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Sunday, 27 April 2014

Green Tours

Yesterday, 26th April, I joined 19 walkers and my fellow guide aboard the Oldenburg bound for Lundy to lead them on one of the North Devon Walking Festival walks.
We had travelled to Ilfracombe in torrential rain and expected cancellation, but the clouds had cleared, the sun was out and we all embarked.
Simon with salt encrusted glasses
The purser announced that 118 passengers were aboard but that the forecast was for Force 5, with a “rough” passage against a West South West wind.   Experience dictates that this forecast should be increased to the next level, it is always understated!  This was just as we were leaving the shelter of Ilfracombe harbour and feeling the first effects of the swell.
The voyage started in sun, then we had rain and always the strong wind.
Before too long it was like being on a hospital ship under fire, almost everyone was sick and movement on the ship was difficult due to it rolling, yawing and pitching – often all at the same time! Bow waves were crashing over the top of the ship onto the aft deck so only those who could not stomach going inside were left clinging to supports and receiving regular soakings.
Indoor picnic at Old Light
While we did see sea birds all the way over to the island, the majority of Manx Shearwaters, Razorbills, Guillemots, Kittiwakes and Herring Gulls were close to land probably not taking shelter but feeding close to potential nesting sites.
I think everyone was thankful to arrive in the lee of the island, but disembarkation was not easy either. We left ship thankfully, only to be advised to walk quickly up the centre of the jetty to avoid the buffeting south wind which could easily have pitched anyone near the edges into the sea.
We were lucky with our walk which encompassed the South end, Castle, Rocket Pole, Cemetery, Old Light and Quarter Wall. Our walkers were amply exercised and informed on all aspects of Lundy's History and Natural History. We were fortunate to miss heavy rain which commenced as we entered the Old Light for the traditional bad weather indoor picnic. Our final leg before returning to the Village was to go as far north as Quarter Wall to see the Lundy ponies and 8 Highland Steers where they were also lucky enough to see 20 Sika does ruminating with the cattle in Brick Field. We headed back into the teeth of the wind and rain to a welcome pint and retail opportunity in the Village. Heading back to the Jetty, another of Lundy's mammals were spotted, the Castle Goats put in an appearance appropriately near the goat path.
Devil's Kitchen - boiling
The return journey was just as eventful. We were met at the Dive Shed and advised that we were to expect a difficult journey back. Our tickets were collected and we were allowed to proceed down the jetty in pairs spaced 5 metres apart and then embarked one at a time as the gangplank was alternately wet and dry and the tide ebbed and flowed.
The return was as eventful as the outgoing voyage with many ill people. Sitting in the aft saloon we realised that the alternative light and darkness was caused by the sea covering and uncovering the starboard portholes as the southerly swell rose and fell.

I think everyone was relieved to arrive in the shelter of the North Devon coast but this trip should be renamed from North Devon Walking Festival to Green Tours!

Friday, 25 April 2014

Butterflies and Spring Flowers

Early Purple Orchid
We don't often see Siskins in our garden so when one turned up on this beautiful sunny morning, thoughts of going out to see what else was about determined us to go into Stowe woods in Coombe Valley.

The afternoon was hot and sunny, with lots of newly opened flowers, including our first of the year Early Purple Orchid near the mill. There were lots of fresh Wild Garlic, Bugle, Broom, and troops of real English Bluebells under the newly opening leaf canopy.

As we walked out of the shelter of the trees into the open sunny ride the butterflies began to appear. We counted five male Orange Tips, three Brimstones, a Small Tortoiseshell, a Small White, a Comma and six Peacocks. Brimstones while common in north and east Cornwall, are rarely found in the south of Cornwall. There is no mistaking their beautiful yellow colouring which is supposed to have given rise to the original naming of “butter” fly. And, among all these butterflies was a day flying moth a beautifully coloured Speckled Yellow which looked just like a dead leaf when it landed and hung down from a bush, but flashed brilliantly yellow and checkered brown in flight.

Both the Comma and some of the Peacocks were obviously last year's awakened from hibernation, their colours faded and markings almost transparent. One pair of Peacocks were obviously keen to propagate their species spiraling and displaying to each other in a shaft of sunlight.

It was most certainly a day for butterflies but the keening of Buzzards and songs of Tits, Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers could not be avoided. Spring has sprung and summer is a promise – once we get through tomorrow's forecast storms.

