Sunday Afternoon at Skylarks Nature Reserve

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This afternoon I took a walk at Skylarks Nature Reserve, Nottingham. Skylarks has been Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s largest reserve since 2014 when they used donations and Heritage Lottery funding to extend the reserve by a further 36ha. The reserve was previously home to commercial gravel pits but now holds an amazing variety of habitats including wetland, reedbeds, woodland and meadow grassland.

It was a lovely bright afternoon and my plan was just to get some exercise really but of course I got distracted by the scenery and wildlife. During school visits with Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, we often do a listening activity with the children (with varying degrees of success!) and I decided to do this myself today. I listened carefully everywhere I walked – to the mud squelching beneath my boots and the crunch of the gravel; distinguishing between the sounds of the trees creaking and the leaves stirring in the wind; comparing the cacophony of  dumpy wood pigeons taking off with the gentle rustling of tiny birds in the undergrowth. It was a beautiful experience! After using my ears I directed my eyes towards the sounds and caught tantalising glimpses of a shy goldcrest (Regulus regulus) inside the tangles of an ivy bush.

On the reserve I found remnants of the fungi that I had learnt to identify on a foray at Skylarks including candlesnuff (Xylaria hypoxylon), turkey tail (Trametes versicolor), and the shells of some rather old meadow puffballs (Lycoperdon pratense) which at first glance could be mistaken as round, white pebbles.

The recent warm weather seems to have confused nature somewhat. As well as the fungus, which I would have expected to be long gone by now, I found flowering pink campion, white dead nettle and ragwort. The earliest snowdrops have forced their way through the soil and leaf litter and some of the trees have grown new shoots and are even beginning to blossom.

As I followed some of the smaller paths through the woodland area I was reminded of something George Monbiot said at his recent lecture at Idle Valley Nature Reserve: over 5000 years ago Britain would have been covered in closed canopy rainforest. The land was smothered in wet forests that support plants that grow on other plants, i.e. epiphytes. The woodland at Skylarks, with it’s large ferns, moss covered trunks and hanging ivy vines were very suggestive of this in my mind. You can read more about George Monbiot’s answers on the natural history of Britain here.

On the edge of the reserve I found the remains of a huge bird, presumably one of this years cygnets judging by the size and colour but as only the wings and a couple of vertebrae were present I couldn’t say for sure. The wings were very impressive though and if they weren’t in such a state I would have been tempted to take them home and try to preserve them. I’ve been doing a few more taxidermy/bone collecting experiments recently – including home-tanning the fur of a roadkill rabbit I found over Christmas. The skin is still in the tanning solution in my mum’s garage so we will have to see what the outcome is, but it’s all a learning curve.

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The wings of a large bird at Skylarks Nature Reserve, Nottingham.

There weren’t many other people out on the reserve today, just a few dog walkers and a couple of families. At one point, there was a small family (2 adults, 2 kids) walking in front of me and I was glad to see them using the reserve and encouraging outside play with their children. That was until I realised that the youngest child wasn’t involved in his surroundings at all but was walking along watching cartoons on a tablet – seemingly to the amusement of his parents. I couldn’t help feeling a bit distressed that this child was so disengaged with the wonderful environment around him. Leave the electronics at home and enjoy the natural world, please! Later, to my relief, I saw him running around with his older sibling so I suppose one small step at a time is all that I can ask – better to be watching cartoons in the fresh air  and getting a bit of exercise than sitting inside with eyes glues to a screen.

I continued my walk and finally got a good view of a goldcrest (Regulus regulus) further through the reserve, as well as a few quick flashes of white bobtails as the bunnies scampered away from my footsteps. I left the woodland area and crossed over the road to the meadow area.  Dusk was approaching and the birds were settling down for the evening. I did a quick lap of the field as the geese flew over in formation and headed back to the car. A last look over the field revealed a beautiful murmuration above the tree tops which seemed to me a perfect parting picture.

All images subject to copyright. All opinions expressed on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the view of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust for whom I volunteer, or any other organisation.

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