Over many years of trial and error I'd taught myself a reasonable number of local plants, or so I thought. Then I met John Shepperd, he showed me how little I knew and went out of his way to increase my knowledge without once making me feel a complete idiot. He went all over the county looking at unusual species and thanks to his directions I have seen some of them. John agreed to take the staff on a Titchwell flower walk, half a dozen of us went along. We were to start at the gate at the east end of the car park and finish on the beach. The reserve is not well known for it's flora but by lunchtime he'd shown us 102 species.
He is a very fine artist and I can't imagine the number of times I've seen him sitting quietly in the corner of a hide sketching birds. As I'm writing this I can see one of his beautiful avocet paintings hanging over our fireplace, my daughter in South Africa has an equally nice long-tailed tit picture on her wall, he did it as a present when she emigrated, he is that sort of man. If you look in the visitor centre you can see some of his work near the information desk. Sadly, since he is no longer able to drive, I have not seen him for several months. One of the parts of our reserve he enjoyed was the new Meadow Trail which we built in the summer of 2000. As you probably know it forks off from the fen trail, fringes the dragonfly pool, goes through the flower meadow, past the pond-dipping pool and out to join the main west bank path. It was very hot while we were making this, the small gang I was part of existed almost totally on Diet Cokes and Magnums. Basically a group of strong young men went along hammering in the supporting posts and we followed on with the long supports and boarding. One of the heavies was Lee Marshall, who is now site manager at Welney for the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. My gang of three was led by a young man named Phil and was completed by a young volunteer, Chris, who was rather over enthusiastic. He had several total mis-hits which resulted in four-inch nails flying at high speed into the nearby vegetation never to be seen again.
We had a couple of odd birds on the reserve that year. Each summer our local juvenile starlings form into flocks and feed on the saltmarsh, they were joined this year by an escaped white-cheeked starling. The really strange bird though was a very peculiar shoveler. I thought it was another escape, an Australian Shoveler, I was proved wrong. It was a little smaller than a shoveler, had a big white crescent on it's face, rusty sides but not well defined like a shoveler, yellowy orange legs and bright blue shoulder patches. After much deliberation in the bird magazines it was identified as a shoveler/blue-winged teal hybrid. Oh well you can't always be right....
The storm has come and gone, in its wake we are looking at the damage caused . Titchwell Marsh is still open with severe damage close to the beach with the beach boardwalk completely collapsed.
The reserve is still open and with the sun shining it is still a nice day to visit.
However, Snettisham Nature Reserve was much more severely hit by the surge and most of the circular path has been destroyed and with severe damage to all the hides. The disabled access is not passable.
Please understand that we have been forced to do this for health and safety reasons.
Bird of the year at Titchwell was a lovely black-winged pratincole. We were in the middle of a run of pratincole years and they attracted hundreds of birdwatchers. Two things have stuck in my mind concerning these birds. As I walked on to the west bank there was a long row of telescopes, roughly 300, pointing out over the freshmarsh obviously all focused on the pratincole. The five closest to me were all facing the other way, which seemed rather odd. I asked the owners what they were looking at? 'We've got the pratincole on the deck about 80 metres away,' came the reply. I had a quick look through one of their telescopes and there was the star bird. I had never seen a Mexican wave of telescopes before, I hoped everyone saw the bird because at that moment it took off and flew west to hawk insects out towards Thornham harbour. I wonder how many birders had already gone home having ticked the pratincole look-alike lump of mud on the far side of the freshmarsh? The second memory was a classic remark. ' It can't be last years bird, it doesn't have a broken tail feather,' I don't think that pratincoles never moult, but I could be wrong.
Half way through the year Pete Bradley took a group of staff and volunteers out to show us the proposed route of a new path which would connect the fen hide path to our main west bank path. In this group were Joan Thomas who at that time was doing a good job running the servery, David Lake and Pat Vincent. Pat made a name for herself by slipping down into a large muddy puddle, we suggested that this should be called Pat's pool, but Cley had already used that name. You'll be meeting David and Pat again in a later article.
I was asked if I would if I would take out a group of wheel-chair users as part of the Millennium celebrations. I am quite embarassed to say my first reaction was to say no, a flaw in my character was that I was uncomfortable in the presence of people in wheel-chairs. This was totally ridiculous because during my forty years as a teaching golf professional, one of the things I enjoyed the most was getting folk with disabilities to play and enjoy the game. So 'don't be such an ass and get on with it Ray,' sprang into my mind. Taking that walk was one of the best things I've ever done, not only did it stop me just talking to their minders, it gave me a totally different outlook on the whole reserve. It showed me that the flowers and insects we have here formed a large part of their Titchwell experience and many things that I took for granted were totally out of sight when sitting down. The next day our warden sent one of his staff out to cut down several patches of high path-side vegetation so that everyone could see the reedbeds and pools and I always now include a few plants in my guided walks. I have a lot to thank those people for.