Thursday, 31 March 2011

Comings and Goings.

Sightings: Migrant birds have really started to arrive now. Blackcaps and chiff-chaffs are singing from tall trees all around the site and the first willow warblers have been heard. A lot of sand martins are catching insects overhead. Look among them to see the odd swallow or house martin. A walk along the Meadow Trail should produce at least singing Cetti's warbler near Rudd Pit. I haven't heard a sedge warbler there yet, but they must come any day now.
Faith Darlow has taken several pictures of the muntjac deer that come to the visitors' centre garden at dusk. The buck seems to have damaged his antlers and he has a pronounced limp. This could be from fighting, or an encounter with Faith, or a car, but he's still eating our bushes! Looking at the photo, I think he's just old like me.

Reptiles and amphibians are on the move too. I have heard frogs croaking on Hayling and Rudd Pits, smooth newts are in all the smaller ponds and I saw a grass snake swimming in the Sailing Lake.

On calm, sunny days you don't have to walk far to find insects, especially where the gravel banks have been warmed by the sun. We seem to have more mining bees than ever, and bee-flies are very much in evidence. This has to be my favourite insect. They are so funny to watch, looking like a child's drawing of a bee with a fat, round, fuzzy body and ridiculously small wings. Confusingly, they often fly backwards and look the same at both ends, except they have a long pointed proboscis at the front for inspecting tubular flowers like primroses and cowslips.

Killer shrimps: Don't panic! They aren't that big and we have not found them at Paxton Pits yet. At regular intervals The Environment Agency lends us two shrimp traps to put out in Pumphouse Pit. We know they work because we catch shrimps in them, but thankfully not the dreaded killers which still seem to be confined to Grafham Water and another lake in Cardiff. Long may it stay that way.

News from the Quarry: The quarry remains closed. We have been waiting to hear when Aggregate Industries (AI) will return to complete landscaping and restoration work at Diddington Pit. They have been running pumps to drain down the lake ready for the work, so it is almost dry now. With waders and other birds getting ready to nest, this is crunch time. We either have to start landscaping and keep the birds off, or let them nest and forget the earth-moving until the autumn. AI have decided to let the birds breed so the pumps have been turned off. We expect the water levels to rise enough to create small islands in the lake that will discourage foxes. It's a race against time.

Meanwhile, in Pumphouse Pit we have the opposite problem; too much water. We are working with the gravel company to reduce the water levels there using the pumps that have just been turned off. I'll let you know how it works out.

Diddington Pit can either be approached from Diddington Village which lies just off the A1 between Paxton and Buckden, or by the public footpath from the Reserve to Diddington.
There is no public access into the quarry.

Despite not really being here most of the time, Aggregate Industries has still managed to win two out of the three national awards that the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) presents to the quarrying industry. During the qualifying period, they have carried out a lot of conservation work as part of the restoration of Pumphouse Pit and our volunteers and the Friends have insured that they have had a lot of community involvement in the site, so that's what the awards are for. Another quarry won the coveted trophy for the highest number of bird species seen, by just three! Anyway, well done AI, and well done us.

Sewage, sludge and slurry: (I just like saying it.) The footpath around the Meadow Trail will re-open on Monday after the contractors have finished tidying up. The ancient sewage pipe has been successfully replaced and the surface should be pretty flat, but it's very muddy at the moment. Once it dries out, our lucky volunteers will start wheel-barrowing gravel onto the surface. This might take a few days.

Goodbye Pat: It's hard to believe that our boss, Pat Knight is retiring. The Ranger Service in Huntingdonshire was his baby; he started it from a one man show at Hinchingbrooke to become the many-headed beast it is today. He even employed me! Forgive me for shedding a tear or two, but I don't think things will ever be the same again around here. Pat has been the one person to keep the District Council focused on its responsibilities for nature conservation and public access. His role in the Great Fen Project has gone largely unsung, and his skills in networking outside the District Council are unique. We are really going to miss his support but I know we can count on his involvement in a voluntary capacity for years to come. Bon voyage!

New Faces: For two weeks we have Robert and Lilly with us on work experience placements from school. They both attend St Neots Community College and are (I hope) enjoying their chance to escape from the tedium of the National Curriculum. They are making a photo diary of their stay that looks like being very revealing as it highlights the aspects of Paxton Pits that they find interesting. It will either be very short or (judging by the number of pictures they have taken) an epic!

Have a good week-end.