Big Wild Sleep Out weekend is always a full on affair and as a busy Saturday drew to a close the participants started to arrive and after loading the trailer with all their camping gear we headed off on the trails around to our camping area near the Brick Building.
The kids were invited to stop off at the Woodland Discovery Zone for some early evening pond dipping while the vaguely grown-ups escaped down to the camp to pitch their tents. They caught some superb stuff including dragonfly larvae and a Great Silver Diving Beetle and by the time they had crocodiled their way through the reedbeds the camp was almost ready and the sun was just beginning to show as it dipped below the clouds.
The Crocodile - Alistair Wardill
Tringa Pool - Alistair Wardill
Getting set up
There was down time to start with before Ken and Andrew took most of the party out on a dusk walk around the closest part of the marsh and Swifts dropped down low for a last feed before climbing back up above the clouds to roost for the evening.
Non Biting Midges dancing at dusk - Roman Werpachowski
The Greylags and Canada Geese were very noisy as they too decided where they were going to go and roost and most headed south across the river to the lakes on Dartford Marsh.
Greylags - Roman Werpachowski
Night Calf - Roman Werpachowski
The light soon dropped and our first big Noctule Bat appeared over the RDZ pool dropping suddenly and then reappearing in its characteristic manner. The kids loved this as Noctules are big enough to actually look ‘Batty’!
Paul started up the little camp fire while myself Jim and Vicky got the moth trap going behind the building and within just a few minutes the white sheet was covered in a mass of not moths but hundreds of Water Beetles! Most were incredibly tiny but there were some bigger species in there as well as some Water Boatman.
Paul and Caroline getting the fire going
He's a Firestarter, a...
And a super slo-mo fire video!
As the evening drew on and the light dwindled moths did actually appears and we saw several Yellow-underwing and Wainscot species, Ruby Tigers, Oak Eggars, Drinkers, Grass moths and two striking species meritted futher attention..
The first was a Vestal which is yellow with a pink line across the wing. This is a continental migrant and a good find. It has probably come in on the same weather that has brought in the mass arrival of Painted Lady butterflies.
The second one was a gem very aptly called a Gold Spot with two shiny metallic marks on the wing. I kept this one safely in a pot in the dark until morning so that I could take some pictures before releasing it back onto the marsh. This was a new species for all of us.
Back at the fire Alistair became our storyteller and captivated his audience whose faces were lit up by the dancing flames. I do not think anyone was breathing...
Alistair in full flow
I managed to video a short extract... enjoy.
Lou and Pete were on hot drinks duty while Jules and Isobel were creating sand trap trays with a little pot of seed placed in the centre to attract passing interest and these would be put out around camp to be checked by sleepy eyes in the morning.
Sand trays in the dark
Unfortunately the International Space Station chose a very cloudy moment for its 2147 passing and although there were gaps, it was not in one of them and there would be no second fly past during the evening.
However, the skies were not empty. Two bright lights came into view from the north west. They were low, very slow flying and pretty close to each other. At first we thought they must be helicopters but they were almost silent like some secret stealth craft but as they flew over they were revealed to be peculiar long winged light aircraft and were anything but ‘secret’ each having a shimmering pattern of rainbow stripes flickering up and down the fuselage and wings.
The Rainbow Planes
They drifted over into Kent and then circled slowly towards possibly somewhere around Eltham where they performed low lazy circles and set off showers of glittery, sparkling fireworks before heading back over us once again and into the distance. No amount of Googling down various routes has yielded any answers to these mysterious planes!
There were far easier things to identify in the heavens and when the cloud broke up enough to allow us to see the crescent moon it also gave us the chance to planet watch. Jupiter glowed spherically low to the south east with at least three moons visible around it but the pesky cloud kept hiding it but Saturn was a little higher in the sky and I was able to show many people their first ever view of this most magnificent of celestial bodies.
Crescent Moon - Roman Werpachowski
It may be 95 times as big as Earth but it is a staggering 746 million miles away but still you can see the reflected sunlight from the planet and its glowing ice rings. I have seen it many times and am always in awe. Those who saw it on Saturday night will always have that first view etched in their memories.
With midnight approaching it was time to wind up the mothing and escort Jim and Vicky off the reserve as they were going on holiday leaving a peaceful walk back through a strangely quiet marsh with a few grumbling ducks and two noisy Redshanks and a Common Sandpiper high overhead on their way pastures new.
Never really dark
It dawned clear and bright and everyone seemed to be up early (5ish!) and witnessed a fantastic sunrise over the marsh. Bearded Tits were pinging around the camp and Yellow Wagtails were flying over. The sand traps even revealed that several small rodents had visited during the night and happily feasted on the seed left out for them leaving little starfish hand imprints behind as a thank you for the offerings.
Still snoozing - Alistair Wardill
Foot and hand prints in the sand and just a few seeds left! - Jules Foreman
Back at the centre breakfast was prepared for the weary campers after which most headed for home after a wonderful night out on the marsh but some ventured out again for another early morning circuit or even hired bikes which was far too energetic for my liking.
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