'Footprints' are priceless


19 September 2018:

September has always been a favourite month to me with fresh, cool dew laden mornings and still a promise of sunshine. It's the meteorological start of autumn and for anyone with a passing interest in Mycology, such as me, it's when more fruiting bodies begin to be found. It's also when more migrating birds pass through the Reserve and is obviously an exciting time for Ornithologists with each day promising to reveal to them a bird much less seen or possibly a "lifer"; a bird seen for the first time by an individual. September is also the time that I began work as the Landguard Ranger which means that I have been in post for five very interesting and fulfilling years.

The Horse Mushroom in the photo below can be identified by the cartwheel pattern on its partial veil, that attaches from the rim of the cap to the stipe. I have only found them on one small area of the Reserve and as they are associated with horses and their dung, could this be where the military kept horses?

Horse MushroomHorse Mushroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Footprints building boardwalk

Over the last five years volunteers have played a vital role in the practical management of the Reserve. They have removed mountains of brambles to prevent too much grassland disappearing, built and fixed boardwalks, replaced a flight of rotting steps in each of my five years as Landguard Ranger, laid an 'access for all path', erected fencing, the list goes on. In short the Reserve would be a much poorer place without the help of these volunteers. The volunteers' involvement isn't a tick box exercise, although of course it does, but a real and necessary need for the running of most Nature Reserves. The volunteers that I work with are known as the 'Footprints'. I work with them in my other role as a Countryside Ranger for East Suffolk Norse as well. In that role I spend a lot of time with the 'Footprints' maintaining and restoring the Heathland habitat at Sutton Heath and Upper Hollesley Common from October to the end of February (outside the Woodlarks breeding season). Over the years we have literally removed millions of small Birch and Pine trees to prevent afforestation of this rare habitat.

Footprints raking wildflower meadowWe are always keen to recruit more 'Footprints' volunteers. Our work parties are generally from 1000-1500, so if you can spend an hour with us, or a whole day please get in touch. We provide training with the hand tools required, gloves, boots and a hot drink. The regular work parties can help you keep active through the winter months. There is also a valuable social aspect to the work parties. I have to admit I really value this myself as I have learnt from and enjoyed the company of the volunteers that I work with. Lastly you can visit the sites that you have worked on in the summer and have the satisfaction of knowing that they would be vastly different places without your input. The work is unpaid but the value of it is priceless!

If you are interested in joining or want more information about volunteering with the 'Footprints' please contact me on chris.ryde@eastsuffolk.gov.uk or phone 01394 444457/8 and please leave a message if I am not in the office.

Footprints removing young Birch treesFootprints removing young Pine trees

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Tawney PipitTawney Pipit was recorded and photographed by the Bird Observatory, the last one being recorded on the Reserve in 2012. A 'lifer' for some as it would have been for me if I hadn't been working in my other post! Observatory members were first alerted to it's presence by its call which is not unlike that of the Yellow Wagtail so I am told.

WryneckA Wryneck was spotted on the 6 September, other old names include twister, writhe neck and snake bird. These all refer to the bird's ability to
turn its head and neck through almost 360 degrees, and the fact that when startled it can hiss like a snake.

This year is the first year that I have worked at Landguard and not had the excitement of seeing a Landguard fledged Ringed Plover chick fly along the beach. Despite having six pairs of Ringed plovers nesting on the beach, more birds than for a very long time, it has been a complete disaster! Having reduced the visitor disturbance to very low levels, which has been helped a lot by the inclusion of a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) we now have to deal with predation, chiefly by Crows and Kestrels. The prohibition of fishing in nesting areas has worked well in reducing the Gulls on the beach and subsequent predation of eggs and chicks by them so that is one positive to hold on to. Anti predation techniques I went through in the previous blog, but for me personally, this would include singling out the offending Crows as it was easy to do this season and shooting them in accordance with a general licence, seen on this link: www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/669159/gl06-birds-conservation-licence.PDF

Ringed PloverI think this would be a justifiable act in the pursuit of Ringed Plover Conservation and of course legal. It might sound short term and artificial and not a natural approach but we live in a very managed landscape. Take for example the removal of scrub on the Reserve to retain the botanical diversity. The natural thing would be to just let it scrub up and eventually afforest but because the Dry Acid Grassland is rare due to loss and burgeoning population we aim to keep it on Nature Reserves to retain the biological diversity.

