A Golden moment

Wow!  What an amazing experience I had on Saturday.

Let me set the scene first. A bunch of us, most of whom had never met each other and some of whom only knew each other by their Twitter names had all descended on Udders farm shop in North Dorset.  Not to buy food (although it does sell some tastebud tantalising items!).  No, we were there for coffee!

Actually, the Coffee was an aside as we all chatted away, waiting for the call to move out.  Soon enough, we were off – and a mile or so later we were all stood around in a field as Sharon from Sharandys Birds of Prey set up the stands for her raptors!

Nibbly, looking cool.

Nibbly the black plumaged Barn Owl was first to get some attention as Cherry had brought him along to give him a taster of meeting an odd few individuals (I know – can’t get much odder than me!)  Nibbly seemed quite at home sat on his perch, though he wasn’t prepared to eat his lunch as we all snapped away..

Mouse for lunch anyone?

Whilst we had been concentrating on Nibbly, Sharon had been getting the other birds out of her van.  I wasn’t really prepared for the sight, as I turned around to see an adult Golden Eagle only a few yards away! 

Golden eagle, Up close and personal.

Don't even think about messing with this guy!

Wow – what an impressive specimen!  It didn’t stop there – it was a photography experience like no other. 4 Owls (if you include Nibbly), 3 hawks and the eagle were there – all ready and willing to pose for the camera.  Brilliant!!

Eagle owl, looking mean as anything!

We were treated to the Eagle Owl and the Tawny Owl posing in amongst the hazel at the bottom of the field, as we all went for the natural look. 

Left a bit, bit more, Perfect! Setting the scene for the owls in the hedge.

 A little bit sureal, trying to make an Eagle Owl look natural in a hazel hedge -when I was just awestruck by even seeing such a bird, never mind the surroundings!

Tawny owl looking, well, Tawny!

Next, it was onto birds in flight.  Never easy, and for a bird as small and nimble as the American Kestrel it proved a real challenge to get a flight photo. 

What a cracking little bird!

Definitely a case of continuous shutter all the way, trying to keep the bird in the centre of the frame, and hoping that the autofocus servo could keep track! 

The pick of the kestrel shots

Fortunately, Sharon also flew the Barn Owl.  Easier to follow, but still a bit of a challenge.

Barn owl in flight, screeching on landing!

At one point, I simply watched rather than take pictures as the bird gracefully glided across the field.

Barn owl flying in from the left, everyone else with cameras in full flow..

Finally, the time had arrived. “Anyone want to handle any of the birds?” said Sharon. “Too right! I’ll have a go with the big man!” I replied.  A matter of minutes later and it was happening, as I stood in a Dorset field, with a 5 year old adult male Golden Eagle perched on my (gloved!)arm. 

One word. Wow!

Simply amazing!

No, I didn't try that! Sharon shows how it's done.

It was only after the session that I found out that Sharon has a venture whereby she takes these fantastic birds out to terminally ill children, for them to be able to experience seeing the birds at close quarters.  She does this free of charge, and dedicates 4 days a month to it.  What a great gesture – Sharon, I take my hat off to you.  If you want to know more about it, go to the Flight of Dreams facebook page.

Just a great image..

It really was a fantastic few hours – thanks to Cherry for organising it, to Sharon and Helen for coming along with the birds and to Jane, Angie, Chris and all the others who shared the experience.

Now, why can’t those Marsh Harriers from my last post be as obliging? 😉

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Distant raptors

I headed back to my tried and trusted Poole Harbour haunt at the weekend.  Not for Deer though.  This time I was after avian subjects – Harriers.  Of course, if the opportunity arose for deer I was always going to take it, and it did, so I did – if you get my drift.

A steady breeze across the heath and into the trees gave me the perfect approach to the deer grounds. It was quite late so I didn’t expect to see many, if any.  I was therefore pleasantly surprised as I approached the treeline to see a fine mature stag peering through the trees.  Not only that, but a white stag.  I got the impression that this was a larger specimen compared to the white stag of the previous week, although this one did not have a harem of hinds with him.

Not sure who saw who first, so we both stopped and tried a 'who blinks first' contest.

