Regular blog readers will know about my wildlife watching adventures over the Springwatch period, but as promised in the last issue of Birds, here's another update on my summer wildlife-watching.
The weather has scuppered several of my planned trips to see a variety of butterflies and dragonflies this year and has also temporarily scuppered my garden badger watching because of the rain-induced thick growth of vegetation on the other side of our boundary fence. This weekend, it was time to turn the attention back to birds - always less weather dependent than insects!
With Father's Day approaching fast, it was time to find a present for Dad on Saturday and I took a visit to one of my old stomping grounds - the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust reserve at Welney on the Ouse Washes. You can read about the effects of the spring flooding on the birds of the Ouse Washes in the next issue of Birds (with you from mid-July) and I was shocked to see so much water on the fields (which by June should be home to several hundred head of cattle munching away to improve the vegetation structure for nesting birds like snipe and redshanks). It has been too wet to allow the cattle on, so it is a serious problem and could affect breeding conditions on the washes for several years.
Above: this should be a view of lush fields with cattle grazing and lots of nesting birds at this time of year (image by Steve Blain)
Stilt struts its stuff
There were very few young birds about, but the sight of a vagrant black-winged stilt (one of those very well-named birds due to this wader's incredibly long bubblegum pink legs) cheered me up. Ok, I admit it; getting a Father's Day present wasn't my only reason for visiting... Black-winged stilts are a bird that has long been predicted to colonise the UK as it is common in mainland Europe and this year, a larger than average arrival has taken place, leading to at least two nesting attempts. How good would it be for these amazing birds to be a regular sight at RSPB reserves, including our new Wallasea Island reserve in Essex? The next issue of Birds will give you the lowdown on what's going on there.
I like to visit as many new nature reserves as I can. It is my ambition to one day have visited every RSPB reserve, but I also like to see what's going on at the reserves of our conservation partners (including the Wildlife Trusts, as well as WWT). I've always loved herons, so on Sunday it was down to London and the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust's Stocker's Lake reserve. With a great Father's Day present delivered on Saturday, the pressure was off so I used my brownie points to treat myself and friend Steve Blain, who works at the RSPB as Reserves Data Manager (essentially he works with a lot of maps and keeps track of what is where on RSPB reserves) to the sight of a little bittern creeping around on the River Colne.
Steve's also a great photographer and he kindly agreed to let me share a couple of his shots.
You'll have no doubt read a lot about bitterns in Birds magazine, but these are great bitterns (to give them their full name). This little bird is a third the size and is actually quite colourful - it is also very rare and has only nested in the UK a handful of times. We had great views of this female, so it was well worth the trip. You can watch a video of it here
Check out Wild about
There's lots of ideas for things that you can look out for and do in the coming weeks in the Wild about pages of the next issue of Birds. We can't predict the appearance of rarities like the two I enjoyed over the weekend, but there is so much to look for. Don’t forget to tell us what you’ve been seeing, whether it’s in your garden, nearest RSPB nature reserve, or further afield on holiday. I love receiving and reading all your e-mails and letters to the magazine - and seeing your photos. Our new readers' photos section has really taken off, which is great to see.
I'm hoping to get out of the office to meet up with RSPB Broads Area Manager, Ian Robinson, on Friday to see what's been happening on our nature reserves in Norfolk. I'll keep you posted.
An immature scarce chaser (Laura Ward)
Apologies for the grotesque close-up of my face - just focus on the rather nice dragonfly.
It's a scarce chaser - well-named because it's only found in half a dozen or so main areas in south and east England. They're a speciality of the River Ouse near where I live in Cambridgeshire. My girlfriend Laura and me took a walk along a stretch of the river on a rare hot day a few weeks ago (when she took this photo). The chasers were emerging in some numbers, fluttering up uncertainly from the riverside vegetation up onto trees and other lofty places, including me!
If the sun does come out anytime soon, grab the chance with both hands to get down to a wetland near you to enjoy dragonflies. One thing's for sure, they'll be taking full advantage of any chance to enjoy a bit of sun!
Joel (Birds magazine designer) and me have many of our best ideas for the magazine during our lunch breaks when we take a walk around the beautiful Lodge nature reserve. Today has been a particularly good day for coming up with some great new feature ideas for the next few issues - the sun has definitely helped to inspire us!
It was 28 degrees here in Bedfordshire today, which for Summer 2012 is an absolute scorcher.
As we walked past the old heath, RSPB Youth Magazine Editor Derek Niemann and his wife, RSPB Conservation Communications Officer Sarah (you may have seen their feature in Birds Winter 2011 on cuckoos), called us over to ask if we'd like to see the natterjack toad tadpoles in one of the ponds.Sarah and Derek monitor the Lodge natterjacks (and have special licences that allow them to do so). They had seen several newly-laid strings of spawn in the pond yesterday evening.
Peering in to get a good look, I likened the strings of spawn to to the bullet belts worn across the chest in the 'Wild West'. We also got a real bonus in the form of a 'toadlet' walking around on the mud at the edge -such a cutey with his oversized alien-like head. He'll grow up to look like this one taken by RSPB photographer Andy Hay: