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Nature on your Doorstep – Nunnery Lakes

Join blogger, Edward Grierson, on a visit to Nunnery Lakes and discover just how many creatures you can see on your doorstep…

The Nunnery Lakes was the foundational site of the British Trust for Ornithology in 1946. To this day, it remains their flagship reserve, and when I visited the birds were out in force. There was the dull, electronic drawl of a greenfinch; the upbeat trill of robins sparring over a patch; and the frantic peeping of a whole troop of long-tailed tits, as they careered through the trees in every direction. I could close my eyes and let a cascade of birdsong pour down on me.

But my eyes were open, and the focus of my attention was much closer to the bench I was sitting on.

This week in March, seemingly for the first time in the year, the sun brought both light and warmth. The buds on the trees around me were swollen and green, and the willow buds had burst open. The whole of nature finally seemed to be waking up into Spring. It was in the tallest trees- and the smallest insects.

All around me, masses of tiny bodies were collectively thronging on every surface. On the arch across from me, dozens of ladybirds milled about in every direction. They stepped over each other without noticing and warmed themselves up on each other’s backs.

A small tortoiseshell butterfly flew past. Its wingbeat was slower and heavier than usual. Clearly it had only recently emerged from torpor and was still warming itself up as it flew. Two brimstones came flying by in opposite directions. Their wingbeats were jauntier than the tortoiseshell but they were also wider and more rapid, propelling the brimstones around as the wind picked up.

Then they passed each other. One wheeled around and they began slamming their weight into each other. Their flight paths became scattered, as they spiralled up and down trying to knock each other out.

The leaves that drooped over the bench were peppered with aphids. Solitary bees perused the rubble of the old wall. Springtails crawled over the earth at my feet, barely distinguishable from grains of dirt.

Looking across the reserve towards the woods, the reserve’s beehives appeared to be smoking. The warm weather whipped the honeybees into hysteria. Now they swarmed around the hive, zipping out and back again, over, and over, as they tried to get their bearings: trying to methodically lay out their course of action, while hurrying to get out and pick up pollen.

As I was watching, a single honeybee landed a few inches from me. From here I could see every vein in its wing. Every hair stood out, every leg joint visible, every detail on its face clear.

After a few twitches of its antenna, it propped itself on its middle legs, and started rubbing its front legs together. Then it began rubbing its face. Each crease and bump were thoroughly massaged. It used all the same movements as a person washing their face, and with more precision. Having finished cleaning its face, it lifted its hind legs, and began rubbing its wings and abdomen with the same process.

This meticulous process was drawn out over ten minutes, and I couldn’t look away until it took off.

At that point, I became aware of another sound: the dull drawl of passing cars. Nunnery Lakes is no sprawling countryside reserve: it’s right next to a housing development, surrounded by roads on all sides. It’s the sort of reserve where people go to discover the wildlife on their doorstep.

It was very fitting that my visit would have me seeing the smallest, most overlooked creatures in a new light.

– By Edward Grierson