Nature notes from John Holt
Well, April really was a mixed month for weather, April showers were short and sharp, some with snow, some with heavy rain but the frosts were a surprise and although short lived, pretty severe. Low results from our rain men, 16mm from Tim Finn-Kelcey and Clinton and 27mm in Alresford, no wonder the cress bed line is there. Tim’s records show that the last 6 months’ rainfall has been 100mm below the average for the same period in past years.
The water table in the old Poplar plantation is falling steadily but the river is holding up well so far. This time last year we noted that the Oak was far in advance of the Ash and the old saying “splash instead of soak” seems to have held up as the 12 months previous was 150mm less than average over the past several years. This year the Oak is way ahead of the Ash, the frost will have something to do with that but the Ash is also suffering from an alien attack and so far, like the Conker tree mite and previously Dutch Elm disease (most of you won’t remember that), without a cure. The Ash disease is termed “Die Back” and can be easily recognised on younger growth by the tips of the new growth going brown and steadily spreading down the stalk. I have walked along the river from Wonston Bridge to Weston Colley and am dismayed to find that the greater percentage of young Ash looked at has this problem; Forestry Commission has been notified. It would be a national disaster to lose this most important timber, “of all of the woods Ash burns best” it is also used for furniture and the frame of the Morgan motorcar.
Flash back to Feb and we are two days out from Stanley and closing on the Island of South Georgia. Our first stop and landing was planned to be at Fortuna Bay so that some of our group could follow the last leg of Shackleton’s long walk across the mountain pass into the whaling station of Grytviken. Unfortunately, the wind and wave combination prevented launching the Zodiacs so we moved on to the whaling station and its inhabitants.
Fur Seals, cuddly looking creatures but incredibly hostile and a bite from one of the pups would be a serious matter so a 5m boundary was suggested and I must say was proven necessary. Elephant Seals mainly sleeping and ignoring their foreign visitors and of course penguins on aptly named Salisbury Plain beach whichever way you looked there are penguins of all shapes and sizes, like you see on telly with David Attenborough but ‘real’ and incredibly confident. The smaller ones (Chinstrap) having dedicated highways/footpaths and to sit on a rock very close to their highway was entertainment indeed – most times when they past well within touching distance they rarely stopped to glance at this strange human with a black box, pressing on they were on a mission, whether going fishing or coming back to feed the young, what a privilege to share the moment.
Image of Chinstrap Penguin from travelwild.com