The Easter holidays are approaching, so why not come and explore beautiful Coombes Valley with the little ones?
We're running three wildlife arts and craft sessions called 'fairies, goblins, flowers and grubs'. Try pond dipping and bug hunting before having a go at making magical woodland creatures and their dwellings out of natural materials with help from local artist Meg. Look out for fairies and goblins hiding in the trees!
The sessions will run on 11, 13 and 20 April, from 1- 4 pm. They cost £5 per child, accompanying adult go free! Call the office on (01538) 384017 or email email@example.com to book your place.
And if you need inspiring to visit Coombes Valley, then take a look at these great photos by Kay, a travel and tourism student from Leek college who has been on work experience with us this week. Thanks for all your enthusiasm and hard work Kay!
Finally! Blue skies...
The first chiffchaff of the year was heard by the site manager on Monday. Their song is quite easy to spot, listen for "chiff chaff, chiff chaff, chiff chaff!" These migrants will be here until September when most head into France and then to the Mediterranean region, and some fly on to West Africa. They can be hard to spot as they flit through trees and shrubs, sometimes darting out to catch insects in the air.
A big thank you to all our volunteers who helped with the brashing and ride clearance over the winter. Hundreds of log piles were created, mountains of brash cleared and plenty of biscuits were devoured in the process. Clearing up felled trees can be a repetitive and tedious task, but with a group of enthusiastic and willing volunteers it was almost...fun! It's really satisfying to see the results of this work as we've opened up areas of the woodland. This will allow more light in for the benefit of wildflowers, insects and butterflies. We won't be doing any more brashing until autumn, as we don't want to disturb the birds and other wildlife during the breeding season.
Taking a well-earned break
Coombes sightings over the weekend include a grey wagtail hopping from rock to rock in the brook (thanks to Lisa for emailing this in) and several greater spotted woodpeckers who were heard drumming loudly. Listen out this amazing sound resonating through the valley. If you're not sure what to listen for, check out the bird song display in the visitor centre before heading out.
What a beautiful day! Look out for bright yellow flowers in the top meadow; there are one or two that have popped up already. These are lesser celandines and are spring's early bloomers, appropriately known as the 'spring messenger' in some parts of the country. Becky and I also saw our first bumblebee of the year too.
We'll be attending Leek fine foods market tomorrow, promoting the reserve and the work of the RSPB. If you're not out for a woodland walk at Coombes, we hope to see you there!
Thanks to volunteer Adam for this interesting piece about the bird surveying work currently being carried out on-site and to Stephen for these photos taken yesterday at Coombes...
Here at Coombes Valley we have traditionally focused on recording the numbers of our star spring migrant species, such as the pied flycatcher and redstart. This is set to change from this year onwards as we are undertaking CBC work at both the Coombes and Churnet sites. But what is CBC? What does it involve? Why use that technique? And why the sudden change?
Well, CBC stands for 'common bird census' and it's exactly what it says on the tin. It is a census of all birds, either seen or heard, on the reserve. It is done by walking set paths, or transects, through the woodland and recording every bird you see or hear within 50m of the path. This is done on several occasions, from late March until early June which allows us to make sure all species are included, from early breeding residents, to late summer migrants.
So as you walk the transect and hear, for example, a robin singing, you mark on a map where it is with the letter R. You then circle that R to show it was singing. There are codes for all birds and techniques for highlighting all sorts of interactions or locations.
If there was another robin clearly singing against the first robin, another R is marked on the map, circled, then joined by a dotted line to the first R. These kinds of interactions are important when it comes to deciding how many different territories there are. In this case it would indicate that there are two robins claiming territory.
There ways to highlight that a bird was at a nest site, using a nestbox, giving alarm calls, seen but not heard...the list goes on!
The reason CBC is now being used at Coombes is because of the detail it can produce. It creates a detailed picture of what species are present, their numbers and interactions. We can get a good idea of how many territories are being claimed by males. When done over many years, it is possible to show how our work at the reserve is affecting all the species present. For example, if we use cattle to graze an area of bracken and holly, how does that affect blue tits? Or how does letting that plot re-grow affect the number of garden warblers? CBC will give us this information.
The important thing about CBC is that it looks at all the species present. While some birds might be common at the moment, their future might not be so rosy. Factors such as climate change and loss of habitat due to intensive agriculture and urbanisation are having a negative impact on some bird populations. CBC allows us to monitor any changes and that will give us a better understanding of how every species is doing. We can then adjust our work here accordingly to help the species that are showing any decline.
CBC can be great fun to do and can give a great insight to common birds some people don’t look twice at. Why not try it yourself? A quick sketch of your local patch and a look at the BTO website (http://www.bto.org.uk/) is all that is needed. If you would like to swot up on bird song and ID, check out these pages of the RSPB's website: http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife