Friday, 6 December 2013

Storm and Pestilence

The calm after the storm. 
On December 5th we had a bit of a rough day, to say the least. For some if us this could be attributed to the activities of the previous night when the Anglia Co-operative Society put on another one of their famous buffet suppers in the Visitors' Centre. I won't mention any names, but there were some red, squinty eyes to be seen in the morning.

Gale-force winds headed their way down to us from Scotland and gradually built to a crescendo in the early afternoon when objects started flying past the windows. Then there was a bit of a bang and the lights went off. I still do not know where the problem was, but the whole village was without electricity for a couple of hours or so while men in vans dashed around looking for the cause. One van was dispatched to the quarry, where it got stuck so badly that Ranger Rob couldn't budge it with our big blue tractor. They brought in a crane later, but it was dark by then.

A few trees were tipped over in the storm while leaves and small branches were scattered everywhere, but we seem to have got off lightly. Our remaining problem was not due to the weather at all, but due to some unwanted nocturnal guests in the Hayden Hide who were having their own party on Wednesday night.

It seems they turned up with a pack of larger cans and decided to light a fire with the cardboard wrapper. Having no kindling, they smashed up one of our benches and used it to try and set light to another. Fortunately with little success.

This sort of thing does not happen to us very often but it is really annoying as it makes more work for us and our insurance will not pay out. When we call the police, after a long time on hold, we usually obtain a crime number and that's the end of the story.

Tunnel of bushes on the Ouse Valley Way,
near Wash-out Pit.
This time, I was impressed by the helpfulness of the person on the end of the phone who took notes and soon phoned me back to arrange for a forensic technician to call on us. She expertly took swabs for DNA from the beer cans and took the cardboard and some cigarette-ends away to dry out before trying to get any prints or DNA from them.  Maybe we will get lucky.

Now that relative normality has resumed it is time to take stock of what's about on the reserve. Until recently it has been a bit quiet for birds but now the numbers of wildfowl are soaring. We have already had our first smew of the year ( a red-headed female or youngster) and quite a few goldeneyes have been seen, but it is the widgeon numbers that are getting impressive this week. More unusual sightings include two North American ruddy ducks and two Chinese mandarin ducks.
The new ramp under construction.

If you are very lucky, especially around dusk, you might see a woodcock moving from its day-time cover to feed on a marshy field. These pigeon sized waders have short, rounded, moth-like wings and and a long, straight beak that points downward. If you have really good hearing, you may hear the high pitched reeling of goldcrests in the conifers near the Kingfisher Hide or you may find them in a roving flock of long-tailed tits.

Ranger Matt Hall has promised me that the big ramp on the Meadow Trail will be ready by Christmas. It looks possible to me. Our new boot-brushes are in place already, thanks to Ranger Paul Claydon, and thanks to a donation from the Friends of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve.