The day was distinctly unpromising: low cloud and mist with pulses of rain crossing the Solway. For the first time in a couple of weeks the estuary had a bit of a chop on it - but with the high tide series falling back and an offshore wind, here at Campfield the valiant work party were ‘working the gorse’ at the top of the salt marsh. Heaven knows how, they had got several good bonfires going in the time-honoured way of disposing of the gorse cuttings, in line with the Reserve’s coppicing programme. This is the rough end of conservation … far removed from the gentle Dawn Chorus Watch or the fundraising ‘Spot the Birdie’ with barbeque to follow or even ‘Come and Listen to the Nightjar’, supper provided. No! this is wet prickly, backbreaking, smoke-in-your-eye stuff.
However, our neighbour, Joe, excitedly rang saying there were upwards of 3000 geese possibly, beyond the hide at the far end of the Lonning and, Oh Joy! the four leucistic Barnacles were with them. "But what about lunch?" I wailed to Judith, as she busily assembled tripod, lenses, and various cameras. "That can wait" she callously said, "You don’t get an opportunity like this every day and the sky is starting to clear - Come on!" So laden down like a pack mule, I staggered behind our intrepid photographer who was surging ahead down the half mile of the Lonning.. Halfway down, I said, "For pity’s sake, stop for a moment whilst I take a couple of puffs of my angina spray" But no, we were nearly there and we could now hear the clamour of the geese. On reaching the hide, we burst in upon the two gentlemen who were quietly enjoying the ambiance and took up the vacant vantage point at the end window (nearest to the birds) … and what a scene: thousands of mixed Barnacles and Pinkfeet, as far as the eye could see - some of them within 50 yards of the hide. Tripods clattered, cameras clicked and whirred - shaking hands fumbling with memory cards and batteries. "Where on earth are those leucistics?" Judith cried, "I can’t see them!" One of the polite old gentlemen indicated their approximate position over near the far fence. Wonderful! By now the sun had started to come out illuminating this vast array who were happily grazing the beautifully prepared grasslands.
Even the hundreds of duck were giving an excellent display: ‘fear-flighting’ owing to the presence of two Buzzards and a Merlin perched on various lookout points who made occasional forays over the floodwater. This must have purely been for the fun of it, as neither the Merlin or Buzzard would have been capable of taking these gathered waterfowl! It also made the geese a little jumpy as small groups occasionally got up and flew around for a while before returning to graze.
Judith fired off shot after shot for the next 20 minutes or so, of this sublime spectacle. This surely, we felt, was what Campfield was all about! … and as I pack-horsed back again homeward, I smugly reflected, "this was far beyond the call of duty - having sacrificed my lunch for my fellow birders!"
On regaining the salt marsh, with the odd skein of geese passing along the estuary on the now full tide, I could see Judith starting restlessly to fiddle with her camera once more. "No!" I said, seeing my late lunch already turning into an early tea …
Mixed flock of Barnacles and Pinkfeet (1050 Pinks and 1250 Barnacles) grazing meadows near to the hide.
Flock extended across meadows as far as this view infront of the hide.
Some restlessness showing possibly due to the activity of nearby birds of prey.
There were four leucistic Barnacles amongst the flock,
Three leucistics feeding together - probably a family group.
Leucistics showing faint Barnacle markings
Leucistic Barnacle showing main identifying features.
Some of the Pinks and Barnacles gradually moved nearer to the hide and settled down peacefully in the sunshine.
Wigeon, Teal, Pintail and Shoveler on flooded meadows near hide.
Geese flying off over Campfield Marsh at sunset.
Barnacles flighting at dusk, Campfield Marsh Reserve - a digital oil-style painting by John Rogers
This winter, as we will all know, started very early with the big freeze-up, snow and ice - the whole deal! The country was in crisis. We thought, "here we are in the middle of an Artic winter, and January hasn’t really started - was this the beginning of another Ice-age?" ‘Global warming’ seems to have disappeared from the vocabularly - ‘climate change’ is now the in-word. The cause of all this was the jet stream behaving in a naughty fashion.
Strangely, in the New Year, a thaw set in on the Reserve with the wetlands starting to ‘free up’. Water again started to appear and so did the birds: Pinkfeet, Barnacles and duck were starting to build up in good numbers. By the middle of the month we had had some more snow but this proved to be a minor event. With the moonphase coming up to full, at this time, there was plenty of wildfowl activity at night: geese moving to and fro to the estuary with a good flock of Whooper swans coming in at sunset to the reserve and leaving at dawn to graze in nearby pastures of their choice, for the day. This to some degree applied to the geese, both Pinks and Barnacles, with local ‘birders’ reporting their activities far and wide. The words "wild goose chase" took on a deeper significance for those of us who were looking for them. But numbers seem to be building up all the time - apparently, according to reports, Pinkfeet had been seen coming back north again, as is their traditional activity in January and we at Campfield are the beneficiaries of this movement.
Interesting anecdotes from others, from either the Noticeboard or via the grapevine, would include 3 Gadwall on the pool in front of the hide (27th), a Green-winged Teal on Saltmarsh Pool (1st), a Little Egret flying along the saltmarsh (14th), 4 male Hen Harriers (10th), an Otter on the wetlands in front of the hide (24th), Foxes hunting in the dubs along the Saltmarsh on several occasions, and large flocks of Yellow Hammers, Reed Bunting and Tree Sparrows - all appearing to have done well on the planted grain crops especially.
