25 July 2017:
There is always a palpable tension in me before the first Ringed Plover chicks fledge which decreases with every fledged chick there after. As I write five have fledged so far with two that are now 26 days old and are probably flying around at this very moment. It's hard to sit down and write this blog, as I don't want to miss a trick. Monitoring their breeding season closely lets me know where the birds are nesting and as close to the day as possible that incubation begins, this then lets me know roughly when their eggs will hatch so a special vigilance can be maintained. One nest which was not far from the new boardwalk was very much in danger of being deserted on a busy Bank Holiday weekend. Two families had sat down for some fishing and a picnic just on the edge of the enclosure where the nest was.
This in itself is enough to frighten the bird off its nest but they were also flying a large black kite directly over its nest. To birds this represents danger, just as a Kestrel flying overhead does. Note: kite flying is an illegal activity on the Reserve. I could see that that one RP was edging closer to its nest with one eye on the kite but couldn't quite pluck up courage to get back on it. Over the weekend I had to ask several people to move so that the nest wouldn't be deserted. Everyone was polite and didn't seemingly mind. From this nest came the two hard won chicks that are about to fledge. Currently there are four pairs of Ringed Plovers still incubating second or third clutches, three of them are in good positions as far as avoiding disturbance is concerned but one nest is in the narrow Sea Pea enclosure that is bordered by the plastic boardwalk; not quite so good, although the same pair managed to fledge two chicks from the same spot from their first brood.
One of the Spring bird migration highlights was a Great Reed Warbler which was singing heartily most of the time that it was on the northern half of the Reserve. This bird justifiably drew in large numbers of birders over a few days. I eventually caught up with a well marked Ring Ouzel which could be very elusive. I just happened to look over the garden fence and there it was feeding on the open grass in the quiet of the evening, definitely a perk of living on site.
The well known Suffolk Botanist Arthur Copping has been surveying the Reserves plant life since its inception in 1979. He makes the train journey down from his home in Diss as he has never driven. After I pick him up from the station; he has now turned eighty, there is literally no stopping him as we go on identifying plants until around 2.30pm. His knowledge in the subtleties of identifying plants is astounding and it's a pleasure to see him reacquaint himself with some of his old friends besides keeping records of what comes and goes on the Reserve.
The rare Stinking Goosefoot plant appeared at the beginning of June in the same old Rabbit scrape as it has done in the past two years. This year besides raking the topsoil lightly to stimulate is germination I have also watered it as last year it dried up almost before flowering. The other notable flowering is Lady's Bedstraw which covered the sward on its southern half in a sea of yellow. Steve Piotrowski, a founder member of the Landguard Bird Observatory and author of The Birds of Suffolk, commented that in all his long association with the Reserve he had not seen such a profusion of the plant.
Summer Chafers are the smaller cousin of Cock Chafers and are prolific on the Reserve, flying always at dusk in June. They seem to be attracted to people, not sure why but once they home in on you they are not easily deterred. Often I'll hear screams and yelps coming from the Reserve and look out to see people frantically waving hands and arms around their heads to beat off the clumsy fly. Just wish I could train them to home in on visitors with dogs off leads!
The Bird Observatory run moth traps from early Spring to late Autumn and over the years have identified a staggering 900 plus species. I can often tell if it has been a good night for trapping moths as Nigel Odin the Bird Observatories moth man is often later than usual on his morning once around the Reserve due to counting all the moths. In June a Spurge Hawk Moth was trapped which is a very rare migrant to these shores. Going back a few years to when Sarah Wynne was Ranger at Landguard, Spurge Hawk Moth caterpillars were found on its food plant, Sea Spurge which is an even rarer occurrence.
I have recorded the odd Fieldcap Agrocybe molesta as I have each year that I have been Ranger at Landguard but as it feels like a relative new fungus in my vocabulary here's a photo of one along with a super Mullein Moth caterpillar munching away on a Mullein plant leaf which I found just outside my back gate.
Bramble that was removed last winter has had its regrowth treated with an herbicide that only kills woody stemmed plants. Gradually the areas of open grassland towards the Point are becoming free of this scrub as per management plan prescriptions and higher level stewardship requirements. This activity will ensure that coastal plants such as Sea Spurge more readily associated with this habitat remain and are not smothered by Bramble.
All this is not to say that Bramble doesn't have wildlife value, its wildlife value is huge which is why on many parts of the Reserve it is encouraged. When is it best to spray or not to spray? Finding the optimum window to spray the herbicide has to be judged carefully. Most would probably think that a completely windless sunny day would be the best time, when in fact a slightly overcast day with a slight breeze is best. To get the best uptake of the chemical it's always good to do it a day or two after it has rained but try to avoid spraying in strong sunshine so early morning and late afternoon are good times.
Jessica Briggs the Ports Environment and Energy Manager organised an event at the Port to help celebrate World Environment Day. Paul Grant (Landguard Project Officer) and I took along a display and leaflets to represent the Reserve. We were also joined by Dave Pearson the Landguard Bird Observatory Chairman. Several steps had to be taken to prevent the display from being blown down, which it did, twice. Andrew Excel from Suffolk Wildlife Trust's Trimley Marshes Nature Reserve was our neighbour and was good to catch up with him. A free Paella dish and ice-cream were served up to keep all the stall holders happy and was much appreciated. Port CEO Clemence Cheng took time out to peruse the different displays and information as did many Port employees.
I took a picture of the beginning of View Point Road when the wildflowers were at their best and 'tweeted' it. It received the most re-tweets and likes of any tweets that I have tweeted. Anyone not familiar with Twitter reading this might be thinking "What’s he on about!". I have to say though that since using Twitter after taking up post here it has proved a great way of sharing information and learning besides being an incalculable waste of time.
Suffolk Armed Forces Weekend went with a bang in fact several loud bangs which were almost audible over someone at the Port playing conkers with containers, I jest, but the wildlife here is used to hearing the odd bang or two and although the cannon fire was very loud it didn't appear to effect birds nesting on the beach, however not something you would want every day of the week! It was good to see several Army/cadets making use of the Reserve to carry out quiet training. Seeing them on the Reserve I could almost visualise the Reserve with the military buildings on it again.
The Mining Station near the Point was once the place that mines strung out across the estuary were detonated from in WW2. Sadly since vandals removed the iron bars that prevent access to the building it has become regularly climbed and entered and has become a regular hang-out. The Harwich Harbour Authority that own the building and the land that it is on will be replacing the iron bars which will at least prevent it from being entered. It's worth noting that Historic England can prosecute anyone damaging any part of a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
The other evening I caught three teenagers tampering with the padlock on the Sea-hide building (another WW2 building then used as a search light installation). From a distance I could see that one of them held a large piece of what looked like concrete, later on I found out it was piece of granite from the sea defence. We have experienced a spate of padlocks being belted off so I was glad to catch them in the act. Why is it that this sort of thing always happens on my day off, but of course this is part and parcel of being a Ranger living 'on site'.