Thursday, 29 October 2015

Autumn days

After heavy overnight rain night huge puddles appeared on the roads and all of the trails at the Pits were sodden. It didn't really get light until lunchtime but as the rain passed the sun came out. Birds came out of cover and there was a feeding frenzy at the bird table. Migratory blackbirds and redwings attacking berries around the meadow.

Despite the weather our midweek volunteers had been working for over five hours before I went to see them. Ranger Matt Hall kept them busy building the deck for a totally new hide in a secret location (that I could tell you about, but I would have to kill you afterwards). I'm sure you will like it when it is finished.

The approach will be through dense scrub towards a secret pond. There will be no bird feeders because this is a great area for nightingales and warblers. The square deck looks enormous but the hide will only sit on the front part, near the water. The rear half will provide a turning point, and room to birdwatch. I always find that we miss birds that fly overhead if we sit in a hide all the time and a big feature of the location in summer will be birdsong, which is best heard outside.

Every plank has to be carried into the site. Alf Peacock made a metal sub frame that also had to be carried in and bolted together. With all of that coming and going the working area is a bit of a mudbath now. Would it have been better to build the hide in summer?

Iain Gunn is acting as project planner for the Friends (who are paying for the hide). He told me  "We deliberately delayed the start until after the bird nesting season. Natural England discussed our plans and agreed that an autumn start would be best. We have to have the job finished by mid March."

I continued my patrol by driving up to the quarry where I was challenged by a security guard! I had to explain what I was doing there and he told me to park and walk the rest from there. I still don't think he understood all of what i said to him but we had quite an interesting chat. He's a refugee from Afghanistan who escaped with his close family to find work in Peterborough. Aggregate Industries have started round the clock coverage of the site to protect the new equipment that is coming in. Of course, we all benefit from having guards around, especially at night.

By closing time an eerie mist had begun to rise from the meadow below the Visitors' Centre. A jogger ran ahead of me and disappeared within seconds. I wondered where the cows were. They had been sitting down all afternoon and I didn't want to trip over one, although a photo of the fog with cows head sticking out of it would have been amusing.

My purpose in being there at sunset was to find out where our starlings are roosting. In past years there was quite a good roost in the reeds on the Hayling Pit, but last winter they moved to Cloudy Lake. The only starlings that I saw were heading for Washout Pit, where we also had a small roost in the past. There's a chance I was just too late to see them going to bed, but I don't think so.

Please let me know if you see a good roost at Paxton or nearby.