Well that's Christmas over and hopefully you all had a good one. Lots of people have been walking off their Christmas lunches over the last few days and have been popping in to the Visitor Centre to take advantage of the bargains in our sale. But the mid-winter feast isn't over just yet. It's been traditional at Radipole for us to keep a list of all our visitors New Years Day sightings, not just on the Weymouth Wetlands but from around Dorset. In years gone by we have usually exceeded over 100 species, and it would be nice to beat that this year. As an added incentive you can get a hot soup and roll for a small donation at the V.C this year, which will help warm you up after your walk. The centre will be open between 10 am and 3 pm. Even if you can't make it in on the day, due to hang-overs etc, you could give us a ring (01305 778313) to report what you've seen and to help bump the day's list up.
Next year will see some big changes at Radipole, so watch this space, but for now it just remains for me to wish you all a Happy New Year from all the staff and volunteers at Weymouth Wetlands.
The RSPB in Weymouth have been working closely with the mental health charity Rethink for over seven years now and the relationship is as strong as ever - as are the benifits to all parties. Recent visitors to Radipole will have seen what is gradually becoming a substancial area of cut reed snaking up the main path away from the Visitor Centre, which has almost all been achieved during the past five relatively brief but productive fortnightly Rethink sessions.
Reed cutting is a major habitat management practice on Radipole Lake. The main reason for reed cutting is to reduce the accumulation of organic matter which, if left, will cause the beds to dry out and ultimately be ‘succeeded’ by woodland. Cutting compartments in a long rotation, (five to ten years say) we are able to promote a mosaic of differing age structures throughout the reedbeds to meet the requirements of numerous reedbed dwellers.
Annual reed cutting (known as ‘single wale’) promotes tall straight reed growth of a quality to be used for commercial thatch. It is hoped that sufficient single wale reed will be cut this winter to re-thatch the Visitor Centre. Annual cutting provides seed rich flower heads and therefore a valuable winter larder for bearded tits which feed almost exclusively on reed seed in winter and the takes place after seed and leaf drop in late winter.
Moving the cut reed by hand as is a laborious task made immeasurably easier by our many-handed allies. Although numbers were were down on the norm with Christmas approaching (perhaps I should have mentioned the mince pies and cream at our previous gathering!), but regardless light work was still made of it with Rethink in full flow.
A well earned festive treat while the brush cutter lies idle.
This may prove to be my last act of 'work' of 2011 so what better than to thank those who have done so much to support us this year. Too many of you to possibly mention but you know who you are and that you are massively appreciated.
Wishing you all a peaceful, wildlife infused Christmas and an Olympian New Year!
Let us introduce you to Lassie. She lives in our bathroom, just inside the slightly ajar top window to be precise, from where she has a commanding view of all who come and go as their ablutions and bodily functions require. We’re most likely to notice her at night when she emerges from her favourite sanctuary, stretches her legs (all of them) and waits. Her identity had been a source of intrigue and speculation in the household for several weeks until earlier this month when we were reliably informed by Tony, the expert on such matters, that she is a Steotoda nobilis, a.k.a. a false widow spider.
False widow spiders are a small group, all of the genus Steotoda, of which there are six species in the UK. Lassie represents the one introduced species of this group which has been making itself at home in Britain since the late 19th century, presumably having hitched a ride to these shores with imports from its homeland - Madeira and the Canary Islands. It was first recorded near Torquay in 1879 and has become naturalised here, the population initially spreading along the south coast and more recently extending northwards into southern and central England, probably assisted by mild winters. They seem to like any structures which provide nooks and crannies to lurk in and somewhere to weave their tangled lattice-work web, eg. fences, walls, sheds and garages.
Unfortunately this species has acquired a bad reputation (as if spiders don’t already have an image problem), as not only is it classified in the same family as the infamous black widow spider, it is one of the dozen or so spiders out of around 640 in the UK which are regarded as capable of inflicting a painful bite to humans. Unpleasant though the effects can be, the fact that such occurences are rare and non-fatal compared with wasp or bee stings in the UK doesn’t stop some more excitable elements of the news media getting hot under the collar from time to time about this potential menace to humanity, as they would see it. For a more considered account you could consult the Natural History Museum website:
Anyway, back to Lassie. We noticed last month that there never seemed to be any sign in her web of a recent catch, indeed Tony’s observation regarding her appearance was “dehydrated and malnourished” – why she didn’t just move her web to a more productive site I don’t know. A sacrificial mealworm was chosen from Luke’s prize herd, which he’d been saving for a special occasion, and it was offered to the bathroom voyeur as a restorative tonic. We didn’t see her for several days after that and it was suggested that suitably fortified, she had perhaps found the strength and willpower at last to move on and lurk elsewhere outside. But no, it seems that she didn’t go far or didn’t care much for the chill out there, as last weekend she reappeared in her usual place – bigger, fitter (as the pictures below demonstrate), and with her capacity to observe three grubby blokes’ bathroom habits seemingly undiminished. Luke suspects she may have a unwholesome website...
Lassie pictured before famine relief...
...and after, here attempting a Nosferatu impression.