It’s a brutal afternoon of hazy winter sunlight and relentless wind as I take a moment out from the chaotic aftermath of Storm Ciara to start this blog entry. Crucially, it’s gone 4pm and the sun is still hanging well above the horizon, and whilst it’s not exactly streaming in, it’s a far cry from the oppressive gloom that has haunted this time of day for the past few months.
The anticipation of spring is palpable; there’s a restless energy stirring amongst the wildfowl and lapwings can be seen wheeling around the scrape as though seized by a sudden, irrepressible urge to express their joy at the changing season. In reality, they’re practising their displays before the breeding season is truly underway- though who can definitively say it’s not a bit of both? Every day ekes out a little longer than the last and even the weather seems impatient to change, though admittedly the rapid succession of sun-soaked hailstorms, freak blizzards and 80mph winds are giving me whiplash!
I have been at Burton Mere now for just over three months and have seen the colours of autumn fade from the trees, to be replaced by crisp frosts and blustery weather. The starling murmurations that so enthralled me in my first month petered out some weeks ago, but the breath-taking sunsets have remained, and I eagerly await the new wonders the spring will bring: most notably, the return of avocets to the reserve.
Staff in the office have set up a friendly wager for when they think the first iconic bird will arrive back on our slice of the Wirral; having been a mild winter it could be sooner rather than later. I’ve never seen an avocet -but am of course familiar with the face of the RSPB logo- and can’t wait until our scrape is teeming once more with breeding birds.
Our volunteer, Mike, modelling the latest pair of binoculars on a work party!
I’ve had many firsts in these past months. Today, after clearing willow and birch at Woolston Eyes reserve I spotted my first willow tit, and since arriving at Burton Mere I have seen my first short-eared owl and red-breasted merganser at Parkgate, stonechat, goldcrest, teal and great white egret (to name but a few!). Though my knowledge is still paltry compared with the expert birders I share the reserve with, I often surprise myself with what I have picked up as I chat to visitors in the visitor centre or at events around the estuary.
I have not only been absorbing knowledge (seemingly by osmosis), but also the stubborn charm of our avian friends! It’s hard not to fall in love with their character or admire their resilience when they are flung from one corner of the sky to another on furious winds, wobbling madly as they try to maintain some semblance of control.
It’s been a hectic past few months, honestly, and watching the gulls at Parkgate on Tuesday flapping about madly in the gale and going nowhere, the dry metaphor wasn’t lost on me. Storm Ciara wreacked a small havoc on our willow screening at Burton Mere, and we’ve all been dashing around like voles trying to restore order. On a personal level, things have been as topsy-turvy as the weather. But I’ve been so grateful for the support and understanding of the team behind the reserve, and there are certainly worse places to go through it all than in our little Eden.
Matt came to the rescue when I lost my waders to a muddy ditch!
Before I go, I’ll leave you with a few recent highlights. The wardening team has been grafting as hard as ever, from clearing ponds for Natterjack toads at Point of Ayr back in December, to digging new drainage channels off our flooded paths and opening views in the reedbed, around the old fishponds and from the Farm and Fen Trail viewpoint overlooking Bridge Pool. It’s been rewarding to be able to lead and take part in work parties, as well as being trusted to get on with tasks on my own; no matter how miserable the weather, a tiring day outside always leaves you feeling like you deserve your tea!
On the visitor side of things, I’ve witnessed an incredibly high spring tide at Parkgate, met some brilliant characters in the visitor centre, helped on a Christmas market stall and had meaningful conversations with visitors. From making members to teaching a novice birder a few basic ducks, listening to regulars regale their fascinating personal histories or succeeding in introducing a non-dairy milk option to the catering fridge, it’s been a productive and educational time all round.
Please enjoy my pictures from the past weeks. With a bit of luck, next time you hear from me we won’t be able to move but for avocets!
Until next time, thanks for reading!
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