Monday, 28 May 2012

Dewy-eyed over damsels

Story of my life, I guess. But enough about me, let's have some natural history.

Early Saturday morning, the air was quite still, the sun was shining and who could resist a visit to the reserve?

The car park already had a space occupied at 6am. Those moth enthusiasts must never sleep!

Wandering along, staring into the damp grass, many a roosting damselfly could be seen.

Azure Damselfly
In fact, there were damsels everywhere. Dragons were thin on the ground, but here's one that got away...

Exuvia of a Hairy Dragonfly
In the Centre garden, a riverine species, normally, was sunning itself on a leaf.

Male Banded Demoiselle
And along the boardwalk, a male Red-eyed Damselfly was enjoying breakfast...

But the highlight of the morning was watching the emergence of a Four-spotted Chaser dragonfly. A sequence of photographs showing this event can be seen here.

Saturday, 26 May 2012


Sometimes when I visit the Reserve to do a little bird-watching, the place seems unusually still, with very little avian life swooping, strutting or stalking.
Strange as it may seem, I'm pleased.  It gives me a chance to take in everything else.... look through the curtain of trees instead of into them.....

   ...and down at the carpet of meadow grasses and flowers.

I think I should leave my binoculars at home more often!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

And they're off!

After a chores-y morning, I couldn't resist a half an hour's quality HESC time, so decamped to the reserve to check out the ponds for any emerging damsels or dragons.

The day was the warmest in a while, with a only a slight Northerly breeze, so I was delighted to discover a female Blue-tailed Damselfly, Ischnura elegans, in the small pond in the Centre garden.

Round by the pond dipping area, a few Large Red Damselflies, Pyrrhosoma nymphula, were emerging and several female Azure Damselflies, Coenagrion puella, were taking their maiden flights, all milky wings and ungainly landings. Whilst watching a Red and an Azure that were perched quite close together, my eyes were drawn to a much larger shape a bit further away. Another female, but this time a Hairy Dragonfly.

Brachytron pratense
At last, the Odonata flight season seems to be underway.

Monday, 7 May 2012

FoHESC volunteers in Olympic trials

Well, it is 2012 and there is a sort of grand School Sports Day in the offing, so why not jump on the athletic bandwagon?

Yesterday morning, our merry team of fencers assembled once again, ostensibly to pit their wits against various trespassers and their numerous incursions into the reserve. In reality, our reflexes and ingenuity were given a sterner test by the reels of barbed wire, brambles, hawthorn and some rabbit burrows hidden in the vegetation. Honestly, swords would've been safer.

Having identified which tracks were made by legitimate users (and here I'm referring to Badger, Fox, Rabbit and Muntjac, not over-zealous permit holders) and those which obviously belonged to bipedal boozers and bonkers, we set about brandishing some cutting edge technology in selected areas. Unerringly, this area is usually about groin height, but that's probably just coincidence.

If someone is determined to illegally gain access to the reserve, then without a stout barrier and constant vigilance, there's not much we can do to prevent that. However, if, for example, the German or Italian or French or Japanese fencing team want to spy on our training camp, we can endeavour to slow them down a bit, by limiting their movements with a few sharp barbs.

(Is it just me, or is there something about that list of top fencing countries that strikes a chord?)

So, with a smile on our faces and a song in our hearts, we set to work, a happy band of volunteers with an average age of... well, I'm fifty and probably the most junior member. And the song might've been the theme tune to Dad's Army.

Barbed wire was uncoiled, staples were hammered, a few choice oaths were given an airing and another section of perimeter fence was enrolled into the cut and thrust of our counter attack. Whether we can foil the transgressors or not, the real winners were teamwork and camaraderie. These traits will stand us in good stead for all the challenges that lie ahead in the parry and riposte of habitat management and local politics.

On guard!

Sunday, 6 May 2012


And second and third firsts, too!
Here we go - my first blogpost - I'm writing this with a pinch of trepidation and a large helping of grin!
Trepidation? It's a bit like a first date, the first blogpost - you never quite know what you've let yourself in for.
And the grin?  Well, today I saw my first hobby on The Reserve, and then later on three more from the Near Hide - a flock, a second first!  

So - what else is there to recall about a Sunday visit in early May, which began with a FoHESC working group, and became a day of first, second and third firsts?  
Apart from the very pleasant and informative company of Friends, there were red-legged partridges (another HESC first for me), and sparrowhawks high up with buzzards; there were skylarks and kestrels over the fields when we were working, and later on a muntjac and a reed bunting to watch when we rested.  Earlier, the black tern flew in (just for us it seems) and out, and the blackcaps, blackbirds and garden warblers swelled the Hanson Orchestra...  

In the afternoon I spent an indulgent few hours more away from real life. A sedge-warbler flew out of cover to sit and warble in full view whilst I sat in the full sun. On the boardwalk a long-tailed tit flew by carrying a feather and I watched their nest I'd spotted last week, hoping to see them going in and out again as they had before. The martins and swallows and swifts swarmed over the lake; black cormorants were sitting statuesqely amongst the herons' nests in the trees and white egrets grouped across the lake from them, reminding me of a game of draughts....

In the hedges the gorse flowers smelled of coconut after the sun had warmed them, and everywhere the comfrey seemed to have grown another few centimeters in a very few hours. That's the problem with HESC - it makes time vanish...

And as for my last 'first'? It was to be brief - I'll aim for that one next time :)

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

On The Up

Here is a quick update on the state of the reserve as of this morning.

The Great Ouse still appears to be within its banks to the rear of the reserve however levels in the lakes have risen appreciably since Sunday.

View from the Near Hide - Bund What Bund?

On the main lake the Bund is completely submerged apart from a few willow wisps poking above the surface and the water has risen about a foot up the banks so that it is lapping at the front of the far hide footings. This will have overwhelmed a number of nests built in the margins although hopefully it is still early enough for most birds to start again without too much loss of eggs.

"I'm sure I left a nest here somewhere"

The most amazing transformation has taken place to the experimental ponds behind the near hide, these are now full (6 weeks ago they were empty) and the water surface is about a foot below the raised boardwalk. The rebuilt holt is now a virtual boathouse whilst only last week there was a good two to three feet drop to the water.

Under the Boardwalk

Whilst not exactly Mavis Grind, the path down to the far hide has become a two metre causeway between the Main Lake and St Peters Lake and much more rain will see the two lakes join in places.

Tern Island is submerged at tree base level which unfortunately, almost certainly means the end for the Oystercatchers nest site.

Tern Island seen from the Far Hide

The council have acted quickly to remove the two trees which had fallen across the paths at the far end of the reserve.

We have also received one or two comments, asking if it is possible for the Council to open the sluices and drain the main lake so as to expose the bund. Unfortunately, the sluices only control a gravity feed from the river to the lake, so it is not possible to use them to reduce water in the lake.

Looks like rain