I managed to get a little closer, but never clear enough for a decent shot.

It was boggy as anything in there. No way I was going in after him..

I hurried on to the reedbeds, scanning over the top of the reeds hopimg to see a harrier quartering along.  No such luck. 

Not the greatest shot I know - but it's clearly a Curlew.

Curlew, Green sandpiper, more sika deer, godwits and a couple of egrets where all I could muster after standing around for ages.  Just as I was leaving (as always happens!) right over my head came this massive wing span, swooping low behind the willow to my right then away over the beds. 

Marsh Harrier. A distant one, granted.

A Marsh Harrier!

I then spent a frustrating time waiting for it to head back my way.  Not a bit of it – it stayed way out of sensible reach of my camera lens and then dropped down into cover.  A second Harrier appeared on scene soon after, and played the same trick – keeping out into the bay as it passed by.  Still, I got some shots.  It’s just a case perhaps of going back and setting up a proper hide at some time.

I did see another raptor, as a common buzzard made a gliding pass over the woodland before being harrassed by a couple of jackdaws and heading back into the trees.

Buzzard. A bit closer than the Harriers, but not really close enough..

I then paid a quick visit to the main hide to see what was visiting the feeders.  Good to see that the squirrel proof feeders were working well! 

Yep. Squirrel proof. For now at least!

The squirrels were still getting plenty of food, thrown down by the woodpecker who seemed to be dislodging plenty of the nuts!

Almost too much for the Woodpecker as well. Great tit standing by ready for action.

You can see part of the reedbeds from the Hide.  It didn’t help when I noticed the female Harrier flying low over the very spot that I had been stood only an hour or so before.  That’s it – decision made. I’m setting up my hide and waiting, and waiting… and waiting…

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Sitting with Sika and crawling over gorse

I won’t beat around the bush or sit on the fence.  I’ll just say it – I don’t get a kick out of visiting the ‘top wildlife sites in the guide books’.  Loads of people do of course, and I have to say the management of such sites is top notch.  No, the bit I don’t really enjoy is that the wildlife is often too tame.  I’ve had to walk off the track at one well known site because a Sika stag simply refused to move – even when I was about 2 feet away!

I like a bit of a challenge to getting close to wildlife, or even simply finding wildlife.  For the same reason, I don’t think I’ll be going to see the Blandford otters for quite some time. I went last week, saw one briefly before it was chased away by a well meaning ( I hope) but rather ignorant individual, and now there are loads of people queuing on the bridges to watch them, all day every day.  So, I’ll be staying away.

Fortunately, I know a site that backs onto Poole Harbour that is very rarely visited.  I spent 4 hours there on Sunday and saw – one person, and he was sat in his car.

What a great place to be!

It’s been a year since I had a go at stalking for Sika deer images, and the great thing about the herd here is that they are flighty.  They are easy enough to see – from a distance.  You want to get close? You’ve got to do a bit of fieldwork here – you can’t just walk up to them and ask them to pose nicely.

So, early-ish on Sunday saw me walking across a Dorset heathland, heading towards the rather eerie whistles from a bunch of Sika deer hidden behind a gorse thicket.  I spotted the two outliers (lookouts) – which always helps.  Seeing them before they see me is essential.  I can then work out the best approach and slowly make my way towards the main herd.

Initially, it was case of walk/crouch from cover to cover.  As I got closer it was more a case of crouching as I moved. Before long I’d reached the stage where I was belly crawling along, almost dragging myself through the heather.  At one point, I had no choice but to haul myself across a 5m section of young gorse.  That did cause some major discomfort and gritted teeth!

I pushed my luck as much as I could, and soon it was just 40m or so of open ground between me and the two lookouts.  I couldn’t go much further without spooking them, so I took a gamble.  I sat up.

Spotted - and about time too!

Immediately, a shrill cry went up from a nearby doe.  The lookouts turned, and clocked me. Importantly – none of the herd ran.  They all simply stood there, all looking intently at me. 

Spotted by number two

 Finally, the younger of the lookouts made his move.  Not away.  He walked directly towards me. 

He's really quite a brave chap, and got quite close.