We have, living as we do virtually in the middle of the Reserve, in excess of 25 Tree Sparrows coming into the garden feeders and have noticed large flocks of Wood Pigeons appearing to benefit, with increasing numbers of Stock Doves as an attractive feature too.
Some Herons do appear to have survived the severe winter but numbers seem to be significantly down. Normally these birds do seem to do reasonably well hunting on the estuary and the saltmarsh but in the deepest part of the freeze-up, the saltmarsh was frozen and iceflows were forming, with pack-ice making hunting for the Herons very difficult - as it would do for other waterbirds, such as Moorhen and Coot. We even had two Water Rail coming into the garden - most unusual for these extremly shy birds - but for us, a welcome sight, as we know they live on the Reserve but are rarely seen. Perhaps the same applied to the Woodcock too. At the height of the freeze-up and snow, we had up to 10 Woodcock feeding during the day in the garden. Winter brings many opportunities!
We leave January with vast sheets of water forming on the pastures . We have never seen so much water around ...
Small flocks of Barnacles were flying along the marsh at high tide, towards the inner estuary.
Wigeon on semi-thawed waters in front of the hide
Wigeon in flight over the causeway
Wigeon coming into land.
Grey waders awaiting the outgoing tide
Oystercatchers roosting on the edge of the saltmarsh at high tide. Groups of wigeon kept floating by.
Wigeon at sunset, out on the estuary
Barnacles flying along Campfield Marsh
Barnacles flying low over the mudflats at Campfield
It had been raining heavily for a while now and the meadows were well flooded. View from 1st screen.
Wet meadows with good collection of wildfowl - viewed from the hide.
Panorama of wigeon on Meadow Pools
Group of Wigeon enjoying the afternoon sun - Meadow Pools
Wigeon - Digital interpretation in Photoshop by John Rogers
Lapwings (910 reported on 25th) coming into land in front of the hide with a good sized collection of Wigeon and Teal.
A pair of Pintail dibbling in pool on the righthand side of the causeway. Numbers built up to 65 on 25th.
Oystercatchers and Wigeon on the receding tideline, Campfield Marsh.
Tree Sparrows on garden feeder at West Common
Campfield Marsh in crisp winter sunshine
Group of Pinkfeet flying over the Reserve
Shelduck are now returning to the Estuary - these were viewed from Campfield.
Flooded Meadow Pools see the month out.
The pools and wetlands are well flooded and wildfowl numbers are now building up. Today, in the region of 1000 Barnacles and 2000 Pinkfeet were moving about the pastures and meadows of North Plain, Biglands and Rogersceugh farms. Wigeon, Teal and Pintail numbers are also increasing with early morning reports of upto 120 Whooper Swans using the wetland in front of the hide.
Flock of Pinkfeet seen from the Lonning flying towards the hide wetlands
Further flock flying adjacent to the lonning
The air was full of activity as we walked towards the hide - with even more Pinks flying in.
By the time we arrived at the hide this group of Pinks were circling above the other geese already there.
Pinks grazing on wet meadows.
Barnacles grazing further over towards the wood
A few more Barnacles dropping in to join the flock
Where the two flocks meet.
Pink and Barnacles happily grazing along side each other.
The sound of a jet in the distance initially disturbed the Pinks leaving the Barnacles looking alarmed
Pinks repositioning in pastures towards Biglands, after the jet had disturbed the whole flock
Pinks which had also been feeding at Rogersceugh took to the air too.
This flock eventually settled back again into the distant meadow near Rogersceugh.
3 of 4 Whoopers which had been feeding in the pools at the end of the causeway - with a stationary Heron in the background
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
5th January, 2011
This last week at Campfield, we have seen groups of various sizes of Barnacles passing along the shore around high tide, going towards Cardurnock from the Inner Estuary - and had speculated as to where their destination might be. So, yesterday (4th), having been to Kirkbride, we came back around the Cardurnock Peninsula and immediately struck gold ...large groups of Barnacles and Pinkfeet feeding on the marsh in front of Whitrigg. We tried photography as many of them were quite near the road but the light was extremly poor and fading rapidly - so we gave up with the intention of trying again on the ‘morrow.
The ‘morrow duly arrived with much better clearer weather. Proceeding towards Drumburgh and Bowstead Hill - nothing much on the marsh but we spied a large flock inland on the Easton to Fingland road - in excess of 1000 Pinkfeet, feeding on stubble. Unfortunately could not get anywhere near them to take a closer look.
We carried on towards Kirkbride and then back round the Peninsula again.. Nothing at Whitrigg this time but heading off through Cardurnock we ran into a large flock of Barnacles feeding on the estuary pastures - scattered over an area of half a mile. They were very mobile. We pulled up in the van and started photographing them. Small groups were continually flying in to join them. Eventually a large part of this flock grazed towards us and ended up some 30 yards away. The rain came on heavily but the light was OK and, although there was extensive farming activity and traffic movement, they were feeding happily along the whole area from Sandhill corner nearly to the hamlet of Cardurnock itself.
(Flickr video clip link: www.flickr.com/photos/46441928@N07/5328265752)
Small flocks of Barnacles have been seen moving along Campfield Marsh for the last week now.
Geese coming into land on estuary pastures where other Barnacles were already grazing
Barnacles were moving from field to field on estuary pastures along the Cardurnock Peninsula.
These geese came over the brow of the hill, grazing steadily towards us.
Vigilant Barnacles, having a look at us - but they did not fly!
Always on the lookout.
This group were within 30 yards of the road. They were undecided though, probably due to noisy farming activity nearby.
They all finally settled down to the serious business of grazing as the afternoon wore on and it began to rain.