The usually smooth running of many peoples household will be disrupted next week when the local council elections are held on Thursday 3rd May. This results in the temporary closure of junior schools and lots of parents and children stuck for something to do.
Fear not - help is on hand - here at Middleton Lakes we recognise the need to entertain little ones and what better place could there be than to tire the youngsters out using our natural playground.
Come along to our main car park next Thursday and we'll have childrens' activities, scavenger hunts, bird spotting sheets and lots more. We'll be there from 10.30am to 3.30pm with not a ballot paper in sight.
Sponsored Bird Watching
The event is the same as last years, people turn up anytime on Sat. 5th May and see how many bird species they can see on the reserve and then put their records on the notice board or better still give them to an RSPB rep on the car park. If people want, they could offer donations for the bird feeding fund, i.e sponsorship of say 10p a species, so if 90 species are seen then £9.00.
The results will be put on birdforums and on the RSPB blog and Facebook.
We would be competing against Upton Warren and Belvide bird reserve. Last year Belvide won with 91 species, we had 89 and Upton Warren 85 and we don't want them to win again, do we!
The latest volunteer social evening took place recently in the Recreation Room in Middleton village. There were many sceptical comments beforehand regarding the validity of racing snails and were they English or French snails?
Rest assured, no snails were harmed during the entire evening. It would have been impossible to hurt or harm the mighty gastropods because all the races were cartoons and the many volunteers who attended thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The races held everyone in suspense up to when the winner was announced and the form book was ignored on more than one occasion.
Everyone had a great time what with the yelling and screaming, the cheering and booing and the winning and losing. A number of people went away with more money than the had on arrival but on the whole we got a load of FUN out of the FUNdraising event.
Thank you to everyone who came and made the evening a raucous affair - we hope to hold another one later this year.
I had the great pleasure of accompanying a couple who had 'won' an auction at last years Birdfair at Rutland. My role was to give them a personal guided walk around the Wetlands Trail.
One of the advantages of an early start is the opportunity to spot wildlife before it retreats away from large numbers of visitors. It was because of this we watched in awe as the lesser spotted woodpecker availed himself of the peanuts in our bird feeder station next to Heron Corner. Brilliant views but no camera!
The bridleway yielded more treasures; blackcaps, wrens, chiffchaffs, goldcrests - the sunshine had certainly brought the birds out.
More was to come - we had walked about halfway around the Wetlands trail (clockwise) when we were surprised by a hare running along the opposite bank to us, no more than 10 metres away. This was followed by another hare, then another and another. Five hares in total, running what looked like laps around the middle pools! Incredible sight and totally unexpected.
Spring started with a brief mild spell, followed by a cold, wet spell, in the second week, and then early summer came with some very warm days which brought the visitors in shorts and t-shirts.
Heronry activity continued.
There were only a few herons at home during the cold wet mornings, early in the month.
During the second week, a few birds brought nesting building material in , no signs of large numbers yet but the nests were filling up.
Groups of herons were seen in the horse grazing field – there are small pools at the back.
There were only 12 herons in the trees in the cold first week. Later in the second week adult herons were observed feeding each other. More birds carrying nesting material appeared in the mornings. Active nests numbers started to build-up as the temperatures climbed. After new nest building sites were noticed, the tally was up to 20. It's not easy counting active nests – we have to wait for the nesting adult to raise its head up for a stretch after keeping the eggs warm. Or wait for the young to raise their heads when food arrives.
Then on the 19th – a month after the warm spell in February - the first chatterings of the heron young were heard, along with the protective squawking of the adults. There were still signs of nest building at all times. During the warm last week, herons were seen coming to their nests, feeding the waiting adult bird and then swapping places, as the sitting nester flew off quickly to find its own food. This left the incoming bird to take over brooding duties. The outgoing bird had a chance to stretch its legs, perhaps.
In one nest the parents had both left for a forage for food (frogs and newts), leaving the young alone for a while. These were quiet, although opening and closing their beaks showing their red-orange gapes. It would seem, then, if the young were chattering, a parent would also be at the nest. But at a certain age the young would stop muttering and quietly wait for food, so it was safe for the parents to come and leave to feed themselves, and later bring back some morsels for the juniors.
Next month we will be watching the young move out from their nests and stretch their legs for while around the branches. They will not be flying until a few weeks.
Above the heronry, in nearby trees, a crow was nesting.
Visitors reported seeing some 20 little egrets entering the heronry lower canopy at dusk and in the early morning (8-9am) various group numbers were seen leaving. No signs of breeding, though.
A mallard was seen high in the back oak trees (possibly looking for an old heron nest for this year’s nesting). Our heronry surveyor said that a mallard pair did successfully nest up there last year and raised young which landed safely when they left the nest (late April).
Green woodpecker yaffling was a welcome sound for the morning visitors. Great spotted woodpeckers were feeding at the station and waiting in the nearby trees. Lucky visitors watched a lesser spotted woodpecker along the woodland trail but these sightings became more scarce. Then at the end of the month the lesser spottie was seen at the feeding station at different times.
On another day, we saw groups of goosander on the river.
In the mornings, we heard the calls and songs of blue and great tit, blackcap, chiffchaff, dunnock, green woodpecker, song thrush, robin, wren.
We looked for grey wagtail on the gravel stretches along the brook (from the viewpoints) and along the river.
A buzzard was seen nest building in high trees from heronry corner and occasionally we saw 2-3 birds flying high, circling and hovering in the thermal air currents.
Another visitor told us about a great tit imitating the call of a willow tit in the woods.
There were mixed flocks of redpoll (lesser), siskin, goldfinch by the feeders and along the bridleway and along the wetland trail. Treecreepers were busy in the woods.
Our friendly, fearless robin, by the outer woodland bridge and nearby wooden rails, was still taking the food left by visitors, and occasionally landing on outstretched hands.
A male garganey was seen on the Middleton Hall pool for 10 days. There was a rumour that a female bird arrived and they both left together for another pool.
Blackcap (17th), chiffchaff (15th) and reed warbler (28th) arrived and sang with great gusto.
Our enduring, intrepid WeBS surveyors counted (included RSPB Dosthill) : black-headed gull (213), canada goose (89), coot (147), cormorant (4), gadwall (25), goldeneye (38), great crested grebe (18), little egret (2), mallard (94), moorhen (29), mute swan (33), lapwing (37), oystercatcher (4), pochard (6), redshank (2), ringed plover (4), shelduck (21), shoveler (27), snipe (10), teal (37), tufted duck (226), wigeon (47).
Wetland trail also had avocet, barn owl (early mornings along the river or canal), black-tailed godwit, cetti's warbler (singing), curlew, dunlin, goosander (on the river), great crested grebe (3 pairs seen on separate pools, nest building around the new reedbed), green sandpiper, grey wagtail (along the river), jack snipe, kingfisher, linnet, pheasant, little ringed plover (18th), pintail, red-legged partridge, redshank, reed warbler, ringed plover, skylark, smew (female seen occasionally), snipe, water rail.
There were flocks of black-headed gull, canada goose, linnet, lapwing moving about.
Meadow trail had barn owl, chiffchaff, green woodpecker, jay, long-tailed tit, redwing, short-eared owl, skylark, snipe, sparrowhawk.
Woodland trail had bullfinch before the farm bypass track, great spotted woodpecker and lesser spotted woodpecker on the same tree in the woods with some chasing going on. Later they were seen at different times at the feeding station. There were mixed flocks of siskin and goldfinch along the bridleway and in the viewpoint copse. The friendly, fearless robin was still found on and around the wooden safety rails. Buzzard (3 seen over the woods, together with a kestrel, on a warm day). Later in the month, there was some sky high peregrine – buzzard interaction. Others were blackcap, cetti's warbler (singing), chiffchaff (up to six singing), crows (lots roosting and squawking), goldcrest, long-tailed tit (active pairs along the bridleway), nuthatch, pheasant, treecreeper. Also: reed bunting, goldfinch, great and blue tit amongst the reeds. The rooks were very active with calls and screeching. There were lots of crows in the tall trees beyond the heronry.
BUTTERFLIES: Brimstone, comma, orange tip, peacock, small tortoiseshell (mainly hibernating species) were seen out and about, near the ivy or flying along the bridleway on warm days.
WILD FLOWERS, TREES AND SHRUBS: Gorse, lesser celandine, plenty of colt's-foot and red campion were in flower. The first signs of bluebells flower were seen on a sunny day (15th). Later they were seen along the bridleway edges. White dead nettle and wood anemone are observed in flower. The aroma of garlic in the woods continued.
MAMMALS: Brown hares were about. A field vole was seen in the woods and a bank vole was seen by Fishers Mill Lake. A mink was seen by the brook ford and steps.
There were more sightings of grass snakes enjoying the warmer days. Pike were seen in the various pools.
There plenty of ladybirds on the vegetation on warm days.
In summary, March started mild with temps of 12C, followed by mixtures of damp, foggy and sunny days, when a temperature of 25C were reported in the car-park. Overall, a quiet month as nature was saving its strength for the coming breeding season.
With a great thank you to everyone for your nature sightings – keep them coming in. You can use the car-park sightings board, phone or email. Contact details are on the maps – a copy of which can be downloaded from the RSPB Middleton Lakes internet page and also available in the car-park.
Compiled by Nigel Palmer