Thursday, 30 April 2015

Build it at Cresswell and they will come

The sheer rush of late spring is now in force along the Bay. The green flush of new grass and herbs are overtopping the scraggy debris from last year. “Build it and they will come, as the film” famously puts it and certainly the tadpoles have arrived. These tidtads area few days old in the new ponds dug in the corner of the field just on the Cresswell village side of Blakemoor Fram, by the track where many a bird watcher parks. The tadpoles have aligned themselves, strangely reminiscent of aquatic musical notes, along the underside of Flote grass (Glyceria fluitans) leaf blades. The tadpoles still huddle together for protection although the new ponds are still fairly uninhabited by more malicious wildlife. So long as the ponds do not dry quickly (and this corner is a fairly safe bet for staying wet) they should do well. New or temporary ponds make a good refuge from fish or many of the larger invertebrate predators that take a while to colonise. The frogs have got in quick. The new ponds are already markedly different to one another. One is filling up with straggling amphibious grasses as it dries out. Others remain nicely flooded and with varying amounts of Celery leaved buttercup (Ranunculus scleratatus) and Flote grass beginning to establish, classic colonists moving out across the bare substrate.
The adjacent oil seed rape has exploded into bloom, smartingly yellow on the eye and with an evocative wallop of mustard perfume if you walk close by. Well worth doing. It is the smell of late spring turning into early summer, a raw blast of scent and colour. Not every-ones’ favourite but very evocative, a modernist ruthlessness to the colour, smell and wall of stems in contrast to the rough half land, half pool of the untidy corner

Saturday, 25 April 2015

A very polite and literate eider duck

Druridge Bay is blessed with a fine range of bird-watching blogs. Not surprising given the richness of bird life and the regular rarities that turn up. I am not the world's best bird watcher, although I treasure the Bay for the first swallows of the year and the sheer incredulity of breeding avocets. I should be more used to avocets. As  a teenager I used to volunteer at the RSPB's jewel in the crown at Minsmere in Suffolk. Avocets were one of the specialities, then found at only a handful of southern sites. My rubbish bird ID was no hindrance to being a volunteer because there were always other vital jobs to do such as keeping an eye on the car park. Not a glamorous task but a year as a shop assistant had taught me great deal about helping people. Or explaining politely why they couldn't visit that particular day because the reserve was closed and they must have driven past five "Reserve closed" signs to get there. Now there are avocets back again at Cresswell, straining the brackish lagoon for tiny invertebrates in between prima donna-ish fits at the approach of just about any other species.
Other bird life is more polite. This eider tucked waddled along the road into Hauxley Reserve last week, then, presumably seeing the sign that the reserve is closed, settled down to queue. Clearly ducks just need one sign unlike their Minsmere visiting human brethren. Literate and polite: makes bird watching so much easier.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Pond creation made to look easy (because it is)

Here are some other examples of the relative simplicity of good pond creation, to follow up the last blog featuring the newish pools dug out on Blakemoor Farm near Cresswell. The pond above is not at all near Cresswell: it is from a Forestry Commission site in the SW Scottish Borders from the late 1990s. This is before the renaissance in pond studies and the spread of improved advice. The Commission was willing to have a go at pond creation. Nothing fancy ofrlarge scale, but successful. This site is a small corner of a plantation, one of three ponds scrapped out to create a cluster rather than one big, deep, boringly similar site. In high summer this new little pond was close to drying. I have never seen so many Emerald damselflies (Lestes sponsa) as I did that day. The rushes and grasses were a misted by their glittering wings and sparkling bodies. They like sites that dry out, with the females laying eggs in the stems of plants above the water which hatch the following year if water levels have risen sufficiently to submerge the lower parts of the shoots and leaves.

At another site the Commission’s staff had simply added a few deeper JCB gouges to another pool. These refuges were full of beetles and waterboatmen, hanging on for when the rains returned, although, knowing water beetles and waterboatment, the rains better not be too long coming or else they’ll all have eaten each other.
Nothing fancy or complicated but simple habitat creation and above all a willingness to try

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

The Blakemoor pondlife ideal home exhibition

Loss of habitat is one of the main threats to our wildlife. Mostly the loss is not intended to hit the species involved but simply the result of how we use and re-use the landscape. Habitat recreation can be tricky. Ancient woodland is impossible without a time machine and most landscapes take time and expertise: reed cutters, hardy sheep, nest creation.....It's all a lot of effort. However ponds are just about the easiest habitat there is, something anyone can do. Much of the advice that used to worry would be pond diggers turns out to be not essential. Once upon a time it seemed that ponds always have to be large and deep, over 1 metre certainly so frogs didn’t freeze, and with stepped edges like an inverted Mayan temple to make sure you got all the different plant zones.
Thankfully most of these problems turn out to be myths, well and truly nailed by Pond Action (now the Freshwater Habitats Trust. They have lots of excellent information and advice at Shallow, temporary, small ponds do very well for many plants and animals, although fish may be the exception. Good water quality certainly helps, and also ponds created in clusters so you get a bit of variety. It is surprising just how varied adjacent ponds can become. Nor do you have to worry about getting the ponds planted up. They will colonise rapidly and over doing the planting can miss out the earlier pioneer stages as beetles and bugs explore the new opportunities. Given how easy it is to create new ponds and how rich they are in wildlife it is the one thing everybody should do.
Here are some fine new ponds in a field corner just by the entrance to Blakemoor Farm. This is a wet  hollow, more or less where the road to Cresswell sometimes floods over. Rather than dig out the whole area (which would be a shame… the wet grassland is valuable in its own right) they have put in a cluster of ponds. They look a bit gaunt and square at this stage, but that is just how we see the world: the bugs and plants do not fret about the geometry of an ideal home. Great to see some pro-active, thoughtfully done habitat creation. These are ponds to be proud of.