Saturday, 12 June 2010

Cudweed central

Red-tipped Cudweed, Spoonbills (including a Dutch-ringed bird) and an ant in trouble in an Antlion pit.

A chance to stand back and assess progress is a valuable exercise in nature reserve management. The heathland and acid grassland habitats at Minsmere were the focus of attention this week. Undoubtedly the reversion of ex-arable fields to acid grassland has proved highly successful for Stone Curlews with around 8 pairs in the wider area, and is also a hotspot for cudweeds, including the endangered Red-tipped Cudweed. Following the severe winter, Dartford Warblers have not suffered as badly as feared in Suffolk (with about a 40% decline).

A trip to Minsmere always provides plenty of interest: a Purple Heron lurked in the reedbed, Avocets appear to be having a good year on the scrape, Black-headed Gulls have increased to around 1500 pairs (with a few pairs of Med Gull) and a pair of Spoonbills frequented the Levels all week. Last but not least, Antlion pits around the visitor centre proved great entertainment. As ants slip into the pit the Antlion larvae flick sand up to dislodge them until they slip into the waiting jaws.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Berry Fen

Although it is only a small part of the RSPB landholding in the Ouse Valley, Berry Fen is, in my mind, one of the most exciting parts of the reserve. It was my first ‘port of call’ during a tour of Ouse Valley sites, a tour that included Ouse Fen and Fen Drayton and saw me connecting (eventually) with a third Red-footed Falcon in a little over a week and a mass of newly emerged Scarce Chasers.

Berry Fen is a small wetland adjacent to the River Ouse. Unlike many reserves, the water is deliberately not controlled, it is a floodplain washland; wet when the river is high, dry when it is low. Two years ago it was very wet in the spring (and attracted a lot of birds), last year it was dry, this year it is wet again. In the wet years it is heaving with breeding duck and, as it dries out, the muddy edges are ideal for breeding and passage waders. This irregular wetting pattern makes the site far more productive than if it was wet every year – not always easy to get across when birders complain that the site is dry. Berry Fen will not be good for birds every year, but when it is wet, it has the potential to be very good.