I guess that they perhaps weren’t too sure what I was.  I was pretty well camouflaged up so maybe they couldn’t really work out if I was a human or even if I was a threat.  He stopped at about 30m.  Meanwhile the other ‘lookout’ had made his way back to the main herd.  He was soon joined by the ‘Big Guy’ – head of the herd, who challenged him to a duel and then promptly sent him back towards me. 

Big Guy makes his challenge

So, there I was with now 2 stags slowly working their way towards me while the rest of the herd (about 30 in total) stood back and watched.  Next, a doe ventured forth, almost shoving the younger stag ahead of her. 

The Doe (on left) about to come and investigate

They all stopped again and stared at me, while I stared back.

Spotter stag back on sentry duty again

I was busy clicking away of course!  There then came a bit of a stalemate.  I had a go at video:

Eventually Big Guy decided it was time to retire into the woods for the day, so calmly led them all past me and off through the gorse. 

Big Guy and some of his does, leading them back to the woods

Only one thing was missing.  Last year, I’d seen a white stag here.  So where was he? Moving further towards the shoreline I soon had my answer.  He has now matured and was out in the reedbeds with his own harem. 

The White stag seeing off a challenger in the reedbeds.

Before you ask – no, I didn’t try stalking them.  Can you imagine belly crawling through the thick mud of a reedbed?  Not only would it be very noisy, but I’m not sure my wife would appreciate the mess I would make of the washing machine either!  

I saw a fair few other things out there.  Hen harrier and Merlin were no doubt the highlights, though I didn’t get any decent images of either – so we will have to settle for a late Red Admiral that flew by, then turned back and landed on a nearby gorse while I took it’s picture.

A splash of colour on a November day. A Red Admiral

So, next time you want to get closer to a Sika deer, don’t try and crawl right up to it.  Just get near and then sit up.  It may well come across to check you out!

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Water voles and Red Squirrels. Now there’s a challenge!

I do like to get across the water to Brownsea Island every now and again.  Not just for the sense of calm that you get as soon as you alight from the boat, but also because of the fantastic array of wildlife that calls it home.

I managed to get a couple of days sorted out recently – all very much work related of course.  I did however have some time to kill before catching the boat back on both occasions, and as luck would have it I had my camera with me each time!

The first of many slightly blurred images!

My first target species was Water Vole.  There are a fair few resident on the Island, living in the carr and also around then wetland edges and pools.  They are really hit or miss when it comes to seeing them.  Some days they will happily sit and feed in the open, whilst on other days they will be just as happy to play a game of hide and seek!  This was a hide and seek day, and they had a blast!

Getting better....

It didn’t take long to find them.  Standing still and listening always works – you can hear them munching away on grass and reed stems from quite a distance.  Seeing them was also easy enough, as they scuttled around amongst the stems.  Photographing them?  Not a chance!  It was far too dark in the alder carr to get a fast enough shutter speed to catch them, and by the time the focus had got them they had moved on anyway!

Wish he'd stop playing around!

Perseverance won the day though, and after an age of me sat on the boardwalk, having picked the spot where I imagined a water vole would appear, it all fell into place.  Very briefly, but I was rewarded by a water vole scurying around for about 20 seconds while I snapped away as best I could in the dim light.

Best of the bunch, for now. I will be back!

I was sort of pleased with the results, and didn’t have time left to wait around as the boat was leaving soon – I had to get back to the Office after all.

A week later and I was back.  In the meantime I had asked my Twitter crowd (I’m @Spuddrs if you want to follow) to suggest a challenge for me to photograph. Polecat was the resounding winner but as I pointed out, I’d really like to have a challenge that was achievable inside 30 years or so! In the end we all settled on Red Squirrel.  Bonus – I knew just the place!  Brownsea has a population of a couple of hundred or so..

I was rather confident of getting a shot or two.  Mainly because my day was to be spent training a new batworker whilst we carried out a bat box survey on the Reserve – so we’d be working in a private part of the Island.  Bound to be plenty of squirrels around then.

Wrong! I think we saw one squirrels as we did our rounds.  It scooted across the path ahead of us, straight up a pine and disappeared from view.  The bat box checks went well though, finding colonies of Natterers, Brown long eared and Soprano pipistrelle.

Natterers bat. Some might call it cute..

A nice set of gnashers!

By the time we had finished, I had literally one hour to spare before the boat left.  Squirrel time!  I headed off in search of them, gambling on heading towards the northern side of the Reserve. I used the same tactic as I do with water voles -listen. 

Way up high, dropping bits of pine cone on me!

Sure enough, the sound of bits of pine cone dropping from the canopy alerted me to a squirrel.  High above me.  At least he was, until he dropped the pine cone.  It was rather comical to watch as he stared down after it, cursing away as it dropped to the ground.  He continued muttering and cursing as he made his way down from his perch, into the bracken and off in search of his pine cone. 

Coming down in search of the 'lost' cone

I rushed over and settled down to get a brilliant shot of him heading back up the tree with his prize.  I waited. and waited..  Then I heard the familiar sound of falling bits of pine, coming from two trees away!  There he was, sat in a fork and munching away.  Thwarted by a squirrel!

This one prefers acorns it seems

Time was against me, so I had to head back -hoping that I’d be able to salvage something from the shots I’d taken.  A bit of a game with another squirrel that refused to come out of the shade had me hoping that I might just get a decent shot. 

Burying nuts. It's hard work being a squirrel.

Finally, just as I was about to head down to the main path I realised that another squirrel was busy amongst the leaf litter right next to me.  I had minutes to spare, so fired off plenty of shots as this one posed for the camera – the complete opposite to the others!  

A bit of a poser!

So, that’s another challenge completed.  Maybe I should have a look around for a polecat now? 😉

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Buzzy times..

Firstly, let’s big it up for Twitter.  I have been going through a rather barren patch in my blog writing recently.  In fact, it’s been more barren than a really sandy bit of the Sahara, during a sandstorm.  So, I took the bull by the horns and announced on Twitter ( I am Spuddrs in case you want to follow my tweets – usually about Somerset Cricket, and a bit about wildlife) that I would be blogging tonight – and here I am, blogging.  As it happens I’m not tied to a promise I made through some digital media.  I really do have something to blog about. Bees.

Yes, it's a bee. Definite.

Yep, Bees.  Not just any bee though.  These bees didn’t even exist until 1993. I guess that’s technically a howler as they obviously did exist, however they were only discovered and declared new to science in that year.  Less than a decade later and they were found in Dorset.  Worth Matravers to be precise.  I’ll bet they were there all along.  If only I had noticed them before 1993 and found a new species – I could have called them Spudders Bees!

No matter.  I didn’t find them then so let’s move on.  I did however find them this week on Upton Heath.  They are called Ivy Bees.  It’s probably related to the fact that they are often found on flowering ivy at this time of the year, rather than that some lady called Ivy found them?

I didn’t find them on ivy.  Oh no.  I went for the big time.  I found a whole colony (or aggregation) of them! They dig holes to lay their eggs in, and I noticed a bank on the heath that had more holes than a colander of the equivalent size. 

More holes than your average bank

 Closer inspection revealed that the bees using the holes were similar to honey bees, with closer bands across the abdomen and a rather furry, almost ginger coloured thorax. 

Leg off to the side for perfect balance. Can't be too careful when landing on gorse!

I stood there for quite some time marvelling at their antics.  Lots of coming and going, always busy – and every now and then a bit of a stand off as one bee tried to go into a hole that was already occupied. 

Upside down - it's all the same to these acrobats.

 I have read that they do sting, but I don’t think it’s very often – I was right in amongst them and felt totally safe.

Just about to go for a dig...

Leaving them to their busy ways, or should that be buzzy ways? (groan!),  I headed off, delighted to find a young sand lizard.  One of this years hatchlings, it was grabbing some warmth from the last few rays of the day. 

The young sand lizard, getting ready for a long winter ahead.

Me?  I was off home, to inform my Twitter crew that I was now ready to blog!

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Oh, I do love a Challenge!

I set myself a bit of a challenge the other week – and at times I rather wished I hadn’t!  I say I set myself the challenge, but in reality it was born out of a comment that I picked up on – ‘had anyone seen any baby (you’ll find out later!) yet this year??’  The answer came back as a bit of a silence.  It seemed that nobody had yet – so I manfully stood up to the plate (my own plate of course) and took on the task.

