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18 June 2014
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Hands on Nature

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Activities | Wetlands

Ancient habitats

Avocet on Leighton Moss photo: RSPB

Our wetlands offer amazing opportunities for wildlife watching. Why not take a few tips from the Hands on Nature team as we get close to wildlife with activities that you can participate in at home.

Avocet. Photo: RSPB.

These are some of the many activities that you can try out for yourselves throughout the year in waterway locations:

Dragon flyDragonflies and Damsels

Waterways are the best places to watch Dragonflies especially in fenland habitats such as Wicken Fen near Ely in Cambridgeshire.

Take some top tips from our Hands on Nature team and enjoy the colourful world of Damsel and Dragonflies:

Top tips

* First, look for the right habitat. There are three main types of plant that Dragonflies and Damsels find attractive:

- oxygenators under the water. These keep the water clear and full of oxygen;

- surface coverers such as lilies. These make great launch and landing pads for Dragonflies;

- tall stemmed plants around the edges of the water.

* Dragonflies often return to the same perching spot... so be patient and keep still. Look for lilies or twigs on which they might perch.

* If you spot a Dragonfly on a stick or twig, put out your finger and keep it still. If you're lucky one may land on you, but be careful to be gentle with these fragile-looking insects.

* How do you tell the difference between Damsels and Dragonflies?
Damsels tend to be smaller and more delicate. When Dragonflies land, they tend to leave their wings out flat like an aeroplane whilst Damsels are more likely to fold their wings up behind them.

* Watch out for the Emperor, Britain's largest Dragonfly, with its bright blue abdomen. Other residents include the Four-Spotted Libellula with its four tiny spots on each wing.

Bittern c/o David Mower and RSPBBird spotting

Wetlands are amongst the best places for bird watchers.

Amongst the best places to watch for rare birds are Somerset Levels in the West Country and Leighton Moss in Lancashire.

Top tips

* When listening to birds, cup your hands around your ears like a loudhailer - this will amplify the sound.

* Spring is a good time for bird watching - it's easier to see the birds before the leaves grow back on the trees, and you can witness elaborate courtship rituals.

* Leighton Moss is an excellent place to hear and see Bitterns, one of the rarest and most secretive of British birds. Listen for its distinctive call or 'boom' which sounds like a fog-horn.

* Bitterns can be seen flying low over the reed beds so take your binoculars. Sometimes it's easier to see them from a slightly higher vantage point in a bird hide.

* Swell Wood at Somerset Levels is a great vantage point from which Herons fly out to scour the waterways for food to bring back to their treetop nests.

* The best time to see the Herons at Somerset Levels is March and April.

Somerset LevelsPond dipping

Somerset Levels and Wicken Fen are good places for pond dipping.

Wicken even has its own special pond dipping area for children.

* Drop the net into the water gently and make only small movements. Don't create too much disturbance in the water. This will enable a good mix of species to be washed into your net for examination.

* Use a fine net with a long pole. Make your own by stretching a pair of tights over an old tennis racquet. Or buy a professional net from an outdoor shop.

* Pond dipping is potentially dangerous on slippery wetland areas so take a friend in case you fall in.

* Look out for the following wetland residents in your net - Water Scorpions, River Snails, Great Pond Snails and the Great Silver Diving Beetle.

* Don't forget to put the creatures back where you found them once you've studied them. Some larger creatures such as the Great Crested Newt needs a special licence to handle it.



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Manx Shearwater

Hands on Nature


On the rest of the web

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Wetlands Somerset Levels

Flower at Somerset Levels

access to Somerset Levels
How to get there, opening times and visitor info.

Nature watching activities in the Somerset Levels.

Wetlands Wicken Fen


access to Wicken Fen
How to get there, opening times and visitor info.

Nature watching activities in the wetland areas.

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