Last year Anne began a programme of reptile monitoring on both reserves. Following fairly standard reptile survey methodology she numbered corrugated sheets and situated them around the reserves to act as safe reptile refuge.Seeing as we were out on Lodmoor's salt marsh on Monday (checking that our eel ladder was functioning in advance of the glass eel influx and that the cattle trough feeder pipe was flowing), it seemed as good a time as any to check for reptiles.
Pleasingly of the 7 correx (roofing) sheets lifted 4 were concealing slow worms or - to use their entirely more accurate name - legless lizards.
We have small populations of common lizards and grass snakes added to slow worms but it is likely that they are well under recorded given that all three will take pains to avoid human interactions, but we are hopeful that these ongoing surveys will give a clearer picture of what's occurring on the reptile front.
The vegetation piles besides the path to North Hide are to provide nesting material for grass snakes as they lay their eggs in decomposing vegetation as the heat generated provides natural incubation. This is a part of the reserve relatively well populated with grass snakes and it is hoped that the wood piles, vegetation piles and all the new amphibian pools (frogs are a favoured meal) will only improve their lot in Weymouth.
As now is the time that reptiles are getting active and amorous it is a prime time to see them basking early in the day and we will be very interested to hear of your sightings to build up our records.
A Lodmoor legless lizard.
A 2010 Lodmoor grass snake.
As part of our management of Radipole and Lodmoor we monitor fish populations to provide us with biomass estimates and a picture of what species are present and where. We do this by a process called electric (or electro) fishing which uses state of the art equipment to send a pulse of electricity between a cathode and an anode which temporarily stuns any fish between the two electrodes, thereafter allowing them to be easily netted.
As well as providing fish population data we use electro-fishing to catch carp in our restored ditches and new pools at the top of Radipole and move them into the main lake (segregated by mesh fish-fences) where they are a choice quarry for anglers on the lake.
The carp in the lake (common, leather and mirror) are sub-species of fish of Asian extraction, domesticated and introduced to Europe by monks from the13th century onwards as a food fish. Unfortunately, carp are not a desirable species from a nature conservation perspective because their large size, coupled with a bottom feeding habit, stirs up the silt from the lake bed. This turbidity prevents light penetration into the water and so inhibits macrophytic plant growth as photosynthesis is no longer possible, denying food and shelter for an array of inverts, other fish species and has 'knock-ons' up the entire food chain. The use of fish fences/ electrofishing offers a nice compromise between our perspective and that of the anglers.
Today we had our volunteer Richard Wood, (as it happens a keen carp angler) along to act as banks man and pleasingly we didn’t catch any carp, (although I am sure Richard was secretly disappointed) but we did catch plenty more besides.
Quite a number of jack pike.
A few rudd (above) and hundreds of roach (below) on the scales.
Rudd are distinguished from close relatives the roach because as surface feeders their bottom lip protrudes beyond the upper and the start of the dorsal fin is set back from the start of the pelvic fin, whereas the dorsal and pelvic fins are exactly in alignment on a roach.
The remainder of the catch was made up of eels and the odd tiny sunbleak.
But no angling story would be complete without tall tale of the one that got away. A pike of a couple of feet in length was briefly stunned but recovered and 'finned-it' before the net could pass underneath. Over an ale or two this evening it is sure to gain in all dimensions!
Out and about on Radipole last week we were fortunate to come across this beautifully formed, purse-like Long-tailed tit ('lottie') nest nearing completion. Constructed principally from moss and lichen, bound together with cobwebs and then lined with a bed of feathers, the 'lottie' nest provides a snug refuge to raise their chicks. The nest was a hive of industry with both birds actively tending to the construction and we will watch their progress with interest.
The moss and lichen that makes up the bulk of the building materials can clearly be seen, as can the tiny entrance at the top partially covered by a bramble leaf.
A long-tailed tit carrying insects for their hungry offspring is a familiar sight in spring which is no surprise given that they lay 8-12 eggs in a clutch!
With a whole lottie lunch! Photo John Bridges (RSPB Images).
And in a few weeks time keep your eye out for the lunch queue.
Long-tailed tit fledglings Lodmoor May 2009... quite cute really. (Steve Bennett 2009).
As spring gathers pace there is a tangible sense of anticipation as to what may be around each corner - both actual and metaphorical. Birds are arriving daily from their wintering grounds, adding distinctive voices to the ever building choir of the dawn chorus, while eager stems and flowers are painting a fresh spectrum across the reserves.
We were optimistic that something was afoot with the pair of kingfishers that had been around Radipole over the past few weeks. They had been very vocal and were seen interacting on a few occasions - whizzing around in a procession of dazzling neon and amber. Pete Coe, while patiently awaiting otter on Saturday, heard what he considered to be mating kingfishers. On Tuesday the pair spent the day excavating a chamber into the soil bank beside the sand martin wall in front of North Hide. Understandably this generated a fair degree of elation as breeding has never been proven on the site and - needless-to-say - they are fantastic, iconic birds.
The lovebirds examining their prospective new dwelling, not impressing this pair of shelduck. Photo Allan Neilson.
It appeared that they were removing soil in their bills which would be followed by a 'splash down' to keep their finery pristine. On a few occasions fish were exchanged to strengthen their bond which is quite a sight to behold. By then end of a days tunnelling they were able to completely disappear from view... We await further developments with baited breath.
It takes something quite special for me to be blogging at 7.30 in the evening but I have just got back from the North hide after watching this superb creature!
It’s an adult male Marsh Harrier which is something we don't see very often at Radipole. This is the first one I've seen here and certainly the first for a while. However, you may wonder why we haven’t seen a male like this given that we've had Marsh Harrier breed at the Weymouth Wetlands the last two years (and currently looking like a third!). Our current male appears to be all brown making him quite similar to his lady friend. We were expecting some grey to appear after we watched him moult after last breeding season but nothing appeared. I wonder what will happen after his next moult.
Unfortunately the light didn't allow for decent picture so you'll have to make do with these until I get back out at first light for second helpings!