Jul 19, 2009

A day out with the RSPB...its not all birds!

Its funny the range of things you can get involved with volunteering for the RSPB. Over seven days I have helped out with two guided walks, some goose ringing. And on Thursday a day surveying flowers. Last week volunteers were asked if they wanted to go to the North Hill reserve on the island of Pappa Westray…which will be referred to as Pappy from now on..To help in the annual survey of the Primula Scotica colony on Foul Craig. I was all up for it even with an extra early start for the Westray boat. A dozen or more of us (I never counted) gathered on the pier and embarked with the ferry only to sail strait in to thick fog that was to last the whole crossing.The sea was smooth as glass as we sailed along in a bubble of visibility. Gannets and auks quietly moved through out field of vision whilst cries of herring gulls and terns betrayed their presence deeper in the murk. All to soon we were at Westray with me missing the only fin to be see that day!!

A small buss with the cheeriest driver in the isles whisked us to the village pier where we boarded the Golden Mariana for the short crossing to Pappy.

Heading from the pier the mists were rolling back up the hill sides. The sun now powered through soaking us and the village in warm light. A perfect summer Sean.
Reaching the Pappy pier we are soon ashore and being introduced to Lorna the Pappy warden. Pleasantries done we are whisked away to the north end of the small island where we are to count. Its my first visit to Pappy and the more I see of it the more I would like to get out and explore it….never mind another day.

It was a short walk to Foul Crag area of the North Hill reserve. Its on this expanse of maritime heath land that the Pimuls Scotica thrive. We discard our bags with their redundant extra clothing and water proofs and head off to inspect Primula samples so we are sure to recognise what we are looking for. With the recognition sorted we have a quick cuppa and fortified by first of an unending line of home baked cake we are off to work..
The area to be surveyed is marked out in a series of meter wide lanes. We thank these two apiece and work from end to end until we meet. The recording goes like this… plants with out flowers, Plants with flowers, plants with seeds, and seedlings. We are soon all moving along on hands and knees looking hard and finding little. It seems the dispersal of the plants can be described as particularly abundant locally. Soon enough some worked their way in to a large patch and the counting began in earnest.
With each lane finished we waited for the last one whilst eating more excellent cake. The grid done we walk it over to the next bit and re peg it. A quick check of its position and its on with the counting.

Layers of clothes begin to come off as we work. A warm sun and the faintest of sea breezes cause a passing round of the sun block and insect repellent. The short growing maritime heath land exudes warm air from its micro climate as we squash it on out hands and knees. There is a wealth of diversity in the heath land with sedges, grasses. Plantains, Crowberries and roe berries(I think) and all manner of flowering plants. The crowning glory of it all being the rare beautiful and diminutive Primula Scotica . We crash on doing grid after grid. With conversations going on all over interposed with the occasional friendly banter the day soon passes and before we know it we are breaking for dinner. At this point I find I have forgotten my piece box in the fridge at home. I feel a right div compounded by my earlier divines in forgetting to put an money in my pockets this morning. Some one took pity on me and shared a roll so I had that(thanks) and some more delicious cake. And was as they say repeat.. I keep mentioning the delicious cake and that’s because the offer of all the cake you could eat was a sweetener in the original email we received. Lorna had been even better than here word and we were faced with a mountain of her tasty home bakes. They were appreciated by all!! So lunch was enjoyed in the company of Arctic Skuas Bonxies and low flying Arctic Terns returning to their colony with food. It was all to pleasant to endure so we moved back to recording. The day continued and the weather never faltered. With more grids completed we eventually arrived at the finishing point. A job well done. The total sheets were collected for later collation and we quickly cleared away all evidence of our presence there. Timings couldn’t have been better and we were met by our transport as we left the reserve, good buys said we were off for the boat to Westray and after a short journey in the company of the cheeriest driver in the isles we on the ferry to Kirkwall. It was a superb journey home if like me you like smooth water I even managed to scrounge a couple of quid and had a bacon sarnie to break the journey. All in all it was a really pleasant day and we had found just under 8500 plants i here. Well worth it.

This was just another day volunteering with the RSPB each day you help out may be different it may be the same but they are all worth while. If you are not a member why not join! If you are a member why not volunteer all sorts of help is needed at various times and you don’t need to be some sort of expert birder to participate…Think about it you could be out there enjoying it as well!!

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