Our residential volunteer Mike spent his second visit of the year on Havergate last month. As usual, he has written a blog post for us which talks about what he got up to. In this blog he has included how he plans his stay on an island and what food/ essentials he always packs....

This was my second visit to Havergate Island this year, the first being for a week in March for which I wrote a blog. This time I would be staying for two weeks.

My first impression on arrival was that there were more gulls, herring and lesser black backed, than when I had been here last. They were clearly not yet fully into breeding as they remained relatively quiet as we walked to the huts and didn’t rise off the shingle ridge in large numbers as they would later to defend their nesting sites.

While I unpacked David went off around the island to do a bird check and particularly to note leg ring numbers on the gulls. While at Doveys he spotted a dotterel.

Until I was to see Lyndsey after the weekend, when she would give me my work schedule, my immediate duties were to start repairs on the boardwalks around the huts. These had been put in by myself, RSPB staff and other volunteers back in 2007-2008 and they made it much easier to move around the huts than on the shingle. Most of the slats were ok but some had rotted. Other jobs were to treat the wood sides of the composting toilet and start painting the huts with Barn paint. It had been decided in the future to use just one colour of paint on huts and hides and a relatively new paint, Barn paint, was chosen in black. Over the years I had been coming to the island this rationalisation towards one colour had been underway but until now we had been painting with water based coverings that required regular repaints. Barn paint is clearly a more resilient paint to deal with the weathering that takes place on the island, also it can be used on a variety of surfaces. It is, however, expensive compared to other treatments.

In addition were the regular duties of checking hare numbers and where sighted, looking out for signs of foxes, and perhaps otters, and doing regular bird observations on the lagoons and saltmarshes.

What I like to do on my first day there is to walk the island. This gives me an idea of what needs to be done, grass cutting of paths, weeding of hide entrances and bridges, cleaning jetty etc and to check out what birds are on the island, lagoon by lagoon.

Once I’d done that, and because the days were still relatively “short,” it was time for an evening meal. Over the years, both here on Havergate and on other islands I have volunteered on, I have slowly developed a better menu for my evening meal. For a few years I subsisted on sardines and pasta. The idea being that the ingredients could be safely stored for relatively long periods and that they were easy to transport. They were also nutritious and along with a pudding of dried fruits kept me going. However, over two to three weeks this can become very boring and I then experimented with packaged dried pasta meals, also with additional pasta and the ubiquitous dried fruit. Finally, checking on long distance walking sites and from experience backpacking and wild camping, I discovered a range of packaged meals called “Look what we’ve found”. These come in a variety of different meals. The packs are light to transport but they do need bulking up if you’ve been working hard and are hungry. So, I take extra pasta weighed out in 80 g lots in zip bags. This means that preparing a meal is quick; cut open the main meal bag, squeeze out the contents into a small saucepan and start heating it while also cooking the pasta.

Breakfasts are catered by pre-weighed bags of muesli, a small handful of trail mix (mixed nuts, seeds and cranberries) and a spoonful of dried milk, the latter chosen to cut down on weight. Lunch comprises oat cakes, another small handful of trail mix, a slice of cheese and chopped up veg. The vegetables that I have found that last well on 2-3 week stays are carrots, celery and red peppers. Broccoli does not last well. To round up the veg feast I add grapes, which can also be used at breakfast and the evening meal. What I try and do, wherever I go, is to be self-sufficient and to take with me all supplies that I will need for the entire stay. Sometimes it has been necessary to ask Lyndsey to buy some fresh veg but this has mostly been when the refrigerator has failed. Finally I find that bananas, clementines and apples keep well and make a refreshing change from dried fruits. Mid am energy snacks are from the range of Clif bars.

When I saw Lyndsey we sorted out a work schedule for the two weeks.  I continued to replace rotted slats on the boardwalk around the huts, and on the boardwalk to Belpers hide, mowed the paths and picnic field by Main hide, opened and closed sluices to manage water height in the lagoons and salinity, did salinity and height measurements on all lagoons, recorded heights on the measuring sticks at the jetty and near Doveys hide (to determine how the mud bank around the island is faring), litter picked, brush cut the edge alongside the boardwalk near Belpers hide and painted the outside of the main accommodation hut, work shop and tool shed. Using the rotted slats from the boardwalk I built a bug hotel (see pic), around 1 metre cubed, which was then sited near the old tractor shed, by the couple who came on the island after me. I also marked out, what would become the boardwalk from the bridge near Belpers hide and the small bridge crossing the gully just before the jetty. This area is often inundated particularly at high spring tides and it means that visitors are unable to keep to the path and find themselves walking on, and damaging, the saltmarsh. The raised boardwalk would protect this delicate habitat. I left rough calculations for wood etc for Lyndsey’s island work crew to check. This boardwalk was a job for my next visit!

As to wild life sightings, I saw a Chinese water deer on the shingle by the huts (the first I had ever seen on the island), up to 6 hares (including a leveret), young and adult common lizards, a common seal and numbers of voles. Personal highlights for birds were short eared owls, male hen harrier, a single black tailed godwit, barn owl and spoonbills (up to 4 at one time). In addition there were shoveller, gadwall, widgeon, tufted ducks, pintail ducks, mallard, large numbers of shelducks (the most common duck species), Canada and greylag geese, herring, lesser black backed, black headed and common gulls, kestrel, marsh harrier, curlew, whimbrel, redshank, oystercatcher, avocet, sandwich terns, magpies, carrion crows, jackdaws, cormorant, little egret, heron, male and female pheasant, wheatear and meadow pipit, Of the butterflies there were orange tip and red admirals.

One interesting observation was a large collection of sticks, about 1 metre across, placed on top of the gorse on the shingle ridge close to Doveys hide. Initially I thought it might have been left there by a receding flood but it was too high up and much too organised. It was clearly a birds nest, but what?

As always it was a pleasure spending time on this unique island. Thanks go to Aaron and David and to Lyndsey for letting me stay there.

Below - Bug house ready for filling!