I don't do many guided walks these days, mostly because I don't get asked to!
Most of our walks are led by volunteers who do a really great job and, now that I work part-time, I have to prioritise what work I do. All the same, I really enjoy taking a group out on the Reserve, especially if they are really interested in natural history.
Yesterday, the local Wildlife Trust held a training day for their volunteers in the Nature Lab. Ray Matthews gave them a talk on the history of the site in the morning, and I led a guided walk (if you can call it that) in the afternoon.
I soon realised that this wasn't going to be a bird walk because I recognised a couple of invertebrate experts and a botanist in the group. This was a relief in fact, because there aren't many birds about just now. However, if you have ever been out on a walk with real naturalists you will know that they keep stopping to look at things and you are lucky to cover 100 yards in an hour.
And so it was that we spent almost two hours (literally) in the field and remained in sight of the building the whole time.
Our first stop was the dragonfly platform where we saw mating pairs of ruddy darters and watched them lay eggs in the algal mats at the edges of the pond. We also saw a beat-up old brown hawker and possibly a southern hawker. As we emerged into the open land beyond, migrant hawkers came to have a squint at us before proceeding on their way to catch hover flies around the oaks. A pair of circling buzzards meowed from across the river while a big flock of gulls caught a thermal and soared out of the top of it before gliding off towards Grafham Water. A field vole ran around our feet as we looked up.
I had set myself the task of finding a wasp spider to show the group. In fact I spent a fruitless half hour trying to locate one in advance, but then I figured that we stood more chance if we searched as a group. All the same, I did find a very obliging grass snake. It only took a few minutes for the group to find a wasp spider but we didn't find any more. However, we enjoyed examining whatever else came a long, be it cricket, bush-cricket, grasshopper or harvestman.
Most of our flowers were past their best, but I think the group was pretty amazed at the variety we saw.
I took great delight in pointing out what a delightful time we had enjoyed in a part of the Reserve that most people regard as boring. It's just an overgrown field, but it really is a paradise for flowers, invertebrates and small mammals.