The wind whips across the lake and sends ripples of water spinning in all directions; Autumn is unleashed at Saltholme. For me, this time of year is as much about sounds and textures as it is about beautiful colours; a season of hot chocolates, wind-swept landscapes, and of course, moving a little out of one’s way to step on that crunchy leaf.
Unlike balmy summer days, there’s an air of freshness and trepidation around the discovery zone. Gone are the sharp warning calls of the reed and sedge warblers which pierced the stillness of the reed beds in those heatwave days, and the sky is no longer filled with Terns, both heading to warmer climes for the winter. However, life flourishes and our beautiful discovery zone is just as exciting in Autumnal glow as it was during the summer. The reeds themselves hold beautiful purple, feathery seed heads, which now hang low over the boardwalk and are soft to touch. They twirl and dance in the breeze revealing secret, watery pathways for our families of Coots, Moorhens and the illusive water vole. As we make our habitat walk across the boardwalks, hawker dragonflies investigate our school group before darting and diving above the pond, making the most of the golden sunshine. Common Darters with their bright red bodies spin and turn amongst the vegetation and our pond trays are still full of nymphs and creatures from watery depths.
The hawthorns are once again a rich habitat for wildlife. The branches are heavy with fleshy red berries and although hard to spot, we can certainly hear that tucked away inside their branches are chattering clusters of hedgerow birds, enjoying a tasty snack in the shelter of prickly, leafy branches. We spot Blue tits and Great tits, Dunnocks and Tree Sparrow while overhead, the children listen intently for the glassy, flute-like tones of Goldfinch.
The first schools to visit in Autumn both investigated the fantastic array of birds we have at Saltholme and learned about the migration. On the way to the Wildlife Watch point, we were treated to a gaggling geese flyover, their powerful wings whistling through the air, and a flock of starlings swooshing overhead as they scramble into acrobatic mumurations. The sound of their wings as they dip and dive will never cease to give a little tingle down my spine. Once we had discovered how two Common Tern chicks have prepared for their long migration south, we braced ourselves for a wonderful walk around our lake, looking out for wildlife along the way, investigating the best ways for our Terns to fly and what dangers they may have to overcome.
The summer holiday season had seen lots of highlights, including a night under the stars for the Great Wild Sleepout and a skills share session amongst the learning team. It was fabulous to learn all the different areas of expertise there are in our team, including plant identification, butterflies, bird song, and how the mind can impact on learning, as well as making giant bubbles from willow branches. A few weeks earlier, the Great Wild Sleepout had offered the opportunity to see Saltholme during the evening and overnight. Who wouldn’t jump at such a chance? We were treated to sweep netting, an evening guided walk, snipes, common sandpipers and fluffy tern chicks all wrapped up with campfire cooking and the cosiness of a tent on a blustery night.
It has been the most wonderful six months as the learning intern at RSPB Saltholme. I have learned so much; about wildlife, teaching, outdoor education, and each day has offered something new and exciting. Autumn may be the beginning of colder weather and shorter days, the gateway to winter, but far from buckling down the hatches, the reserve is as inspiring as ever and I am looking forward to continue to explore its wonders for a little while yet.
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