Snow, rain, dreary skies, more snow, freezing conditions, rain and yet more rain. Oh, and March winds thrown in. Yes, dear reader, March has thrown everything at us this year. I'm still waiting to dodge the kitchen sink.
The Blackwater was running at full spate and had, in the odd place, breached its banks along the foot bridle paths; although not by that much. We have a short respite (a couple of hours this morning and tomorrow supposedly) before yet more of the wet stuff arrives.
Our valiant pump, still chugging away, now has to deal with the considerable run off from Finchampstead ridges and surround slopes, in addition to pumping out water from Manor farm ponds. There is a considerable flow of water from Hawthorn lake, the grasslands and Manor lake into Cormorant lake. It actually made traversing the area a little tricky. Small streams have sprung up all over the place, along with some rather deep (i.e. more than Welly deep) puddles.
Still, our pump continues to reduce water levels in Cormorant lake and Finch pond to the point where I almost walked around the north shore of Cormorant lake. Only my nemesis was back: mud the consistency of quicksand. Having learnt the hard way previously, this time I gingerly tested my route, and quickly abandoned it when I sunk into the stuff some 10mm shy of the tops of my Wellington boot. I did, however, walk along the gravel spit and cross the channel (well stream now) between Cormorant lakes north and south.
With all this drivel, dear reader, you may have surmised that nothing much appears to have happened on the reserve this week. I could see no signs of any activity - except that the fly tipped rubbish on the Longwater road entrance has been cleared; the larder fridge and garden waste. Yeah!
My trail cameras picked up some interesting animals, even with the stupid thing taking 5 seconds to trigger and start recording. It's taking ages to download the images (partly as I managed to fill one of the 16GB SD cards)., but so far it has picked up the usual Roe deer, Grey Heron (!), Pheasant and a curious fox. It also recorded the Skylarks trilling away; plus a whole host of other bird call I cannot recognise. I need to get one of those app thingies that helps you recognise bird call.
Talking of birds: either the majority appear to have departed these fair isles for their breeding areas or I am missing them because dawn is so early they've woken up and flown to their feeding sites. I suspect the former. However, I did snap two Oyster catchers. We may have a breeding pair. A couple of Lapwing were skulking around. I think they normally head off to Fleet Hill farm. Perhaps this pair will start breeding on Manor farm - if they don't already do so. I did startle the odd snipe. As usual the various gulls and terns were quite raucous.
Although Cormorant spit has reappeared I eschewed a walk along it as the Oyster catchers were on the end of it.
On to the photos.
Firstly, my stint as artist in residence proved quite interesting. John Lewis was very quiet, with the Lower ground floor particularly barren. A few people popped by (none of you lot!), and quite a few John Lewis staff came round for a gander and chat. As a first crack at this lark I found it quite enjoyable. Roll on the next one.
Here are a couple of photos my partner took on her smart phone. My usual pose of hunched over and scratching away at a painting. You can see my first acrylic and scene from the reserve - the gulls on an island in Finch pond. I am working on my second acrylic and, as it turns out, scene from the reserve.
Moving onto meaty reserve matters. Well, not a lot really, as nothing appeared to happen this week. I have a few shots of the ever dropping lake levels, despite the best efforts of the manky weather, plus the Blackwater at full spate, with the odd minor breach of banks. Note, water levels had actually dropped in the Blackwater by the time I took my photos!
Now the wildlife.
Not much to report really. Most of the birds appear to have flown or were seeking refuge from the weather. I did return in the afternoon with my partner and noticed that there were more birds around. This time we came via Moor Green Lakes. The lakes were not heaving with wildlife.
A Lapwing was wheeling and creeling around the sky. Note sure why. We were way across on the opposite side of Cormorant lake,whilst it was more interested in something going on around the south footpath. I did manage to get a more decent photo of the Skylark. There are quite a few around, and at least one on the Hampshire side of the reserve.
Trail cam photos.
I had two trail cams out on Manor farm. The failure of a Victure (taking four to seven seconds time from trigger to video recording) and the ancient Ltl Acorn (with a more respectable 1.5 seconds time from trigger to video recording). Once it gets going the Victure takes really good videos, but it is so slow the wildlife has been and gone. It has a trigger range of 65' (20m), but I can easily walk that distance before it starts recording.
