Late summer and autumn brings a host of species to your local Wetland Centre, resulting in a busy time for the reserve team, as we ensure the habitats are just right to receive them.
For the birdwatchers, this is the best time to look out for migrating birds, as they travel from their summer breeding grounds to warmer climes for the winter.
By lowering the water levels on the pools, we can create muddy patches as ideal feeding areas for wading birds, looking to refuel on their journeys.
This is the exciting time of year when you are not quite sure what may turn up. Past autumns have brought greenshank, curlew sandpiper, whimbrel and spoonbills.
Project Godwit has seen another successful year with a total of 38 hand-reared black-tailed godwit chicks being released into the wild. The wild population was boosted by the return of nine headstarted blacktailed godwits, from their wintering grounds, in southern Europe and northern Africa, to the area they were released last year.
This is a huge bonus as we were not expecting them to return until at least their second year. Keep your eyes peeled for godwits with coloured leg rings as they venture further from the Washes to begin their migration southwards. Please send any sightings to www.projectgodwit.org.uk
Another bird which has become increasingly associated with the Washes is the common crane.
The past few autumns have seen a common crane spectacle, with increasing numbers of cranes soaring across the skyline and feeding on the reserve. They will hopefully be joined by our family of cranes with their, now fully grown, chick which successfully fledged in June.
It is not just the birds on show. September is the peak time for the willow emerald damselfly. A recent coloniser to the UK and the reserve, these glistening emerald green damselflies favour the willow trees along the paths, often perching on leaves and branches.
Other dragonflies and damselflies to look out for include common and ruddy darter, migrant hawker and the banded demoiselle.
Come October it is time to say goodbye to the cattle. They have spent the summer grazing the Washes, creating tussocks and bare ground for feeding passage and overwintering birds, and will be returning next spring. October may be your last chance to explore the Summer Walk, depending on water levels.
Look out for later summer flowering plants such as redshank and water mint, butterflies like gatekeeper and ringlet as well as cormorants roosting on the wires overhead.
This is the time that numbers of wildfowl increases, with the arrival of wigeon, pochard and pintail plus greater numbers of mallard, tufted duck and teal. Wigeon in particular arrive in good numbers, feeding along the banks and pool fringes.
Listen out for their charismatic whistling calls as they graze the washes, creating low ‘bowlinggreen’ areas known as wigeon lawns. October also sees the return of whooper and Bewick’s swans for the winter and late October the first 3.30pm Swan Feeds start.
November is the perfect time to come along to an evening floodlit Swan Feed. With the water levels low before the winter flooding, the pools in front of the Main Observatory can take on a definite ‘Swan Lake’ appearance.
Throughout autumn it is all hands on deck for the reserve team as volunteers and staff carry out essential conservation work before the winter water levels rise. Tasks include: coppicing and pollarding of trees to encourage new growth, strimming vegetation on the islands and in front of the hides in readiness for next spring, topping with the tractor and mower around pool edges to create ideal open areas for feeding and roosting birds.