On the 5th, our annual Winter Work Party was attended by 12 volunteers, including a group from the Nature at Sundown project and from BTCV Plymouth. We spent the day cutting back the overhanging branches of the remnant hedge in Kiln Close and the predominantly Hazel road boundary hedge. Great progress was made despite the rather inclement weather – once again it poured.
On the 9th the regular group of Plymouth University students visited to continue scrub control on the slope by Corner Wood. In warm (yes, warm!) sunshine much of the bramble was cleared and several of the old gorse stumps, (the result of previous scrub control sessions) were dug out. It was so warm by mid-day that a Red Admiral was seen to speed over the barn at lunchtime.
By mid-month, the driest weather for some months finally allowed for an impromptu session to move the large boulders left on the riverbank in Corner Wood. This will facilitate more regular maintenance of this beautiful stretch of the River Ashburn in the future.
The monthly Conservation Team Work Party chipped the cut timber in Forde Orchard ready for use as mulch around the fruit trees when they are planted in February.
On the 17th another potential contractor visited the site of the big pond to discuss options for remedial works.
The remaining non-indigenous trees in the orchard were felled and cut up between 9th-11th. The Dartmoor National Park Authority planning Case Officer accompanied by the Tree and Landscape Officer visited on the 12th to see the site of the proposed wildlife tower.
The regular Plymouth University group of conservation volunteers came on the 18th to clear scrub in various parts of the field, doing a thoroughly good job as always.
Despite the rather late date, fine weather on the 20th saw a flurry of late butterfly sightings including Red Admiral and Peacock. Kestrels, Buzzards and a Peregrine also seemed to be enjoying the sunny spells hunting or thermalling over the top field.
By the end of the month there had been 28 days of rain, 27 of which involved more than 2mm. A torrential rainstorm on Saturday 28th deposited 28.6mm which fell mostly in the late afternoon. By 5.30pm, 45mm per hour was falling, leading to severe flooding nearby.
On the 1st a juvenile Wheatear was seen on the low hunting post in Half Hatch. The cattle were let out of Kiln Close and were almost immediately shut into North Park for a few days, to ensure that all areas in the LLP receive some grazing. By the end of the month they had grazed most areas adequately however unfortunately they avoided the areas with the fresh green nettle shoots!
Forde Orchard was brushcut and raked as per the Dartmoor ESA management prescription, and in readiness for this winter’s fruit tree planting. We have a great crop of Holly berries and Sloes in the hedges (the best for years), which will provide food for wildlife.
Kestrels and Buzzards are being seen hunting over the field almost every day and it’s quite unusual to go for a walk without spotting one perched on the longest telegraph pole left at the top of the field.
We have made an application for planning consent to build a wildlife tower in the field just outside Forde Orchard. If we are successful this would be funded by a donation in memory of our Friend John Woodland (find out more about what a wildlife tower is).
Planning is underway for our winter work in the field including our Winter Work Party on Saturday 5th December. If you are interested in joining us between 10am – 4pm for practical work and a guided walk please contact the office for more details.
The first of this term’s Plymouth University student volunteers visited on the 28th and helped clear scrub on the lower orchard slopes ready for the landscaping in December, and in preparation for the fruit tree planting in February.
Our annual grazing started later than usual on the 4th due to a delay caused by TB testing requirements at our local grazier’s farm. The cattle were shut into Kiln Close on the 22nd and left in for 10 days.
Invasive species were given some attention on the 9th when patches of Nettle, Gorse and Creeping Thistle were topped with the tractor. More Creeping Thistle management occurred on the 11th with help from a BTCV Plymouth group, and again on the 16th during a Conservation Team Work Party.
Dispersing juveniles/migrants included 3 Meadow Pipits and a Tree Pipit flushed from Lurge on the 9th, with 3-4 juvenile Goldfinches along North Park, 2 juvenile Wheatear on the newly topped Nettle Patch at the old dung heap site on the 10th, and 6 Meadow Pipits and 2 vocal Tree Pipits a day later on the 11th.
A Bunting was flushed from a patch of mown Nettle at the top of Kiln Close and flew into a large Hawthorn in the remnant hedge on the 17th. Although it evaded specific identification by not showing again, a Wall butterfly, which showed well on a clump of Cock’s foot for some minutes, was ample consolation, being only the fourth LLP record of this pretty species.
