Yes, the politicians have it right – we need the ‘Big Society’, but I have a slight feeling of déjà vu here! – the wheel being reinvented. Conservationists, in our case the RSPB, have been doing this for decades: looking after birds, making reserves, caring for the environment, creating fun for people, bringing meaning into millions of people’s lives. Yes, we have paid staff – totally necessary and comparative to their skills and dedication, not overly paid. This is not a job to them - it‘s a way of life. But a proportion of the work that goes on in our own organisation is voluntary; not particularly done through some sense of obligation or moral crusade but for the sheer love of nature and our environment. They don’t expect medals or awards or celebrity status – they just do it for the sheer joy they get from nature.
The work that goes on here at Campfield (some 900 acres takes some looking after…Hello!) is a microcosm of what goes on round the rest of the nation. Staff working, often in difficult arduous conditions - year in year out … dedicated to the intricate management of field, stream, salt marsh, peat bog, heath and woodland – making things possible on tight budgets.
Early engineering work, April 1993
Scraping out the pools, April 1993
Dave carefully planting Phragmites screen round the sluice - 15th april 2010
Stephen fencing off the Natterjack pools - April 2010
Ploughing part of the bird seed field in preparation for oats planting - April 2010
Stephen planting oats - 21st April 2010
Last year's Kale crop, now seeding, attracting a large flock of sparrows and finches - July 2010
Stephen keeping the lonning up to park standard
"Newly cut hay" - a digital painting
"The Hay baled" - a digital painting
Haytime - loading the bales , July 2010
Stephen, topping the rushes in preparation for winter, July 2010
Whooper swans enjoying the pools this last winter
These end results are made possible with the able assistance of the weekly volunteer group: working, more often than not, in the cold and wet; in the mud and scrub; torn by brambles; pestered by midges . Have you ever tried a day of ragwort pulling or gorse cutting!!!
Early workparty activity - clearing silver birches to make flight paths for wintering wildfowl, Autumn 1993
Workparty brash clearance after tree felling - Autumn 1993
Early workparty - bonfires after gorse cutting on the marsh front - 1993
Campfield volunteers planting Phragmites as a path screen, 15th April 2010
Dave, Stephen and volunteers maintaining willow bower in sylvan glade, April 2010
Staff and volunteers have improved this field boundary to provide better wader breeding areas
Workparty on new hedge weeding detail, 20th May 2010
Dave discussing thistle weeding plans, 10th June 2010
Workparty weeding thistles out of Kale seed crop, 10th June 2010
Workparty - screen maintenance detail, 2nd June 2010
Volunteers, Marjorie and Neil, doing a Bumble Bee survey - one of a number of surveys carried out by volunteers on the Reserve
Willow bower growth in a few years
Hawthorne saplings planted by workparty as a hedge, a few years ago, are developing nicely
Earlier years planting of Phragmites is starting to screen the path
Pinks and Barnacle geese, 20th February 2010 - some of the thousands of wildfowl visiting the reserve in winter
, ”This is the Big Society”. Only I say to the great and the good – RSPB did it first!
Dave Blackledge, Reserve Warden, reported a Red Kite flying over the reserve early this morning. Other reports from the area this morning too, in the vicinity of Cardurnock.
This last few days the estuary seems to be livening up a bit after the Summer Solstice. A good many Bar-tailed Godwits, in a variety of plumage are around now and Oystercatchers are amassing. Have seen an immature, quite large, Shelduck with a parent bird. A few Black-tailed Godwits seem to have been hanging around the area most of the summer. There is a decent sized flock of Golden Plover – again they too seem to have been round for a while now. But notably Dunlin are gathering in decent numbers – large flocks can be seen flying up and down the estuary, with odd individual larger waders with them. Have yet to identify these.
Haaf-net fishermen also seem to be grouping now in fair numbers. The fresh water in the river has presumably brought the fish on. You can usually tell by the numbers of them fishing whether they are having success or not. Sadly, though, these hardy fishers seem to be a threatened species, as I have noted their numbers declining over the last quarter of a century. Pity if we were to lose them altogether!
We set off in to the Reserve; the day was warm with intermittent sunshine – very little wind. The day would seem to be propitious for flying dragons and so it turned out to be. We had hardly passed through the farm when we were buzzed by a Southern Hawker – the game was on! It flew over us, behind us, in front of us, but would it settle? So we developed a form of stalking – bushcraft devotees take note!. Judith stood still with the camera and I walked 50 metres along the track. This seemed to mystify the creature… an old military tactic: divide your forces and confuse the enemy. It then decided to land and think this one out. Fortunately I saw where it landed and talked Judith in. She started to stalk about 12 metres away, moving very slowing, clicking the digicamera all the way in – ultimately finishing up within a foot of the now hypnotised dragonfly. Dragonflies are clever but homosapiens are cleverer. Triumphant - we had one dragon in the can … old moviemaker speak!
Male Southern Hawker in vegetation on side of the track
Bolstered by our initial success, we pressed on down the lonning to the far end where we knew that another Southern Hawker would be likely. Oh! This is too easy. It virtually threw itself at us. It’s money for old rope. Do people actually get paid for doing this sort of thing?
