11 July 2018:
The garages and hastily built building tacked on to the end of the Bungalow which bridges the gap between what would have been the outdoor loo and coal bunker have long been part of the scenery on the southern half of the Nature Reserve and were built around World War II. These buildings, including the Bungalow itself were subject to structural surveys by their owners the Harwich Haven Authority (HHA) some time back. There were faults which included corroding roof trusses which would be prohibitively expensive to put right and not worth it on a building that was hastily built without damp courses etc, I would imagine. The garages likewise were not seen to be worth saving. After the results of the survey HHA approached the lease holders, the council in this case with various options one of which included replacing the office with a porta-cabin type building along with the installation of a container to house tools and materials. Thankfully this generous offer by the HHA, one of the key Landguard Partnership partners, was taken up by the Partnership.
Over the last four years I have managed to get the garages in to a good working space. After Suffolk Wildlife Trust ended their management of the site the garages had the feel of the 'Marie Celeste' about them even after three and a half years of previous Landguard Partnership management. I have pulled out and burnt such objects as rotting arm chairs, got rid of heaps of old gardening pots, many old previously used fencing material that wouldn't have lasted five minutes if used again, swept and de-cobwebbed and as I previously said eventually ended up with a good useable space.
During the coldest times in the winter it was good to have somewhere to keep my car out of the worst of the weather on this exposed spit. The garages have not only been a good work space but have been good for storing all manner of family items, including bicycles so it is with a heavy heart that I will see them knocked down.
On a more positive note the concrete bases of the garages will be removed and the area will then be transformed to include an enclosed area for visiting schools or other organised visiting groups to sit and get out of the weather. The area will also eventually have a pond and be planted up with shrubs such as buddleia that will encourage insects and other wildlife and in turn provide a wind break. It will provide a welcome silver lining to the dark cloud of demolition. And it has been mooted that we might get a separate shed to house our bicycles!
I was glad to hear that the contractors that will be carrying out the work are well known to the Reserve as they have carried out works on it for HHA on previous occasions and have been fastidious in ensuring that they didn't disrupt the Nature Reserve by replacing turfs and not driving over the grassland if it can be helped etc. It is some how reassuring to know that the end of an era will be brought about by a familiar group and friendly faces.
The Ringed Plover breeding success or rather the lack of it this year is very disappointing. This is not down to a lack of breeding pairs as we have had six pairs, an increase of one pair on last year and the most pairs the Reserve has hosted for quite a while. This is certainly due to the breeding success over the last few years as Ringed Plovers often return to where they were reared. The problem has been with predated nests, most certainly by a pair of Carrion Crows that have learnt how to work as a pair. This was once witnessed by Matt the Bird Observatory resident bird ringer. He saw, at some distance one Crow dislodge the sitting Ringed Plover and the other Crow go in for the eggs. Members of the Corvid family of birds, which crows belong are well known for their ability to work things out and remember. It's a wonder really that any nests have escaped their attention. The story of failure doesn't end there though as the Ringed Plover pairs that manage to hatch their eggs are having their chicks gobbled by a particularly adept male Kestrel, which not content with Ringed Plover chick for breakfast comes back for lunch and supper!
What can be done to help conserve the Ringed Plovers from this onslaught? Well, for the Crow problem cages can be placed over the nest, this physically prevents the Crows from getting at the eggs but has entrances small enough for the Plovers to enter and exit. By the way these are not things that you can acquire from your local hardware shop, even if it is Underwoods Hardware shop of Felixstowe which seems to have everything under the sun. One has to collaborate and find out what has worked for other people - material and dimension wise. I have up until now not wanted to use nest cages because Landguard is not some remote beach on the North Norfolk coast, it is a relatively heavily visited small site. Can you imagine the beach visitor on seeing a cage inside the beach cordons. He or she will make straight for the cage to see what it is, after missing the notice which tells them what they are and to keep a distance! The Ringed Plover will be spooked and leave its nest, times this by umpteen visitors and the nest will fail as the eggs will chill or the adult giving up the will to go on.
For the Kestrel problem diversionary feeding can be undertaken. This appears to be erecting a large bird table with a cage affair on it and then placing dead battery chicks on it so the Kestrels can fill up on them and not bother hunting or at least not as much. There is also the use of a laser pen that you shine at the Kestrel when it gets near nesting areas but I think I have heard that they cost around £300! I feel if it wasn't for the Kestrel we would have some success with fledged chicks by now. They have a nice new nesting box over the fence in the Port. The box was provided because the kestrels were nesting between practice containers which couldn't be moved when nesting had begun. Knowingly or recklessly disturbing the nest of a protected bird is against the law. My summary of the situation is that until I began as the Ranger almost five years ago the Ringed Plovers had dropped to one or two breeding pairs. Increasing the size of the beach cordons and encouraging more pairs to breed may mean that Crows and Kestrels maybe becoming attuned to the annual influx of more nesting Ringed Plovers and the food source that follows their arrival on the beach. I have also heard reports from other Reserves that it is a bad Vole year meaning kestrels are covering a larger hunting area. Certainly on previous years at Landguard the Kestrels have been content to hunt on the northern half of the Reserve until their own chicks have fledged which seems to concur with these reports. I wonder if Underwoods sell laser pens?
What was a rampantly verdant start to the growing season has by the end of June shrivelled to a dry husk and I am almost expecting to hear on the news of water shortages soon. Areas of the Reserve now have the look of late summer when you might expect things to look a little parched. Back in May Arthur Copping leading the Lowestoft Field Club, came to Landguard on a field trip. With their staggering botanical knowledge they identified over 130 species of plant without even covering all areas of the Reserve. Arthur now eighty hasn't joined the computer age and sent me neat hand written list of all species including their common names, which forms part of a wonderful ongoing record of the site and its botanical changes since 1979.
The Landguard Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) continues to make a difference to the level of wildlife disturbance and there are currently three fixed penalty notices pending. Matt Scrags resident bird ringer at the Bird Observatory has been a great help in enforcing the PSPO on a voluntary basis. Matt, thick set, shaven headed with a broken tooth smile could be mistaken for the convict out of 'Great Expectations' which is definitely on his side when he looms out of a sea-fog to politely ask a visitor to obey the new PSPO. When you consider that he has to be up at dawn to put out the mist nets that trap the birds, it is surprising that he has the energy or inclination to get involved in this way. A more affable chap you couldn't wish to meet which is why I am sure he won't take offence to my description… I hope. Needless to say, that this help along with the help from other Bird Observatory members and dog walkers has been greatly appreciated.
The two new main interpretation boards arrived and just to prompt fate while I was opening them, Paul Grant, the Landguard Project Officer said "I hope they have produced them with two different 'you are here' locations". And of course they had not. E-mails with attachment were quickly looked at to verify that it wasn't our mistake and with brows wiped another was ordered! The vibrant colours of the new board are hard to miss so hopefully it will be read and digested.
A rare migrant Dragon Fly was found in the Bird Observatory, a Large White-faced Darter. There was only one record in Kent in June 1859 until two sightings in May 2012 in Suffolk. I believe that this isn't the first record that the Bird Observatory have had for this insect. Observatory members were duly contacted so that they could have a chance to see and photograph this very rare visitor.
A regular visitor to the Reserve, know as 'old Bob' spoke to my wife and children as they were coming home. He mentioned that a Gull had caught its leg on one of the tall wooden break waters at the Point and was hanging by it. By the time the news was relayed to me the water around the break water was too deep to get to it unless by boat. It was a sorry sight as it flapped uselessly to free itself, I thought if only I had a little rowing boat I would be able to get to it. If a rescue attempt would be made at the next low tide that wouldn't be until 4am and would have to be done sharpish as the base of the breakwater was only just uncovered by a low tide. I went to bed wondering how long it would last as I was sure that it would just carry on flapping away trying to free itself.
Herring Gulls are robust and relatively powerful birds, so I thought that there would be a good chance of it being alive in the morning. If not freed this would leave more visitors fretting over it the next morning as they watched its slow demise. It was this thought, coupled with the natural need to ease another's suffering that got me out of bed at 4.30am. When I got to it I was half surprised to see it still weakly flapping but not surprised when it cut my hand with its beak as has
happened every other time I have handled a Gull. It spent the day recovering in the garden and enjoyed a drink. The leg that it had hung from now looked dislocated as its foot faced backwards. The next morning after a night in the office loo it stood in the garden quite well on one leg and when it felt a gust of wind it took off and was seen briefly out on the Reserve later that morning.
For some reason Landguard Nature Reserve seems ideal habitat for the Summer Chafer insect. Follow the link below to see a short clip I took as they swarm around a Hawthorn tree and turn the volume up to hear the squeals of visitors as the swarm around them as well!
We were spoilt for Bluethroats last spring having had a White-spotted Bluethroat in March and then this lovely Red-spotted Bluethroat mid May. This great photo was taken by a local photographer Steven Harper. Since I moved to the east coast of Suffolk it has been an ambition to see a Bluethroat as they are known to turn up after strong easterly winds. These birds were more than consolation for battling against strong north easterlies for what seemed a long time.
I took this photo of a lovely sunset a couple of days after the Summer Solstice when the sun is at its most southerly setting point. From now on it will be bobbing along the Harwich sky line on its way south towards its Winter Solstice setting point.