This week’s meet took place at Rushden Lakes in Northamptonshire, a large reserve of lakes, woodland and flower meadows owned by The Wildlife Trusts. While this site is somewhat further afield from many of our previously-visited sites, like many of our more familiar parks and reserves in Milton Keynes, it is a mere stone’s throw away from a large retail park which continues to grow day by day. Such a busy urban setting might put a casual wildlife enthusiast off from the area but as we gathered from our visit, this is an incredibly rich and diverse area in terms of both habitats and species.
As usual for our outdoor meetings, our walk began around 7pm, led this time by Reserve Ranger Toni Castello and three of his volunteers from The Wildlife Trusts. For much of the day, the weather was dull and overcast but fortunately as we made our way there, the low-level cloud cleared, bringing warm sunshine and a mostly clear sky for the rest of the evening, ideal for finding basking insects and bird-watching. After a brief introduction to the site, its history and its management, our walk began, passing by two of the lakes, the Nene Valley River and into two of the meadows.
While the breeze on the surface of the lakes prevented us from seeing the clouds of damselflies Toni and his volunteers claimed to see frequently there, we found no shortage of them basking along the waterside vegetation, two of the most numerous being the Red-eyed Damselfly and the stunning Banded Demoiselle. Male Banded Demoiselles were frequently popping up from the nettles and bushes as we walked by, with a few females and a mating pair among them also. While we were stopped next to one of the lakes, we also spotted many freshly-emerged damselflies with their exuvia in the reed-beds including Common Blue and Azure Damselflies.
Much of the discussion from Toni and the volunteers went into the making and management of various parts of the reserve, including the man-made lakes, one of which was said to be far more productive and beneficial for wildlife having been dug to various depths, rather than a mere large hole in the ground filled with water.
Fellow society member Mary Sarre wrote about the meadows and their rich diversity of flora:
“The large meadows we saw had never been ploughed and there were cattle grazing. There are two meadows, both categorised as MG4 (Lowland Meadow), the western one drier, and the eastern one wetter.
The western meadow had a range of tall grasses, and Great Burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis) in flower, and earlier in the year the Cuckoo flower, Ladies bedstraw, Birds foot Trefoil, and Meadow Vetchling would be showing.
The eastern meadow is wetter, with wet flushes containing Yellow flag Iris, soft rush and Water figwort. A Thalictrum sp was mentioned by the guide, but not seen.”
While the densely covered trees and hedgerows prevented us from seeing many of them, it was a great evening for birdsong and observing several species around the lakes. Several Black-headed Gulls were seen over the lakes, with Cormorants and Grey Herons passing over. Just before the walk began, a distant Cuckoo was heard from the circular walk and warblers were singing constantly through the evening, including 5 Garden Warblers, Reed Warblers, Willow Warblers as well as 3 Song Thrushes. This year’s unprecedented lack of hirundines was unfortunately apparent here also but a group of at least 10 Swifts could be seen over the lakes.
This trip was a satisfying and educational end to what started off as an otherwise dull day, at a site that I’m sure many of us will visit again in the future to find out more. It is apparently a notable site for waterfowl in the winter, so a recommendation for local bird-watchers for sure.
Article by Harry Appleyard and Mary Sarre
Click on any of the pictures for a larger image.
Pictures from top to bottom:
Briefing at start of the walk ©Peter Hassett
Female Banded Demoiselle ©Harry Appleyard
View over the lakes ©Harry Appleyard
Nene Valley River ©Harry Appleyard
Blue-tailed damselfly ©Julian Lambley
Meadow ©Harry Appleyard
Male Banded Demoiselle, ©Harry Appleyard
Lakeside view ©Harry Appleyard
Lakeside Trees and Reeds ©Harry Appleyard
Female Red-eyed Damselfly ©Harry Appleyard
Black-headed Gull ©Peter Hassett
Kingfisher Carving ©Harry Appleyard