Wildlife Diary 2008

December 2008

LLP Forde Orchard pond liner problems

At the beginning of the month, the Forde Orchard fruit trees were ordered from a local supplier for collection next winter. Maidens (1 year old) of Apple, Cherry and Plum of 11 different varieties will be planted in early 2010. The 30 individuals will be traditional local varieties selected according to flowering and fruiting season, and scab resistance with an emphasis on their ultimate benefit to wildlife.

We are currently looking for a contractor to build a retaining dry-stone wall by the new bird hospital using stone removed from the site of the barn extension. The annual volunteer “Winter Work Party” took place on the 6th and a small, merry band spent all day sorting and shifting stones for the project. The weather and company were both excellent and good progress was made. Our Conservation Team day on the 9th continued the sorting and shifting process.

A flock of over 20 Meadow Pipits were flushed from North Park on the 10th.

Work on the new Owl Hospital continues with an opening roof hatch fitted to the release aviary and the bird room being lined.

On the 17th the loss adjustor came to view the big pond. We hope now for a swift resolution to the trouble.

Mean temperature for the month was 5.1ºC with a high of 11.9ºC and low of –1.1ºC. There was 72.4mm of rain and an average wind speed of 3.5 mph with a high of 33 mph. This compares to a mean temperature in December 2007 of 6.8ºC with a high of 14.2ºC and low of –0.9º, 133.2mm of rain and an average wind speed of 3.5mph (high 44mph). Overall much colder and drier in 2008 than in 2007 and looking back through our records the same applies to December 2006. Interestingly records for December 2005 show a similar picture to 2008 with a mean temperature of 5.8 ºC and 84.4mm of rain, however we did record a low of –5.8ºC.

November 2008

LLP practical work volunteers

Good numbers of winter bird species moved through in the first days of the month. A flock of thrushes were observed on the 7th, including 10+ Blackbirds, 5+ Song Thrush and 20+ Redwing in House Park. Also lots of Chaffinches were still passing through with large flocks on the office bird tables. Three days later, numbers of Siskins were around with flocks of 20 and then over 30 overhead. Some cold weather movement was observed first thing on the 19th, all of which was interestingly in a northerly or northwesterly direction, including various flocks totalling 52 Woodpigeon , 23 Fieldfare, 12 Redwing and 28 Siskin.

On the 11th, the old polebox in the part of the field known as Lurge (where a pair of Barn Owls bred this year) was replaced with a new design polebox. Recent evidence of occupation was found with about half a dozen fresh pellets inside the box.

The next day a small group of volunteers from Plymouth University came and tackled the Pennsland Lane and Holly hedges and made good progress in beautiful sunny autumnal weather.

The work on the Owl Hospital is well underway with the framework for the three small hospital aviaries and the large rehab aviary completed. An insulated floor has also been laid in the hospital room.

The average temperature for the month was 8.3ºC with a low of –2.8ºC overnight on the 28th.This compares to average temperatures here of 8.4ºC in 2007, 9.0ºC in 2006 and 7.2ºC in 2005.

October 2008

Owl Hospital and Aviary

A flock of juvenile Swallows totalling up to 100 went through south westwards at lunchtime on the 1st.

There’s lots of fresh grass now that the cattle have gone and a few late red admirals were seen when the sun came out. The building of the first of the new hospital aviaries began on the 20th.

Great views of a Golden-ringed Dragonfly at the top of North Park and a Peregrine flying over on the 21st. We received news that the two radio-tagged juvenile Barn Owls from the pole box had fledged successfully and dispersed away from the field.

On the 22nd a fallen tree along the Ashburn in the riverbank wood had taken out the fence across the river but hadn’t done any permanent damage.

The first Redwings of the autumn were heard then seen going south on the morning of the 27th, much later in the month than usual. Students from Plymouth University joined the conservation team on the 28th for a day of hedge work.

September 2008

LLP Forde Orchard ToadOn the 1st the grazier was informed that one of his calves had an injury to one of its ankles. Having had a look he speculated that perhaps it was a snake bite! The calf was given anti-biotics and will be monitored. If confirmed this would be the first record of Adder for the LLP.

Another flock of Swallows, all juveniles, were again over Kiln Close on the 10th.

The Conservation Team work party on the 11th shifted the last of the troublesome stones in Forde Orchard ready for its first strim at the end of the month. A Common Toad was photographed in Forde Orchard the same day.

The contractor started groundworks by the barn for the site of the new Bird Hospital late on the morning of the 15th and within a couple of days had made excellent progress.

It’s a really bad year for berries in the field, not many blackberries, very few bullus and no sloes seen yet. There’s only one really good patch of holly berries in the remnant hedge and a few rosehips.

On the 17th our Natural England advisor visited Forde Orchard to assess the site for potential funding for the orchard recreation. The next day a constant movement of Swallows and House Martins was observed overhead southwards in the morning along with a Peregrine through south at lunchtime.

The same day, the contractors put in the footings, corner post framework and roof beams of the barn extension for the new bird hospital. On the 23rd they poured the concrete floor, and finished all works on the 26th.

Also on the 26th, the grazier removed his cattle, which had been on for nearly 10 weeks. There is still plenty of grass for the voles.

Forde Orchard was strimmed for the first time on the 29th with the help of a volunteer raking up the cuttings.

A Slow Worm was observed in Kiln Close on the 30th.

There was 86.4mm of rain in the month and a mean temperature of 13.2°C.

August 2008

View new hedgebank North Park

The cattle were shut into North Park on the 1st but had managed to completely flatten the grass by the 4th so were let out. The area along the length of the new North Park hedgebank where the turf had been lifted was awash with Creeping Thistle again, even after a session pulling it – another session was scheduled towards the middle of the month.

A busy period began with a visit from Chris Sperring (& family) from the Hawk and Owl Trust, who visited and had a walk around the LLP on the 7th. A couple of days later the cattle were shut into Kiln Close on the 9th and their impact closely monitored. On the 11th the polebox owlets were radio-tagged with transmitter backpacks as part of our research into juvenile dispersal.

On the 12th, the ‘Airstrip’ was topped, as were the nettles on the old dung heap. Some other patches of nettles were topped, with a control group left, to monitor the effectiveness of this method of management by comparing stands next year.

One the 13th, a Conservation Team work party spent most of the day in constant heavy drizzle pulling Creeping Thistle from along North park hedgebank.

A Tree Pipit was flushed from long grass in House Park on the 19th and was fortunately vocal before alighting again in Kiln Close and disappearing under a mixed flock of about 30-40 Hirundines.

LLP Forde Orchard Hedgebank Creation

July 2008

Guided walk LLP

There have been lots of visitors to the field this month. On the 2nd and 3rd two groups from Torquay Museum – the Ornithologists and the Ramblers respectively – visited for LLP tours. Kestrels from the nearby barn were watched feeding over the field and a small mixed flock of Swifts and House Martins appeared when the sun eventually came out to feed on the insects rising from the grass. A few flocks of Siskin were seen, with their plaintive down-slurred calls overhead. Butterflies performed in the sunny spells too, and included Meadow Brown, Ringlet and Marbled White in good numbers.

The annual Bracken Bash event on the 5th had to be postponed due to torrential rain (31mm) and strong winds. Unfortunately, the rescheduled date of the 9th proved to be just as inclement (31.6mm) though at least the wind had dropped. However, by lunchtime everyone was completely soaked, having bashed only half of what needed doing. It was eventually finished off on the 16th.

The rain held off and we were extremely lucky with the weather for our next events. Neighbours Night on the 11th was extremely well attended with 29 local residents having a brief talk about the Trust in the barn and an evening walk around the LLP. On Supporters’ Day, the 12th after an LLP slideshow, cake and a tour of the office, the sun broke through in time for our walk around the field and we saw some of the butterflies, most notably the Marbled Whites.

The fresh remains of a couple of Field Voles were found under the corrugate sheet by Kiln Close on the 12th, suggesting predation by a Mustelid, probably a Weasel. The first live Slow Worm was found under the corrugated iron sheet at the top by the Pennsland Lane hedge on the 19th.

By the 20th we had recorded 110.2mm of rain compared to 90.7mm for the whole of July last year, and the mean temperature for the month to date is 14.3°C compared to 14.6°C in 2007 and 18.7°C (14th – 31st June 2006).

