Please note that the talk on Stodmarsh NNR, scheduled for this Sunday 30 September, has been cancelled.
We apologise for any inconvenience caused.
The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted that I missed my blog last Wednesday. This was because I was north of the border in Pitlochry with Dave and Katherine, for the bi-annual RSPB Wardens Gathering. While Katherine has attended previous events, this was the first gathering for Dave and I and we were all looking forward to it. The schedule was jam-packed with interesting discussions, lectures and workshops on topics such as Futurescapes, habitat creation and restoration at reserves such as Tudeley Woods and managing non-native invasive species. The gathering is a chance for the reserves staff to share experiences and best practise and see how the work of the RSPB as a whole is carried out across the UK. Very interesting and inspiring indeed!
A particular workshop that I attended covered the identification of bryophytes – or mosses, liverworts and hornworts. This group of plants is one that I had no previous knowledge of and to be honest, the pre-workshop notes had not completely sunk in! However, armed with my hand lens I attended the workshop with an eager mind and looked forward to the chance to learn from an expert. I discovered the following: my cheap hand lens is practically useless (one with a built-in light is a must!) and 1.5 hours is not long enough to learn much about bryophytes! It was, however, interesting to take a closer look at some species found on the nearby walls and trees:
Photo credit: Ali Blaney – Grey-cushioned Grimmia (Grimmia pulvinata)
Photo credit: Ali Blaney – Broom Fork-moss (Dicranum scoparium)
Compared to flowering plants, bryophytes are generally under-recorded so if you're interested in this group there are real opportunities to help in the understanding of habitat requirements and distribution. I’d like to think I’ll have another go at some point....when I get a spare moment (and a better hand lens)!
With the reserves staff away our amazing volunteers would not settle for a week off but continued without us! Work carried out involved pulling willow and birch saplings out from the fen plant pools near the visitor centre. The saplings can quickly take over the small pools and the more interesting and diverse plants would not be able to compete. The pulled saplings have been put aside to replant in the understorey of the poplar plantations. I understand from some that it is not the most eagerly anticipated task of the season but as usual the volunteers battled on regardless. What would we do without them?!
Finally, back to the title of the blog - I wonder what you would call a group of RSPB wardens? A flock would be too obvious....
It's not often I have to cover the visitor centre at the weekend, but as David is off on his jollies, I find myself sitting in a very quiet visitor centre on a very wet Sunday afternoon! The weekend has not been without its highlights.
Yesterday, by contrast to today, was one of those lovely September mornings, a little chilly to begin with but warming up with a little early autumn sunshine. It was one of those mornings that make you want to be outside. So, having left volunteer John in charge of the visitors, I busied myself out in the staff car park with a bit of tidying up and sorting out of the bits and bobs that had accumulated outside the workshop. Being slightly bird (and moth) orientated, I forget how many other little creatures there are around us. For example, the pile of pallets that we relocated had made a lovely home for lots of creepy crawlies, including earwigs (or forkytails as we from north of the border call them), slaters, centipedes and spiders. I also found that voles and moles had been using the wood as extra protection as they burrowed around under the soil. Though I have inadvertantly made these beasts homeless, it will only be temporary as I'm sure they will find the custom built log pile located in the undergrowth nearby! I then narrowly missed strimming the tail off a common lizzard, as lots of grasshoppers also made their bid for freedom.
As I was tidying, I was keeping an eye out for any birds, but there wasn't a lot to see apart from a few late swallows, a pied wagtail or two and a meadow pipit. A sudden fierce piping call caught my attention so I popped back into the centre to see what was going on. Two kingfishers had perched on a stick at the end of the pool, and were behaving very strangely indeed. Both looked like they were trying to cough up a pellet, but nothing was actually coming up. The only othe explanation was that this was two males involved in a territory dispute, which apparently can last up to four days, and occasionally ends in one of them drowning the other! This posturing continued for at least 10 minutes before one of them eventually flew off.
Today's excitement came in the form of our resident stoat chasing a grey squirrel up one of the pillars in front of the visitor centre! The squirrel managed to leap from there to the sill above the gents toilet before making it across to the fence and bounding onto the roof of one of the cars in the staff car park! The stoat gave up at that point, and went in the opposite direction, but I'm sure we haven't yet seen the last of this battle.
Further down the reserve, a few hobbies are still around. A bittern has been seen from the New Fen north viewpoint, and bearded tits have been seen frequently from several of the reserve trails.
Hope to see you soon!
There is no mistaking it; there has been a very distinctive chill in the air this week. Autumn has well and truly set in. There are now one or two marsh tits dotted around the reserve and plenty of meadow pipits are now appearing.
I was lucky enough to witness the incredible spectacle of a hobby almost taking a kingfisher over the washland on Tuesday. The hobby was literally taking its life into its own hands as it swooped very low over the water.
Photo credit: David Carr
Luckily for the kingfisher, it got away and the hobby continued its aerial assault looking relatively unscathed. Two green sandpipers were at the edge of the washland pool and two little grebes were nearby. There was a high count of over 100 mute swans on the pool and at least seven common buzzards were over the reserve.
Several chiffchaffs were dotted around the reserve on Wednesday and a bittern was seen from Joist Fen viewpoint. Two marsh harriers were over the washland yesterday morning and one of them spooked a green sandpiper that was lurking at the edge of the pool. Four snipes were also feeding at the edge of the pool. The whooper swan with the injured wing was also present in front of the viewpoint.
There have been plenty of insects on the wing despite the relatively chilly weather. A small tortoiseshell was fluttering around near the visitor centre on Wednesday and there are plenty of commas on the wing. There are also still plenty of migrant hawkers and southern hawkers on the wing. We hope to see you soon.
It is usually at about this time of year when our local otters start showing themselves (slightly) more frequently. I walked along the riverbank yesterday and saw plenty of signs that they had been about. There were lot of broken swan mussel shells which are one of these elusive mammal’s favourite foods. Interestingly, a lot of them were deposited on cow pats, which probably indicates that they have mostly been feeding at night recently. Presumably, they use them as they are easier to see than the dark riverbank.
As I walked along the bank, I then got rather lucky. I had stopped to take a photograph of the second washland pool as it was practically bone dry. Suddenly, there was some rustling in the grass in front of me as a large mammal crashed through the grass. Although I only got a glimpse of it, I saw enough to decide that it was the first otter that I have seen here since last November. What a coincidence!
I was on a high after this, so I decided to walk right down to the west end of the reserve. On the way down, I enjoyed some spectacular views of the washland in the autumn sun:
Photo credit: Katherine Puttick
Photo credit: Dave Rogers
It was a bittern of course! I watched it wheel around in front of me & fly along the entire length of the reserve. I even turned round to take the photo that I had intended and when I turned back, it was still flying!
I came across an angry mute swan on the riverbank that was blocking my path and hissing at me. Its bark was worse than its bite though as it eventually strutted away looking most unimpressed!
I reached Botany Bay at the west end of the reserve and there were loads of migrant hawkers whizzing around. A couple of chiffchaffs were calling and at least five marsh harriers were hunting over the reedbed nearby.
On the way back I saw a common buzzard over West Wood and heard a marsh tit in East Wood. I also had a fantastic view of a female southern hawker patrolling near East Wood. Its bright green markings really shone in the sun.
This left the last act of the day of a highly enjoyable pond dipping session with Lakenheath Cubs. Although they were rather noisy, we caught plenty of water scorpions, great diving beetles and lots of water boatmen. We had a quick listen with the bat detectors on the visitor centre veranda and heard a common pipistrelle and a Daubenton’s. The day was capped of well with a barn owl hunting over the entrance track as I left. How lovely!