I've purchased a Cornova trail cam. At £65 it is £20 more expensive than the Victure. Unfortunately, I found that its time from trigger to video recording is a disappointing 2.5 to 3 seconds. I almost sent it back, but then discovered that its time from trigger to taking a burst of three photos is roughly 0.8 seconds, and then it almost immediately starts videoing. Its a keeper, and I'll put it out tomorrow.
Both trail cams caught a reasonable amount this week. Mostly foxes, Roe deer, plus the odd Human (!), Pheasant and Moorhen. No Badger though, unless it shuffled past the Victure. The odd Human was actually two. I spotted them last week when I put out the Trail cameras. They were either birders or research people. Anyway, they realised the trail camera was there and tried to (valiantly) get past it unnoticed.
I've decided to eschew my normal early morning stomp around the reserve, dear reader, as it is raining, and has been so for several hours. The Met office rainfall radar shows rain bearing clouds heading up north from France, aimed almost directly at Finchampstead. They appear to be forced upward when they hit the Hogs back, causing them to release their rain more intensively on everything downstream.
I'll pop down to the reserve later when it gets brighter. Cemex/Inert have been working on Manor farm this week. I saw activity as I travelled along the Longwater road. The blue digger was poking around the Yellow bridge.
Play resumes. :-) I've just got back from the reserve. Firstly water levels have dropped dramatically, almost to the lowest I have seen them. Cormorant spit is well and truly back; though in deference to the large number of birds swimming around I did not walk out on to it. Several islands have started to reappear in Finch pond, and I can now safely cross the channel between Cormorant lakes north and south. It is a mere trickle.
Secondly, Cemex/Inert have been hard at work around the Longwater road entrance. There is much evidence of activity, and several large piles of earth have appeared. The drainage channel, cut to drain Finch pond into the culvert, has now been filled in.
Finally, it is rather difficult to see what the blue digger was up to around the Yellow bridge, late on Wednesday afternoon. It looks as if it was cleaning up the soil around said bridge. Other than that, not much appears to have happened on Manor farm. I did not hop over to the Hampshire side of the reserve. I went from the pump station straight between Manor lakes north and south to the Moor green lakes footpath.
A gentle plug for the Reading Guild of Artists and your crazy blogger. Over the next four days, two artists from the RGA will be in residence on the lower ground floor of John Lewis, Reading. That's Heelas to those of a certain age. I will be in attendance on the Tuesday 27th.
Each day we will have examples of our work on display (which you can order - as we are NOT allowed to sell from the shop floor), and will be drawing, painting and chatting to anyone kind enough to approach us.
There is another opportunity to see members of the RGA in action, if you cannot make it to Heelas over the next four days. On April 7th there will be four artists in residence. They will be drawing real life situations around the store.
I will not be part of the four. Partly to give other members an opportunity, but mainly as I can't draw very well. Continental drift works on a faster time scale than me drawing something decent.
Update: I did a recce this morning. We are located in a summer house, behind the lifts on the lower ground floor. What you cannot see in these photos are our painting areas on the large table set as if for dining. The layout was very much work in progress.
Update on the update: Seems like the RGA presence is garnering a lot of interest. The four artists in residence report many people coming up to see what is going on, to have chat and also enquire how to either take up art or to improve their art.
Beware that the John Lewis staff have not all been briefed on the whereabouts or existence of the RGA members. However, dear reader, you are well clued up to where we are.
I'm happy to talk art, nature reserves, wildlife, volunteering, etc, etc, etc. I can take orders (will even deliver free within 20 miles of Reading) but cannot sell from the shop floor. 10% of my art sales are donated to RSPB.
Cemex's new pump is still chugging away. It will be interesting to see exactly how low water levels become. I cannot over emphasis how dramatic an affect it has had. I wonder what the birds make of it all?
I'm quite intrigued at why restoration involves creating large heaps of soil. Earth is bulldozed all over the place. Then before I know it, the stuff is scrapped up again into heaps and banks, before being bulldozed back into the ground again.
Light conditions were foul. With more blocking highs likely to form over the next few weeks due to the sudden stratospheric warming, it looks as if I will just have to lump it. On the other hand I could splash out on a new camera (say a Canon 200D) with which I can whack the ISO way up from the current 200 on my Rebel XTi. However I can't justify the cost (even after saving all my pennies) as I don't think it will improve images that much. A gloomy day will pretty much produce gloomy images, and cameras will still struggle with detail.
I processed quite a few of the photos I took in some freebie photo viewer. It has basic image processing features, and I used one to make my photos lighter. It was partly my fault that they were so dark. I accidentally set my camera to fully manual. Luckily the settings I had did a reasonable job.
My Victure trail cam is proving to be a disaster. It takes five to ten seconds to start recording, even though it has a stated trigger time of 0.5 seconds. I thus have loads of videos of scenery. It has to go back, I feel. Shame as the video quality is a marked improvement on my old trail cam.
I finally got a half decent shot of one Skylark on the grasslands of Manor farm, despite my nemesis of 10/10 clouds. Not as clear as I would have liked, but it has the distinctive wing shape. I spotted what I believe are Gadwalls on Colnbrook lake. I reckon they have been right in front of my nose for months, but because they look like female Mallards I have dismissed them.
Gull/Tern activity around Tern island was raucous. I guess it is territorial and breeding displays. It is that time of year. There was much wheeling about and flying in the air, accompanied by loud screeching. The bad tempered coots joined in for good measure.
With all this hoo-ha going on about Facebook I thought I'd tell you, dear reader, that this blog is not connected to Facebook.
The blog feature of weebly has an option to connect it to a Facebook account. Which in turns requires an email account. Which in turn allows Facebook to access the address book in said email account, and who knows what else. That's too scary for me.
I noticed that there is the ability to 'Like' posts (and indeed some do have likes - which is immensely gratifying to me as it means you like aspects of this blog) but I have no idea what happens if you do so. I assume these Likes have something to do with Facebook.
I am an old stick in the mud curmudgeon who is deeply suspicious of this whole social media scene and precisely what it is 'they' do with your data.
As it is I am somewhat piqued that my website is trawled and catalogued by various net bots, spiders and crawlers, with images and information appearing on other sites throughout the world. Deeply worrying.
I don't know if you can bear it, dear reader, but I have some further photos of the reserves in snow. Not as image intensive as last time. I have missed out some areas, but have included others as we took a different route back to the car park. These new areas cover the work done by the MGLG volunteers to wit, the hedging and sapling clearance.
Unlike its predecessor, the latest cold snap brought relatively wet snow, with large flakes, that clung better to vegetation, despite a much stronger wind. This resulted in a more wintery scene, with less scouring of snow.
There were more people braving the elements, with relatively heavy traffic obvious in the reserve's car park. Joggers were out in force. Admittedly the temperature was a kinder minus one degree centigrade, and I guess people were more used to the snow. I think someone actually used the Colnbrook hide!
Wildlife (aka birds) continued to be curiously absent. I don't know if many of the birds decided to migrate or simply spread themselves out over the various lakes as they were all free of ice. Even our normally reliable Roe deers only put in one appearance.
The exception to this were the bird feeders in the Moor Green Lakes Group car park and the feeding station. They were festooned with birds, and are quite used to people. I was able to snap a few shots of Long-tailed tits and they let be get within 15' (3m) of them. I am very jealous as the flocks that fly around our house rarely visit my bird feeder. Our regular visitors are Jays, Magpies, Blue tits, Great tits, Coal tits, Nuthatch, Great and Lesser spotted woodpeckers, Robins and Blackbirds, with the odd Dunnock, Tree Sparrow, Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Starling.
We kick off with Moor Green Lakes. Colnbrook hide was suitably decked in a deep layer of snow, as were Plover and Tern island. Snow was a good 6" (15cm) deep in places, though there was little drifting even in the high winds.
Moving along to the north edge of Manor farm. This week snow was nicely deep, caught in the grasses and sedges, up to 8" (20cm) deep in places. It made walking interesting rather than challenging. My partner had never walked along this section of the reserve. She was quite enthralled.
Scaling the upper east edge of the north embankment and getting down the ridge required great care due to the steepness of the slope and the slippery snow.
Again you will note that the lakes were not frozen, and there is a dearth of wildlife of the floaty kind.
A slight departure before the next slideshow. I often talk about the north embankment, ridge, east ridge, gravel spit, Hawthorn lake etc, and unless you walk along the reserve it is difficult to see how they relate to each other. The next three slides attempts to address that.
They were taken from the south side of Manor farm, next to the south shore of Cormorant lake and from the iron foot bridge. I have annotated them to, hopefully, give you a fighting chance of understanding the topography. What is neat about the snow covering is that it delineates features quite nicely.