Now, I’m not sure how long I can keep you guessing on this, as I haven’t really thought it through to a conclusion where I reveal if I did see it, and if I did, what it is..  My Twitter followers will probably know already – if they take any notice of my tweets that is.  If you’re not a Twitter follower of mine and want to get ahead of the game for the next blog post, I’m there as @spuddrs.

I’m also trying to cut down on my waffling and use more images.  So far, it’s been all waffle and no images, so not the best of starts I’d say… 🙂

Anyway, back to the challenge.  It involves finding a baby something as you know, but that’s not much good without a picture as well – so off I went onto the heath, laden with camera during every spare hour of my leave (when I wasn’t painting walls, washing patios etc etc – which I did find rather satisfying I might add), and every lunchtime during my working days.  So, time for some images of what I did see…

Soakin' up the rays!

You looking at me?

Firstly, I was (still am) amazed by the number of smooth snakes I found basking. I saw one in 2009 and two last year.  Some of my colleagues tell me they have never seen one out basking in the open.  So, you judge just how amazed I was when I tell you that I saw SEVEN in two days!  Add another two that I saw on friday just gone – that’s 11 smooth snakes basking in about 10 days.  I have a theory that they were mainly females about to give birth – certainly they were very large bodied, and the one that I did check was a heavily pregnant female.  I left the others where they were as I doubt they would appreciate being disturbed if my theory is correct.  One was a male, basking in preparation for sloughing his skin – his blue/milky eyes being a sure sign of that.

Large Skipper. Actually not very big at all, but it is called a Large Skipper. Yes, there is also a small skipper.

Grayling, almost caught with open wings..

Grayling butterfly. Not to be confused with Grayling the fish of course. (the wings are a good ID pointer)

Small copper - bit of a cracker.

Plenty of butterflies, to be expected really.  Graylings are a real tester.  They fly around, usually landing on a path or bit of dead wood, immediately bring their wings together, shuffle around until they cast no shadow and often so that they are head on to you.  I have only seen one image this year of a Grayling with it’s wings open.  That’s a whole new challenge that I’m staying well away from!

Keeled skimmer. It's a dragonfly.

Golden ringed. It's a dragonfly with go faster stripes and mega cool factor.

Lots of dragonflies as well.  Again, no surprise there.  Finally, in addition to the earlier smooth snakes, plenty of reptiles -as expected.

Male sand lizard. on sand. as it happens.


Another sand lizard, challenging me to a staring contest. I won!

Mrs Adder. This one has taken to basking on a path, so I have to watch out for her!

On quite a few occasions I managed to hit the reptile jackpot so to speak, seeing all six species in one session.  Lunchtime of Thursday 11th August was by far the best in that respect as I managed to tick off all six in 27 minutes!

Time to wrap up this post then, which I suppose has to involve me unveiling the prize I was after.  Well, the baby is actually called a hatchling, is about an inch and a half or so in length, rarely stays still for longs and moves as fast as a rocket on full boosters!

I did succeed eventually.  I saw a flash of movement in the heather, and waited to see if it would emerge.  After a couple of minutes of kneeling on the path, staring into a patch of heather and hoping that nobody wandered by – I was rewarded!

Sand lizard hatchling - a speed machine!

Well, it was always going to be some sort of reptile wasn’t it?  There is a story behind this little fellow.  The fire that ripped through the heath in June, missed the block where this one hatched – by some miracle.  It is on a small pensinsula that juts out into the burnt heath, and I really have no idea why it didn’t burn like all around it.  Fortunately for him, it didn’t and he survived.

Fortunate for me as well -or I might still be out there, trying to meet that challenge of finding the first sand lizard hatchling of the year!