By the 21st the crickets and grasshoppers were singing in earnest whenever the sun shone.

The wildflower strip across the top of the field, known as the ‘Airstrip’, was topped for the first time on the 21st, having previously only been mown since its creation 2 years ago. More topping on the 23rd was undertaken to limit the spread of Creeping Thistle in the north part of Lurge.

Two owlets from the polebox were ringed in front of two guest observers on the 29th. A juvenile Stonechat also put in an appearance around Forde Orchard, presumably a dispersing individual from the moor, and stayed around until the end of the month.

Pictures of LLP events

June 2008

Barn Owl Feathers Moulted Feather Pellets

A really exciting month, another first on the 3rd when we discovered that the Mallards had nested on the island.

Repeated glimpses of a Barn Owl hunting over the field throughout the month and then on the 15th great views of one quartering the field above the office just before 10pm. The next evening on a dusk walk watched a BO hunting the roadside of the field and it flew into the pole box and out again – could it be nesting?

On the 23rd we were visited by Peter and Shirley Gregory, last year’s draw prizewinners of a “day out with the conservation team”. This seemed like a good time to check the polebox and we found a brood of 4 newly hatched Barn Owl young and one egg that could still hatch. There were 8 fresh voles in the box too, so no shortage of food for the family. The adult pair were both present so we weighed, measured and fitted rings to them before returning them to the box with their young. As we were doing this a Hobby was spotted flying over the field.

We also checked the boxes we have in the farmstead adjacent to the field and ringed brood of 5 Kestrels one box. We saw an adult Barn Owl (male) roosting in one building and then found a female with a brood of owlets in another nestbox – three well grown and smaller one freshly dead. We fitted rings to the female and the young so that they can be identified if they are found again. Brilliant result, 2 pairs nesting within 500m metres of each other and to top it all at dusk on the same day we watched two adults (one from each site) hunting over the field within minutes of each other.

The grass and flowers in the field are looking wonderful but the wet and cold weather (for June) means that we have seen fewer insects and butterflies than in previous years. There are also not so many Swallows, Swifts and House Martins though we are seeing some. The new hedge banks are looking good and the area of Forde Orchard that was cleared is looking quite green now. On the 11th the conservation team and volunteers spent a day moving stones and cutting and pulling creeping thistle.

Overall it was a windier month than in 2007 and we lost a couple of trees on the steep slope in Riverbank Wood. There was 48.2 mm of rain throughout the month; less than in June 2007 when we recorded 138.4mm. The mean temperature was 14.0°C compared to 14.3°C in 2007 and 15.9°C (1st – 20th June 2006).

May 2008

LLP North Park new hedge bank fenced and planted

The month started with a Small Copper recorded during the butterfly transect in Kiln Close on the 1st with a mixed flock of House Martin and Swallow overhead.

On the 6th, the Conservation Team work party spent their time picking stones from along the new hedgebanks and spreading woodchip on the Forde Orchard access track. The same day the pair of Mallards was seen around the ponds again briefly. Later that evening, the rehabilitated Barn Owl brought to us just before Christmas with a head injury was released from the mobile aviary. It flew 20 yards from the aviary before starting to hunt!

On the 9th a male Pied Flycatcher checked out the nestbox just outside the BOT office window.

Patches of buttercups, stitchwort and speedwell are blooming beautifully amidst the seed heads of sweet vernal grass and the new North Park hedgebank is greening up well.

31st. Four Mallard ducklings + female seen around ponds

April 2008

LLP Forde Orchard Hedgebank

The first day of the month saw a Common Lizard sunning itself briefly on a patch of dead grass just down from the weather station before scurrying into the litter layer. This is only the second record for the LLP after one in roughly the same place mid-April 2007.

The next day a Fox was watched outside the office stalking chickens before disappearing into scrub behind the barn with nothing to show for his audacity.

On the 3rd the first butterfly transect of the season recorded 8 Peacocks, with a Small Tortoiseshell and a Green-veined White later the same day.

