First Visit Idle Valley Nature Reserve

22nd June 2015
I have been wanting to visit this reserve for ages but annoyingly other things always seemed to get in the way. Last week however, I had some free time so decided to get up early, 4.30am to be precise and make the twenty five minute journey to the reserve.

At five in the morning the gates to the car park are firmly locked and the wonderful visitors centre doesn't open until 10am. Luckily at this time in the morning I had the whole verge outside the reserve to myself at this insane hour. Never the less the sun was already up as I sorted my kit out in the back of the car. I really had no idea what I may encounter at this hour so went with the big lens ready for action and the Lowepro flipside 400AW on my back with tripod attached.

The reserve was taken over from the Tarmac company and is basically a number of disused gravel pits joined together by grass a areas and woodland. The river Idle also flows through the reserve providing another habitat.

As always I was careful of my footing as I headed off round the reserve following the red way marked route that should cover a large circular route, getting me back for the visitors centre to open and some coffee and cake.

It was as I approached a bend in the path that I could hear a cock pheasant calling, clearly distressed. A carrion crow also began calling out. Something was up, but what? I soon found out as I carefully rounded the corner, the fox looked as surprised as me but his reactions where faster and in a flash he had dived into the undergrowth. I was angry with myself but its always difficult to judge these situations. If I had hit the deck and waited rather than going round the corner you can bet the fox would have been heading in the same direction and half an hour later I would have still been there with the fox long gone.

I am always drawn to mammals for some reason and today was no exception. I hoped for stoats or weasels but the fox would have been a good start! The reserve is obviously very bird life rich with all the flooded gravel pits and river habitat. I was already imagining what this reserve might bring in the autumn and winter with regard to numbers of wildfowl wintering here.
Several warblers could be heard calling in the undergrowth. Numerous chiffchaff and reed warblers I could also hear the distant call of a cuckoo.

One of the animals I hadn't expected to meet was the brown hare, but low and behold as I got onto a long straight ride with a field with cattle in it to the side one trotted towards me. I love hares as they are so curious and even though he had obviously seen me, because I had hit the deck his curiosity got the better of him and after a lengthy pause he couldn't resist coming closer. I continued to snap away until he obviously worked out what I was and trotted off back where he had come from. He was nicely back lit by the early morning sun. Still I found it quite ironic that the animal that I have no trouble getting images of, (there where nine in the field behind my house a few days earlier), is the one animal that I have so far managed to get decent shots of.

As always when you go out with the intention of taking images of a particular subject, it is handy to have a plan B. And luckily for me the Idle valley reserve pulls up lots of other opportunities. The sun was starting to climb in the sky and at this time of year the first damsel flies and dragonflies where starting to make there presence known. Banded Demoiselle are flitting around in abundance at this time of year as well as the Common Blue and Azure. As the ground warmed up a number of Black Tailed Skimmers began landing on the ground in front of me. Again I was making mental notes on the areas of the reserve these where most common an easily photographed, planning for a whole day session later in the year.

I was also delighted to come across a number of bee orchid along one of the rides. Believe it or not this was the first time I had seen these amazing plants that have evolved to co-exist with a particular bee. There are a number of the more common orchids on site too, so again another day can be spent on that particular subject.

I had yet to meet anyone else as the clock hit seven thirty and decided to make my way to the path that borders the river Idle. The breeze had started to pick up and I was afforded some shelter here as I wanted to see if one of the many warbler species I could here would be tempted out of cover and perhaps perch high enough for a couple of shots. I had already heard the distinctive call of a number of cuckoo around the reserve and it was at this point that a distinctive sparrow hawk shaped bird shot past me and around the corner. Definitely a cuckoo and something else to add to the list for a later date. No doubt one of the reasons the warblers seemed to be keeping there heads down.

As I carried on along the river bank I wasn't surprised to see a turquoise flash as a kingfisher headed down stream. The warblers continued to make life difficult as did the wind that was also encouraging the birds to stay in cover. I was now well on my way back to the visitors centre so decided to head down a side path that looked distinctly snaky! By walking carefully I did manage
a couple of shots of a grass snake before it headed under cover. Another area warranting further investigation at a later date. It was also in this area that I came across colonies of Red Ants carefully farming there aphids at the top of some of the plants. The wind made getting shots of this impossible so I decided to focus on one individual with my macro lens. Pretty pleased with the result shown here, especially considering the conditions.

It was now well past ten in the morning and the first dog walkers had started to appear. I made my way back to the visitors centre where I sat and enjoyed a wonderful coffee and cake while looking out over one of the lakes, safe in the knowledge that I would be back and soon!

In Summary....

I think the Idle Valley Reserve is an amazing place. For families it provides a wonderful walk in the countryside surrounded by nature. I had previously visited Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trusts flagship reserve at Attenborough and this reserve surpasses it in all areas. Because Attenborough is on the edge of Nottingham it has huge numbers of dog walkers and the associated mess this brings with it, talking to staff they did allude to similar problems here, but it was not something that I noticed. The visitors centre is amazing with great food and views. I also came away with a field guide to insects which cost a small fortune but is by far the best guide I have ever seen.

The reserve itself is vast by UK standards and has many very different habitats. For the photographer this is great but also posses problems. It is very easy to get distracted and start out with one goal in mind only to be tempted by another. I plan to carry out many more visits to this reserve and really get to grips with what to see where and when to fully maximize my time. I would have to say this is a nice problem to have and one I would like to thank the wildlife trust for giving me. Please keep visiting my website to see images taken at this reserve and many others.

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