10 November 2016:
I first met Ben Matthews while patrolling the beach at Landguard. He was litter picking along the strandline where a lot of flotsam and jetsam (rubbish) turns up. He explained that he was doing his 'Two Minute Beach Clean' something set up by the Clean Coast initiative (www.cleancoasts.org/our-initiatives/2minutebeachclean). Later he got in contact mentioning that he is employed by Community Action Suffolk (www.communityactionsuffolk.org.uk) and that he was allowed two days in the year to volunteer for a worthy community project such as the Landguard Partnership.
Not one to look a 'gift horse in the mouth' I snapped up his offer. Ben worked with me for two days in a row helping to put up fence rails and replace a flight of dilapidated steps on the Rifle Butts. Sometimes an extra pair of hands is all that is needed to make undertaking these sorts of jobs possible. Ben really committed himself to the two days, staying past five o'clock to help finish installing the steps and was a pleasure to work with. Definitely someone in my estimation that can 'Walk the Walk' as well as 'Talk the Talk'! Thanks again Ben, very much appreciated!
Sarah Wynne, a past Landguard Ranger wrote the present Management Plan for the Nature Reserve and now its five years has elapsed. I have been revising the plan so that it makes sense for the next five years. The plan stays largely the same as the bulk of a plan is in its description which determines its objectives and then on to its prescriptions and actions. I feel Sarah’s plan covers and understands the Reserves complexities very well so it has made revising it even easier. Converting the pdf back to a word document might sound straight forward enough but left formatting issues that were beyond me! Paul Grant (Landguard Project Officer) has taken on the task of rejigging the text and photos so hopefully soon the revised Plan will be available via the Discover Landguard website at www.discoverlandguard.org.uk/assets/Documents/Landguard-Nature-Reserve-Management-Plan.pdf
The other week I noticed from a distance someone kneeling down at the base of the security fence at the rear of the Bird Observatory. Just as I was getting even more curious as to what was happening a Muntjac deer sprung from the side of the crouching man. Only then did I realise that the crouching man must have been trying to free the deer from the security fence. The deer bolted towards the Reserve and must have found cover in some Brambles because I didn’t see it until the next day when I found it dead at the back of the Bungalow. It probably died from internal injuries caused by being trapped. Although in a former life I spent eighteen years as a live-stockman farm worker and have been somewhat desensitised to the death of animals, not in a callous way I hasten to add, anyone weaning off 24 piglets per sow per year on a rolling average as I did only gets this from a high degree of care. A certain amount of death does confront you though and I was a little surprised to feel a profound sadness as I stared down at the lifeless body.
On the 20 September I caught up with some Bird Observatory members on their morning walk over the Reserve to record the bird life. I learnt that earlier an Arctic Warbler had been caught and ringed at the Observatory and was still present in the Obs grounds. This was their second only record for an Arctic Warbler, I have to confess that I hadn’t heard of one before but was keen to try and see it. I was told that it was calling and sounds like a Coal Tit. It did appear briefly in the trees at the back of the Obs and was calling but I didn’t see it, although it certainly did sound like a Coal Tit.
Later that afternoon I was over by the Bungalow when I heard it calling again but much more strongly this time, it was coming from the southern end of the Obs grounds. I grabbed my binoculars and shot over thinking I must get a look this time but as I got there the calling stopped and a birder approached me whom was also trying to spot it. I said it was calling strongly just now but the birder told me that he had been playing a recording to try and lure the bird towards him. I felt crest fallen (excuse the pun) the only thing that he had lured was me! Later that afternoon, I did see it briefly, but not so as I could honestly identify it, although its pale underside did give it away as not being the more usual Willow Warbler or Chiffchaff. For this and other birds trapped/recorded at Landguard: www.lbobs.blogspot.co.uk
I caught sight of an old paddle steamer passing Landguard Point and managed to get a photo, I’m told it was the Waverley. Seeing it evoked memories of family holidays to the Isle of Wight when I was a child, taking the paddle steamer ferry from Portsmouth to Ryde on the Isle of Wight. It was and still is the epitome of what a ship should look like to me especially with its swept back funnels, perhaps excluding its paddles on each side. I can vividly remember the smell and vibration made by the engines. Very much a part of our summer holidays as the Dandy and Beano comic Annuals! Ah the good old days; not really things have improved a lot but it was nice to see one again if only to have the memories brought to the surface.
Rosie our adopted injured Gull from the middle of last summer had been coming and going from our home in the Landguard Bungalow on a daily basis. She would seem content to stay in the garden all day but towards late afternoon the call of the wild would take over and she would attempt to fly out of the garden which she sometimes managed. On other attempts complete failure, so I learnt to let her out of the back gate before she tried. More often than not she would fly in to the centre of the large open space at that end of the Reserve where other Gulls were stabbing away at invertebrates in the short turf. I once saw her fly off purposefully over the Port at quite a height seemingly making a B line to something, possibly the nearest landfill site.
Then for just over a week she didn’t come back for her daily feed. I thought that she must have died or why hadn’t she come back for an easy free feed? I was reversing the car out on the school run when my son Ray exclaimed "there’s Rosie!". Sure enough Rosie had returned. She came back every day for the next two weeks and has currently not been back for quite while. I have had recent reports of a young Gull going by Rosie’s description loitering on the seafront and sometimes walking in to the Tourist Information beach hut. Presumably she wanted directions back to Landguard but certainly wanted food.
I found an interesting spider at the end of last summer on an outer window sill of the Bungalow. Having a slight arachnophobia its not a taxonomic group that I spend much time looking for. I was sure however that I hadn’t come across this one before so took a pic and googled UK spiders.
It wasn’t long before realising that it fell neatly into the False Widow family of spiders. It is venomous but only generally feels like a bee sting but some horror stories of particularly bad reactions to the venom might lead you to believe otherwise. Watch out, it is sometimes known as the Cupboard Spider for its liking to lurk in dark places!
Clearing the permanent Conservation Area of scrub, at the Point is this Winters mission. It involves brush cutting down the main stands of Bramble. Our powerful Landguard brush cutter makes light work of this, although having said that I am usually drenched in sweat on finishing. Then it’s a case of locating the centre of the plant and digging out as much of the roots and rhizomes (underground stems) as can be done. This then limits the amount of herbicide needed to control any growth the following growing season, a cardinal law in the use of herbicides.
The idea is to free the areas of shingle to make them more appealing for nesting Ringed Plovers. This area once had Little Terns nesting in it but I am told this was before the Harwich Harbour Authority fences were taken down which neatly fenced off this area from visitors and the disturbance caused. Little Terns I am told are quite sensitive to disturbance. Perhaps though, if two or three pairs decided to nest right in the centre of the area and with the greatest of visitor co-operation i.e. not a breath of a dog off its lead it just might happen. At the very least the habitat will be greatly improved for nesting Ringed Plovers which are now a red listed species.
In this endeavour the much valued, veteran Suffolk Coastal Norse’s 'Footprints' volunteers had a great day making it happen. They were also joined by six volunteers from the Port in their lunch break an idea kicked off by Oliver Calver (Port employee). The group was led by Jessica Briggs, only two months in to her new post at the Port as Environment and Energy Manager. Good weather was enjoyed by all and the new recruits were not phased by the task and really got stuck in.
As I always like to reiterate, the greater bulk of conservation work just doesn’t happen without volunteers and every hour of volunteering counts as much as the next. Hopefully they might be up for round two!
Lastly, my daughter Jiarui, pronounced Jaree in case you are wondering, is a Rainbow and I was asked if the Reserve could host one of their evening meetings. I thought great I won’t have to play taxi driver that evening!
The photo captures Jiaruis excitement as the Rainbows gather and is reminder to me that the best excitement and enjoyment for this age group can come from other things than a two dimensional screen!