Apologies for the lack of updates on the blog - we've been spending a lot of time out on the reserves and I’ve forgotten how this technology stuff works! Where to start?? Our wildlife at this time of year run a very active schedule and here on the Exe, we like to do the same; so let’s start with our breeding bird populations.
During the last three months we have conducted three breeding bird surveys covering all of our reserves. Mustering an early 6am start was difficult, but once out roaming the dew-bathed fields in the morning light, you get a real appreciation for the beauty of these reserves and diversity of bird species that we provide a home for. At first I was overwhelmed with the amount of noise at such an early hour but once you learn to tune in to individual calls, it's a really great skill to help identify what's out there when they aren't always visible! These surveys build an important picture of the range of species on the reserve and their breeding territories and during the final survey: seeing families with successfully fledged chicks. Keep an eye out for Sedge and Reed warbler; Reed Bunting; a pair of Linnet, Skylarks, Black-caps and Cirl bunting on Powderham and Labrador Bay.
There are now cows in most of our fields, which, of course help us with the management of our grasslands. So far they have been doing a great job and now that they have grazed the fields a little you may see one of the team (possibly me!) in a white suit out on the quad bike towing a rather large red attachment on the back: the weed wiper. This application of a general herbicide specifically targets unpalatable and dominant grass species such as rushes and tufted hairgrass, Deschampsia. Left to their own capabilities, these species would turn the fields into a monoculture of tall grass sward. We aim to maintain some variation in structural sward height, as this diversity benefits a whole range of wildlife, from invertebrates to our wintering wildfowl and waders. Fence posts often double as great scratching spots for our half- ton residents and therefore, provide us and our volunteer team with lots of fence maintenance over the season too!
Granted, I don't think many of us complained about the fortune of sunny weather over the last few weeks but twinned with spells of rain, it has made for great growing conditions - particularly along our footpaths. The team and our hard-working volunteers have spent the last couple of weeks taming the footpaths and removing prickly obstacles so that our visitors can enjoy a stroll along the public footpaths. These areas are also abundant with invertebrate life and are great place to test your identification skills. We've carried out several surveys across Exminster Marshes and have recorded buff and red-tailed bumble bee's along the hedgerows as well as solitary bees, dragonflies and damselflies darting through the reed beds. Butterfly-wise: peacock, small white, orange tip, red admiral, green-veined white, and meadow brown have been frequently spotted on Exminster.
Over on Powderham, we have been monitoring Lapwing three times a week since the end of March. These splendidly-crested and red-listed waders are an important species for us here, as they are the only breeding Lapwing in Devon and Cornwall. This year we maintained a good number of breeding pairs at 17 pairs, of which most successfully hatched and fledged chicks. The predator exclusion fence did a good job of keeping out ground-nesting predators; however, naturally, some were witnessed being lost to avian predation. There are currently only a handful left on site to fledge and we're encouraged to see a few of them have made it across the estuary to Bowling Green Marsh! This year we also had the pleasure of watching two families of little ringed plover raise their chicks on Powderham too - which were a mere speck of incredibly fast moving fluff through the telescope but a fantastic sight non-the-less.
The near future: We’re looking forward to a new landscaping project starting at the beginning of July at Bowling Green Marsh. This two week job will create a new scrape with the inclusion of a grassy island, in front of the bird hide and ‘The Lookout’. This will seasonally hold water and is a great way of enhancing damp grassland for wildlife as they support great numbers of aquatic invertebrates. In turn, these will provide good feeding grounds for the thousands of waders and wildfowl that use Bowling Green Marsh as high tide roost throughout winter. The whole team have been working hard to make Bowling Green an enjoyable and enriching experience for all of our visitors and we’ve been encouraged with some really great feedback from locals, visitors and members. Throughout the summer we have a number of themed activities for children lined up, alongside guided walks and the next big sleepout event held during Heathweek at the end of July!
Lastly: little, yet certainly not the least important, the whole team here on the Exe is of course very excited about the discovery of our small mammal resident, the Dormouse. It’s really promising to know that our careful hedgerow management efforts are paying off and that we are providing a home for these UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) priority species. We are working on distributing Dormice tubes and nest boxes so that we can help protect and survey them now and in the future. Thanks to our volunteer and keen-eyed wildlife photographer Jo, who caught the little guy feeding during the day – a lucky spot indeed!
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