There was a very grey sky this morning when I looked out, not the sort of day that inspires you to get out early. A few extra cups of tea were in order so it was around 8-30 am before I left the house.
On my way down to the farm I came across a pair of Jays working a small stand of young Oak trees, Jays are quite a rarity on Sheppey but this year there are a good number showing up. Even had one on the peanut feeder in my back garden.
When I got to the farm everywhere was flooded after yesterdays torrential rain so I stayed on the gravel roads for a drive around.
Not a lot to be seen today but did manage a nice male Merlin balling up the Starlings around the yards and a Short Eared Owl being harassed by a couple of Magpies.
When I got back to the yards there was a nice flock of Goldfinches feeding on a stand of Burdock. I stopped to watch them and tried a few photos from the truck window.
As I sat there a Rabbit came out of the rough grass at the side of the road very quickly followed by a Stoat. They both ran past the truck with the Rabbit screaming his little head off. The Stoat caught up with the Rabbit about 10 metres behind the truck so I grabbed the camera, opened the door and started firing off a few shots at this saga that was unfolding so close to me.
As I held the camera to my eye I was surprised to see a Fox appear in the viewfinder, he must have been attracted to the area by the screams of the Rabbit. The Fox trotted up to the Stoat who was so engrossed in what he was doing he didn’t see him coming until the last minute.
When he realised the Fox was there he very quickly left the scene and the fox got a free meal.
The Fox picked up the Rabbit and slowly wandered off out onto the marsh.
Don’t you just love these wildlife moments.
I was late taking Ted for his walk this afternoon and it was not far from dark before we got down to the farm. I gave him just a short run around the grass field by the buildings then on the way home I sat in the car to watch for any duck movements at flight time.
As I sat there I could hear a bird calling out on the marsh, a sound I hadn’t heard for a number of years, a Grey Partridge.
It was a real pleasure to listen to it calling and it brought back memories from when I first started going down to the marsh, that was over thirty five years ago. At that time there was coveys everywhere, you could sit there in late afternoon and hear Grey Partridge calling all the way across the marsh. Its sad to see their numbers so low on the farm but its something that has happened all over the country.
If you listen to the boffins its because of changes in farming practice but I cant see that would apply here, nothing has altered across the marsh, things are much the same as they were thirty five years ago so there must be some other reason for the numbers to drop so drastically here.
Another thing that has changed is the amount of emmet casts there are across the marsh, there used to be so many of them it was an annual job dragging sets of railway lines across the fields to level them out. Now I just see the odd ones along the sea wall. Saying that there are other areas away from my patch that still have plenty of them.
Every winter the marshes on Sheppey are home to number of migratory geese. Many years ago when I first started to go to the marshes there were thousands of wintering geese here, mainly White Fronted geese. Two or three thousand of them every year.You could almost set your watch by the time of their arrival, Dec 10th every year almost to the day. Sadly their number diminished when for the last few years we have had barely 250 every year. This year is different, there are around 1100 Whitefronts on the marsh along with 150 Barnacles, a number of Pinkfeet and the odd Bean. It was a joy to watch them flight into a field near Harty church the other morning many of them whiffling as they came in to land.
It brought back memories of the old days when I would sit out on the Harty marsh and watch the geese flight into the arable fields just after first light. The flight would last for anything up to an hour as pack after pack flew in from Elmley. One of the fondest memories I have of the marsh was sitting on the sea wall late one night under a full moon, there were big white fluffy clouds scurrying across the sky and thousands of Whitefronts flying over my head all calling at the same time, an incredible sight and sound, one of natures magical moments that stays with you forever.
On the drive back home there were hundreds of Redwings and Fieldfares feeding on the Hawthorn berries on the trees at the side of the Harty road, as I approached Telegraph Hill I had a pleasant surprise with sixteen Waxwings feeding on the berries.
All in all a good morning
Yesterday morning dawned with a grey sky and a cold biting wind, not one of those mornings that make you want to get up early and get out as soon as possible to enjoy it. I didn’t rush about, just took things easy, an extra cup of tea which I drank sitting looking down the garden at the Pheasants scratching about and a Green Woodpecker probing the lawn. All the while I was sitting there poor old Ted was sat gazing at me and occasionally pawing my leg, his way of asking to be taken for his run.
Uninviting as it was we both got into the truck and headed for the farm. At the end of the track out to the sea wall I came across a spot where an obvious drama had recently taken place, a pile of feathers which had been blown about by the wind. There was no sign of a carcass not even a head or wing, just feathers.
The thought went through my head, “had I been out a bit earlier I might have seen what went on here”.
They looked like Coot feathers and my guess is it was a breakfast for one of the Marsh Harriers which probably got disturbed and flew off with the carcass.
If anyone thinks a Coot would be to large a prey item for the Harriers, think again. they are more than capable of handling a Coot, I have even seen them take a Mallard. Here’s a picture I took about a year ago of a female Marsh Harrier I witnessed take a duck. The Harrier was hunting very low along the creek when it put up a small group of Mallard. Before the ducks could really get airborne the Harrier plunged into the pack knocking on of the birds to the ground with its feet. Before the duck could compose itself the Harrier was upon it pinning it to the ground and proceeded to pluck it. A wonderful spectacle of nature at work.
After giving Ted his walk along the sea wall I drove back and parked for a while by the entrance gate to the farm looking out across the marsh through my binoculars. The whole place was pretty quiet with not an awful lot to see other than a Fox that took no notice of the truck and walked past just a few metres away.
Not very inviting weather but still nice to be out.
Looking out of my window at the miserable grey sky and the snow still lying in the shaded areas of the garden my thoughts turned to my recent holiday to Kenya. That shirt sleeve weather and the beautiful blue sky, although only in september, seems such a long time ago.
Its a beautiful country with friendly people and such amazing animals and birds, it should be on everybodys list of places to go.
One of the nights we were on safari we stayed at a place called Saltlick lodge, an incredible place where the huts we slept in were built on legs with walkways between them and waterholes right underneath them. It is quite an experience to sit looking out of the window and having wild animals such as Elephants, Buffalo, Zebra, Lions, troops of Baboons and various Antelopes coming to drink right under your feet.
One of the many interesting sights I witnessed was just after breakfast. I was at the obsevation area near the ground floor watching a group of Elephants that had come to drink at a small watering place close to the lodge..
As I stood there I could hear a lot of birds squawking above my head then a small bird fell into the water right under my feet.
One of the Baboons that had been sitting close by had seen the bird fall and sat watching it for a while, all the time this little bird was flapping about and making a lot of noise. The Baboon got up and slowly walked over to the water and plucked the squawking bird from the water.
It slowly wandered back to the rock it had been sitting on with the little bird shouting all the time.
It sat there for a few seconds looking at the bird then proceeded to tear the poor thing apart and start eating it.
Not much fun for the little bird but fascinating to watch, nature at its best.
With the rest of the country covered in snow we got off quite lightly here on Sheppey until last Wednesday. A light dusting during the day then a shed load on Wednesday night and Thursday. I hate the stuff, the only good thing about it is it makes my garden look just as pretty as everybody elses. That said, when I went down the garden to top up the feeders there were two Woodcock feeding under the Hawthorn trees which is a sight I don’t often see and was certainly a bonus.
I have a feeder set up for the Pheasants and there is normally the odd one scratching about beneath it, Thursday morning saw increased activity around the feeder with birds coming to feed all day.
By midday the snow had eased a tad so I took a ride down to the marsh, the track down to the farm has a blackthorn hedge to one side and it was nice to see a large number of Blackbirds feeding on the sloes. The marsh was very quiet, It really is a barren place in these conditions, everything frozen and the ground covered in snow, all I could see was the odd Lapwing sheltering behind the tufts that were showing and plenty of Rabbits which stood out clearly against the white ground. There was one small pond that a few ducks had managed to keep open and I watched the odd pack of Teal drop in.
I spent a few minutes topping up the mini feed rides I have for the small birds, I use a mixture of wheat and rape seeds which I get from yard sweepings during harvest time and store in one of the barns. The small birds love it and some days there can be hundreds feeding on them.
I’m sure they appreciate it on days like this.
On returning home the wind had blown the snow into drifts that had already filled my tyre tracks, It was going to be a cold night.
My normal daily jaunt takes me past the farmyard where two years ago I put up a box on one of the buildings for the Little Owls. Every time I passed this box I looked to see if there was any activity. All I ever saw was the Starlings nesting in it, never any Owls.
Last week we had one of those increasingly rare days, beautiful blue sky and no wind. it was a lovely time to be out and lots of the local wildlife seemed to be enjoying the sunshine as well as me.
As I passed the Owl box I was thrilled to see a Little Owl sitting at the entrance soaking up the sunshine, they had finally found it after two years. They are still there a week later so I hope they have made it their home.
We are lucky enough to have a pair of Barn Owls Using a box on one of the other buildings. That same morning they were both out hunting and It was a real treat to sit and watch them as they worked the rough areas along the ditch bank looking for a bit of breakfast. They worked their way back to the yards where one of them flew into the barn and the other perched on the corner of the barn offering me a perfect opportunity for a few shots with the camera.