Guest blog by Lucy Hickman, young wardens group member
Saturday 21 February
This month we learnt lots about trees and how the reserve wardens manage the forests. We learnt things like fallen down, old, rotted trees can often support more insect life in them than the healthy growing ones.
We started off by collecting all of the tools and learnt how to use them. Here are pictures of the bow saws and loppers. We used these to cut down trees. We used the bow saw for cutting down trees bigger than my thumb and the loppers for twigs smaller than my thumb.
We learnt why they cut down trees and how to cut them down safely. Here are the steps we used
Step 1. Choose your tree and what way you want it to fall.
Step 2. Saw a bird’s mouth (a small v-shaped cut) into the trunk as close to the ground as possible and on the side of the tree where you want it to fall.
Step 3. On the other side of the trunk saw across the tree towards the birds mouth so that you end up slightly above it.
Step 4. When nearly at the bird’s mouth, make sure the area where the tree will fall is clear so nothing could get hurt.
Step 5. Keep sawing until the tree falls
After we had finished that we went to repair a broken fence using the skills we picked up last week. We were able to show the new members what to do.
Above is a picture of the fence that I had to mend before I started. The picture below shows it when I had finished.
It was really nice to be able to show my Mum the fence as we drove away from the reserve. It made the day really worthwhile and is great to think I have made something to last for a long time and done something useful.
I can’t wait to see what we will do next month!
By Lucy Hickman
Ed - Minsmere’s Young Warden’s group is aimed at young people with an enthusiasm for wildlife and the environment. The sessions will consist of lots of practical, hands-on activities, opportunities for young people to increase their skills in conservation management and wildlife knowledge and make new like minded friends.
Today, 3 March is the UN World Wildlife Day. In celebration, I thought I'd share a pictorial overview of some of Minsmere's amazing wildlife.
Let's start with otters. Late winter and early spring is always the best time to see these popular mammals, and they put on a particularly impressive show yesterday morning. A female and two cubs spent quite a bit of time close to the hide, while the male also appeared at the far end of the mere. At one point the cubs caught a huge tench - estimated by visitors in the hide to be at least three pounds in weight - and fought over who was going to eat it first. A few lucky visitors had their cameras to hand to capture the moment. Here's a photo by David Savory.
Also at Island Mere, one bittern continues to grunt, but there's been no proper booming yet. Several snipe continue to hide in front of the hide, a pair of great crested grebes is displaying, and at least marsh harriers are displaying on sunny days like today. A pair of buzzards can be seen displaying over Sizewell too.
Last night the starlings appeared to be gathering over Island Mere when I went home at 5.30 pm, but they've tended to put on a good showing over North Marsh and behind the visitor centre at dusk. Last year they roosted near Island Mere throughout March, so hopefully they'll stay a little longer yet.
Starlings at dusk last autumn by Ian Barthorpe
Out on the Scrape, despite the ongoing fence replacement work, wader numbers and variety are slowly increasing. Sightings today have included at least 12 avocets, four turnstones, two ringed plovers, plus dunlins, redshanks, oystercatchers, lapwings and curlews. The two redhead smews were seen again this morning, and a few pintails remain among the commoner ducks.
I wandered down to the Wildlife Lookout at lunchtime to see the spoonbill that was present - the other two had dropped in earlier, and probably simply moved back to the levels. Unusually, the spoonbill was very actively feeding; swishing its long bill from side to side to catch fish and invertebrates in the spoon at the end.
Spoonbill feeding by Jon Evans
In the woods, with birdsong increasing by the day,and only a matter of days before we expect the first chiffchaffs to arrive, there are already of signs of nesting among some of our resident species. Long-tailed tits always nest quite early, and one pair were behaving very territorially today, and several great spotted woodpeckers are drumming. Before the chillier weather returned yesterday, we had the first sightings of adders this spring on both Saturday and Sunday mornings. I'd recommend leaving it another couple of weeks before coming to look for them though, and then choosing a sunny morning, making sure you arrive before 10 am. Better still, why not join us on guided walks to spot adders at the start of the Easter holidays.
Adder by Sue Stephenson-Martin, photographed last March
A woodlark was singing over the car park on Sunday morning, but Westleton Heath is a more reliable location to hear this beautiful song. March mornings are the best time of year. Nearby, I watched about 80 red deer grazing close tot he road as I drove home last night. It won't be long before we welcome the stone-curlews back onto the heath either.
Of course, with spring having started (or starting in the three weeks, depending on who you listen to!), there are a few flowers to look out for already. Snowdrops at the car park entrance and daffodils outside the visitor centre may be familiar from home, but look out too for hazel catkins dangling like lamb's tails (a colloquial name) in the woods, early blackthorn blossom (I haven't seen any yet) or pussy willow. I saw a small patch of coltsfoot on the Scrape today too.
Hazel catkins by Ian Barthorpe
Two common cranes flew over on Sunday morning - a little earlier than usual, but they are regular on passage in spring - and a red kite has just flown south. Red-throated divers, great crested grebes and gannets are regular offshore. We also still have two whooper swans around the Konik Field, and three tundra bean geese have been feeding among greylags at Eastbridge this week.
Finally, don't forget to look for the tiny bird's nest fungus which is still attracting a steady stream of admirers on the pond boardwalk. You have to look carefully though as the cups are only 5 mm across.
Bird's-nest fungi by Ian Barthorpe
Don't forget that you can see more regular updates from Minsmere, Lakenheath and other RSPB work in Suffolk on the RSPB Suffolk Facebook page, or follow @RSPBMinsmere on Twitter for the latest news.
Guest blog by Stephen Mitchell-Cox, volunteer reserve assistant
On Tuesday 17 February we took part in the annual beached birds survey (2014 results here). As a reserve along the Suffolk coast we were asked to survey the beach between Aldeburgh’s Martello tower and the National Trust coastguard cottages at the north end of Minsmere. The task was for us four volunteers to walk the approximately 16 km (10 miles) stretch of mostly shingle beach and look for any birds that have been washed up by the tide. This is to give an idea of seabird losses due to storms or manmade hazards such as oil spillages or jetsam. We started off at about half nine and drove to the south end of Aldeburgh to start our walk.
The day was sunny and dry with plenty of blue sky and a slightly chilly wind, so all in all perfect for our long walk. As none of us had ever done this entire stretch before it was a lovely chance to see somewhere new.
Before we even got as far as Thorpness, we were getting amazing, close sightings of red-throated divers on the sea.
In fact we had some good bird sightings along the way. At Sizewell we had good views of kittiwakes, great black-backed gulls, ringed plovers and the beautiful summer plumaged cormorants of the sinensis race with their gorgeous silvery manes.
After many hours of meticulous searching along the beach, our survey only picked up one pair of wings, a single wing and a cluster of tail feathers. None of these count towards the ‘density of seabirds counted per km walked’. The remains found where most likely to be raptor left over’s rather than natural or manmade disasters or hazards. This is good news, as it suggests that seabird mortality in this part of the North Sea was low during the winter. Let's hope results were similar elsewhere.