Well it's now been a week since my last visit to Minsmere, and it feels pretty strange. Over the last 17 years, I've been privileged to work at this amazing nature reserve in the heart of the Suffolk coast. During that time, the reserve been a massive part of my life. I've seen some incredible wildlife, met some fabulous people, and been able to enjoy daily walks in nature. Now, suddenly, that's all gone, with no time to prepare myself for the enforced absence.
Covid-19 is a scary disease that is having a massive effect on all of our lives. As you'll have seen from my last brief blog, we have now closed all RSPB reserves, in line with latest government advice. This means that the nature trails, hides, car park and toilets are now closed until further notice, not just the visitor centre, and all staff are working from home.
Of course, there are some important tasks that do still need to be carried out by our wardens, and you'll be pleased to know that they are continuing to go in every day to check on our livestock - the Konik and Exmoor ponies and Highland cattle - as this is classed as essential work. They are also checking that the predator-proof fence around the Scrape continues to function correctly so that the avocets, gulls and terns can nest in safety.
I've heard from our Senior Site Manager this morning that the volume is already deafening as the black-headed and Mediterranean gulls squabble for space on the Scrape. So loud, in fact, that it's even drowning at the booming bitterns. It's going to be really strange to not be able to experience this wonderful phenomena this year. At least I have the reassuring sound of territorial lesser black-backed gulls in Beccles as a reminder!
These blogs will, obviously, take on a somewhat different format in the coming months. I'll try to provide you with little snippets of news from the reserve to reassure you that the wildlife continues to thrive even though we're not there. Some species may even benefit from fewer visitors being there. I'll also recall memories of Minsmere over the years, both from myself and other staff and volunteers, and take an in depth look at some of our species and habitats.
More importantly, I'll also try to bring you some ideas of how you can ensure that you maintain your own regular contact with nature during your daily routine. Hopefully most of you will be able to enjoy a walk every day, and even in the most built up areas there will be plenty of wildlife to spot.
Any patch of wasteland should hold a variety of wild flowers - often popularly known as weeds - such as germander speedwell, common stitchwort, groundsel or red dead-nettle. If you are lucky there might be some beautiful lemon-yellow primroses or a deep purple common dog-violets. Here in the Suffolk, the road verges are also full of alexanders (a member of the carrot family that was introduced by the Romans), while blackthorn and cherry blossom lines the hedges.
Alexanders and red dead-nettle
Wherever there are flowers, you should find insects. My garden has already attracted red-tailed and buff-tailed bumblebees and several species of flies (I wish I could identify some of them), and over the weekend I spotted my first brimstone and comma butterflies of the year. I'm hoping that one of my favourite insects will appear in the next few days too: the dark-edged beefly.
Of course, there are birds to spot on our walks or in our gardens, too. A common buzzard drifted low over the garden this morning and I've heard several chiffchaffs singing around the town already, while the feeders in my garden continue to attract flocks of starlings, regular blue tits, goldfinches and robins as well as blackbirds, woodpigeons and collared doves. If you live in some of the bigger cities then you may even be treated to regular sightings of peregrines which now nest on many church towers.
My garden is going to feature regularly in these blogs, where I hope to bring you updates on the development of a wildflower meadow in my lawn (if any of the seeds survived the monsoon rains that hit us the day after I sowed them last autumn), sightings of insects and birds, and news from the veggie plot!
Finally, for now, those of you who, like me, are combining working from home with childcare duties might like to check out the RSPB Wild Challenge pages on our website. Many of the suggested activities can easily be carried out in your garden - go on a mini beast hunt, go birdwatching, shake a tree, make a mini beast home, make a mini pond, signs of spring, for example.
We'd love to hear how you've been connecting with nature at home. Please share your experiences as comments on these blogs, or on the RSPB Minsmere Facebook and Twitter pages.
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