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Upton Heath fire – through my own eyes

I’ll open this post with a warning.  If you are not sitting comfortably, or don’t have enough refreshment to get you through the next few hours, then I suggest you try again when you are, and you have – so to speak.  The reason?  This could be a seriously long post.  It would probably put most short stories to shame.  Enough of the warnings, all I’m doing here is making it even longer…

This post is my own view of the events surrounding the fire at Upton Heath.  It has taken some time for me to bring it all together -mainly because I really didn’t know where to start, or how to say it.  I’ve decided to just go for it.  It might seem a bit long winded for a blog, but I can’t see any other way..  It all started at about 1.40pm (we think) on Thursday 9th June.  Smoke had been spotted rising from the SW corner of Upton Heath.  A couple of other things were also apparently seen at this time, but I’m leaving that to the Police to provide more detail in the future.

The fire in full rampage mode

My heart sank, as I realised the area being destroyed was the very same area that I had been walking around only a few days previously. I had seen a smooth snake basking in the open (incredibly hard to spot them doing this), had seen sand lizards galore, spent many an hour trying to photograph downy emerald, emperor and broad bodied chaser dragonflies, and logged a dartford warbler territory along with a new brood of stonechats flitting around on top of the gorse.

The basking smooth snake, pictured in May this year...

  Now it was all going up in smoke…

The previous weeks of fine weather left the gorse, bracken and heather very dry.  The fire, fanned by a strong SW wind quickly took off and was soon engulfing the heath.  There was little that I could do, but watch as the flames took huge leaps across the landscape.  With the wardens out on the ground working alongside the emergency services, my role seemed to evolve quite naturally into one of co-ordination of our guys, plus dealing with the media calls steadily building in the office overlooking the site.

The next few hours flew by. As six pm approached I was juggling with 3 radio stations and the BBC News Channel – all wanting a live update. 

The link here gives a birds eye view of what was happening, while I gave a bit of a running commentary over the phone.

The fire was still in full flow at this stage, and there was news of evacuations taking place on the eastern side of the site.  While all this was going on, I was doing my best to keep in touch with the wardens – although I knew they would stay safe and knew the heath better than anyone.

Another view of the fire.

The long and short of it is that the fire was under control by about 9.30pm.  It had been raging across the heathland for 8 hours.  I have to say, I am in total awe of the efforts of the fire crews that day.  Several crews went onto the heath via our Wildlife Centre car park, and they all looked absolutely spent – but kept at it no matter what.  It’s not an easy site to walk on so trying to drive a fire tender across it while a racing heath fire is in full flight must be terrifying – there are so many deep bogs and ditches that are very hard to spot.

Just some of the 200 or so fire fighters involved

Driving home that night, the enormity of it hit me.  The streets for miles around were enveloped in smoke.  At home, I looked out and saw ash falling onto the garden.  I had agreed to be back at the office for 6.30am to meet up with local radio – but didn’t really get any sleep so was there at about 5am, to be joined by Radio Solent and Radio 5 Live.  I was still reeling from it all -my mind kept going back to the images I had from the times I had spent out there before the fire, and the sight of the huge flames set against a backdrop of a smoke billowing up and all around.

That day, Friday, was all a bit of a blur.  Staff from various other offices turned up to help, as did the volunteers from Brownsea.  I was still stuck in the office, putting off the inevitable point at which I’d have to go out and see the reality of the aftermath.   The early news was not good at all.  It seemed that little, if anything, had survived.  One colleague returned with a picture of a roe doe that seemed to be frantically searching the burnt landscape.  The next person then reported a find of a blackened fawn corpse.  It wasn’t hard to work out why that roe was so frantic…

John and Jess out early on the Friday

After lunch I steeled myself and went for a walk onto the heath.  Walking down the bridle path I was able to lift my spirits somewhat when I realised that the site where I had seen the smooth snake and the sand lizards had escaped the fire after all – the sandy path around it having been just enough to stop the fire.  Arriving at the fire site however, soon brought me back to earth.  Even as I stood there, looking out across a black and barren landscape, small fires were forever starting up here and there.  Stamping them out as best I could, I called for the fire crews to come across and damp down that section.  After they had gone I decided to walk around in search of any survivors.  Reptiles are the main animals to look out for – and I quickly found a couple of common lizards that I relocated onto an unburnt area.  I then came across an adder, who was curled up against a log in a small depression.  Obviously a little ‘out of sorts’, she let me handle her easily, and she too was relocated safely. 