Look out for news of my day trip to Lundy – if the Oldenburg sails in the morning taking the brave North Devon Walking Festival visitors.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Wonderful Warblers

Bird Hide Net
Today, my friend John invited me to Bude Marshes to see him set up the first mist nets of the season. He was there at dawn, but I did not arrive until a much more civilised time of 8:45am.

He had set up two nets; one of 3 x 60 feet in the western reed bed near the Tourist Information Centre, the other 3 x 40 feet in a dogleg in the middle reed bed adjacent to the bird hide. I arrived just as he was about
to check the first net where we found an abandoned piece of chicken. It had obviously been scavenged from a bin as there was a curry coating on it. The unfortunate bird must have hit the net, left its meal and flown away. Probably a crow judging by the size of the mouth full it had given up.

Our second check was to the second net near the Bird hide where we found a Cetti's Warbler, the first that I know that I have seen. Like most Warblers, it is a nondescript little brown job; until you see it in the hand that is. It is a beautifully marked tiny bird. This one had been ringed before and we thought it had been injured. The ring, its leg and breast had a red substance on it. We could not identify it, no oily smell and definitely not blood but some substance that was drying on the bird's plumage. We noted its ring, measured its wing and weighed it before allowing it to fly off quite happily.

Sedge Warbler
The second and last bird was from net one, a Sedge Warbler. This one had made a real effort to become tangled in the net, but John's patient and experienced hands soon freed it easily and safely. Whilst observing this, I was aware off the strident, raucous call of two or three Cetti's Warblers that John pointed out to me. Although he had only rung five birds that morning, others were beginning to arrive in the reed beds. The Sedge Warbler is another beautifully marked tiny bird which after recording gnd ringing, John placed on my hand to allow it to fly away. A new experience for me and one which I appreciated very much.

After helping him to retrieve the nets and pack everything away we left with me silently promising myself that I would repeat the experience at the first opportunity and commit the call of the Cetti's Warbler to memory.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

One Week's Hard Labour

LFS Conservation Working Party March 28th to April 5th 2014

Our departure from Hartland International Airport was delayed due to a missing pilot, but this gave us opportunity to meet Rev Shirley Henderson, The Bishop of Crediton, his PA and wife who were being taken by Derek Green to see the latest parish to be added to his diocese.

On arrival, the first challenge was to get into the Barn as quickly as possible to get the best available bed.  I was not on a flight early enough to claim the much-coveted downstairs dormitory, but I did manage to avoid the Suicide Bed placed at the top of the stairs where any violent turning over could precipitate the sleeper downstairs into the kitchen.

After our leader's pep-talk, where we were allocated duty cooking days and the rules of the Barn we were

free to explore the Island; I walked to Tibbets, across Middle Park and back via Pondsbury and Ackland's Moor pulling in all the ponds on the way.  Dinner was provided by Trevor and Lou – Bangers and mash with vegetables and onion gravy followed by apple crumble with custard or cream.

Slow worm
Day 1 Saturday 29th March – we were split into 3 groups of 4 (the remaining two staying back to shop and prepare food) to remove Alexander heads, build a fruit cage, and prepare the site for a wall reconstruction all in Millcombe.  I was with the Alexander removal party and we managed to remove the heads from 387 plants.   We were then deployed to help the two other teams. During our day we were delighted to find three adults and one juvenile slow worms found between stones in the tumble-down wall.  Dave and Brummy Dave gave us a feast of Chicken, ratatouille lashings of vegetables and choice of apple crumble and/or fruit salad with cream, ice-cream, custard or, in some cases, all three.

Fruit Cage
Day 2 Sunday 30th March - Two parties today, finishing off the fruit cage and rebuilding the wall.  An additional task was found necessary to help the wheelbarrow access when two extra bridges were built over the drainage channels.  I found a further adult slow worm in the Phormium growth above the new wall.
New recruit Mike teamed up with Keith to provide us with Cottage pie a selection of seasonal vegetables followed by rice pudding.

Evening Meal
Day 3 Monday 31st March was my major trauma day – cooking for 14 people.  Well Michael planned the menu and did the cooking, I just did prep work.  We served the group with Beef bourguignon and a layered vegetable dish topped with potato and cheese followed by local cheeses and biscuits then Chocolate Bread and Butter pudding.  And this was in addition to completing the Millcombe garden wall.  The other half of the party undertook Rhododendron burning on the east sidelands above quarry beach.

