October began with a continuation of the autumn tidy up; the main focus of which was cutting back the vegetation on the lagoon islands. This annual task creates ideal habitat, feeding grounds and a safe haven away from predators for overwintering waders and waterfowl, including lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), golden plover (Pluvialis apricaria) and wigeon (Anas penelope).
With eight lagoons in total this can be a hefty task, even with the army of Habitat Volunteers! We were keen to put into practice our previous training and so this proved the ideal opportunity to get out those power tools!! Where possible the BCS pedestrian mower was the ideal candidate for the job, however the brushcutter was more suitable for use on uneven or wet ground.
Now you may be wondering how we managed to cross the lagoon over to the islands… Sometimes it was by boat, however other times the amphibious Argo was called for. It is an excellent choice for this terrain as the eight-wheel drive allows for better traction on land, whilst propelling the vehicle in water. All three of us were lucky enough to have a go at driving it, with our line-manager, Martin, being the (un)lucky one to train us!
Other tasks over the past month have included hanging our first gate. This task entailed fitting all furniture, including hinges, latches and hooks to the gate (the right way around!), as well as installing the gate posts and the gate itself.
With much of the focus being on the brand new VTC and all of its luxuries, the old work yard somewhat stands in its shadow. It is, however, still an important storage base which we have been slowly sorting and clearing out. Demolishing an old, unusable work bench with a sledgehammer was one of the thoroughly enjoyable tasks we carried out here, safely of course!
We all had the opportunity to survey the water vole and mink rafts in and around the reserve, with resident experts Anthony and Linda. The water vole rafts act as a good indication of water vole activity, as they are used as latrines and feeding stations. The reintroduction of these small mammals on the reserve in May 2011 has been very successful, so evidence of their presence was plentiful.
Mink rafts have rectangular tunnels with a layer of clay at the bottom to monitor the footprints of inquisitive animals that may pass through. No mink footprints were found – good news for the water voles which are predated by them! Interestingly, otter footprints and spraint were found on a number of the rafts.
The popular badger watches have continued under our charge. The public as well as ourselves have been treated with close-up views of some remarkable badger behaviour. We believe that five individuals have been gracing the watches in total and have been happily munching away at the peanuts supplied, offering superb photographic opportunities. As well as our black and white striped friends, other sightings have included a very acrobatic wood mouse, soprano pipistrelle bats, tawny and barn owls, muntjac deer, great crested newts and even a (semi) wild cat! The badger watches will continue next year, with events for both the public and volunteers! Keep an eye on the website.
But it’s not all about work in a beautiful place like this and it is worthwhile making time to enjoy the reserve and the wildlife that depend on it. Here are a few things that caught our eye and we think are worth a mention…
A great grey shrike was spotted over the wet meadows of lagoon 1, which attracted quite a crowd! Peregrines, curlews and redwings were other birds of note.
Characteristic of autumn is the sound of rustling leaves. This is best demonstrated by the leaves of the aspen tree, as their flat-stems shiver in the wind. We also stumbled upon the leaf of a wild service tree, it being the only tree of its species on the reserve. It is native to England and used to be one of England’s rarest trees. A colourful addition to the autumn landscape is the spindle, which looks magnificent in its full bloom, with bursts of pink and orange.
With warm days continuing well into October (almost a second summer!), dragonflies and butterflies have been adding that extra bit of colour to the reserve. Hawkers and common darters were seen around the lagoons, whilst comma, red admiral and speckled wood were seen on autumn ivy flowers.
October has been a treat, let’s hope November follows suite!
‘Til next month,
Amy, David & Emilie