Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Beth: “Life as a volunteer” – twitch madness and nine men + a dog fail to round up two sheep

I have been volunteering at the Obs now for 2 weeks and have been kept very busy.  As a volunteer there is always something to do, and if you are ever short of jobs to occupy you, Mark is always on hand to recruit new potato weeders to his plight as, of course, no volunteer would have truly experienced life at NRBO without a bit (or a lot) of potato weeding. However, be assured they are coming along beautifully (...I hope the birds appreciate the effort).

The arrival of a Blyth’s Reed Warbler last week was an interesting experience for a ‘non-birder’ such as myself. Paul received a call from Mark who was on mist net duty at Holland and suddenly everybody (including a handful of guests) jumped up out of their seats, cameras and binoculars at the ready, and dived into the Landrover.  Alex and I (the only ‘non-birders’) quickly followed, excited at the prospect of seeing something really interesting. On arrival at Holland the paparazzi quickly made their way to the ringing hut and patiently waited in anticipation for this fascinating bird to be brought out for viewing. I have to say the bird was not as exciting as I’d expected and listening to everyone discussing the “emarginations on P4” (-birding is like another language) was a little baffling. However I can now say that I have actually seen a rare Blyth’s Reed Warbler (not that I would be able to recognise it from any other small, brown, indistinct warbler species).

As a volunteer, the best jobs (for me anyway) are helping the boys catching and ringing the birds.  I've helped catch and ring Common Gull chicks in the fields and Great Black-backed Gulls in the gull trap. The boys also took Alex and me to Hooking Loch to help them look for and ring Greylag Geese, however, they failed to mention that to catch these geese we would have to wade through the 5ft tall iris beds that surround the loch which are usually about a foot deep in swampy water.  Taking on the challenge, we set off boldly into the irises, but it wasn’t long before I came across a ditch, deeper than anticipated, and I ended up taking an unexpected dip in the swamp. Funnily enough it wasn't long before, in an attempt to grab some geese, both Mark and Ric also ended up waist high in swamp water. Despite this, the excursion was a success and we manage to ring about 11 geese and 9 Black-headed Gull chicks - and thoroughly enjoyed it!

But it’s not all about the birds. Help is always appreciated in the guesthouse and Fleur, Catrina and Alex have been hard at work taking care of the guests and making the most amazing puddings – the most important job! Ric has spent the vast majority of his time in the last week improving (and slightly obsessing over) the NRBO website and has spent many hours tucked away in the office or photographing various facilities around the site (I think it is just an excuse to get off potato weeding duty).

We have recently been having trouble with the Obs’ sheep and no matter what lengths we go to to keep them in our fields they somehow manage to escape and end up in a neighbouring field of cows.  Paul and Alex spent some time rebuilding the gaps in the dyke where the sheep have been spotted escaping from, but that appears to have had no impact on the genius mastermind sheep’s ability to break free.  Two sheep appear particularly cunning and have learnt to seek refuge in the cow fields in which we are unable to retrieve them.  This afternoon an army of staff, volunteers, guests and Rhianey the sheep dog set off in an effort to herd these two back from a field at Holland. With people stationed at each corner and gate of the field, ready to usher the animals the right direction, the operation began, however, the adroit sheep made a quick getaway in the opposite direction and leapt the wall into the nearest cow field.  The disheartened army of herders returned to the Obs defeated.

And finally, I have to mention the Obs’ biggest tourist attraction this month – the puppies!  Both mum and pups are doing very well, they have grown an unbelievable amount in the last week and in the last couple of days have started opening their eyes for the first time. Rhianey, the once proud mum of five, seems to have started to get a little bored of her tiring and demanding offspring and is taking any opportunity to get out and get some fresh air...can you blame her?!

1 comment:

  1. As a visitor, the invitation to join in the Blyth's shout was fantastic. It's not often that one has the chance to see a far-travelled species exhibiting its natural behaviour, so to see the wardens in full birder mode, plus geek-speak, was brilliant!