Today was my only fully work free day this week, so we decided to have a wild day out. We’ve been members of the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust before and have visited their fantastic reserves at Slimbridge and Barnes. I’ve wanted to visit the Arundel reserve for a long while, and the 30 days wild challenge was just the push needed to get us there.
We left home early and arrived at the reserve shortly after it opened at 9.30am. Rejoining WWT after a bit of a gap, we were able to choose a free book for paying for our membership by direct debit and were pleased to pick up a Bug Encyclopedia to take home with us. After a coffee overlooking one of the lakes, we headed off around the reserve. There is a collection of non native ducks and other water birds and an area where you can hand feed them with grain. We spent an enjoyable time feeding and noticing how gentle some of the ducks and geese were compared to the pushy mallards. They had a handful of grain down in super quick time, pecking hard at your hand in the process. It was lots of fun to get close to all the lovely birds.
We stopped by the dragonfly pond to see if we could see any zooming around when suddenly my husband stopped, look a rat! But it wasn’t a rat, but a water rat… or rather water vole, hacking across the water. This was the first time that I have ever seen a water vole, so I was over the moon.
We carried on round the reed bed walk, spotting coots and moorhens among the reeds, and looking at the beautiful lichen growing on the trees.
We enjoyed spending time in the hides, watching willow warblers and buntings among the reeds. The plant house was really interesting, to see all the traditional and medicinal uses of plants, and it smelt wonderful!
The reserve was bursting with young birds. We saw the small black fluffy offspring of moorhens, like little bedraggled pompoms with a red beak. Young coots, slightly bigger than the moorhens; Families of Canadian and Greylag geese; swans with Cygnets; Mallards with broods of ducklings and the little humbug young of the shelduck.
Trumpeter swans, the tallest water birds, with beautiful black bills, had four gorgeous, pale grey cygnets, the prettiest of all the young we saw on the reserve, definitely not ugly ducklings! There call is amazing, like a vuvuzela from the South Africa football world cup.
There are short boat trips on the reserve offered to visitors, out through the reed beds on a small flat bottomed boat. Late in the morning, we boarded the boat and set off through the reeds with a knowledgeable guide and some other visitors. Fish swam under and next to us in the clear water (rudd or roach or a hybrid somewhere in between), and we saw an eel too (another first for me).
As we glided through the reeds, we talked about whether there were otters on the reserve, or thought of introducing them, which there is not, as it is a haven for water voles, how they keep out mink and foxes (with an electric fence) and the beavers on the River Otter in Devon which have been featured on Springwatch. Later in the evening, Phil and I had an interesting conversation about keystone species and ecosystem engineers, prompted by the discussion that morning.
We saw water vole feeding stations and latrines next to the water. Just as our guide was apologising that we may not see a water vole and explaining that they were seen most often after 4pm, I spotted one on the side of the channel, just behind a fallen branch, nibbling on some reeds. The boat stopped and we watched as the water vole, completely uncaring of our presence, carried on nibbling before disappearing into the reeds, when another vole briefly appeared, before heading into the underwater entrance of a burrow. Fantastic!
There is one netted pen, where some special ducks are kept, and fed with fish once a day so that the visitors can see their amazing diving ability. These little ducks can dive to as deep as 60m to catch fish. They look amazing swimming down under the water, little webbed feet kicking strongly. Inside the pen, a cheeky water vole swam around, stopped on a rocky island, then back again, climbed behind the waterfall, and up on to another island. It was so exciting to get such close views of a creature that, until this very morning, I had never seen before.
We loved our day at the reserve, the sun shone all day, I saw creatures that I’d never seen before and we returned home feeling chilled out and happy.
Back in the garden, the Echinacea bought yesterday and lobelia were planted by the pond to add extra interest for the bees, woody the wood pigeon paid us a visit, and we sat in the garden long into the evening, sipping gin and tonics and appreciating the difference in our garden from when we moved here 3 years ago.