Safe at last, off goes the female Adder

I’ll add here, that it’s not a good idea to even attempt to handle an adder unless you are trained – so DON’T DO IT!

By that evening, the offers of help coming into the Trust were flooding in.  Safety has to come first though, and with the potential for fires starting up anywhere and the fact that the Fire crews were still on site lead me to the decision that it was not suitable for any large scale volunteer effort.  That all changed on the Saturday. We had a few staff and experienced volunteers in that morning, and started to get results with 18 common lizards plus a few smooth snakes being found.  We felt we needed to get lots more people on site soon -if only it would rain or something!

The volunteers and staff releasing reptiles on the Saturday

A forecast of rain for most of Saturday night and all of Sunday meant that conditions would be much easier by Monday – and rain it certainly did.  A quick call to the Warden and the decision was made.  I would put out a call for volunteers to assist us with reptile rescues from Monday morning.  Within an hour or so, the call out had been prepared, checked and sent out to over 2000 people registered on the database.  This was also passed over to the media contacts.

Facebook and Twitter traffic rocketed with the response.  At one point I mentioned on Facebook that we needed any old pillow cases for putting the lizards in.  Amazingly, I was offered pillowcases from as far afield as Leeds and even Aberdeen!  On Sunday evening the local BBC News broadcast the plea for volunteers to turn up, and followed that up again on the Monday morning.  When I also got a call from Hampshire and Isle of White Wildlife Trust to say they’d heard it on the radio I started to worry!  Just how many people would we get turning up?  I hoped for at least a good number, but too many for us to manage would be a nightmare!

I needn’t have worried.  It was perfect. Over 60 volunteers turned up that morning, all donating batches of pillowcases and all eager to go out and do what they could to help.  It wasn’t exactly like clockwork, but it was close to it!  Leaders were allocated, volunteers were put into groups of 10, I gave a safety brief to each group and off they went – onto the blackened heath in search of reptiles.  One of the main points in my safety brief was that nobody was to touch a snake, no matter what the species. That was a task for a few of the staff who knew how to handle them, as we anticipated quite a number of adders being found.

Safety brief in full flow. The 'lizard dance' eveloved from here. Don't ask!

This proved to be the case, and a few of them were just a tad fiesty -understandable really considering what they had been through.

And so the week sped by, each day brought more volunteers to the Centre, all eager to help rescue what they could and do their bit.  The weather didn’t help us at all.  Only Tuesday was ok.  Thursday and Friday in particular were horribly wet days -yet volunteers still turned out and we still caught and released reptiles on every day.  TV coverage of the event was pretty impressive throughout the week, all very well managed by the DWT Comms Team.  I think on the Wednesday we were working with 3 different tv crews all at the same time on various parts of the heath.

Chatting to Louise from BBC Breakfast TV about a lizard we had caught

Friday was a close call for rescues.  It was raining heavily from the start and after an hour of it we decided to call it a day and head back for a cuppa.  Just then, a slow worm was found.  This gave fresh hope to the teams and as the rain finally slowed to a drizzle we carried on searching.  The 3 smooth snakes, 2 slow worms and several common lizards that were rescued after that will never know how close they came to being left out there to struggle on!

The last day of searching was the Saturday, 9 days after the fire.  Whilst we found a few reptiles, numbers were considerably down despite the conditions being ideal.  As a result, the decision was made that there would be no further organised searches.

So, how did we get on?

Anita had volunteered during the week to run the admin side of things.  Totting up the details she announced that over the course of the week that a total of 261 volunteers had turned out to help!  I was, and still am, blown away by this number of people who had volunteered in wind and rain to walk over a burnt heathland, getting stuck in bogs, being covered in mud and soot – all in response to the call for help just a week previously.   

What about the reptiles?  We did pretty well there as well.  A total of 560 in all – 432 of them being common lizards.

A selection of lizards, ready to go to their new home.

So, that was my week.  Having worked almost double the hours I would normally do it was a rather tired me that called it a day for rescues on the Saturday afternoon.  Sunday was a day of rest – which I think was earnt not just by me, but by everyone who was involved in the epic reptile rescue week on Upton Heath!

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