On the 8th, a scaled down 21st Birthday Party (postponed from July 18th ) was held in beautiful weather. A tour of the LLP culminated in an unidentified bat being seen flying in and out of the barn briefly in broad daylight. We finished the event with a picnic and drinks in Forde Orchard, a good time was had by all.
Large numbers of House Martins have been seen hunting over the field most afternoons and there have been regular sightings of the Kestrel family, up to 3 at a time.
A second group of BTCV volunteers from Plymouth visited on the 12th, and spent the day pulling Creeping Thistle in House Park and Lurge.
The aforementioned bat gave itself up on the 13th, being specifically identified as a Noctule (Nyctalis noctua), after being watched going to roost in the barn. This large bat is more diurnal than most despite its name, is covered with buff/ginger fur and has a wingspan of up to 30cm apparently. Presumably this explains all the wing cases of Orange Underwing (Archiearis parthenias) moths that scatter the upper barn floor.
Also on the 13th two Little Owl owlets were released from the mobile aviary in the early evening. They were brought to us starving having fallen from two separate untraceable nest sites The elder owlet disappeared into the top of a nearby Ash almost immediately and then sat watching the younger one, which spent some time checking things out. It seemed most interested in the moss growing on the Ash and took to pulling lumps off the branches and dropping them. Hopefully they’re a pair and will hang around the LLP to breed. Sightings of a single bird over the next few days led us to believe that there was just one still around but the two were seen together by the barn on the 17th.
A adult fox was spotted on the long path on the north side of the field at 18.50 on the 17th and was watched for several minutes snuffling on the short grass before it realised it had an audience and took off towards Kiln Close.
The latter half of the month was dominated by movement overhead. A mixed flock of about 50 hirundines, mostly Swallows with some House Martins went through over the LLP on the 18th with an attendant Hobby through at lunchtime. A week later on the 25th, 3 Peregrines were over the Ashburn Valley at lunchtime, viewable from Forde Orchard. Not to be outdone, one of our Kestrels was on the telegraph pole in Kiln Close mid-afternoon on the same day.
By the end of the month, House Martins were noted moving through in good numbers, with often over 100 individuals feeding over the LLP before continuing on their long southward journey to sunnier climes.
July started with our annual Bracken Bash on the 4th. Despite a disappointing attendance, good progress was made in the warm afternoon sunshine. On the 8th, a youth group from BTCV Plymouth visited to finish off the bracken bashing, and even found time to start pulling Creeping Thistle in a number of places.
The Great Mullein Verbascum thapsus in Forde Orchard was photographed in flower on the 9th, and is an absolute picture. It hosted a large number of Mullein Moth caterpillars which were easy to find on the shredded leaves of some of the plants.
The troublesome bramble-clad slope by Corner Wood was partially brushcut, and the new growth on the deadwood tree stump in Forde Orchard was cut back.
A week of unsettled wet weather culminated in torrential rain and gale force winds on 16th and 17th making access to the field impossible for the Trust’s 21st Birthday Party. With more bad weather forecast for the weekend, we were unfortunately forced to postpone the event until August – fingers crossed for better conditions next time! Friends and supporters please contact the office for further details.
A young slow worm was seen on the new path outside the owl hospital on the 25th.
On the 27th a young Kestrel was again hunting over the LLP. This is one of a brood of 2 or 3 fledged from a nest site nearby, which have been using the field for the last month or so.
On the 2nd, a Large Red Damselfly Pyrrhosoma nymphula was seen mating outside the BOT office. Also on the same day, 2 House Sparrow, a male briefly in song, were in scrub along the hedgebank behind the barn briefly, before flying off to the bottom of the drive. This constitutes only the 2nd and 3rd records for the LLP. A day later, a Sabre Wasp Rhyssa persuasoria (an ichneumon fly) was seen flying into Webcam Aviary.
Since 7th June a Barn Owl has been seen regularly hunting over the field in daylight. The radio tracking team have confirmed that it is the male of the pair breeding nearby. In the early evening of the 13th, a Roe Deer darted out of the long grass and took off across the field.
