You don't have to go far to enjoy wildlife at Coombes Valley as volunteer blogger Emma discovered this week...
After a month’s absence, I was very pleased to return to Coombes this week for my wildlife fix. The time away was very much forced upon me due to the fact that I have injured my foot and I have really missed my fortnightly visits.
I thought it might be a problem reporting on the wildlife at Coombes as I am still unable to complete a full circuit of the reserve, but far from it! Even before I’d set off across the top meadow to the acorn seat – the extent of my current capabilities – I realised I didn’t have to go any further than the bench right near the Visitor Centre itself to capture the full force of nature at the site. From the comfort of my seat, I spotted swallows darting about in pairs around the meadow and Visitor Centre building. They were periodically taking up residence on the roof to sing their song before returning to their nest in one of the out-buildings just beyond the Visitor Centre itself.
The new feeding station is clearly visible from this seat and is attracting much interest from visitors such as blue tits, coal tits, great tits and nuthatches. Plant life grows in abundance now just beyond the bench with teasels and thistles coming into flower. Looking beyond across the top meadow, I am struck by the abundance of wild flowers with cow parsley and buttercups swaying majestically in the breeze. Closer inspection, however, reveals many more ‘hiding’ in the lower depths such as clover and speedwell. The grasses are as tall as your waist now. From the oak leaf shaped bench across the field, the view of the valley is stunning. The trees are in full leaf now with even the ash and oak having caught up.
Another good vantage point close to the Visitor Centre is the picnic area from where spotting wildlife is easy as great tits, chaffinches, dunnocks and even great spotted woodpeckers enjoy their own picnic at the feeders whilst I enjoy mine whilst watching them. I have discovered that even on a short visit and without going far, you will still spot plenty of wildlife so a visit to Coombes is well worth it even if your mobility is challenged.
Volunteers are the lifeblood of Coombes Valley. This is a good chance to say a big THANK YOU for all the hard work and enthusiasm shown by our top team! Here, new volunteer Mark talks about his experience so far...
This is my first blog for the RSPB as one of the newest volunteers at the Coombes Valley reserve.I live in Stoke on Trent, which is only about 20 minutes from the reserve. Despite being that close I only discovered it a couple of years ago! It really is a place that once you visit, you'll come back to time and time again and gets you thinking 'why didn't I find this place sooner?!' So if you're reading this and haven't yet been, do it soon!Volunteering for the RSPB is something I've been thinking about for a while, but I wasn't sure I'd be able to offer much of my time, and therefore presumed that opportunities would be limited.A month or so ago I joined a guided woodland walk at Coombes and when, at the end of that woodland walk, Heather mentioned the desire to get additional volunteers on board, I jumped at the chance.I'm particularly interested in photography, and we quickly identified that the Coombes Valley team needed a photographer, so that was a perfect role for me. I was also keen on developing my skills and knowledge of the reserve and Heather suggested I could act as a roving guide. So that's the role we agreed, taking photographs and talking to the public, pointing things out and helping with any queries.I've been made to feel very welcome, and I'd fully recommend volunteering with the RSPB to everyone. Whatever your skills, whatever you fancy doing, there will be something that you can help with. You don't have to volunteer a vast amount of time either. Personally, I'm most likely to be on the Coombes Valley reserve at weekends, as I do have a full time job. This isn't an issue though, as we've tailored the role to suit the time I have.
Male pied flycatcher. Photo by Mark Day
It's early days for me as a volunteer, and I'm enjoying every minute of it. While I've been on the reserve in the last couple of weeks, I've really seen the place spring into life after the much needed rain arrived. I'm becoming more familiar with one of the star species of the reserve, the pied flycatcher, and I'm even at the point where I can now pick out their calls among all the others that you hear around the place.
It was while photographing them this Saturday that I had a moment that sums up exactly what there is to be gained from volunteering for the RSPB.
I'd sat and waited for the pied flycatchers to return to the nest box by the brook and hadn't seen them for about 15-20 minutes. Then came a spell where they visited frequently with the male returning time and time again to the same couple of branches. At this time, a gentleman came over the bridge hoping to see his first pied flycatcher. I loved being able to show him exactly where they were and we both stood and watched them for a few minutes before I wandered off, leaving him watching, fascinated. The fact that I was there to help him at the right time was just great, and despite him thanking me, I really didn't need it. The smile on his face was good enough for me.In the last few weeks I've also visited the reserve on a number of occasions as a member of the public to attend events. Recently we've had the woodland walk I mentioned, a 'woodcock and bat discovery' walk, and 'dawn chorus' walks. All have been brilliant and I recommend future events as a great way of seeing what the reserve offers.
If you're able to attend the open day on Saturday 4th June (10am - 4pm) please come along. I'll be the one dressed as a giant siskin. No, I'm not joking!Hope to see you on the reserve soon.Mark
The reserve really has come alive in recent weeks. The rain has seen the grass become luscious and thick and the meadows are teaming with buzzing, crawling and fluttering life.
Swallows are zipping around the visitor centre and car park, and our top team of volunteers have just installed a new feeding station by the viewing platform. Already this morning I’ve seen nuthatch and a greater spotted woodpecker on the peanuts. What will you see?
Speaking of great spots, as you head down the main track and to the bench that looks into the canopy, carry on a little further and listen carefully. To your right there is a tree with a perfectly round woodpecker hole and the chirps of the young can be heard from the path. Stand here quietly for a few minutes and you should see the parents coming in and out with food, although each delivery doesn’t keep the chicks quiet for long!
Thanks to the visitors who spotted a errm...‘spotted’ flycatcher along our new woodcock trail. They were seen coming in and out of a nestbox by a patch of conifers as you look down into the valley.
It's not just about birds at Coombes Valley! A common lizard ran in front of a volunteer last week, and check out these beauties...
Who said moths were boring?! Poplar hawk moth
Residential volunteer Laura's first blog...
To follow up on Chris’ blog about how dry the weather has been and subsequently the reserve; I would just like to share how wonderful a bit of rain can be. Whilst out and about on Saturday, it was good to hear the birds singing through the splish and splosh of rain drops on the trees.
Showers and small thunderstorms over the area mean that life at the reserve is looking fresh again. To use my favourite word from home, it is LUSH!
Photography is an excellent way to capture the wonders of nature and I have already been enjoying the exploits of living on a reserve. I have been out and about with my camera a few times and it is always great fun to try and get a picture of the wildlife at Coombes. Whether this means chasing a butterfly back and forth before it finally settles for a brief but critical moment, or tracking a pair of Pied Flycatchers flying to and from their nest box of choice.
Here are a few of Laura's best shots from Coombes so far...
First blog by residential volunteer Rhian...
Four weeks as a Visitor Officer Intern has already passed and I am only just writing my first blog!
There are so many wonderful sights to see, that I can’t hope to see them all in the six months I am here. Already though, I have some favourites, from watching buzzards soaring high in clear skies to smelling the scent of blossoms in the woodland.
There is one job in particular which has surprised me by how much I have enjoyed it. When I was first told we would be carrying out early morning bird surveys and would have to get up for six in the morning at least once a week, I wasn’t too keen. After a couple of early morning forays however, my enthusiasm has risen considerably. With wisps of mist floating down the valley and golden sunlight dappling through the trees, I have found these early mornings magical. Listening to the dawn chorus for the tones of target species, such as redstart and pied flycatcher, has felt more like a relaxing therapy than work.
Give me another few weeks of six am starts and I may feel differently, but I’m going to enjoy it whilst my enthusiasm lasts.
One of the birds Rhian is listening out for is the pied flycatcher, captured here by Craig Brooks.