Thanks once again to volunteer blogger Emma for this piece...
I was very pleased to return to Coombes this week and I was treated to my first walk there on a sunny day. The place is even more beautiful when the sun shines and it brought out not only other observers but also plenty of wildlife for them to observe! Clough Meadow is now alive with butterfly activity with small whites, peacocks and orange-tips dancing gracefully from flower to flower. As sightings of the last two are markers of the definite arrival of spring, we are doing well so far!
The arrival of the bluebells proper is yet another of these markers and they are now carpeting the banks and woods especially on the return walk from the pond. They are almost at their best so an imminent visit is advised to catch the full glory of these beauties. Bluebells are by no means the only new floral arrivals since my last visit a couple of weeks ago. Pink purslane abounds by the first footbridge with its five delicate, candy-striped petals and it also punctuates later stretches of moist woodland. Other newcomers include red campion – which is of course pink! - lady’s smock, violets and greater stitchwort. The latter, with its white flowers, tends to grow close to bluebells and is all the more striking for this in the contrast it creates.
Yet another sign of spring – I’m counting now! – is the hawthorn and the trees are in various stages of flowering along the paths. They are joined by the equally lovely white blossoms of bird cherries or ‘watereri’. On the subject of trees, I notice that the oak and ash seem to be keeping pace with one another this year, so it’s hard to say if we’re in for a soak or a splash!
It is easy to get carried away with all this plant development and I must not overlook what has been happening with the birdlife. Their singing is at full volume now with all the usual suspects joining in including song thrushes, nuthatches, goldfinches and treecreepers and I am even treated to a sighting of a buzzard who soars over on cue as I arrive at Buzzard Bank.
Taking a detour from the path at Clough Meadow cottage to join the valley loop, I spy a pair of what I think are willow warblers literally feathering their nest in the apple tree near to the decked walkway. If anyone can confirm if it is indeed this species nesting here, I’d be glad to hear of it! However, for me, the star of the show this week has to be the pied flycatcher. A couple of pairs are very active now by the first footbridge over the brook and at the pond with regular visits to nest boxes 36 and 31 respectively.
I take a moment to step back from focussing on the detail to take in the full picture instead. What I particularly notice is how beautiful the meadows are now filled with flowers, grasses and butterflies. Another feature worth mentioning is the striking contrast between the young pale green leaves of the beech trees with the bluebells below them. The paleness of the leaves at this time of year is so short-lived and I am glad that I have had the opportunity to appreciate this.
Emma Yates 27/4/11
There have been lots of new arrivals recently at Coombes Valley, from the first swallow of the year seen zipping over the visitor centre at the weekend, to the yellow lesser celandine flowers bringing a welcome splash of colour to the woodland.
Three new residential volunteers also arrived this week. Introducing Rhian Davies, Chris Swatridge and Laura Riley, who will be here for six months to a year and will be integral to the day-to-day running of the reserve. Welcome to Coombes!
L-R Rhian, Chris and Laura
Thanks to Tim Ollier for the first confirmed redstart sighting of the year with photographic evidence! This was taken down in Clough meadow on Wednesday. These migrants spend the winter in central Africa and this photo is of a male. Female redstarts aren't as distinctive and don't have the black face or bright orange breast. They have grey-brown wings with an orangey tail and underside.
Listen to the redstart song in the visitor centre before heading down to Clough meadow and cottage to see if you can spot one!
Thanks to volunteer Adam for these tips on where to spot our star species...
As previous blogs have reported, our summer migrants are well and truly back. We are still waiting for one or two late arrivals, such as spotted flycatchers and swifts, but these should be back in no time at all. For those of you wanting to visit the reserve to see some of our star species, here are the inside tips on where they can be found.
Male pied flycatcher
Pied flycatchers are most often seen around the first footbridge. As they like nest boxes close to water, the U-bend in the brook gives this area a great chance of producing the goods. Box 36 is a likely candidate to be used by them again this year. Last year our pied flycatcher trail lead visitors straight to this box to have excellent views of this woodland specialist. If one doesn’t show here, pop over to the pond, another favourite haunt of theirs.
However, please try not to disturb the nestboxes and give the birds space to access them in an undisturbed manner.
Redstarts have nested around Clough Meadow cottage for many years now. If you stop by the gate and look towards the pond you are almost certain to see a pair going back and forth to the cottage. A male is often heard singing from the back end of clough meadow cottage, keep an eye out for him sat in one of the large trees in between the path and Brawnback (that’s the wood the longer walk takes you through). A male has also been heard singing just through the kissing gates by Buzzard bank. While there take a moment to enjoy the carpet of bluebells that flows across the woodland floor.
A returning bird to the site this year is tree pipit. These birds have been absent for a while now, but it appears our efforts in creating the right habitat are paying off. A single male has been heard singing and even seen displaying in Clough Meadow. The song is unmistakeable, just listen for the constant chatter and you will soon find this beauty singing from the tree tops.
Lesser whitethroats and linnets have recently been seen in the top meadow. The viewing platform, as well as the valley view point, is a great place to listen for and see these two species. Linnets are another new bird for this year to Coombes Valley, with previous records being a long time ago. It is great to see species like these finding a home at Coombes Valley.
While we have hopefully pointed you in the right direction for these few species, keep your eyes and ears peeled for all the other wildlife on site. Over the bank holiday weekend, common lizards were spotted basking in the sun, the pale purple flowers of ladies smock are bringing an extra splash of colour to the meadows and plenty of butterflies were spotted in the sunshine. Look out for bluebells too.
Whitethroats, garden warblers, blackcaps, willow warblers, chiffchaffs, as well as all our resident birds are all very vocal at the moment. Keep your eyes to the skies in the car park as the swallows are currently nest building, collecting mud from just in front of the viewing platform. They should soon be joined by house martins and the screaming calls of swifts. With a little bit of luck one or two more species might drop in over the summer, personally I am hoping for a cuckoo this year.
As the summer progresses we’ll keep you update with what turns up and where. If you want to do the same then feel free to report your sightings in our reserve log.
Look out for orange tip butterflies flitting along in the meadows
Many thanks to Emma, our new volunteer blogger, for this account of her first visit to the reserve. We look forward to reading her blogs in the up-coming weeks and months.
As a new volunteer at Coombes Valley, I took my first walk around the reserve this week and I can report a great deal of interesting activity. Setting off on the mile-and-a-half loop walk, I immediately notice that the trees and hedgerows are getting ready to burst into life. Most are in bud and many are revealing their first leaves including the hawthorn and the hazel. Spring has most definitely sprung since I was last here just over a week ago!
This is further reinforced by the variety of birdlife all around me. Immediately the place is alive with birdsong. I spot great tits, robins, chaffinches and coal tits all busy marking their territories and singing to attract a mate. I am drawn to the tap-tapping of great spotted woodpeckers on nearby trees. This is their way of marking their territory in preference to singing. They seem to be playing a game with me; always audible but never visible, in spite of my efforts to spot them as they fly from tree to tree.
Green woodpeckers are also resident at Coombes, although they rarely drum. Listen out for their loud yaffling, or laughing, call.
Great spotted woodpecker
Crossing the bridge over Coombes brook, I am struck by the beautiful view before me of the gently meandering brook. You can spot dippers and grey wagtails here in the spring and summer months. For now I have to contend with a grey squirrel scurrying up the steep bank behind.
Following the clear waymarkers, I enter Clough Meadow, an area of pasture in the heart of the woodland. I get a real sense of being in a valley now as I am surrounded by steep, wooded hills. I also get a sense of spring here as from a distance the trees appear to be covered with a sheen of green. The bluebells are well on their way and the yellow celandine is a welcome splash of early colour. A blackbird darts in front of me to enter a bramble bush, possibly on the look-out for a nest site.
Crossing a second bridge back over the brook, I am deep in the heart of beech woodland now, climbing down to a tranquil pool where I am lucky enough to spot a treecreeper effortlessly descending the trunk of a tree. In the distance I hear the distinctive, repeated ‘tsupp tsupp’ call of the long-tailed tit and spot a pair of them darting from tree to tree.
Long tailed tit
The light rain that has accompanied much of my walk turns heavier now and my return to the Visitor Centre proves quieter as the birds take shelter. However, nothing can detract from the delight of this first walk. I have especially enjoyed the absolute peace and quiet that the valley holds. Apart from the occasional, distant toot of an engine on the Churnet Valley Railway, I haven’t heard a single man-made sound and really feel the pleasure of getting away from it all. It is because it is so undisturbed here that it is such a great place for wildlife spotting.
In spite of the rain, I take a moment on my way back to visit the pond in the reserve’s education area. Things have come on in leaps and bounds here (if you’ll pardon the pun!). Although it’ll be some time before there are frogs leaping, you can clearly see tadpoles now in the yolk and they look very close to hatching.
If taking a walk is this beautiful and inspiring so early on in spring, I can only look forward to better and better things as the valley truly comes to life over the next few weeks. I look forward to informing you of all the wondrous changes to come.