By mid-month, Yarrow Achillea millefolium was starting to come out, and also Marsh Thistle Cirsium palustre, Spear Thistle Cirsium vulgare, Creeping Thistle Cirsium arvense, Crested Dog’s-tail Cynosurus cristatus and interestingly, Twiggy Mullein Verbascum virgatum. The grass seed heads had also started to ripen and change colour and it’s easy to see that there is a huge variety of species along with the wildflowers.
The Slow Worm was present again under one of the corrugate sheets in the company of a Common Toad, with 30+ Swifts and House Martins overhead. An Azure damselfly Coenagrion puella, Common Blue damselfly Ischnura elegans and Emperor dragonfly Anax imperator were in grassland along the Pennsland Lane hedgerow.
A couple of days later the Swift flock had increased to over 40 and the Common Toad was beginning to look very dry under the hot corrugated sheet. The radio-tagged male Barn Owl was seen again on the evening of the 14th, having been seen almost every evening for over a week.
By the 23rd, dragonfly species recorded included Golden-ringed, Broad-bodied Chaser and a Darter species, seen too briefly for specific identification. Also, the LLP’s first record of Southern Hawker newly emerged at rest on an Elderflower. The same day, the first 3 Marbled White of the summer were seen, along with an early Gatekeeper, 10 Ringlet, 2 Small and 2 Large Skipper and either a Dingy or Grizzled Skipper which defied specific identification.
A day later 2 Dark Green Fritillaries were seen, constituting the second and third records for the LLP since one graced our offices in June 2006.
On the 29th, a local Peregrine thermalled westwards mid-afternoon.
On the 4th, Changing Forget-me-not Myosotis discolor was found near the top path at the top end of North Park. Other LLP flowers have been amazing this spring; Red Campion, Greater Stitchwort and Germander Speedwell were still in flower on the 7th along with swathes of Creeping Buttercup. Also flowering; Common Mouse-ear, Herb-Robert, Thyme-leaved Speedwell, Scarlet Pimpernel, Common Vetch and Garlic Mustard.
Insects starting to make an appearance include Noonday Fly (Mesembrina meridiana) a-plenty and St Mark’s Fly (Bibio marci). On the evening of the 10th a Barn Owl was heard flying over the LLP screeching loudly, the first time we’ve seen or heard one since last summer.
On the 13th a Conservation Team Work Party tackled some fencing repairs, and moved some rock and fallen dead wood. Invertebrates recorded on the day included a male Thick-legged Flower Beetle (Oedemera nobilis), White-lipped Snail (Cepaea hortensis), European Slug (Arion ater agg.) (black variety) and an unidentified spider. In the Workshop Aviary a Longhorn Beetle (Rhagium bifasciatum) was found. Plants identified a Three-nerved Sandwort (Moehringia trinervia), Lesser Trefoil (Trifolium dubium) and Hop Trefoil (Trifolium campestre). The day ended with a large flock of mixed Hirundines totalling 50+ over the orchard.
On the 20th what looked like a pregnant Slow Worm was under one of the corrugate sheets. By the 22nd Swallows and Martins had arrived in good numbers and could be seen feeding over the field. A trio of Mallards, two males and a female, have been seen several times on the large pond and flying over the valley. On the 25th, 2 Collared Doves flew out of the barn, probably whilst nest prospecting.
The wet weather over the last few weeks is making the grass grow really fast and unfortunately the docks, nettles, bracken and creeping thistle are springing up too and will need to be controlled.
By the end of the month, the nationwide Painted Lady (butterflies) invasion was in full swing throughout the LLP, with up to 50 observed all across the field, in particular on the White Clover by North Park hedgebank, along with scores of bumblebees.
On the 1st, a trip around the LLP to take the monthly monitoring photographs revealed a Small Tortoisehell, a Peacock, a male Brimstone and a Small White, with one or two additional sightings of Brimstones and Peacocks around the office at lunchtime.
The first butterfly transect of the year was conducted a day later and recorded a Peacock, female Orange –tip, Small Tortoiseshell and Small White. Wild flowers were very much in evidence with Germander Speedwell, Greater Stitchwort, Hairy Bittercress, loads of Wild Strawberry, Dog Violets, Primroses, Lesser Celandine, Common Mouse-ear, Dandelion and Ground Ivy. Also a couple of 6-spot Ladybirds were recorded in North Park.