Back to the slideshow, if you can stand it, dear reader. We continued our walk through the snowy scenes of Manor farm by walking down from the north embankment to the Longwater road entrance, and then along the shores of Finch pond and Cormorant lake, before joining the south footpath at the works bridge i.e. the Blackwater river.
Once again, this was a first for my partner. She normally trudged along the south footpath, patiently waiting for me to finish my frolicking in the reserve.
I'll add captions later on this evening.
Alas, dear reader, not much appears to have happened on the Manor Farm reserve this past week. There are subtle signs, with tracks abound, but of a wheeled nature. There are hints that a tiny amount may have been done around the pump. Any work appears to have been shifted to the Hampshire part of the reserve.
The new pump is galliantly chugging away and has lowered lake levels considerably. Cormorant island (or more correctly archipelago) has resurfaced. In another week or two I should be able to walk out on to it again. As it was the channel between north and south Cormorant lakes was sufficiently low for me to cross. However, with the foul weather I didn't take the chance of walking along the gravel bank that separates the two lakes, only to have to walk back again.
Talking of weather, the cold snap arrived with commendable accuracy, as forcast by the Met office. It wasn't snowing when I got up and had my breakfast, but when I set out at 7:20am it began to chuck it down. Small flakes, almost like hail, that stung exposed skin in the brisk wind. The softer, wet big flakes didn't arrive until I had finished my walk.
It was also one of those reverse days, as I call them. It was 1.5 degrees centigrade when I set out, and 0.5 degrees centigrade when I finished my walk at 8:30am. I then went grocery shopping, only to see the temperature fall to -0.5 degrees centrigrade when I finished at 9:30am.
The cold temperatures and brisk wind meant that most wildlife hunkered down. The lakes on Manor farm were strangely empty, as was Stone crusher lake on Fleet Hill farm. Even the normally reliable and raucous gulls were largely absent. Though I think they hung out in Manor lake.
I did manage a couple of decent shots of a Red Kite and two Lapwings, even in the bad light. The kite, rather unusually, flew quite close and over me. They normally steer well clear of me. Oddly, I was wearing a rucksac with bright orange straps. I still had to process the photographs heavily in FastStone in an attempt to brighten them up due to the very poor light conditions.
As for the Lapwings, they let me within 20 yards of them and didn't budge for the minute or two I tooks my photos. I was clearly visible to them, what with the orange straps on my rucksac, and they knew I was there. Normally I can't get within 75 yards of the birds; even without the orange straps.
It must be the cold weather that makes them reluctant to fly. Or perhaps they are getting used to your mad blogger clomping around the reserve.
I almost managed to snap a photo of a Skylark, but my nemesis (10/10 cloud) fooled my camera. It wouldn't focus. There are at least two colonies of Skylark. The three I see on the Manor farm grasslands, and the one I almost managed to photograph today. This particular one is resident, I believe, on the Hampshire part of the reserve. I often hear it/them as I walk along the south footpath. Other members of the Moor Green Lakes group had confirmed the existance of the Skylarks on the reserve.
My new trail cam fared better this week. I think one reason for this is that I camouflaged the spruce support I mounted it on - the Roe deer in particular steered clear of it the first time as it was a bright beige colour, but seem quite happy with it now brown, black and green. I may also have positioned it more appropriately. I still reckon I haven't got it right, as it seems to take 5-10 seconds to warm up - rather than the advertised 0.5 second trigger time.
Regardless of which, this week it fired 58 times, capturing a fox, Roe deer, Pheasants and a badger!
I was dead surprised about the badger. I can't see any tracks. Quite surprising seeing as the ground is quite soft where I staked the trail cam, and badgers are quite heavy. I also can't work out if there was only one badger or two. The trail cam captured it twice on the same night, though the pictures were too indistinct to see facial features clearly.
The fox was clearly injured on Tuesday 13th March. It limped on its hind right leg. By Thursday 15th March the limp was all but gone; so much so I inititally thought it was a different fox.
I will be a co-artist in residence on Tuesday 27th March, at John Lewis (aka Heelas) Reading. The Reading Guild of Artists (RGA) had a request from John Lewis for artists to be resident on the lower ground floor during their Easter Extravaganza. Another RGA artist and myself will be in attendance with examples of our art from 10.00am to 4.00pm. Other artists from the RGA will be available daily from the 24th to 26th March.
It sounds awfully posh and formal. To be honest I am not entirely sure what is expected of us. However, it is an exciting opportunity to do something new and unusual. If I do paint then it will be terribly boring for any on lookers. I'm normally hunched over my painting, squinting at reference photographs, applying paint at a glacial rate as I dab at the paper adding intricate detail. Quite unlike a more flamboyant painter, flashing away using their paintbrush like some fencing foil.
Do come along if you want to have a chat.
NOTE: We are allowed to take orders, but we are not allowed to sell any item of our art to members of the public whilst in John Lewis.
Update: I did a recce this morning. We are located in a summer house, behind the lifts on the lower ground floor. What you cannot see in these photos are our painting areas on the large table set as if for dining. The layout was very much work in progress.
The volunteers who attended the Moor Green Lakes work detail certainly did not. Ranging in age from 14 to over 84 years in age, the volunteers got a work out clearing scrub and saplings with nothing more than bow saws, lopers and garden shears.
It was suggested that we deal with the small saplings and anything major would be dealt with by the chainsaw gang later on in the week. Lord Horatio Nelson would have been proud of us as we turned a blind eye to such a piffling suggestion, and hacked down anything that stood in our goal of clearing the east shore of Colnbrook with nothing more than bow saws and loppers.
It was quite an interesting process cutting down trees as most of us had no experience. After an hour or so, we got a good procedure going. Firstly we assessed which direction we reckoned the tree would fall. Then we would take the bow saw to the tree on the opposite side. Sawing was easy through normal wood, but some got really saturated when close to the water's edge and made sawing a real slog.
When the saw's blade started binding (which didn't always happen) another volunteer or volunteers would help by pushing against the tree in the intended direction of fall. Eventually the tree would begin to go, making a nice crackling noise. If the tree fell into the water it would make a satisfying kersplash noise. I know how beavers feel now. We would then haul the tree out of the water, and cut it up to be pulled over to the bonfire.
Even though the turn out was relatively poor this month (somewhat strange considering the wonderful weather - calm, bright and warm) our task was more or less done by lunchtime. The odd tree still standing were dealt with, and the bonfire fed. A good day's work. I'm afraid I left, as usual, at lunchtime, and so didn't have the fun of feeding the fire.
The work detail were very lucky with the weather. It normally finishes at about 3:00 pm or when people get fed up. By 4:30pm the heavens opened up with an almighty downpour.
I did not expect much to have happened this past week. Indeed it took some time for my little brain cell to register, partly as I didn't have my usual recce along the south footpath before stomping back along the south shores of Cormorant lake and Finch pond.
I came in via the Longwater road entrance, firstly having to negotiate a bit of fly tipping. Some cretins had decided to dump numerous bags of tree leaves and a bit of trellis; stuff that a rubbish tip would gladly take and turn into compost.
Anyway, I noticed that water levels in Finch pond and Cormorant lake had dropped considerably. So much so, as I walked along the north embankment and ridge I contemplated traipsing down to the gravel spit and cross over the channel between Cormorant lakes north and south. Glad I didn't. The water levels weren't quite low enough.
The reason for the dramatic drop in water levels was that the shiny new pump was back in operation. It was all hooked up and chugging away. It appeared much quieter than the previous pump. The pumping over the past week has led to the return of Cormorant island. It is still quite small, but big enough for birds to use, and fight over.
As I feared, dear reader, it is the beginning of the end for the Yellow bridge. Inert have been hard at work removing the earth/ballast banking built up against the bridge to form the vehicle road way. It took me a bit of time to twig what had happened as I made my way toward it. I could see the blue Inert tank and thought nothing of it. Until I realised I should not be able to see it from east of the bridge, as it should have hidden by an earth bank.
I took a new route today, coming around Hawthorn lake and along the east shore of Cormorant lake. I wanted to photograph the curved pipe which the gulls like standing on. The whole area is quite boggy - intentionally so, and I think I spooked quite a few Snipe.
Rather distressingly I found a lot of rubbish strewn along the former water line, caught up on top of the sedge. Water levels were so high the junk got washed above the sedge, only to be caught in the sedge as levels dropped.
The highlight of my morning was to photograph an Oyster catcher. Only I thought it was a Lapwing, due to having photographed two earlier in the walk. It was when I got home and dumped the photographs onto my laptop that I found out it was an Oyster Catcher. Serious birders my roll their eyes up, but I do get excited seeing birds like Lapwings, Oyster Catchers, etc.
