If you enjoyed the July blog from volunteer Mark, here is the compilation of his reports from warden work parties over the last three months. Late summer and early autumn is always a busy time for reserve management work, between breeding season and the large winter assemblages of birds and this year was no different, especially with some tasks to catch up on after lots of work not being able to get done whilst the reserve was closed during lockdown. Over to Mark...
Yet another wet Thursday work party (23 July) but a large volunteer turnout of eight people, including two new faces. Various housekeeping jobs were done in the morning, from clearing the Gorse Covert woodland trail of growing bramble and nettles, to 'weeding' around the visitor centre, office and car park. After a chance to dry off over a socially distanced lunch in the visitor centre, in the afternoon some of us went out onto the very boggy wet grassland beyond the main scrape to prepare fences for the grazing stock, soon to be let out. These cattle are used to graze the rough pasture to make it favourable for feeding waders and wildfowl through winter, then waders to nest in spring.
Bird wise it was quiet but I added little ringed plover and yellow wagtail to my year list. A brood of shelduck near the visitor centre and a newly fledged yellow wagtail added some youthful vigour. A wet day but very satisfying.
Another large work party turn out today (7 August), despite the tough task on offer. Eight of us spent all day pulling ragwort in the wet fields behind the main scrape. This is done to enable the cattle to graze safely, as ragwort can be poisonous to them. Although the ground is somewhat dried out to aid this and other summer cutting, it was still hard, physical work, made even harder by the increasingly hot day.
We left plenty of ragwort growing in other areas away from where the cattle roam as it is food for things like cinnabar moth caterpillars, and bees seem to enjoy the flowers. Noteworthy birds were very thin on the ground but there were good numbers of butterflies to see. All in all, a tough but necessary and rewarding day's work.
These two photos show the before and after, and just how much of this arable weed that grows here; a yellow carpet of it standing in the field, then a ragwort mountain at the end of the day.
Just a small team today (20 August); we helped warden Becky with the task of keeping the boardwalk through the fen clear of overhanging vegetation for visitors to pass comfortably and safely, more important than ever in these times of Covid safety measures. Becky carefully trimmed with the brushcutter followed by the volunteers with rakes or pitch forks to clear up all the cuttings.
Following this, we did a few hours work reorganising the large wood store in anticipation of a large delivery. We had brilliant close up views of a water shrew (photo below), saw a marsh harrier and a couple of green sandpipers. Sadly, I failed to see the spotted crakes which were seen only briefly by some visitors.
A quiet day today (27 August) with both wardens away, so the work party spent half the day clearing up the paths after this week's storm. Plenty of bramble and reed to cut and clear.
Luckily it was an outstanding birding with an osprey seen over the visitor centre before starting work, and I finally managed good views of one of the spotted crakes. Ruffs were plentiful and a couple of green sandpipers added to the mix. I also snapped this 'sleeping' southern hawker dragonfly (below).
Today (4 September) was not a day for the faint hearted. A small turnout but a big task, we needed to clear silt from the ditches that drain the Inner Marsh Farm pools. We were doing this to lower the water levels and expose fresh mud to improve the feeding areas for wading birds through autumn. So, waders on and up to our thighs in water shovelling thick smelly mud. This went on all day; it was hard, physical work but very satisfying when it was finished.
Bird wise, there were a couple of late swifts around, some nice curlew sandpipers on the main scrape and a singing chiffchaff.
After last week was spent wading in thick, smelly mud to clear the islands in front of the visitor centre of all their summer vegetation, this week (17 September) was spent wading through thick, smelly mud in front of the Bridge Screen, to clear the two islands on Bridge Pool. Hopefully you have noticed the difference because it was hard work! Not only does it provide easier viewing of birds for visitors, it is much more favourable for our winter birds to feed and roost on the short cropped grass. Bird wise it was a good week with both little stint and ruddy shelduck added to my year list. We also had amazing views of two great white egrets feeding when we were eating lunch. Whilst hard work, the volunteer work parties are good fun and good exercise.
Today (24 September) was a weather day to remember. There were only two of us but we had rain, hail, thunder, lightning and even some warm sunshine. We spent the day around Marsh Covert hide cutting and clearing vegetation in preparation for it reopening in early October, to improve sightlines for visitors and feeding opportunities for wildlife. Frogs were everywhere with some late swallows and a few dragonflies too. It was hard work but very satisfying to look at the large areas we cleared.
The first work party of October we had the pleasure of both wardens' company. It was a beautiful autumn day but we had plenty of work to do. In the morning we were clearing Crassula from the wetland habitats around Marsh Covert hide by pulling it up by the roots. This is an invasive weed that grows rapidly to choke open water and ditches and cover mud, restricting feeding opportunities for birds.
In the afternoon we continued to cut and stack reeds around Marsh Covert hide. This is being done to improve sight lines, improve feeding habitat and clear the route for a new electric predator exclusion fence to be installed around the Inner Marsh Farm pools to improve wader breeding in spring.
Birding today was great; first off we had good views of two juvenile bearded tits and two Cetti's warblers. Then at lunch a flock of 10 ruff flew very close and finally as we were packing up for the day, a kingfisher flew overhead calling.
Check back for Mark's next round-up in a few weeks' time.
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