Hi I’m Helen and I’m the new Assistant Ranger here in St Abbs for the winter. I arrived on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning last week, so I’ve been here two weeks now and I’m really enjoying it so far! I hadn’t been here before so my first walk around the reserve was really exciting; the views of the sea and cliff faces were stunning! I knew there wouldn’t be many sea birds around at this time of year so wasn’t surprised to see so few of them; however since I arrived I have seen some shags, guillemots, various gulls and oystercatchers and some eider ducks in the sea as well as some seals. My sightings of other birds so far include a kestrel, linnets, thrushes, lots of blackbirds and starlings as well as some fieldfares which seem to be really enjoying the berries on the trees beside the track, through the farmland from the Mire Loch! On the loch itself I’ve seen moorhens, coots, little grebes, mallards and the swan, and was sad to hear the other swan had died the week before I arrived, but both Lizy and I were happily surprised to see two swans there again in my first few days! Whether the lone swan has a new mate or has been ousted by a 2nd pair we will never know unfortunately. Every morning I look forward to eating my breakfast while watching the woodpecker, a nuthatch, great tit, coal tits, blue tits, sparrows and chaffinches fighting for their own breakfast from Lizy’s feeders while a pheasant eats below – pretty impressive for a view out of your lounge window! My best sighting so far was the appearance of a short-eared owl directly above us in the middle of the day, hovering for a moment before continuing to be chased off by a rook!
My first day involved a lot of introductory reading some of which I’m still finishing off! Since then I’ve been busy out and about all over the reserve helping Lizy carry out maintenance work. This has included fixing the railings near the path up to the cliffs from the nature centre, burning piles of gorse that been cut recently to prevent it spreading and allow other plants to grow, gathering the data from our people and car counters, litter picks, weeding the boathouse roof, measuring the Mire dam water levels, replacing several sunken posts at Pettico Wick, fixing tree guards, sanding and treating benches among other tasks.
I met Bill on Wednesday last week, a local volunteer who comes every Wednesday for our volunteer days. Together with Lizy we cleared the ditch beside our office gate which a hawthorn tree had taken over along with some brambles. It took a lot of untangling but we got there in the end and the burn was freed! This week the three of us started cutting out a new path beside the Mire Loch to avoid having to cut back oak trees that are growing out over the existing path. On one of my first days I was asked to be a visitor and walk around the reserve noting down anything that I felt wasn’t clear or needed attention. I really enjoyed my walk round and the chance to explore the reserve and read the interpretation panels outside on the reserve and in the nature centre too! The nature centre shuts from November until next Easter so on Monday this week, we cleaned and shut it for the winter which was quite sad having only seen it open for a week, but I was glad to have spent the time reading all the interpretation as it provided a real insight into the reserve and I personally thought it was all very interesting and very well done!
I have really enjoyed carrying out all of these tasks, each one is a new challenge and at the end of them you always feel a real sense of achievement and often people stop on their way past and thank or compliment us which is really nice too! I have always enjoyed working outdoors and love having a view over the sea whilst I am working too! I am really looking forward to seeing and counting grey seal pups very soon too!
Its nearly the end of my second week here in St Abbs and it feels like it’s going past so fast already but I also feel that in that short space of time that I’ve learned and seen so much and I am really looking forward to seeing what the rest of time here will bring!