I have split the slideshows into two sections today. They are not as heavy on the images as the past couple of weeks. The first covers Cemex/Inert's continuing restoration efforts. The second covers wildlife I spied on my stomp.
Light conditions were pretty poor this morning. Static photos weren't too bad. Action shots were challenging. I suppose I could up the ISO on my DSLR, but that tends to introduce more noise. It's pretty old technology, being a Canon Rebel XTi.
I have noticed that the crows on Manor farm appear to be particularly belligerent. I have seen them mobbing other birds, including the poor little resident Kestrel. Today I caught photographic evidence. Some Herring gulls (juveniles I think) landed close to a couple of crows on Cormorant island. One crow was having none of it and attacked the gulls, seeing them off.
I am now 99% convinced there are Skylarks on the Manor Farm grasslands between Hawthorn lake and Cormorant lake/Manor lake. I have heard them, but sometimes they do sound like Reed buntings, but today I think I spooked three in the grass. They were roughly the correct size and shape and made the correct noise. The clincher for me was when they settled down they landed on the ground in the grassy tussocks. I can't see Reed buntings doing that by choice.
Unfortunately both cameras were having trouble picking the small birds out against the grey clouds when I tried to photograph them in the air. I am determined to get a photograph. They are seriously endangered, and it would be great if there were a breeding pair or three on the reserve.
For various reasons, dear reader, I had to pop over to the north east side of Manor farm. I took this opportunity to introduce you to the north side of Hawthorn lake.
24 hours after the thaw set in most all the snow has gone. Only the deeper stuff, primarily caused by drifting of the fine dry snow, and those bits in deep shade survived to this morning. Colnbrook lake looked clear of ice. Manor lake north was still fairly solid with ice.
With temperatures up to 6 degree centigrade, I was beginning to get heat stroke as I wandered around the reserve for an hour. :-)
Yes, dear reader, your barmy blogger wandered round the reserve photographing it in the snow. Technically not in a blizzard as the wind wasn't strong enough. Though a 20 mph wind (gusting to 40 mph), minus 4 degree centigrade temperatures and subsequent wind chill made it feel like a blizzard to this southern softie.
I really take my hat off to people who live in cold climes. I couldn't begin to imagine temperatures well below minus 15 degrees centigrade. The worst I endured was the minus eight when I walked the three miles to work one morning in that horrible winter of 2009/2010; but it was flat calm, not a breath of wind. It was actually quite lovely and serenely quiet - virtually no cars. And as for wildlife camera men and women, sitting out in double digit minus temperatures, I can only admire them.
As you can imagine light conditions were pretty poor. My DSLR coped reasonably well, despite me first having it on the wrong setting, but the charge ran out halfway through, and your numptie blogger didn't take the spare battery. I had to switch to the bridge camera, with a subsequent loss of detail. Sigh.
Once again I've split the slideshow into sections. I'll put in place holders first then fill them out as time permits.
First we kick off with Moor Green lakes.
I think I was the only one fool enough to drive his car to the reserve car park. I reached it just before 11.00am, and the smooth snow surface suggested I was the only person to use the car park. When I left just before 14:00, I noticed the tracks of one other car. Driving out was interesting, grip was almost non existent; but it was fine once I got the old jalopy moving.
Moor Green Lakes regulars may enjoy photos of the car park under snow.
I'm not sure how much the bird life enjoyed the weather. Large portions of the lakes were iced over. All the birds were concentrated in the limited amount of clear water. Some braved the ice and stood on it.
South footpath and Hampshire reserve
Strictly this is out of sequence. I actually hopped over to Manor farm and made my way around the north shore of Manor lake north to the Pump Station. From there I walked up to the south footpath. However, it makes sense to keep photos of various areas together.
Fleet Hill farm
Not much to say really. It was snowy, it was icy, the ground was rock hard, and large areas of the ponds were frozen over. Water levels were high which made walking back to the culvert along the north shore of Stone Crusher lake a little interesting in walking boots.
First a little word of explanation. Fleet Hill farm has two entrances to it on the Longwater road. They are close together being bisected by the culvert and bridge over it. One entrance is to the north of the bridge, the other (unsurprisingly) to the south. The southerly entrance is also where the footpath begins or ends depending on your direction of travel.