How lifeless and poorer the Landguard beach would be without the nesting Ringed Plovers call and their amazing courtship flights? I wouldn't want to kill anything in the name of conservation without carefully weighing up the ramifications and benefits. Three Oyster Catcher nests were predated as well, almost certainly by the same two Crows.

2014 Fledged Ringed Plover chicks 7. Helped by the local Peregrine predating the local Kestrel.

2015 Fledged Ringed Plover chicks 4.

2016 Fledged Ringed Plover chicks 8. Helped by more than doubling the beach cordon size.

2017 Fledged Ringed Plover chicks 7. The rise of nest and chick predation by Crows on the increase.

2018 Fledged Ringed Plover chicks 0. Not helped by Kestrel nesting in the Port and learned Crows. 

There are other factors at play as well such as good and bad growing seasons providing more or less vegetation cover, sand inundation, good hunting weather, bad Vole season etc.    

Wildlife Safari DayWasp Spider

Wildlife Safari Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 'Wildlife Safari' event was a variant on the usual 'Bug and Beasties Day' in an effort to cover more of the Reserve and make better use of the two hour event. It worked very well with the event ending up at its usual location among the brambles near the Manor Terrace car park. Find of the day had to be the superb Wasp Spider which seems to have thrived as a species in the long hot and dry summer. It's a pity that the event attendees didn't see the seven Privet Hawk Moth caterpillars that I came across later, busily munching through Privet, their larval food plant.

Privet Hawk Moth caterpillarPrivet Hawk Moth caterpillars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Conservation AreaThe new 'conservation area', a fenced and Rabbit proofed area of grassland near the Bungalow has already shown its worth with more plants being able to flower consistently through the growing season. More plants flowering means more seeds for foraging birds.

This isn't something that we would want to replicate across the southern half of the Reserve as the continual grazing by Rabbits provides the short turfed and 'stressed' habitat favoured by plants such as the nationally scarce Suffocated Clover, that thrive in these conditions. One of the management prescriptions of this habitat is to provide varying sward heights hence the inclusion of the Rabbit proofed fenced area.

On the 1 September I counted eleven Common Blue butterflies taking nectar from Birds-foot Trefoil and St Johns Wort. It was great to see this contrast at this end of the Reserve. 

It won't be long until we take down the beach cordons, that have provided an undisturbed habitat for nesting Ringed Plovers and prevented the vegetation from being trampled. I have noted good amounts of Sea Rocket, Rays Knotgrass, Orache species and Prickly Saltwort which are generally found just inside the seaward edge of the beach cordons and it is this area that is most prone to trampling if not protected. On the other hand I think the drought conditions were the reason that we didn't record one of the Reserves rarest plants, Stinking Goosefoot this year.

The England coastal footpath looks set to be routed around the Point of the Nature Reserve after two site visits from Natural England whom are implementing the plan. Please follow the link for more information: www.gov.uk/government/collections/england-coast-path-improving-public-access-to-the-coast

One very positive outcome for the Reserve is that, Natural England have pencilled in refurbishment of the storm damaged boardwalk at the Point as this is part of the intended route. This will nicely remove the headache of what to do with this stretch of boardwalk.

Starling bathingShelduck with chicks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A plastic cake plate made a useful bird bath during the summer drought.

A pair of Shelduck were noticed leading their ducklings across the southern beach cordon and down to the beach. It was really good that this was recorded by a Bird Observatory member as it is not often witnessed. Shelduck can nest in old rabbit burrows or any suitable void which makes it difficult to know if they are nesting on the Reserve at all.

House Sparrow chicksHouse Sparrow chicks - 12 days laterA low bird box in the Bungalow garden provided the opportunity to check a second House Sparrow brood a day or two after hatching and then 12 days later.

Quite a difference!

Landguard Ranger @ Twitter