It's Volunteers' Week 1st to 7th June; to celebrate all of our fantastic volunteers who generously donate their time to RSPB Scotland we'll be sharing some of their experiences with you. For our first blog we hear from Adaica Rodríguez, a residential volunteer at our RSPB Scotland Mersehead reserve in Dumfries and Galloway.

Tales of a residential volunteer at RSPB Scotland Mersehead

The warm and long days of summer last July marked the beginning of my three months residential volunteering at RSPB Scotland Mersehead. Since arriving, views of the coast and wetland with the hills on the background have been taking my breath away. The regular sightings of barn owls have been AMAZING. Plus, the bright yellow colours of the ragwort were present everywhere during summer; and with a closer look, I found many cinnabar caterpillar moths and different species of flies, butterflies and bumblebees feeding on flowers, I named it “the truly wild party”.

Through this volunteering position I aimed to obtain practical experience in conservation that alongside my master of science in ecotourism will enable me to secure a job in the environment sector. Therefore, my daily tasks were varied, which included engagement with visitors, habitat management for wintering wildfowl and natterjack toads, maintenance of visitors’ facilities and trails, and ecological surveys.

Some of my first memorable moments were experiencing most of the stages of a natterjack toad life during a survey; from tadpoles with no legs to four legged ones, and one to three months toadlets. Moreover, I encountered magnificent insect species blooms. The best way to describe it is imagining yourself walking around Mersehead trails during a perfect sunny day with a temperature of over 20 degrees where everywhere you look you see peacocks butterflies, silvery moths and common darter dragonflies (some of the bloomed species last summer) making the best of the day and feeding on the wildflowers. How fascinating and enchanting.

These three months passed with the blink of an eye. I was not ready to leave Mersehead so quick. I felt the fun had just started, and I wanted and needed more. Hence, I extended my volunteering for six more months, and this decision paid off in every single way. I passed from surveying bumblebees at the end of October to welcoming thousands and thousands of barnacle geese. Their hoking song always brings a smile to my face.

Barnies and I have formed a special relationship (I know they think the same), in which most of the time they feel comfortable when I am around, as a result of intense survey work. It has been a real treat throughout this volunteering to participate almost weekly in barnacle goose, waders and ducks counts. Even thought my masters’ studies provided me some birds’ identification knowledge, at Mersehead I have improved this knowledge obtaining the expertise of carrying out confidently ecology surveys by myself.

Additionally, I have been understanding the behaviour related to the dietary and field preferences of the species attracted to this reserve, and how the habitat management works I have delivered provides them a home. Without a doubt I won’t forget how these habitat management works have improved my physical strength, sometimes it felt like I was training for the heavyweight category of the Olympic Games, as I hand pulled dock and ragwort during rainy days for wintering wildfowl, and invested a huge amount of time cutting willow and dragging them out through very boggy, wet and uneven surfaces for the natterjack toad sake.

The words friendly and enthusiastic describe my personality; that’s why I enjoyed my interactions with visitors around Mersehead a lot. My visitor centre shifts and guided walks led became the perfect opportunity to share my passion for nature, inspiring the public about how special and vital this site is for wildlife and the importance of our actions to give nature a home.

I recall that during a fundraising event at a nearby supermarket someone approached me interested to visit RSPB Scotland Mersehead, to whom I provided a flyer and general information. Days later, I welcomed the same person to the visitor centre, and explained more in detail our work and ways to support. As a result an inspired and nature loving visitor became a new member. It was very gratifying for me to be able attract someone for the first time to Mersehead, and secondly motivate to care and enjoy what has become a Scottish paradise for me.

Mersehead staff and volunteers have made this experience extra special. Not only for the relevant knowledge and skills taught but for the quality time spent. My constant loud laugh confirms the good time shared. I have always reiterated that people involved with RSPB Scotland are some of the most friendly and mind-liked that I have known, and this experience was not the exception.

Sadly, my time at RSPB Scotland Mersehead arrived to an end, but all these tales will last forever, and have prepared me for my new challenge as Assistant Ranger for the Farne Islands.

If you've been inspired by Adaica's recollection of her time at Mersehead you can find out more about our volunteering opportunities here