I believe the Colnbrook flows through the culvert, and thence westward along a fairly straight channel until it meets the wooden footbridge, which it goes under. Thereafter it's westward course seems more natural (not that I have explored this area much) but is punctuated by lakes and ponds formed from gravel extraction.
When I first entered the reserve from the footpath between Manor farm and Moor Green Lakes, I noticed an amber flashing light above a blue vehicle in the far distance near the yellow bridge. I hauled off a shot of it but it meant part of my planned route was now shot. I wasn't about to wander around the reserve with heavy plant trundling around in the low visibility and foul weather.
However, I never spotted it again as I walked west along the south footpath or on my return eastward leg. Originally I thought the Inert driver had come in via the Longwater road entrance, but there was no sign of this when I got there. This could be the first instance of a ghost rider!
Addendum. Today (Friday) I took a closer look at the photo and zoomed in on the vehicle. It was attending to the sewage works. From about a kilometer away it looks as if it were near the yellow bridge
My original intention was to walk westward along the North embankment, thus having the wind to my back, then come back along the south footpath within the shelter of the trees. Now I did the reverse, but it meant walking into the raw, easterly headwind. The bit I dreaded the most, walking along the exposed ridge, was not pleasant. However, by then, two hours into the walk, my hands were accustomed to the cold (i.e. it didn't hurt when I took photos), but I realised my chin was numb. So I did the bleedin' obvious and covered it with my snood. DOH! It does make you appreciate what people endure in really, really cold regions of the plant.
Anyway, Manor farm was bleak, resembling tundra, but in miniature.The raw wind had scoured exposed areas of snow. Both Finch pond and Cormorant lakes were choppy due to the strength of the wind; not to the point of white horses, but still choppy with little mini ice floes. The ground was solid - which probably was why Inert were not working. Even so I had to be careful where I trod. Most of the puddles were complete frozen, but the odd deep one only had a crust which I could easily break through; not good in my hiking boots. I wanted to keep my toes toasty, so eschewed wellies.
The wind caused the dry, fine snow to form drifts up to 2 feet (60cm) deep. I can hear people from cold climes and Wales snorting in disbelief. 'What is this crazy Englishman going on about a drift 2 feet deep? That is nothing!' Anyway, regardless of depth, the drifts did cover the ice on some areas of deep water and also the sides of embankments; so I had to watch where I trod. I actually remember 20' (6m) drifts in Kent when I was a kid.
I've split the Manor farm part of the slide show into two sections. We start with the south part of Manor farm. Due to my somewhat erratic route this week, I've had to do some major rearranging of the photos to make it look like a seamless continuous walk.
Moving swiftly on to the northern secion of Manor farm taking in the north embankment, Hawthorn lake and the grasslands.
Most of the photos were taken with my bridge camera (due to numptie here forgetting the spare). The lens was now spotted with water from the fine, dry snow. Near the end of the slideshow the sharp eyed will notice a change in image quality. I took these photos with my DSLR at the beginning of the walk.
There was a surprising amount around. Many had to congregate in large groups of mixed species due to there being a limited amount of open water. Large areas of the lakes and ponds were frozen over.
I believe I spotted my first female Reed Bunting, and possibly a Snipe. The local birders have mentioned numerous Snipe around the reed beds, and I believe one flew over me today when I spooked it. I really must get a 4K head mounted webcam. I might look a right berk wandering around the reserve with it on, but I reckon I will capture many species on camera with it. After all, when I spook something, my head automatically turns towards it.
There were a number of Roe deer. I can't work out if I saw five or eight i.e. I might have seen one of the normal male and two female groups twice.
The Robins around the Moor Green Lakes feeders appeared to have called a truce in the harsh weather. Normally they would attack any Robin that came close. Today, however, I spotted at least four of them, all putting up with each other, spending their efforts on feeding and staying alive in the foul weather.
I spotted at least three Gold Finches and number small brown birds, moving too fast in the vegetation to either recognise or haul off a shot on the camera. I think many were Wrens, but one might, just might have been a Goldcrest.
I have often commented on how nervous the birds are, and tend to take off when I get too close i.e. 100 yards! Not all do so, and I am wondering if they are used to Humans by inhabiting urban waterways e.g. recreation parks, rivers and canals with many boats and walkers along the shore. Whilst the flighty birds tend to be migrants and/or eschew urban areas.
A polite notice first: All photographs on this blog are owned by me and subject to copyright.