Naomi High spent the winter as a residential volunteer at Loch of Strathbeg with us and she reflected on her time spent here in the blog below:
I have spent the past 5 months volunteering and living at Strathbeg and have gotten stuck into all aspects of reserve life (sometimes literally!)
I arrived mid October being greeted by the site manager and taken to my new home for the next few months. I was in awe of the beauty of the place and excited that I had the opportunity to live and work with great views and surrounded by nature.
I spent my first day exploring my new surroundings and after a short stroll through the wildlife garden I came across a willow tunnel leading to a hide. Willow hide quickly became one of my favourite places on the reserve. Visitors may not come here specifically to see garden birds however I would recommend a stop in this hide as it's a great opportunity to see the birds up close from all angles.
I was up early the next day for a goose count and my first introduction into counting geese. Myself and the manager set off at 6.20am to the south side of the reserve and after a while the geese started to leave. Counting geese and other birds was a monthly occurrence and one which I really enjoyed. I'm still working on improving my counting skills and not getting distracted trying to take photos! Counting and seeing the number of birds flying over is a great experience and often a 'wow' moment when thousands of geese fly over at the same time with the sound resonating all around.
During my first few weeks at Strathbeg the leaves were full of their autumn colours swaying gently in the wind and an abundance of fungi amongst the trees. This was more noticeable at Loch Spynie another reserve which is visited regularly. Days spent here have included shovelling and raking gravel to create a smoother car park, tree felling and general maintenance. All of which the public don't always see happening. The small team manage other reserves too so have to divide their time between each one.
Back at Strathbeg the Konik ponies play a vital role in ensuring the reserve is well maintained for the various birds that rely of the specific habitats of the reserve.
Pony checks happen daily and its always a pleasure to see them running round in the fields. One of the jobs we have done was building a new race to make it easier for any treatment needing to be given and also with loading the ponies ready to be transported to other reserves. Seeing something being built from start to finish and being part of it gives you a sense of accomplishment. Measuring, sawing, painting, drilling, hammering and putting in posts. There are so many aspects to complete a project which we can often overlook when seeing the finished piece. It makes me think of all the hard work going on across all the RSPB reserves in the UK and the work being done overseas to create a better environment for birds, wildlife and visitors.
I really do enjoy seeing something being completed or being taken down, a visible reminder of what we've done. Stapling chicken wire onto boards so that visitors and in some cases ponies can walk safely across boggy areas, taking down fences and weeding are all things I find quite therapeutic. Once you've got past the hammering your own fingers stage or the pins and needles in your legs or nearly falling over when taking out a fence staple. Once you're in the rhythm of things you just keep going one thing at a time. With the sound of birds chirping, the wind whistling, the clinking of metal on metal, the ponies neighing and the raindrops on the ground it all forms an orchestra of nature with the potential to send us into a meditative state forgetting about the otter stuff and zoning in on our immediate surroundings and the power of nature. Something that as humans we often fail to do with our busy modern day lives and endless to do lists. We should always find time to connect to nature.
Living on the reserve is a huge privilege. Being able to be here when no one else is around to witness the sunrises and sunsets, hear the geese leaving and returning flying over the house and to stand outside admiring the starry night sky is extraordinary. To be greeted by Robins, Blue tits and tree sparrows first thing when filling the bird feeders and to be the first one to see all the birds from the visitor centre is something I will always be grateful for having the opportunity to do so.
I have witnessed winter come and slowly pass, the storms and the fallen trees. I've raked up Autumn leaves and brushed away twigs. We've checked the nest boxes to make sure they're OK for the next inhabitants and checked regularly for signs of predators.
I felt the cold air in my lungs and the late winter sun on my skin. I've been amazed at the beauty of snow buntings and buzzards as they rested outside the office window, seen colourful rainbows and have witnessed winter slowly come to an end.
Seasons change, the earth orbits the sun and the cycle continues. My final goose count was again with the site manager meeting at 6.20am this time we headed west counting from Tower Pool hide. Fewer numbers this time.
My last day at Strathbeg was a beautifully sunny day with the sun beaming on the snowdrops and the daffodils getting ready to bloom. The site manager once again took me to the bus station. I like how things ended the way they began. The cycle continues. Soon the geese will have gone and the terns arriving. The nest box checks and seabird monitoring will begin. Foals will be born, chicks will hatch and flowers will bloom. The orchestra of nature will change.
As for me I am temporarily migrating south, to Greater Manchester, the birthplace of the RSPB. I've exchanged the sound of geese for the sound of planes, Wigeon and Teal for car horns and reversing lorries the smell of the fields for the smell of fumes, the soft squelching mud for the hard concrete. The orchestra of nature has changed. It has changed but it is still there. In the middle of the man made concrete jungle there are pockets of wildlife. If we listen hard enough we will hear geese flying over and birds singing. If we look hard enough we will find Moorhens fighting for mates and Mallards looking for food. We will realise that there aren't just pockets but wildlife everywhere. If we just tune in and look around we will see and hear. Weather we are sitting in a hide at Strathbeg or in a city, if we take time to notice we will become more connected to nature.
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