Report on a guided RSPB walk around Brading Marshes. Sunday 4 May 2008.

Posted by Admin on 26 September 2008, 12:00 am


This year the Isle of Wight celebrated its 10th Walking Festival. I timed a short holiday to the island in May to coincide with some of the most appealing walks. One of these was a guided walk around the RSPB's Brading Marshes reserve.  The RSPB started acquiring the reserve in stages from 2001. The habitat is very varied, consisting of reedbeds, marshes, farmland, a pocket of ancient woodland and downland.


It is normally only possible to walk around the outside of the reserve using public footpaths. The advantage of this event was that a RSPB volunteer took us inside.


The first footpath to the reserve passes a small sewage works. We were told that the filter beds are worth checking as interesting birds are often recorded there. On this occasion I just missed a grey wagtail. On entering the reserve we first noticed the large number of swallows, house martins and swifts hawking for insects. Whitethroats, blackcaps and chiffchaff could all be heard. A reed bunting showed well. Both sedge and reed warblers were heard in the reedbeds, but only a distant glimpse of one of these (I'll never know which species) was available. Skylarks and Cetti's warblers were vocal at various places.


We got as close to as we were allowed to one of the marshes. Some shelduck were visible, and a common sandpiper dropped in, presumably on migration. Several lapwing were calling and displaying in a nearby field: this species is encouraged to breed on the reserve, with reasonable success.


The reserve is good for raptors. Buzzards and hobbies could both be seen in the same patch of sky at the same time. This gave beginners a good chance to compare and contrast the size and shape. The leader glimpsed a distant marsh harrier, but nobody else could get onto this bird. 


Booking for the walk was not essential, and 30 people turned up, at least half without binoculars. While it is encouraging that lots of people are interested, the pace was often slow as a long time was spent showing people fairly common birds. Birdwatching on the Isle of Wight is an underdeveloped activity (there is no local RSPB group, for example), but perhaps this will change as the reserve gains more prominence in the local media.


The morning was not without amusement. A group of curious cows, which are used to graze the fields, came to check us out. One woman let a cow approach her and poked out her tongue. The cow did likewise and a kiss occurred. There was a murmuring of emotion it is hard to define: part surprise, part horror, part bewilderment.


Brading Station (which is open from 10am to 4pm every day) is considered the gateway to the reserve and has a wall display, leaflets and a small snack bar. A series of guided walks has been arranged for the summer months: there are about three a month on weekend mornings. For more details see the RSPB website. At the time of writing it is unclear when and if the RSPB will open any parts of the reserve to the public, so a guided walk is the only option for getting up close to some of the wildlife.


Debbie Pledge

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