Saturday, 26 January 2008

Waters of Philorth

First public even of the year, and a chilly afternoon on the estuary. We’re doing a joint bird-watching thing, between the Council Rangers, RSPB and my own organisation, looking at what is on the estuary and beach to the west of my village. I guess it’s pretty good, having two nature reserves nearby – this is the ‘lesser’ one, the Local Nature Reserve(LNR). LNRs are a way the local Council can protect anything interesting, and help prevent the constant degradation of habitat that seems to be a feature of our world.

So we set out in a chill wind, enough to bring tears to the eyes. I (being of limited mobility) took up post on the river, to check on whatever turned up on the inland section, while the rest headed over the dunes to the beach and the mouth of the river, braving the wind-whipped sand and sea spray.

It’s a place where people come to walk their dogs, and they were present in abundance – from small jovial terriers to aloof lurchers, juvenile retrievers that growled at me as a ‘new & therefore weird’ person, springer spaniels that leapt into the river with a joyful bark and a constantly wagging tail, senior sheepdogs that try to round everyone else up – the prevalent smell in the cars heading homeward must be ‘wet dog’…

Some of the owners are responsible, cleaning up the mess after their pooches dump last night’s dinner. But many don’t seem to feel it’s a problem – you would think that, coming here day after day, they would notice the build up of dog crap around the site, but they seem to have selective vision. Indeed, a local councillor has been reported as saying ‘Well, the bin isn’t near where my dog does its business.’ Good example, guys.

So the place is pretty much a ‘watch where you walk’ endeavour, and even the responsible owners aren’t entirely blameless – I watched a guy with three dogs on leads and three running loose… the ones on leads he cleaned up after…the others had done their thing before he got to where I was standing, and of course he didn’t know they had dumped by then…I do wish people would be aware of what their animals were doing when not under their immediate control, as this would prevent a lot of confrontation between visitors and managers of sites…

Sigh. Enough of crap. Literally. Just clear it up, that’s my view.

There weren’t too many birds around – gulls, crows, jackdaws – last year, we did this walk a month later and there were quite a lot of waders – but this could have been a factor of the tide.

Today was the day after a high spring tide, and coupled with a lot of recent rain, the estuary was pretty full. You expect the tide to fill, hit the top – slack – and then retreat, but it seems this isn’t the way it goes. Watching the water come and go, using a fence post and several clumps of grass as markers, it became evident that there was much more to it.
The water seemed to go up and down several times, the grass islands flooding and emerging as I watched. What drew my attention to the changes was that I noticed a small mammal making its way across the flow to one of the islands, and then staying there - hiding in plain sight as several dogs went past.
The water slowly rose – eventually there was no more island, and the beastie (which I believe(though I wouldn’t bet my life on it!) was a was a water vole –a rarity these days) made its way to the ‘mainland’- chin up and doggy-paddle, determinedly – to the bank.
While I watched, (being interested in the relatively rare sighting) I became aware that the water levels were rising and falling, almost as if the river and the sea were breathing in and out as it hit the top of the tide…the post in the water emerged, snagged trailing debris and then disappeared, releasing the raft of reeds to drift away downstream. Then it appeared again, my attention drawn that way by the loud ‘plop’ of a little grebe making its way downstream on the tide and diving as it went. Up and down. Islands emerging and drowning. Tides are a much more complex thing than they seem, written down in the black and white of tables.

We all met up again, to swap sightings and comments on the weather. The wind whispered in the reeds, dry stems rattling, and a blue tit foraged amongst the foliage for insects and seeds. A flock of jackdaws took wing over our heads, and, distant and clear, the call of pink-footed geese rang clear on the air. Grey skies and cold winds, and the edge of a rain shower, brought an end to our survey.


Mackie said...

Mad - what a lovely "report" - i was right there with you.
i really am so fed up with people who do not clean up after their dogs. :-s

never heard of water voles, but managed to find them on google - learned something!

i wonder if the rising and falling of the water might be some really long ground swell? erm ... if you say that in english ...?

mad said...

DO know what you mean, Mackie (ground swell is right)- interesting - we weren't sure what was causing it. weird thing, it was just as if the river and the sea were breathing in and out and the flow was ending up split between them...

water voles - Ratty in 'Wind in the Willows' - seriously cute, and sadly endangered. Scottish ones are black, unlke the main lot down south.

Mackie said...

i saw that kind of really slow and long ground swell on a quiet day in a norwegian fjord, kayaking. there were no waves at all but the water was rising and falling slowly, further out it was like the world was tilting this way and that, very disorientating, could only stay out as far as i was able to see the coastline, or i would have tipped the kayak.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that sounds like an amazing and rather mystical sight. A little space "out of time".


Tats said...

Hey - well done on the water vole! I'd love to go bird-watching with you sometime, 'cos you know what everything is and so much about each one.

I'm firmly of the opinion that folk need to teach their dogs to crap on ground next to their own homes. It means you know where it is, and it's a great incentive to clean it up straight away.

With the tidal breathing thing - I wonder if you're seeing the effect of bands of larger waves, followed by smaller ones? There are likely to be some interesting current patterns in that part of the world too, that are maybe creating an interference pattern? Despite having taught about tides in schools, I hadn't heard the term "ground swell" applied like that, so I went looking on the web, and found this site: - If that's right, I've wrong for a long time! I realise that I've never really watched how the tide times vary for myself, I've just got the tide tables and got on with it, so I have no idea if this is valid or not.

mad said...

yeah, i wondered about the 'seventh wave' sort of thing, and i guess the water would pile up at the estuary mouth every so often. it happened - i guess - around three or four times over a couple of hours round the high slack tide.

i'll go see that site Tats, ta!!!

mad said...

tide times shift at the same rate as the moon does it's thing, about half an hour a day (believe me, the times i've done the beach thing it becomes very clear..)
it's an interesting theory that it's not the water going up and down, but the earth... but then if that's the case, water is less dense and should be more affected by the gravitational pull than the continents, and would thus still rise and fall at the same time... :huh:

makes you think, though...

Tats said...

Well, I went digging, and NOAA has some good stuff on tides, which makes that other site look pretty flaky, so I'm reassured that I've not been spouting tosh at poor impressionable school children for many years. I'd still be interested to see an explanation of how tide times are actually calculated though - is there really a "fudge factor"? (Shouldn't have mentioned that - now I'm feeling like eating some fudge!)

Does make me realise how much more I tend to rely on other people's knowledge than on my own observations though. You've probably come across that a lot in your work - folk who will listen to you, but not look for themselves.

Girl from Mars said...

The bin is too far from where the dog craps? Huh! Here people get very aggressive when somebody does not clean up the dog poop. Good thing too.

I think I have seen water voles along a lake nearby. But it could have been wild rats, too. Hard to know the difference from a certain distance. Their bodies are much chunkier and their tails way thinner than rats tho.