off along the saltmarsh.
. . . only to be confronted by the Crow who had flown ahead of him.
As the Egret took no notice of this warning the Crow landed right across the Egret's track.
Icy Solway Estuary during the Big Freeze by John Rogers
After a short thaw, snow and freezing conditions returned
On an icy cold dawn three Longtailed Tits came into feed on nut hanger.
Wigeon flying in onto icy pools on farm
Buzzard watching from a vantage point at the end of the causeway - North Plain Farm
Geese overflying a steadily freezing up Reserve
The cold weather was beginning to bite
Five Moorhen were roosting at the edge of garden orchard early morning. Interestingly, they were all facing outwards in a circle, as do partridge..
Frozen Saltmarsh at Campfield
Fox hunting along the marsh dubs
I'd been spotted
Moonrise over a frozen marsh on the Solstice by John Rogers
The freeze deepens and Iceflows begin to build up on the estuary
Link to video clip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/46441928@N07/5285790006/
Seven Longtailed Tits this time, on garden feeders
Today. however, a Water Rail which had been previously seen in the field drain which runs behind West Common hamlet, made its way under the cover of ditchside vegetation, to one of the garden feeding stations. It was very nervous of humans but seemed to tolerate other birds feeding there.
Water Rail on ditchside
Water Rail with Robin and Chaffinch
Water Rail picking seed under birdtable
Water Rail and Blackbirds feeding alongside each other
Woodcock had been seen frequenting Campfield Marsh roadside verges and had been visiting adjacent gardens in daylight now for several days. As many as ten were observed on one occasion, proddling in leaf litter under trees, for worms and other invertebrates.
Woodcock proddling in newly disturbed soil of this molehill whilst most of the ground round about was frozen solid.
Magpie was curious about the Woodcock's activities and even seemed to be copying ground probing action at one stage.
Woodcock alarmed by a fox which crossed the lawn nearby
Fox crossing lawn and totally ignoring the Woodcock which was sitting nearby
Magpies also interested in leaf litter under snow as a source of food when conditions generally were so hard.
Water Rail appeared again along ditchside and seemed to feed more connfidently on food put out for the garden birds
Water Rail wandering about on edge of garden lawn
Perfect camouflage amongst the vegetation.
Striding out along ditchside
Water Rail in resting mode
Picking about under birdtable with other birds
Picking at fallen seed
Gulping down the boiled buttered potatoes that had been put out for the birds
Water Rail still feeding the next day, further into the garden, with other birds
Water Rail not at all phased by a range of larger birds.
The freezing conditions and availability of food had made it more confident.
The thaw sets in at last and the Woodcock and Water Rail presumably returned to their usual haunts on the Reserve
"Moonrise over the saltmarsh" by John Rogers
Haymaking by the Old Broken Willow.
We had managed to provoke the Weather Gods into giving us an Indian Summer - ten days of glorious dry sunny weather. I said to Judith, "the farmers had better get going and get all that hay in - it’s more than ready and dry as tinder." There are several good meadows ready for cutting here on the Reserve - one of which is right outside the garden, with butterflies and insects dancing over it.
Scarcely had we finished breakfast than the sound of machinery could be heard. "Told you so, Judith - they’re in the back meadow!". The tractor and cutter was going round and round as fast as it could and the wonderful smell of newly mown hay wafted across the orchard. It was done in a couple of hours - laying there swathe on swathe. "They’ll be turning it tomorrow if the weather holds"
And so it came to pass that on the second day, the contracted farmer did enter the field with his tractor and spinner and the hay lay turned upon the land … and Dave, the Reserve manager, gazed upon the field and rejoiced. For this meadow was not the only one and Dave could see visions of dutch barns filled with hay bales and the treasury would be filled to overflowing - for in these days, hay is money!
But lo, on the third day, two tractors did enter the field and within minutes, the first one with an ingenious device attached, did gather the hay and wrap it forthwith into neat round bales - which glistened in the morning sun. The second tractor, with an even more ingenious implement behind, pounced upon these bales and proceeded forthwith to give them a final wrap in beautiful black sustainable recyclable plastic - ensuring their secure containment for as long as need be.. Later in the day they were transported to distant barns and stack yards - we knew not where!
This process is now being repeated across the whole of Solway’s Cardurnock Peninsula, in farms and meadows far beyond the Reserve’s 1000 acres. The newly mown land shimmers under the baking sun. The farmer’s throats will be parched and dry. Doubtless many flagons of ale will quaffed ere night falls.
The harvest was home in the short space of three or four days - amazing what technology can do! Yea! the farmers do verily have it sorted these days - one of the great quiet revolutions of the last thirty years!
First implement into the field . - the Hay Cutter.
The Hay Turning implement comes in and spins the hay to accelerate the drying process.
On the third day, the baling and initial binding takes place.
The farmer and his daughter tidying up before the final wrapping of the hay.
This is the final and intricate process of wrapping the bales in black plastic which will ensure the secure containment of the hay almost indefinitely.
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.