I’ve been having a lovely time out in the sunshine these past couple of days, but I’m not the only one. Our adders have also been out basking trying to make the most of the sunshine. They need to warm up before they can become active, find food and breed.
‘Adder alley’ – the stretch of sandy trail between Winpenny and Little Hanger hides is the most reliable spot so do have a look for these fantastic creatures as you explore. But please don’t disturb their sun-bathing; admire them, but do so without making too much noise and getting too close. Thank you!
I know you had a photo of an adder last week, but this one was my first adder encounter of the year...
Adders are not the only sign of spring out on the reserve at the moment, there are queen bumblebees, brimstone butterflies, blackthorn blossoms and lots of bird song.
Whilst you can now access the entire wetland trail, the water levels are still high (and walking boots or wellies still advisable). Both great-crested and little grebe are evidence of this, alongside the smattering of diving ducks that are supplementing our usual selection of dabblers.
The receding water levels have made it more attractive to waders, although they’ve not been appearing in great numbers – worth keeping an eye open for snipe, dunlin, ruff, black-tailed godwit and redshank though.
Red kite, buzzard, peregrine, kestrel and sparrowhawk have all been taking advantage of the easier flying conditions this week.
The zig zags, Fattengates courtyard and Hanger View are probably the best spots at the moment to listen to bird song. The zig zags are good for finches – linnets, bullfinches, green and gold – dunnocks, skylarks and wrens. In Fattengates courtyard listen for the reeling song of goldcrest – a firecrest was also spotted yesterday.
Out on the heathland, look for lesser spotted woodpecker as well as the larger great spotted. One was seen using one of the dead trees near the 3-way junction on Monday but the tumulus (also known as the clump) is often the best vantage point for this elusive bird.
Whilst you’re out on the heath you may notice that we’ve been busy with a digger...you will see that we’ve created a new chain of ponds. A large pond has ‘appeared’ (courtesy of Jeff and his digger) at the 3 –way junction, with a series of ditches and pools running down to join Black Pond. The ponds have been created to provide more habitat for dragonflies and damselflies with a variety of permanent pools, ephemeral pools and vegetation.
Black Pond itself has been extended to try to ensure it holds water for longer and a new viewing ‘peninsula’ created. From this summer the pedestrian gate leading to Black Pond will be opened to create better viewing/photographic opportunities.
We’re also scraping the slope just south of the viewpoint adjacent to the car park. There are plenty of heather seeds in the soil and they can germinate and grow even after years and years. They just need a bit of light and a bit of warmth, and perhaps a little less competition.
We are scraping back the top few layers, removing the nutrients and the leaf litter. This will expose the heather which likes the nutrient poor soil and should allow it to flourish over the next few years. The material that we're scraping up will form a bank at the bottom of the slope. This sunny south-facing bank should be great for sun-worshipping insects and reptiles.
Last spring we planted the field in front of the visitor centre with a mixture of arable plants to provide food and shelter for seed-eating birds during the autumn and winter. Throughout the winter, this has been home to a sizeable flock of linnets who, now we’re moving into spring, are developing their brighter breeding plumage – the male looks like he is wearing a red bra!
The 40-50 strong flock is also very vocal and can be heard chattering away whilst perched in the birches on the field margin. Their pleasant tinkling song, and their ability to imitate the songs of other birds, made them a popular cagebird in Victorian society, but we’d much rather enjoy them out here in the wild!
Linnets also seem to be rather fond of gorse and are often photographed perched on top of a gorse bush (hence the common name ‘gorse thatcher’ and the picture!)
As well as being great for our flock of lovely linnets, we’ve been hearing the beautiful song of skylarks. (A sure sign for me that spring is on it’s way). This fantastic songster rises higher and higher into the sky, fluttering and singing as it goes, before plunging to the ground. Even when you can hear them singing, they’re often tricky to spot – just dancing dots way above your head.
Whilst our arable plot is providing a home to some great farmland birds, it is on a pretty small scale. At Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire the RSPB are trialling wildlife-friendly farming techniques in a bigger way.
Whilst being run as a commercial farming operation, bird numbers at the farm have increased by over 140% since 2000 with many red-listed species increasing well above expectations. One of the most iconic arable species, skylarks, has increased by an amazing 300% and the butterflies, moths and bees are also thriving.
Find out more about this project at http://www.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/farming/hopefarm/index.aspx
One of the crops grown at Hope Farm is oilseed rape, and you can now buy bottles of our extra virgin rapeseed oil in the shop. I've been using it in my salad dressings instead of olive oil, and very nice it is too. Another way to support the RSPB and help save nature!