"Hoopoe" eggs?
Day 4 Tuesday 1st April.  Half Day!  Michael unfortunately had to leave on the first sailing as his wife was unwell so he and Brummy Dave stayed in the village to propagate some seeds into the propagator the rest of us man-handled into the Lodge area.  This was before the rest of us set off to burn Rhododendron brash just south of Quarry Beach for the morning with the afternoon off.  The planned stunt for April Fool's day was planned and executed by Kevin.  He borrowed half a dozen duck eggs and painted them and placed them in a constructed “nest” by the Marisco wall seat to fool the tourists.  Rob and Kelly made the evening meal of mushroom soup followed by chicken breast served with a vegetable medley with fruits of the forest meringue for dessert.

Copper Mine
Day 5 Wednesday 2nd April – Day off!  A leisurely breakfast was followed by 9 of us setting off for a walk to the north end.  We walked the centre path and had a break above North Light.  We then set off down Long Roost to find the Copper Mine.  We found it but did not venture all the way down to it.  We then split into three groups; Dave, Rob and Kelly going down to the North Light, Keith and Megan to Seal Hole and Trevor, Kevin, Andy, Dave (Fred) Stone and I walking back down the west side to find the Quaking Bog at ¾ Wall, the Millstone Factory, the Mangonel Battery and works below it and investigate the earthquake and the new rock fall to the seaward.  Dinner was in the Tavern.

Dinner with the Conservation Team
Day 6 Thursday 3rd April.  We spent a full day Rhododendron burning near the Quarries.  We shifted a lot of brash in the mist and drizzle although it did brighten up a bit later.  In company of a pair of Peregrines we looked out for Oldenburg's arrival and diversion to Gannet's Combe to drop off the three RSPCA rescued puffins.  A few minutes later we sighted two small pods of 10-12 dolphins.  Standing in one place for a day gives lots of opportunity to observe and we saw Ravens flying to and fro to a nesting site, gulls challenging each other, pairs of Oystercatchers and many smaller birds such as Willow Warblers working the piles of brash.  We were visited by Keith Hiscock who joined in and carried a log back to the quad trailer, the final job of the day for each volunteer to stock up the firewood store.  Evening meal was provided by our two firemen from Stoke, Tony and Andy.  They did a fantastic job providing for and extra 5 guests, Beccy and Jonny, Steve and Lottie and the new assistant Ranger Nick.  We had a huge pot of Spanish Chicken and Chorizo, followed by Banoffee pie (or steamed syrup pudding for those with dietary issues) finished off with cheese and biscuits.

Millcombe Wall Builders
Day 7 Friday 4th April.  We were all detailed to collect sufficient stone to complete the final courses of the retaining wall in Millcombe gardens then split into a party of wall builders and controlled Rhododendron burners.  Dave, Mark, Megan, Rob, Kelly and I spent the whole day in completing the wall and tidying up the area.  The remainder undertook a controlled burn of Rhododendron piles near Quarter Wall Copse with proper safety measure involving a water bowser, hoses, beaters and trained fire fighters, with the exception of Brummy Dave who did some propagating and kindling production. Evening meal was prepared by our two vegetarians, Megan and Kevin comprising Feta salad, Chicken Curry served with garlic potatoes, fruit salad and ice cream followed by cheese and biscuits.

Day 8 Saturday 5th April  - An exceptionally wet, drab, misty day.  After a leisurely breakfast and packing, we cleaned up the Barn and remade the beds before dispersing to wait for the Oldenburg.  I decided to walk to Widow’s Tenement, via Middle Park and back by way of Tibbets, the Quarries and Upper East Side Path.  I saw nothing except mist and a few Meadow Pipits and heard Skylarks.  On return for lunch, we met Nic Saunders who was staying for a week helping Charlie re-point the church.  The Tavern was packed with steaming visitors and stayers waiting to access their properties.  We had to embark at 3:30 when we watched two Herring Gulls near Rat Island eating a hand – well it was a starfish really.  We saw a few rafts of Manx Shearwaters and at Ilfracombe, more dolphins.

I enjoyed each day of my first working party even though I still ache everywhere – the sleep deprived nights were another matter … ….

Some new acquaintances were made, friendships developed and lots of new words learned.  Like, where Yamyams come from (the Black Country), who had been Ganderflanking (Old English “aimless messing around”) and what mojo is (mortar).