With summer coming to an end and autumn beginning it’s safe to say that this week has been rather cold and wet compared to the last few months, even on the brighter days there is still a chill in the air.
With the tern fence down, and school holidays over the reserve has been less hectic than it is in the summer months but working on a nature reserve means there are always jobs needing done to keep you busy.
On Tuesday morning Mark and I headed out to the mouth of the estuary to do an Eider count and were pleasantly surprised by the lack of wind (nearly every day is a windy day around here) giving the reserve a calm and almost serene atmosphere. From this survey we counted 717 Eiders as we made our way up the estuary, these surveys are important in giving us a good idea of how our Eider population is doing. I must admit that counting hundreds of birds can at times be difficult though, it’s always nice to get out and do a spot of wildlife watching.
This week has involved some of the more manual, and slightly less exciting jobs though that doesn’t make them any less important! A job that I have been trying to get done for a week or two now is scrubbing the lichen off of all the way markers and giving them a lick of paint. The only thing is, you can’t paint things outdoors if it starts to rain… and every day I head out with my tin of paint and brushes I seem to be cursed with a mix of downpours and constant drizzles (even though the forecast said otherwise). I have no idea whether this is bad luck, bad timing or fate just not wanting these posts to be painted in a rush but Friday was the perfect example: Lovely weather in the morning, so I gathered my supplies and headed for waterside. I thought that I was in luck with the occasional glimpse of the sun trying to break through the clouds yet the minute I sat my things down and began to paint, contrary to the forecast, mother nature had other plans and the heavens opened. I guess that the unpredictable weather is just one of the things you have to embrace when working outdoors.
While these sporadic drizzles and occasional downpours can be a slight inconvenience for us trying to get jobs done, it is great for the amphibians here on the reserve, especially after the very hot and dry summer that we’ve had (maybe the newts, frogs and toads have been doing lots of rain dances of recently, rather than my bad luck). Walking past the sand loch and around the heath trail I try to watch my footing as to not step on the many toadlets and froglets that are hard to spot if you’re not looking for them!
One exciting moment this week was a rather small visitor in the form of a newt travelling across the steps outside the office which I nearly missed until Annabel pointed it out to me. For amphibians to be able to move any distance from bodies of water they need damp conditions like we have seen in the last week to prevent their moist skin from drying out. Amphibians use both their lungs and their skin to breathe. These animals use their lungs to breathe on land and ‘skin-breathing’, also known as cutaneous gas exchange to effectively breathe under water. The especially thin skin and mucous membrane of these animals allows them to absorb oxygen through the surface of their bodies which then directly enters their blood stream.
In recent weeks I have had the joy of being accompanied during disturbance surveys by a Cormorant (probably not the same one but I like to think it could be, maybe I should think of a name for it) that perches itself on the post closest to the shore at Inch point. The first time I saw it I jumped at the opportunity for a good photo through the scope but didn’t want to risk scaring it off. I opened the car door VERY slowly, crouching behind the door I crept out of the car with my scope and tripod in hand, did a rather awkward crouch-walk around the back of the car and set up the scope, peeking around from behind the car, desperately trying not to ruin the opportunity for a good photo and cause this bird any bother. After a few minutes of taking some snaps I hesitantly stood up, needing to start the survey and expecting the prehistoric looking bird to fly off. After a quick glance and a moment of looking at one another I think we came to the mutual understanding that with the water separating us, we clearly were not going to bother one another.
Cormorants catch their food by swimming and diving under the water. These birds have evolved to spend as little energy as possible underwater by not having to fight against their own buoyancy with feathers that do not retain air and become easily waterlogged, allowing them to dive deeper with ease. Their sacrifice for being such strong swimmers is that they have to dry off after a swim and can often be seen stood facing the sun with their wings spread out to the side.
With the time of year for spotting many insects is coming to an end, there is still plenty to see! I have been putting the moth trap out on clear nights with the hope of catching something exciting, though any moth is still a good find to me. A few weeks ago a gentleman came to the office asking me to have a look at some pictures he got of a large moth nearby, at first glance I thought that it was a Privet hawk moth which was exciting enough however, upon closer inspection I came to realise that it looked more like a Convolvulus hawk moth! An exciting find considering the species is a rare migrant from mainland Europe.
I have yet to see one of these marvellous moths with my own eyes, and none have wandered into our moth trap thus far. A girl can only hope!
Working during the weekends on the reserve come with a change of pace as most of my time is spent on the reserve patrolling and standing at the entrance to the reserve at Waterside. The focus of the weekend work, especially at this time of year and into the winter months is to a chat with people coming to the reserve giving advice on responsible wildlife watching, sharing information about the reserve and of course having a general chit chat. Spending the majority of my weekends on the reserve has given me the opportunity to get to know many of the people who frequently visit the reserve (and their dogs, of course) and have interesting conversations with familiar faces and newcomers alike. Since my first weekend on the reserve earlier this year, each week people tell me how beautiful the reserve is and how lucky I am having the opportunity to work here and honestly, I couldn’t agree more.