Swift’s eye view

Those of you who have been past Walsham Lock Cottage in the last couple of weeks will know we are under siege from scaffolding, so it is not at its most beautiful. The painters are in to do the outside windows and fascia boards and inspect the elderly chimney stacks.

We’ve been making the most of it and today we took the opportunity to put up a swift box from the luxury of a nice wide scaffold rather than having to teeter on a long ladder. To be happy swifts like to nest over 4.5 meters above the ground which to be honest is further up a ladder than I would be comfortable with a drill and rawl plugs. I selected a recycled flat pack Swift box that according to the blurb should last 25 years. With an average lifespan of 5.5 years that is a good few potential generations.

Swifts are remarkable birds and I’ve always been a fan. They have been clocked flying almost 70 miles an hour and fly from Africa every year to breed and fly back 3 months later. The oldest recorded U.K. specimen would have done that journey at least 18 and a half times. However like so many other species they are in dramatic decline. Since the millennium numbers in the U.K. have dropped by about 50% so they need all the help they can get. Fingers crossed they find it and find it to their liking.

The neighbours are curious but friendly. These Pied Wagtails have been making their home in the chimneys for the last 3 years and I’m sure they won’t mind sharing.

Swifts eye view of the river.

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Soggy stowaways

The last couple of weeks, as always, have been busy. My new strimmer Delores has been just as busy. Today in the pouring ‘drizzle’ (according to the wonderful weather forecast) we had a few soggy stowaways. This beautiful snail and ladybird larva were along for the ride. Don’t worry, I found them somewhere quiet to recuperate when I got home.

This brave snail didn’t even hide out in its shell through all the jiggling. As Crush the cartoon Sea Turtle might say, they must have ‘serious thrill issues’. Wildlife can always surprise you.

Wild week

All weeks are different here and this week has definitely been defined by the wildlife. It started, despite the cold, grey start with my first Odonata of the year. Usually that crown would be taken by the large red damselfly but this year there was a new contender with this Hairy Dragonfly.

It’s a first for me here and shared the crown for the earliest in the county this year. The crumpled wings show it is newly emerged and after months at the bottom of a muddy ditch as a nymph it chose an uninspiring day to take flight.

A few days later I was in Peterborough learning all about newts with my husband ( and wildlife survey volunteer ) and a group of ecologists so I can better look after the ones we have here. I’ve always been a fan and despite the great crested newts being the supposed stars due to their celebrity conservation status and glitzy appearance I’m a far bigger fan of the less showy palmate newts.

This beautiful chap was very relaxed following an evening in a bottle trap. My word of the week is definitely Tubercles. (Worth 36 points on a triple word score in scrabble!) They are somewhat specifically the nodules on the back feet of female palmate newts. Useful to know in only somewhat limited scenarios.

All my species of geese at Newark have successfully hatched goslings now meaning the Canada’s, Greylags and Egyptians are now ready to join the fluffy flotilla.

I’ve also been keeping my eye on a particular traffic cone. Not just because I used to be a highways inspector or think Buzz Lightyear and Woody are underneath waiting to cross the road you understand. I saw a blue tit disappearing in through the hole in the top with caterpillars. I’ve just checked and they have managed to hatch 6 nestlings in there. At least they can’t fall out of the nest but the first flights might be somewhat more challenging than they might be from a more traditional location. All in all it’s been a interesting week of wildlife firsts and proof that life is finding a way.

A Toad in the hole and a Goldcrest in the shed

After days of feeling like I’ve see nothing but the bottom of a paint tin, nature has well and truly renewed my enthusiasm today. I started the day with some chainsawing to do. We had some trees felled a little while ago that needed dissecting so they can be removed from site. In lots of places we leave logs near where they are felled to ensure the local bug population is not homeless, here however we can’t.

Just as I was making my last cut for the day I saw some unexpected movement from within the muddle of tree roots. This little Common Toad had made his winter home inside a dead Alder and I cut through his bedroom. He was a little grumpy about it but unharmed.

Apologies for the awful picture, I didn’t want to make him pose for too long. Usually when you are chainsawing anything bigger than a woodlouse is long gone but this chilled little chap wasn’t clearly made of sterner stuff. All I could do was apologise for the rude interruption and fashion a makeshift front door to keep the sun out of his eyes and make a swift exit.

When I got home I just had to pop out to the shed and I had a visit from a Goldcrest looking for somewhere to nest. I know they like it here, and in particular they seem fond of the pine tree at the bottom of the garden, but this one definitely had their sights set on new accommodations.

Getting to see any wildlife up close and personal is always a joy but when it is things like these I don’t see every day, it is a real privilege.

Painting lines while the sun doesn’t shine

While I love my job I must confess there are some parts of it I don’t always look forward to as much as others. The main one is painting the lock sides. I have 3 to prepare and paint which means 10 lock beams ( down from 12 recently but that is another story) 1 dozen mooring posts, over 150 metres of white edges, 4 yellow pins, 1 punt pin and one ‘hedgehogs welcome’ sign. (This is an ‘archive’ before shot you understand, it’s not snowing now)

This is the 9th time I’ve done it. My colleagues and I do our own 2 or 3 locks in time for Easter every year. Pretty much the first thing I did when I started here was lock side painting. To add to the workload and learning curve, that first year we were all unifying our white beam end lengths. Scraping back the decade plus of white gloss to make it possible to bitumen the beams further back so they all matched was a bit of an ordeal. That started a tradition of late nights at this time of year and bribing my husband with a pub dinner when he came to help me for the last hour or so after work when we finally finished, often in the dark. Some things haven’t changed.

Some have and there have been lessons learned. The floor is definitely further away every year. Sometimes while you are praying for sunshine the best you can hope for is ‘not too rainy’, but that is good enough. My kneeling cushion has gone from being used to keep my bottom warm sitting on a cold metal punt to the only way my knees survive the season. While there is mindfulness in the mindless, you can’t afford not to listen out for oncoming boats when your head is sticking over the navigation channel. Even if you think you have the best way of doing things sorted, always consider there might be a better way. This year the why-the-devil-haven’t-I-thought-of-this-before eureka moment came in the form of masonry paint application with a rad roller. Until now I’d been doing it with a paintbrush like a Luddite! It has halved the kneeling time. I can’t explain how happy I am to have found it works well but distraught in equal measure at my failure to cotton on sooner.

Oh, and I’ve been conducting a survey. Year on year I find that almost exclusively you get bounced by wet pale dogs when you are using black paint or bitumen and dark wet dogs when you are sitting on the ground with your white paint and roller. And almost never by dry dogs of any colour. I think of it more as a perk of the job than a problem, what are overalls for after all if not paint and dog slobber? I’m soon as my back recovers, despite all my whinging, I’m sure I’ll be looking forward to doing it all again next year.

Waking wildlife

The warm spell has definitely kicked things into action. Parent Hobby’s have been hunting for rodents for their new young. The first of the adult brimstone butterflies have woken from their woodland winter sleeps, and who can blame them it’s been lovely.

The vegetation is waking up…..

….. and being eaten.

Burrows, dens and setts are being spruced up.

All the cheery sights of spring are on their way.

And some of the not so cheery ones. Great weather means lots more people enjoying the outdoors (yayy) and some thoughtlessly spoiling it for everyone else (boo). Tidying up after them is just another part of my job….. It’s a lovely day for a walk, I’ll just have to make sure I take my litter picker.