Sun rise over the Reed Bed
The pentultimate day of November saw the start of winter with the first proper frost of the year whilst here at Kingfishers Bridge we recorded temperatures of -4 degrees; which coincided with the coldest November day for six years nationally!
The Bat Cave at Dawn
The bat cave is steaming which is indicative of trapped warmer air; baffles help limit such movement.
Viewing the Lake to the North
The Lake was partially frozen, with a small open area of water drawing in large numbers of wildfowl. Overnight saw 20 wild Swans arrive, and also several hundred Duck. With the onset of winter we can expect to see duck numbers greatly increase due to cold weather movement, which could include Goldeneye, Gosander and ocassionally Smew.
The Washes attract good numbers of Snipe in the winter.
The lowering of the earth mound is to stabilise it for the future, as a Sand Martin cliff is now finished. There will be more to do next year as part of larger projects but we now have a wide track to the top of the bank to allow access for recording Sand Martin breeding.
It was deeply satisfying when we finally broke through the end of the bank after days of battling the mud!
Over the summer we dug a test pit into the limestone to check ground water availability for filling the wildlife ponds. It is also a possible support option for keeping wetland water bodies topped up with water through the Spring when other sources may be limited. The natural coralline limestone is just 15cm below the topsoil and is very porous, with winter water tables being drawn up close to the surface even at the top of the site. However, about 2m below the surface there is a very hard layer of impermeable limestone which we were unable to break through despite a 20 ton digger. Summer water levels dropped below this but are rapidly rising again with the change in weather, so the ‘well’ is of some use for the original purpose.
Having installed a vertical 2m long pipe into the well, we back filled with gravel to ensure good flow of water from the surrounding limestone and refilled. The well will be a good indicator of groundwater levels for the site as well as providing an emergency water source when needed. As part of larger projects on the site we will be looking at the practicality of much deeper (20-30m deep) boreholes in the limestone to tap into deep aquafers to supplement our need for reliable water volumes.
Our customised 'Fox Box' is now newly positioned in the reedbeds. This is a mobile, multi-purpose, elevated hide, enabling the effective control of predators, but also useful for wildlife recording. It is equipped with solar panels and batteries, and the hide has both internal and external visible and infa-red lighting which is used with night vision equipment which can be linked to an internal viewing screen.
With the weather turning colder, this hide allows our management team to remain 'outside' but in relative comfort whilst observing remote areas without the disturbance of an arriving vehicle.
The hide can be towed into the required position, and installed in a matter of minutes. It is a valuable addition to our management infrastructure!
'A Room with a view!'
We have been busy working on the remaining peat soil cliff left over from the creation of the project in 1994, to lower the height and stabilise it for the future. For the last 20 years the spoil has slowly been removed by a local contractor for use as topsoil. However, recently, the exposed cliff has been used by sand martins extending the colony from our limestone cliffs. We plan for some cliff to remain for the future but where the cliff face has been worked and worn thin we are dropping the height to nearly half and using the removed soil to stabilise the rear of the bank.
This work is part of the regeneration project for the lower limestone and will be complemented by a large scrape down to the natural limestone bed below the cliff and a network of ditches connected to the contour ditch to develop into reed fringe ditch, prime habitat for Bitterns to feed.
The remainder of the work is expected to be completed by September 2017 where we will look to fund a continuation of the fence around this area.
Floating Pennywort (Hydrocotyle ranunculoides) is an aquatic plant from the Americas which has started causing major problems on our inland waterways. There appears to be no native control and until now the Environment Agency has kept navigable water ways open through herbicide spraying and mechanical weeding. Neither solution is suitable for long term control as herbicides on water pose a huge risk to the environment and as such the dosages that can be safely used only slow the spread of the Pennywort, and do not eradicate it. Mechanical weeders break the plant up allowing it to spread the following year. The problem is becoming increasimgly serious as it has now made it’s way into smaller water courses adjoining the main rivers where it is far more difficult to control and, in places such as the New Cut here at Kingfishers Bridge, it has entirely covered the surface.
Over the summer we have had Highland cattle grazing on the river banks and the New Cut bank. There is a very clear grazing line into the Pennywort covering the New Cut, out as far as the cattle will wade. In the past we have raked the vegetation out with a 360 digger and piled it for the Buffalo, who love it slightly wilted, but this is the first true indication that it is truly palatable and chosen over almost every other plant in the grazing area. We have considered fencing the buffalo into the New Cut to see how they graze it but the breeding herd can be temperamental and too dangerous with only a temporary fence between them and the public footpath. However, we now have 3 young steers who are much calmer and we hope to do a grazing trial towards then end of next summer once the new fencing is in place and they’ve had a chance to settle away from the main herd.
We have been discussing the various options with Natural England and the Environment Agency and will raise our observations at the Cam Valley Forum in the hope that we can remove Pennywort from our rivers completely over time.
I have taken the opportunity during this brief period of sunny weather to record the water levels on the lake. We have dropped the lake level to it’s lowest point for many years exposing more mud and shallow water during October for the wader migration. As a result we had fantastic numbers of Lapwing and Redshank with Greenshank, Greensandpiper, Woodsand piper and Curlew sandpiper being reguralrly sighted on the project. The wader passage has now come to an end and with the cold weather, we are raising the water levels as a refuge for wintering wildfowl. Bewick's swans and Whoopers are regular roosters now and duck numbers are increasing all the time.
Last Buffalo calf of the year born today! A beautiful little female calf born early this morning. Despite the weather it was quickly on its feet within an hour! It was soon joining the rest of the herd. We now have two buffalo calves who both need to have names, and suggestions would be most welcome!
The cut reed has been raked and piled around the edges of the cut areas to avoid litter build up in the nesting areas, although in several cases adult cranes have used ready cut reed to build their nests rather than cutting their own!
Reserves Manager at the Kingfishers Bridge wetland creation project in Cambridgeshire.