Hello again! The Cottage now has two people living in it, as a new resident volunteer has joined me for the next 3 months. His name is Sam and lucky for me he likes to watch the football.  Whilst I enjoyed being the only resident, I am also enjoying having someone else in the house.  He is here for 3 months in between his 2nd and 3rd year of his degree in Geography. Say hi if you see him around. He is quite the expert at bird spotting.

I have now completed 3 months of my placement, so I am already half-way. I only have the same time again to go. If it goes as quickly as the first 3 months I will be done way too soon. I have loved my first three months and I am sure I will continue to enjoy it just as much.

This month began with a trip to Berney Marshes. A nearby reserve that is a haven for breeding lapwings, avocets and redshanks, as well as marsh harriers. On this visit my sighting highlights were a beautiful yellow wagtail and a golden plover.  I and the other volunteers were helping to take down electric predator fences that help protect the breeding birds during spring. This involved unhooking the wires from the supporting posts (having unplugged the wires first !!). Then with a quadbike, following along with a contraption attached that uses the back wheels as a cog to wind the wires onto 4 reels. As there are 8 wires on each fence we went round twice.  There were a few stops and starts with broken wires or tangles, but we got into a good rhythm eventually and we managed to get through two fences.  One day I hope to be involved in putting one up.  Here’s a picture of the winding in process in action – a glorious marriage of man and machine.

Everything has grown a lot this month in the sunshine and rain. So, there has been a lot of strimming and cutting back of vegetation to keep the paths wide enough for social distancing.  It seems to be a constant battle - cutting back nettles and then finding that more droop onto the path after the rain.  It can be a bit demoralising to spend the day cutting them back, only to find on my morning walk the next day that rain has caused a lot more to droop.  I never give up though, and now I have a work buddy (Sam) to help in the endless struggle against the foliage, along with many work party volunteers and their brush-cutting and raking skills.

Sam is also coordinating a survey of the fen raft spiders, first released at Cantley in 2012.  We are surveying ditches at Cantley and Buckenham to see how much they have spread.  We have already journeyed over to Cantley to do a test run and it proved successful. At first, they were nowhere to be seen and we wondered if we would see any at all.  Then we started to see them amongst the water soldier plants, first a few small ones but then some bigger females. Some even with egg sacs or sitting on a nursery web with spiderlings.  We will do more surveying in the coming weeks and we hope we see plenty more.

 

One thing I also loved about this trip, is that we got to do the survey in the vicinity of cows and boy are they interested in what we were doing.

This month Sam and I also got to cut back the sand bank. This was to support the research of local geologists. We carefully removed a bit of the fallen sand so that the geologists could probe the undisturbed layers and hopefully reassess how old it is.  They showed us shapes in the sand that meant at some time, it was a sandbank or spit with tides flowing back and forth over it. They could actually count the tides from 1000s of years ago, which I found amazing. They also showed us ancient burrows made by various sea creatures traversing down through the layers. Lives snapshotted in time. I can’t wait to hear what their reassessment reveals and very glad to have helped in some small way.

On the visitor side of things, I have been very busy helping set up the first of the Big Wild Summer family trails.  This one is based around the characters Ratty, Mole and Toad. Having done a lot of drawing in my youth, it was hugely enjoyable to use those skills again. One of my heroes is Tove Jansson, who wrote the Moomin books and is also a wonderful illustrator. In her book “The Summer book” she writes about living on an island, working on art projects and observing the wildlife and the environment around her.  While not up to her standard, I definitely thought of her as I worked on the trail boards while living on this reserve “island”.  I can totally recommend that book. I hope the families enjoy the trails we have set up and imagine themselves as ratty, toad or mole, getting up to summer adventures.

 

Living on the reserve has many benefits but one big one this last month is the increased likelihood of seeing swallowtails. This one was fluttering around and often posing for photos for several hours on vegetation near the riverbank at the top of sandy wall.

Swallowtails had been the subject of the first episode of the radio play that I was involved in, “song of the reed which broadcast on June 21st on BBC radio 4. It’s well worth a listen if you have the time and can be found on BBC sounds. My lines include something about caterpillars feeding on hemlock in my garden, amongst other things.

Sightings this month included quite a few moths as I got to be present at some moth trap openings. Some of the name’s moths have are wonderful. My current favourite being “Setaceous Hebrew character” (3rd photo below).  I also found it remarkable that there is a “figure of eighty” moth and there it was with an 80 on its wings (not pictured).

 

I got to see the barn owls a few times this month, and on a few occasions it was very successful.

I rarely see the bitterns but luckily this one was sunbathing at the end of reception broad for a lot of one morning.

The juvenile marsh harriers are out and about now, and I regularly see them practicing flying near fen hide.

I finally had a very good view of a kingfisher at fen hide – it sat in the sun on the horizontal bar for about a minute. Lovely to see.

And one day while walking up sandy wall, I spotted a stoat on the path. It also spotted me and ran into the reeds. This immediately caused mayhem for the birds nesting in there and they immediately flew up to the tops of the reeds, alarm-calling. One of those was this bearded tit.

 

And finally, a few of us watched a family of field voles trying to cross the exit path at reception. The young ones were very nervous about crossing so the mother eventually came back and carried them across in her mouth.

Well that’s it for this month, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed remembering and writing it.  Until the next time…

Photo credit: All photos Adrian Samuels

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