Next day, a Brimstone put in a brief appearance behind the barn. Spring finally arrived with the first 5 Swallows through northwards mid-afternoon accompanied by the sound of half a dozen Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps in full song in the warm, sunny weather. Don’t know what they thought of the snow showers a couple of days later though!

After several days of dry conditions it was deemed safe enough for the final stage of the capital works to start on the 7th with the fencing contractor setting posts in ready for the straining wire. Earlier that day, 3 Canada Geese had flown over the LLP heading north.

By the 14th the final landscaping was taking place in Forde Orchard, and a day later it was all finished and looks amazing.

On the 22nd a long-term supporter of the Trust brought a birding group from Norfolk and spent the morning having a guided tour around the LLP. Birds of note were few and far between but a Sparrowhawk showed well over North Park, and there were couple of Swallows over Shute Park. Butterflies included; 6 Orange-tip, a Green-veined White, Small Tortoiseshell, Brimstone, three Peacock and a Holly Blue.

In the afternoon, a pair of Barn Owls was observed in the polebox by the road boundary. Interestingly, there was no evidence of occupation in the box, suggesting that these birds had taken up residence very recently.

The same afternoon, the North Park hedgebank polebox was replaced with the new, long-awaited polebox design.

25th – Another first for the field – a pair of mallards were seen swimming on the “Flo Pond” – the first birds recorded on the ponds, they were there again on the 26th. The first ladybird of the year was also spotted in the grass.

March 2008

LLP Forde Orchard Stone wall

Five students from Plymouth University visited again and helped to clear scrub around the barn on the 5th.

A day later, a pair of Long-tailed Tits was observed carrying nesting material to the area of gorse and bramble behind the barn along the hedgerow.

By the 10th most of the works in the field were completed with an impressive stone bank and small section of new hedge bank in Forde Orchard and an impressive new hedge (along the original line) for the field known as North Park. Our contractor has now planted all the banks with a conservation mix of indigenous trees and bushes. All that now remains is the fencing. With quite a bit of turf removed during hedge construction there will be an opportunity for seeds dormant in the soil to germinate over the next year or two and we look forward to seeing what appears.

A singing male Blackcap on the 25th suggested spring was on its way.

February 2008

LLP Forde Orchard stone wall creation

A Kingfisher was first heard and then watched fishing for about 15 minutes along the Ashburn from the Trust’s offices on the 6th before finally disappearing up-river.

On the 6th, 14 students from Plymouth University came and finished the scrub clearance on the edge of Corner Wood and tackled another scrub clump near the track. Their remit this time was to control rather than clear the scrub, so about a metre and half of growth was removed from the edge of the clump, leaving a sizeable area for nesting birds.

Also on the 6th North Park hedge bank hosted 27 Meadow Pipits, rising to over 35 by the 14th.

The stone faced bank in Forde Orchard is nearing completion and looks amazing.

The Kingfisher was heard again around the ponds on the 25th.

A Barn Owl was observed flying out of the Trust barn just before dusk on the 29th, heading off towards North Park.

January 2008

LLP Forde Orchard preparing the ground

Another mild winter resulted in the first Primroses being noted in bud in Corner Wood on the 3rd and the first Lesser Celandines in flower in Shute Park on the 7th.

On the 9th a male Sparrowhawk was seen in display flight from the field. This consists of slow wing-flapping combined with undulating flight, reminiscent of a butterfly, high circling and plunge-diving, usually in the presence of the female.

January remained mild, but very wet and windy, resulting in localised flooding in Ashburton on the 15th.

Two stray sheep appeared in the field on the 15th January and reappeared on the 17th but were politely asked to leave both times. They were just in time to see our contractor arrive with swing shovel and dumper truck in order to start the stone-faced hedge bank in Forde Orchard on the 21st.

An early Peacock butterfly was roused from its slumber by the briefest rays of sunshine before it started raining again, also on the 17th.

Work started in earnest in Forde Orchard on the 21st and continued for the rest of the month. Our contractor managed to find an impressive amount of stone on site during excavations, which is being used to make the stone-faced bank.

Life returned to the barn pond, with about a dozen frogs and heaps of frogspawn on the 23rd. By the 24th the welcome sunshine and mild weather had encouraged a Red Admiral out.

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