Thursday, 31 March 2011

Please keep off the grass

Dave and John were with us on Wednesday morning. Not delightful weather, what you might call "atmospheric", as this photo of Dave in action shows, but we managed to get a bit of outside work done before we got too wet and then retreated to the workshop to do one or two indoor jobs. Out and about we were putting in posts on the road verges just above Petticowick. This is an area where people are tempted to pull off the road and park all over the verges, which not only damages our flower rich grasslands, but also can be the cause of congestion. The posts are there to deter folk form doing this. I love this photo of Dave - he has such an expression of determination on his face. A good thing that I couldn't capture the sound effects though!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Separating the wheat(ears) from the (chiff)chaffs

We have had our first migrant - a chiffchaff singing yesterday, a beautiful sound and a real herald of spring. These often dowdy little birds (picture top left) are one of the first migrants to arrive, along with sand martins and wheatears, from their wintering grounds in southern Europe and north Africa. I haven't seen (or heard) any other migrants yet, but definitely worth keeping an eye out.

The warm weather has also meant that Rangers and volunteers have been seen out and about in their summer plumage (aka shirt sleeves) too! I was out with our volunteers, Ernie and John (picture bottom left) this morning filling in potholes in the track up to the lighthouse, which, contrary to popular belief, is not a public road. This is something we do every spring when the potholes dry out and the weather gets warm enough to make the cold tarmac we use easily compactable. Definitely a job similar to painting the Forth Bridge, as there seems to be a never ending supply of holes! And before any of you say "why don't you do a better job rather than just patching it?" the answer to this is three fold: (a) we can't afford it; (b) the potholes will act as speed bumps; and (c) by keeping the track a little rough we hope this acts as a deterrent to too many people using it. We strive to keep traffic to a minimum as it is a nature reserve and vehicles disturb the peace and quiet, and so really only want it to be used by those who cannot walk up to the lighthouse and those accessing the lighthouse. So next time you are thinking of driving up the lighthouse track, please bear this in mind - and don't forget to put your two pounds into the cairn at the top to help us cover the costs of keeping the track open!

Speaking of migrants, another one will be appearing on the reserve next week, our new Seasonal Ranger will be landing at St Abbs on Monday...but more about that next week!

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Sightings of furry things...

Our regular volunteer, Dave, has been spending more time on the reserve this week and will continue to do so in the coming months. He is taking a photographic course this year, and the culmination of the course is a project on a favourite place, and Dave has chosen St Abb's Head. Because he wants to make sure that he literally sees the area in a different light, he is camping out in a small building up behind the lighthouse which we call the lookout (although it doesn't really have the windows in the right place to look out on much of interest!). This means he can be on site for sunset and sunrise and anything else in between.

He has not been terribly lucky with spectacular dawns and dusks, but he has seen a fair amount of wildlife during his travels around the reserve, including a stoat in ermine on the footpath to the west of the Mire Loch. Sadly, it was too quick for him to get a shot of it, but above is a shot that fits his description of a white body with a dark face.

Now the lookout is not the most salubrious of accommodation. In fact, it is basically a small stone box, measuring about 10 foot by 6 foot, and somewhat damp and draughty with it. But Dave is a rufty tufty ex-forces man, so he can hack it as you can see form the photo right!

We look forward to seeing the fruits of his labours in May, as well as learning more SAS survival tips from him!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Spring is in the air!

Well it has certainly felt it if you have been lucky enough to be out in the sunshine this week. The daffodils on the road verge by the Visitor Centre car park have buds that are ready to burst; the rooks in the rookery next to the Office have been ripping twigs off the trees with their beaks and building nests; and our neighbours, Northfield Farm, have got lambs in the fields.

Its been a busy old week with loads of stuff being packed in already, and its only Wednesday! On Monday, Georgia and I were interviewing folk for the post of Seasonal Ranger, and I am pleased to say that our preferred candidate bit my hand off when I offered them the job. I will not reveal their identity just yet, but watch this space!

Whilst this was going on we also had the builders in doing a roof inspection and sorting out some drainage problems that were causing rising damp in the Office and the Rangers' Cottage (both listed buildings) and a plumber in sorting out a leaking stopcock in the Cottage (which was rather exacerbating the damp problems!). And we have been trying to tie up the finances at the end of the financial year and write reports for funders, all of which have actually prevented us from getting out in the sun nearly as much as we would have liked!

But today we actually managed to get out there and enjoy it! I was out with our volunteers, John and Dave, this morning, cutting and burning gorse. Now before you start penning a letter signed by "Apoplectic of St Abbs" in defence of the gorse, I don't have an aversion to it per se. It is great for birds and insects and adds a splash of colour all year round and a delicate smell of coconuts on a warm summer day; it is just when it is spreading over our flora rich grasslands that I object to it. So we are tackling the outlying areas, where patches are developing where they shouldn't, and leaving the areas close to the Mire Loch. We have started on the area above the Petticowick car park where there is a patch creeping up on an area important for one of our rare plants, Spring Sandwort (picture right). Not an easy area to tackle as its is on a 45 degree slope, but we didn't let that deter us; John and I cut back the growth, whilst Dave packed it into dumpy bags and dragged it down to the (horizontal) fire site in the car park. Its slow going, but a job well done as the gorse in this area also forms great cover for rabbits, whose grazing also has a detrimental effect on some areas of our grasslands.

Whilst Dave, John and myself were pretending to be mountain goats, Georgia was off carry out a Beached Bird Survey (BBS) on one of the beaches along the coast. The BBS takes place at this time of year each year. It is coordinated by the RSPB and the aim is to assess the effects of marine pollution on seabirds. It basically involves people walking the beaches all around the coast of Britain, recording any dead birds they find and any apparent cause of death (eg oiling). It sounds rather grim, but is actually an excuse for Georgia and I to get out and walk all the beaches of the NNR and VMR, and indeed further along the coast, so it is something we look forward to.