Winter hasn’t seemed to have taken full hold yet with mild, still mornings being common here at Exminster Marshes and many leaves yet to fall off the trees. Beautiful shades of russet, gold and brown cover the hedges and the late morning sunrises mean it’s a wonderful time to come and see the wintering waders and wildfowl on our reserve.
This last week saw our bi-annual regional meeting take place right here in Exminster where we played host to nearly one hundred people from all over the RSPB South West region. The event was a great chance to get to know other long term volunteers from around the area and also hear about all the amazing projects that we are doing to provide a home for nature. The reserve looked in great shape thanks to the hard work of the staff and volunteers here and afternoon walks meant people got to have a good look at the cirl bunting using our feeders at the Powderham side of the reserve. For many people it was the first time they’d seen one of our star species. Why not come and take a look for yourself?
Last week wasn’t all about showing off our reserve and chatting. As Dan said in the previous blog we’ve been continuing our hard work with the predator fence, putting in wire mesh to block up the areas where there is no electric fence in place, fixing gates and securing areas over the ditches, stopping only briefly to watch majestic flocks of dark-bellied Brent geese fly overhead. This is long and physical work that will be continuing for the next few weeks but hopefully it will pay off when we start to see lapwings nest in the fields.
We also carried out hedge laying at Powderham, this ancient technique involves half cutting the stems of mature hedgerow species and literally laying them on their sides and weaving them around each other. This means the hedges are naturally stock proof, continue to grow and most importantly provide protection and a home for many different types of nature. Our regular group of Thursday volunteers were rewarded for all their hard work with Dan’s chocolate flapjacks, which were an unprecedented success. He has set the bar particularly high for this coming Thursday.
We have a family volunteering day hedge laying on Exminster Marshes this Saturday 7 December at 10am – 3pm. Phone 01392 432691 to book a place.
I also got to see some avocets for the first time over at Bowling Green Marsh, which was a life first for me. The viewing platform that looks out across the estuary at high tide is your best chance of seeing the species, and the hide at Bowling Green this last week has had sightings of pintail, long-tailed duck and bar tailed godwit amongst the other, more abundant species. It’s rewarding to see such a wide range of birds knowing that our work around the Exe Estuary is paying off for nature.
All in all it was another busy, exciting week on the reserve. Next week’s blog may well be from Maverick...or Snowy as we call him!
Long-term Residential Volunteer
RSPB Exe Estuary
Hi everyone, this is my first blog for the Exe Estuary reserves, although I’ve now been here over six weeks. I joined the team as a long-term residential volunteer in October, though this is actually my second placement having spent the summer at the Mersehead reserve in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. Like our previous blogger I gave up a job to gain experience for a career change, and also like our previous blogger I am called Dan. In a bid to avoid confusion I asked the team to start calling me ‘Maverick’, but I’m afraid for some reason they don’t seem to be going for it.
I wanted to spend a winter on a wetland reserve, and Exe seems like a great place for it – there are loads of wintering birds here now, plenty of interesting and challenging work, and the reserve looks truly spectacular in the early morning sun.
Speaking of challenging work, a major project here this winter is a new anti-predator fence on the eastern side of the railway line which separates the Exminster Marshes and Powderham reserves. This will more than double our existing protected area, which has already yielded great results for breeding lapwing. The main part of the fence went up last week, and now we have to work on plugging the gaps, securing all the infrastructure (fences, gates, ditch crossings etc.) and making sure everything is shipshape in time for the breeding season. New fence posts have to be driven into the ground, gate hinges replaced and wire mesh dug into the soil. It can be cold, muddy and wet out there, and hard work, but it’s very rewarding to see the new area coming to life with all the fences and gates looking as good as new. Fingers crossed the birds think so too come the spring!
Last week we went out and did one of our regular counts on the Exminster Marshes reserve in conjunction with other counts taking place on neighbouring sites. We recorded over a thousand wigeon alone, never mind all the teal, shoveler, curlew, black-tailed godwit, golden plover and many more species besides. The golden plover were a particular highlight for me, having never seen them before, and I’m looking forward to hearing their calls over the coming months. These counts are always a joy to perform, but obviously they have a purpose too, helping us to monitor and compare the population and behaviour of birds using our reserve over the winter.
We’re starting to see plenty of Fieldfare and Redwing now, thrushes who flock here from northern Europe in large numbers once it starts to get cold, so we know winter is finally on its way after a very mild October and November. No longer can we get away with a jumper and t-shirt out on the reserve, and flasks of hot drinks have started making their way into our day bags. But the crispness of a cold winter morning brings its own rewards, and the spectacle of hundreds of waders and wildfowl feeding round the scrapes and filling the air with their atmospheric and varied calls can always make the spirit soar.
The first two weeks of my six months residential volunteering have passed and what a fortnight it’s been. I had previously volunteered short term at Forsinard Flows in the north of Scotland and knew the long term residential volunteering scheme that RSPB offer seemed like a very good idea for six months.
Having completed my degree in environmental science a few years ago and ending up managing a busy pub since then, I wanted to swap the relentless working hours and late nights for something outdoors, get away from the city for a while and hopefully learn new skills that will help me in a future career. The Exe Estuary seemed like a natural choice having spent many holidays in this area when I was younger and the prospect of seeing wintering avocet was a big attraction. It is also a welcome contrast to the very cold north of Scotland!
The work has been varied and interesting from fixing fences, managing water levels and building feeders to carrying out bird counts, working with other volunteers and doing any other jobs that come up day to day, all with a focus of securing a home for the birds we have here. The highlight so far has been getting a good look at the cirl bunting and large flocks of goldfinch and greenfinch that feed on the cut crop fields over at the Powderham side of the reserve. Why not come and see for yourself?
While the days are getting shorter, the weather has continued to be mild and it has also been a great time to see large flocks of lapwing, black-tailed godwit, teal, wigeon, shoveler, redshank and canada geese on the marshes from the Turf path. We have also regularly heard water rail squealing amongst the reeds and the explosive song of the cetti’s warbler.
Over the next few weeks a large part of the work will be installing a new anti-predator fence that will protect a large part of the reserve already used by breeding lapwing and hopefully encourage redshank to breed in future. There is a lot to see at the moment, so why not pay the Exe Estuary reserves a visit? If you visit the Bowling Green Marsh hide at high tide, you might even get a glimpse of the flocks of iconic avocet with me.