Our egos now swelled, we thought that the pool in front of the hide would be easy meat. I had spotted a few dragons hawking over it with the bins. The sun was intermittent, every few minutes a cloud would come over and put the dragons down. So seasoned photographers that we are, we hid amongst the reeds and waited our time. Sure enough we were rewarded with the sight of a Four –spotted Chaser ovipositing all round the pool – a very quick and delicate movement, pausing at half metre intervals over the water. This would go on for perhaps a minute at a time. A good stategy this, as the rapid and wide distribution would greatly reduce the risk of predation from above and below the water.
Female Four-spotted Chaser ovipositing over water
Things started to hot up now as the sun came out. Suddenly a Black Darter landed on a large, very light coloured stone. Then, goodness me! it was momentarily joined by a further Darter of warm red colouring. Ace photographer scooped the lot: Four-spotted Chaser, Black Darker, and ‘red’ Darter. The red one was a puzzle though. Ultimately, we emailed this photo to Norman who kindly confirmed this as a Common Darter. Some lesser mortals in the reedy margins, namely Emerald, Blue-tailed and Azure damselflies, were also snapped.
Male Black Darter and male Common Darter sharing the same stone
Pair of Emerald damselflies
The pangs of hunger now biting , we turned homeward. On the way calling in at the screen on the 2nd pool to observe two Emperors still hawking the area.
A fair mornings work!
In the last week, even with somewhat changeable weather, there has been plenty of activity on the bird front. Waders seem to be assembling on the estuary now, day on day: Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Golden Plover and Oystercatchers in ever increasing numbers.
Black-tailed Godwits on estuary at Campfield, 10th July 1710 hrs 2010
Bar-tailed Godwits on high tideline at Campfield, 9th july 2010
Bar-tails in flight, Campfield. 9th July 2010
Small group of Golden Plover feeding on the ebbtide, Campfield. 10th July 2010
On the farm part of the Reserve at North Plain we have seen encouraging activity regarding young birds: House and Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Sedge and Willow Warbler and Linnet families. On the 2nd Pool we’ve watched Moorhens continuing with their nest building - the female now appears to be sitting. The female Little Grebe is presently feeding a growing youngster and there are increasing numbers of butterflies and dragonflies all along the track.
Water levels in all the pools and scrapes appear to be holding their own, with the rain of the last week - all this culminating in a great day today. When we went for our usual morning stroll down the lonning, we were immediately confronted by splendid examples of female Southern Hawker dragonfly, Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshell and Meadow Brown butterflies and Silver Y Moths. I think the rewarding moment was coming upon two splendid Emperor dragonflies hawking over the 2nd pool along with several families of swallows – whether these represent a present danger to the dragonflies, we are not sure!
Red Admiral on brambles, North Plain Lonning, 14th July 2010
Meadow Brown on nettles, Lonning 14th July 2010
Silver Y Moth on bramble flowers, North Plain Lonning, 14th July 2010
Emperor dragonfly (male) hawking on 2nd Pool at North Plain, 14th July 2010
Having taken a number of photos of Southern Hawker dragonflies in the last few days, we were amazed at the way this colourful dragonfly’s marking matched, in many ways, the various foliage that they had chosen to land on. Although in the three examples below, the background foliage was entirely different, the dragonfly’s colouring seemed to pick out and emphasise certain elements, to give themselves most effective camouflage. One supposes that had they landed on some other coloured vegetation the same might have happened. As a major predator this would have greatly assisted in its hunting technique. Also, obviously, it would have been a major protection against predation on itself – say from birds. This goes to show that even gaudy colouring which some dragonflies can be said to have provides surprising protection
Female Southern Hawker on wild roses, North Plain Lonning, 12th July 2010
Female Southern Hawker in garden adjacent to RSPB reedy meadow, on dried leaves, 12th July 2010
Female Southern Hawker on nettles, North Plain Lonning, 14th July 2010
The sun was warm and the wind had dropped. The air was alive with insects. On our return journey home we had the good fortune to come across two cheerful visitors accompanied by our very own Norman Holton. On introduction, they turned out to be Bill Kenmir, Cumbria RSPB Reserves Area Manager, and Johann Holt, RSPB Visitor Services Advisor from the Lodge, Sandy. They had certainly chosen the day – what with the weather and the like.
Johann Holt, Bill Kenmir and Norman Holton, 14th Jully 2010
We, again, ran across them later in the day at Saltmarsh Pool Lay-by, where they were treated to the spectacle of upwards of 1000 Oystercatcher, numerous Curlew, Gulls and Golden Plover, not to mention about 40 Bar-tailed Godwits in all shades of plumage from deep summer red to the palest grey – all basking on the hightide roost, not a hundred yards away.
Oystercatchers and Curlew resting on Campfield saltmarsh, 14th July 2010
Bar-tailed Godwits ( in varying degrees of plumage) with oystercatchers at high tide on saltmarsh, 14th July 2010
Golder Plover, Saltmarsh Pool, 14th July 2010
The Lay-by, full of happy birders – many of whom were RSPB, had certainly given our visitors a splendid show.
Birdwatchers, Saltmarsh Pool Lay-by, 14th July 2010