Tuesday 4th January 2022

The bridge to Marsh Ride on 3rd January 2022

Firstly, a happy new year to all those readers waiting anxiously for my next instalment. Don’t hold your breath!

I know from experience that, in the middle of winter, my mist nets beside the sewage works at South Milton Ley are only productive when it’s either flat calm or when there is an easterly element in the wind. The rest of the time the prevailing south-westerly breeze concentrates the chironomid midges and the birds on the opposite and inaccessible side of the works. With a seemingly endless stream of wet and windy westerlies in recent weeks, I have been keeping my carbon footprint low by staying at home.

To be honest, Covid vaccination commitments currently occupy two days a week and I also have an allotment, which desperately needs digging over prior to the spring planting season, assuming the ground ever dries out enough to work! With my main reedbed ride unproductive until the middle of March, there is little incentive to travel to SML. The flocks of roosting Reed Buntings, which used to form a significant part of the winter catch, are a thing of the past, with just one bird trapped this winter.

Added to this, the gradual and intentional silting up of the main drainage channel is beginning to have the desired effect of raising the water table in the middle of the reserve, (see the photo above), which means that, as a lone worker, I won’t risk accessing Marsh Ride. There’s over a metre of fast-flowing water under the bridge at the moment and another 60cm of soft sediment under that. The boards along the net ride are covered in a layer of silt, which turns them into a skating rink. It’s just too dodgy, trying to carry bird bags without slipping into the mire!

I haven’t been totally idle though. The first draft of the next management plan is completed and will be published as soon as I have addressed the comments received from various interested parties. I discovered that, deep in the darkest reaches of the Devon Birds’ website, someone has digitised all the annual reports from 1929-2018 into one massive pdf file. I have been searching this document for records relating to SML. I also have acquired a digital copy of “The Birds of Devon” by D’Urban and Mathews from 1892. Scouring both has enabled me to increase the bird list to 215 documented species. Only two of these, Little Bittern and Long-tailed Skua pre-date the establishment of the reserve in 1969.

If anyone wants copies of these two historical documents, leave a comment and I’ll stick them on Dropbox for you.

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