This week's blog, dear reader, is a little bit complicated. I popped by on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
I do not know the Fleet Hill farm part of the new reserve very well. My view of this area was partly tainted by my first foray one bleak autumn afternoon, walking into driving sleet and rain. I got confused quickly as to where I was in the site, as there were (to me at the time) very few landmarks. Eventually I got to the point where my main aim was to get home as quickly as possible to out of the cold, nasty sleet.
Since then I have mainly walked along the north part of the reserve, but knew there was quite an extensive stretch I had not yet visited.
This I began to put right on Friday, when I determined to explore the lake farthest from the Longwater road entrance. It is tucked in the south west corner of the reserve, up against the Blackwater and Fleet Hill farm, see image below.
I now find it the most interesting and pleasant of the ponds/lakes on Fleet Hill farm. I've christened it 'Parallel Pond' as it sports a number of scrapes that run parallel to each other. I do not know if this was by design or happened as that is how the beds of gravel were laid and thus extracted.
Rather stupidly I decided to walk around the west and south shore of Parallel Pond. You see, there is this green strip of land that runs along the Blackwater and hence this and other ponds. It is used by horse owners to get to grazing land. Thus it is fenced off, right up against the lakes and ponds of Fleet Hill farm. This leaves a narrow corridor, sometime less than my body width, between the edge of the pond and considerable growth of shrubs and the fence. All made worse by the uneven ground, chin high nettles, waist high thistles and grass and weeds.
Battling my way along this narrow gap was not pleasant, and it was with considerable relief that I made it to the east side of Parallel lake. However, at this point some flies (Horse?) discovered me, and proceeded to take chunks out of me; biting through my skin and drawing blood! I have nice red welts on my hand tops and arms, which are quite itchy.
The sooner this green strip of land is turned into a bridle path the better. That is the supposed development plan for Fleet Hill farm.
With no real landmarks it is difficult to convey to you, dear reader, where I am taking photos from and where I am facing. Therefore the map below show the approximate positions where I took photos from and the approximate direction I was facing.
What I should have done, dear reader, was print a copy of this map to take with me so I had a better idea where I was. This would have enabled me to take more photos of the east side of this large pond. I will have to revisit this lovely pond to fill in the gaps.
What was interesting about the wild birds was that they were not unduly nervous about my proximity. Yes, they were wary of my. Yes they kept their distance and occasionally flew off, but they were no where near as nervous as the birds on Manor farm or the north areas of this reserve. This might be due to Fleet Hill farm proper, with the resulting large amount of Human traffic. Therefore I have included some shots of a Grey Heron, which allowed me to get incredibly close.
Photos of parallel pond Fleet Hill farm:
Severe bank erosion Fleet Hill farm.
You may have noticed, dear reader, that I have a label for Soil Erosion. During my cold walk in the sleet last autumn, I noticed these 'gullies' running down a bank into one of the large ponds on Fleet Hill Farm. There were quite a number of them, all parallel to each other. They were deeply incised into the soil and quite clearly defined as there was virtually no vegetation.
I realised at the time that they were caused by water, but didn't really understand the root cause. Actually, I didn't put much thought to it at the time as my main interest was making my way back to the Longwater road.
Roll on a few months, I have acquired a better understanding of the topology of the area and conditions due to seasonal changes. The cause of these gullies became clear when I came across a large circular hole at one end of a 'gully'; it was up against a bank, furthest away from the lake shore. On the other side of the bank, across a grass track was the Blackwater.
To my mind there is only one way this feature (and thus the 'gullies') could have formed; overspill from the Blackwater when it floods. The large circular hole, 3 to 4 feet (90cm to 1.2m) in diameter, is basically a plunge pool.
Naturally, this is a supposition on my part, but we did see the Blackwater breach its banks on Fleet Hill farm earlier on in the year. I may have to leg it down there the next time we get flood conditions to test my hypothesis.
Wildlife Fleet Hill farm:
To be honest, I was spending more of my time either negotiating nettles, thistles, shrubs and weeds or not falling into a pond due to my narrow path or looking at the scenery than looking for wildlife. So what there was had to be pretty much front and centre for me to notice it.
That being said, the bird and insect life were fairly obliging; and not too wary to boot. Two Oyster Catchers ignored me, letting me get quite close and take several photos of them. I encountered similar disdain from a pair of Gadwalls.
As I said before, this part of the reserve is damsel and dragon fly heaven. The place is think with them. Some seemed to prefer being over the water. Others preferred land or going high up into trees. Look closely at the photo of the Redshank and you'll see tens of Demoiselles.
There were three Little White Egrets on the lakes, the most I've seen. One was so large I thought initially it was a Great Egret. Sadly it was not to be. I think I spooked a Snipe. Plus there was the usual mini-flocks of Lapwing.
The highlight for me was seeing a Little Grebe and it's chick. The chick was a bonus; peeping away, demanding food from its mum. Every now and again it attempted to dive, but wasn't able to stay under the water for long.
Manor Farm. Saturday.
I am going to kick off this section with photos of something a little weird - least ways I think so. Inert have spread large rubble (i.e. big blocks of concrete, bricks, etc) along the upper track near the pump station. For road footings it is totally over the top, I reckon. I'm not even sure if you need that size of hardcore for building foundations.
It's almost as if the rubble has been spread out to dry. Further shots, taken from the south footpath on Thursday, of the mighty rubble pile are contained further down in this post.
Now a quick section on wildlife. A lot of birds have drifted back to Finch pond and Cormorant lake. The tufted duck seem up to strength again, as do the Canada geese. There are the usual cohorts of Lapwings, Cormorants and gulls, as well as the usual Carrion Crows, Coots, Mallards and Moor Hens. Overhead, Swallows, Martins, the occasional Buzzard, Kite and Heron drift over lazily.
The highlight for me was a Common Whitethroat which very nicely posed right next to the south footpath for me to photograph. The number of Dragon or Damsel flies does not approach the numbers to be seen on Fleet Hill farm.
Manor Farm, in fill of Finch pond.
I must admit, dear reader, that the speed at which Inert are in filling Finch pond caught me completely by surprise. Based on previous experience I expected a glacial inching progress across the pond, taking until next year at the least. So much so I thought I'd get a breather from posts. Not likely. Inert are racing along. They might, just might even finish by month's end; though definitely by the end of July.
After a brief hiatus of trucks last (bank holiday) week, the trucks (or what trucks Cemex could contract) were back with a vengeance. I don't think in the same numbers as that first week, but certainly 10 if not more. Progress has been rapid. The in fill along the north shore of Finch pond extends further eastward, and has been widened considerably. Curiously, a peninsula, orthogonal to this infill, has been built into Finch pond, thus creating a sort of bay.
The chaps obviously know what their doing, but damned if I can figure their strategy.
It was possible for me to now step off the east end of the infill and walk the short distance, along what little remains of the north shore of Finch pond, to the ridge to clamber onto the north embankment. Walking back along the north embankment was a pleasure, due to Inert bulldozing some of the chest high nettles. Still, I only ventured to the edge of the embankment where some areas of the nettles had been cleared.
As usual, dear reader, please remember that I have permission to be on site. Even so, I keep away from areas (e.g. grasslands, Cormorant lake) that might have breeding birds.
Finally, here is a diagram (badly drawn in MS Paint) of where I think Inert have got to. Although the infill has progressed this far, the land is still lower than what it should be. I suspect the soil from the north embankment and the banking running parallel to the Longwater road will be used to help bring it all up to the correct level.
Of late Thursdays' weather tends to be overcast, dank and murky, with poor light conditions causing difficulties for my cameras. In previous months it used to be the weekends. Believe it or not, human activity at a local level can cause this e.g. the commuting pattern.
This week the boulder sorter outer was quiet. It's job is done, for the time being. The fine soil it sorted appears to have been moved to the enormous pile near the pump station.
Our bulldozer driver has been very busy. He seems to do a lot of directing of the various haulage lorries, and trundles all over the site. At one point I saw him reversing at an impressive speed; almost racing a haulage lorry to the north embankment. I never knew bulldozers could travel so fast in reverse. It reminds me of the film Kelly's Heroes. Oddball's tank had five forward and five reverse gears. He felt they should able to get out of trouble as fast as they could get into it.
There was one strange tracked vehicle that appeared on Thursday which I have never seen before, and am baffled as to what it is used for. A dinky little carrier, which makes quite a racket.
You may notice, dear reader, that water levels are rising. The pump is still off. I'm not sure why. It is a little odd that it goes on then off then on again. I reckon the bird life are getting totally confused with islands appearing then disappearing.
Now on to Thursday's wildlife.
While stomping around the south footpath on Saturday, I encountered three birders at one of the viewing points near Cormorant spit - now Cormorant scape :-) They are awfully patient, standing there for long times viewing the wildlife. I'm afraid I haven't managed to do this yet. My wildlife photography is chance encounters on the hoof, while storming around the various parts of the works - mostly trying to observe what Inert/Cemex have been up to. Thus I will miss most of the finer points of wildlife - not that I can identify most of it.
Anyway, the wild fowl on the Manor farm part of the reserve have largely drifted back, seemingly used to the various heavy plant and people wandering around. Lapwings were much in evidence on the east shore of Cormorant lake, whilst the various flotillas of Tufted duck are back on Finch pond; oblivious to the fate of their aquatic abode. Sprinkled around were the usual bevy of Cormoratns, Canada geese, Egyptian geese (with goslings!), vicious Coots, Moorhens, etc, etc, etc. Plus a whole load of other species I don't stand a snowball's chance in hell of identifying.
I managed quite a good sequence of an Egyptian goose seeing off a Carrion crow.
A polite notice first: All photographs on this blog are owned by me and subject to copyright.