A week later the first Swallow was over North Park briefly, and 5 Meadow Pipits were still in Lurge.
On the 11th, a male Brimstone and several Commas were observed in beautifully sunny weather. A Sparrowhawk was seen circling overhead. The next day we had great views of a Heron flying low over the field towards the ponds. Nuthatches and Siskin are singing their hearts out every day.
A Conservation Team Work Party on the 15th chipped some fallen and cut wood for later use in Forde Orchard and continued to move stones from the paths which are waiting for their first cut of the year.
The LLP’s fourth sighting of a Common Lizard was of one under the corrugate sheet along the Kiln Close/Lurge hedgerow on the 24th. This is the fourth consecutive April that Common Lizard has been seen, but strangely there have been no records from any other month. Where do they go? Also there, a Slow Worm was seen on three separate occasions, and a shrew, probably feeding from the ants’ nest.
Some bright sunny days mid month have seen the grass starting to grow and celandines flowering. There is evidence of field voles everywhere and before the new grass really starts to grow is the best time to see their holes, tunnels and latrines
Toads have been very much in evidence this month, singing during the day as well as at night and there have been lots of sightings of them in the ponds in daylight and on the paths after dark.
Small mammals have been seen under the corrugated sheets left as cover in strategic locations in the field. A field vole under one and a shrew under another, they all have tunnels and paths in the dead grass below them.
On the 7th, 13 Plymouth University students cut bramble from the now 1-year old Forde Orchard hedgebank, cut up and took out the fallen Willow from the river. They also finished tidying up the Holly hedge by Pennsland Lane and removed fallen branches from the lane hedge.
The pair of presumed-returning Mallard was seen on the Flo pond together for the first time of the 15th, after the lone female’s appearance earlier on the 9th.
On the 16th the first Blackthorn blossom was seen in Kiln Close along the top hedge.
By the end of the month the first Chiffchaff was in song.
The significant snowfall and strong easterly that we experienced at the start of the month was responsible for the loss of several mature trees in Riverbank and Corner Wood. These need to be cut up and removed before any fence damage can be repaired.
Just before the snow both the Flo and Oakley ponds were alive with frogs and lots of spawn had appeared. Both ponds froze over during the cold weather and we thought that much of the spawn would have been damaged by the ice. Much to our delight as the snow disappeared the frogspawn looked fine, it looked as if the snow had insulated it and the frogs are now back in force and very much in evidence when you walk past. However after a few days of dry weather the water level in the Flo pond is dropping, (because of the hole in the liner and the abstraction system not working) so much of the spawn is now getting stranded on the edge and unless we get some rain its likely to dry out and die. We are still waiting for a satisfactory resolution to the “pond problems “.
By mid-month, all the snow had disappeared and the first Primrose was in flower in the centre of the path to Corner Wood, where 7 days previously had lain 6” of snow.
By the 14th, good numbers of Meadow Pipits had been enjoying rich pickings feeding in the long grass for at least a fortnight.
On the 18th, another Plymouth University volunteer work party came and finished off scrub clearance on the difficult slope by Corner Wood.
At lunchtime on the 26th a female Kestrel was seen making hunting forays over the rough grassland from the North Park polebox.
On the 6th a flock of about a dozen Long-tailed Tit and 2 to 3 Goldcrests feeding on the ground in the rough grassland above Riverbank Wood was an unusual sight.
Both poleboxes were checked on the 9th with approximately 8 pellets in the North Park box presumably from a Barn Owl support-released in the LLP during autumn 2008.
A Conservation Team Work Party on the 21st had another go at sorting rocks for the Owl Hospital wall. Good progress was made in the morning until rain stopped play after lunch. A contractor has now been engaged to start work on the project at the end of February.
A lone peacock butterfly was seen in a brief sunny spell on the 19th.
January weather continued the cold unsettled theme with 21 days of precipitation and 9 days of sub-zero temperatures, including a low of -8.9 recorded at 1am on the 7th.
By the end of the month, the ponds were alive with frog activity.
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