27th June 2022
An Excerpt from my Diary: 24 Hours on Brownsea Island
This week my diary features a very special experience - 24 Hours on Brownsea Island
I have several roles as a volunteer on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, Dorset. These involve the visitor experience, maintenance work but most exciting is the out of hours’ warden. To spend 24 hours on this beautiful, natural island is a real privilege especially when the night jars are in residence and the terns are nesting on the islands in the lagoon.
Thursday 23 June 2022
I am up early and pack for a night on Brownsea Island before cycling to the National Trust jetty to catch an early staff boat from the mainland to the island. When I arrive there I have time for a walk before starting my shift as a volunteer pier warden on the island’s quay. I take the board walk into the nature reserve. As I pass the path to the tern island bird hide I notice a line of terns perched on the high fence lining it. The terns are very quiet this morning so I guess feeding time must be over.
Outside The Villa, the Wildlife Centre, a family of greylag geese is scavenging for crumbs under the bird feeders. One of them chases the birds away and then realise that it is the birds on the feeders that are making the seeds drop to the ground.
All to soon it is time to start my shift on the quay. It is quiet today as the weather forecast is bad. Despite the lack of visitors there is always something to watch as ships are constantly going in and out of Poole Harbour and passing by the island. When I finish my shift I head for the cottage where I will be staying the night and have some supper before starting my evening patrol. I have to check all the beaches along the South Shore to ensure no-one has landed and either started a barbecue or brought a dog with them. Both are forbidden on the island to protect the wildlife. A prediction of bad weather proves to be wrong but it does keep the boats at bay so it does not take me long to carry out my checks.
I go out again at 9.30 pm hoping to see the night jars currently nesting on the island. Generally, they are here from May to September. I walk to the heathland area of the island listening all the time for the strange whirring call of the night jar. I come across a peacock roosting in a tree above me – an unusual sight. They can fly but it is unusual to see them so high in a tree.
Suddenly I can hear night jars all around me. There is a particularly loud one in a tree near me so I go and stand by that tree. After a while, the noise stops and a bird flies out of the branches, swoops down towards me and then disappears into the night. While I am standing there I am joined by a group of people who signed up for the night safari and supper trip organised by the National Trust on the island. Standing there in semi-darkness we listen to the night jars and occasionally see one flitting across the sky. It is thrilling to be able to listen and observe these unusual birds that only come out at dusk and just before dawn. When the noise stops and darkness falls I walk back to the cottage where I am staying the night.
Friday 24 June 2022
I am up and out by 4.30 am but I am already too late for the night jars. I decide to keep walking and take the path through the heathland. The colours of the heather are stunning. I am constantly on the look-out for the creatures that live here and find myself creeping up on fallen trees thinking their strange shape is a wild animal. Nature has sculpted some wonderful creations.
As I walk I can hear the raucous calls of the sea birds on the lagoon which pervade the early morning stillness. Occasionally a red squirrel scampers across the path in front of me – one of them races up a tree and expresses his displeasure at my presence by chuntering, frantically flicking his tail and then throwing pine cones down at me. I meet a whole family of pheasants - the chicks disappear into the undergrowth while mum keeps an eye on them from the lofty height of a picnic table.
I spend some time inside the tern island hide - it is feeding time and squadrons of terns are wheeling in, sand eels hanging helplessly from their beaks.
Some returning terns hover above the island looking for their offspring. Below them fierce fights break out. The noise is deafening.
It is low tide and across the lagoon cormorants sit placidly on a sandbank, that has appeared in the middle of the water, drying their wings.
Next stop the church and as I approach it a moorhen scuttles across the path in front of me and vanishes into the reeds beside me. The woods behind the church are my favourite place for seeing red squirrels and I am in luck this morning. Soon after I settle on fallen tree trunk I hear the distinctive rustle of a squirrel approaching. He circles me twice then, as he disappears into the distance another one appears.
I do not hang around too long as I am getting hungry. On my way back to the cottage I pause at the Lily Pond. The water lilies are in bud, floating above the reflections of the trees that ring the water.
Back at the cottage I have a quick breakfast while packing up ready to leave. I make my way back to the quay to get the next staff boat back to the mainland. This boat leaves from Brownsea Castle jetty so I have to walk through the castle grounds to get there. This is an opportunity to admire the glorious roses in the garden. A lovely way to end my 24 hours on Brownsea Island
Valery Collins is the Experienced Traveller An excellent raconteur, Valery has been writing about her experiences on the road since she started travelling 25 years ago. After publishing four books she turned to online travel writing.