Milder days and sunshine are meaning that it’s starting to feel like spring for wildlife, staff and volunteers at the Exe estuary reserves.

January and February have been busy months as we have been actively retaining as much rainwater on both our Exminster Marsh and Powderham sites as possible. However, with the beginnings of spring in the air, we are now seeing lower numbers of wintering wildfowl and waders, as they start to migrate further North for the breeding season.

Gearing up for spring and the forthcoming breeding season brings with it a high priority on the management and maintenance of the electrical predator exclusion fence at our Powderham reserve. Consequently, we have spent a good amount of time doing maintenance checks and repairs on the fence and creating a mosaic of habitats that will appeal to our red-listed lapwing residents.

This is a really important site for our Lapwing as it is home to around 80% of the breeding population in Devon and Cornwall. Creating a mosaic of habitat’s that provide a safe and secure area to nest and feed chicks, is key in ensuring their survival. Part of the site was ploughed late last year to create a rough and uneven ground, which is ideal for nesting as well as providing a flat and open area to spot predators. Keeping the majority of the site flooded has also been a priority, as holding water is vital to create muddy margins for Lapwing’s and their chicks to feed on ground-dwelling invertebrates later in the spring. We have already seen some territorial display’s on site - with males showing a brighter breeding plumage – and myself and the two other residential volunteer’s (Saul and James) are eagerly anticipating breeding pairs and chicks in the coming months, now that we have started our monitoring.

Close by, Cirl Buntings can be seen darting in and around the fields and hedgerows at Powderham, often seen at the feeding table that is visible from the viewing platform. These farmland birds feed on seeds and grains throughout the winter and some of the fields on Powderham have been planted especially to provide both winter stubble, and to then bloom in spring and summer where they will provide a habitat for invertebrates, in turn, providing a food source. Be sure to bring binoculars and spend some time sitting on one of the bench’s, as there is plenty to see out there!

In the last couple of weeks, our Thursday work party volunteers have been busy with some hands-on habitat creation, just behind our Matford Marsh reserve (See image below). This site, namely, Mutton Marsh, is a recent management project taken on by the RSPB, with the aim being to recreate a wetland reed bed environment and open as a new reserve later this year. The team spent these days clearing out some willow and hawthorn trees and got to work fervently tackling a large area of blackthorn - after fuelling up on some tea, biscuits and cake! Is there any other way?

The coming months are set to be equally exciting and active, as we anticipate some working days at other reserves within the area, including Labrador Bay along the coast and Chapel Wood which is a lovely mixed woodland site. I’m personally looking forward to seeing the spring bloom of wild and grassland flowers, bringing about the resurgence of invertebrate fauna and also keeping an eye out for passing migrants!