Wildlife Diary 2012

December 2012

LLP Brown Hairstreak Egg

Plymouth University students found Brown Hairstreak butterfly eggs on the new Blackthorn growth in Kiln Close

On the 12th, 6 Plymouth University students spent the morning searching for Brown Hairstreak eggs on the new Blackthorn growth along our roadside perimeter. This is apparently by far the best way of surveying for this rather retiring species, as adults either spend most of their time at rest, or high up in a mature ‘master’ Ash tree. The eggs are typically laid singly, or occasionally in pairs in the fork of one and two-year old Blackthorn wood, and although only 1mm wide, are white and urchin-like so easily identified if lucky enough to be found. Remarkably, one egg was actually found in the small area searched so far. This discovery will inform how we manage the roadside Blackthorn buffer with its spreading suckers; sensitive management such as rotational coppicing, should, we hope, provide lots more suitable habitat for this localised and declining species.

After the excitement of finding the egg, the afternoon was spent doing more mundane tasks, such as tidying up the brash that had been removed from Pennsland Lane hedge, which is currently being laid. At dusk, Woodcock were flushed from the grassland

There has been lots of Badger activity in the field with turf being disturbed over quite a wide area in their search for food. This will provide lots of opportunity for new plants to germinate next year. An early primrose was blooming on 6th and we had a great view of a Heron taking off from the ponds and flying over the LLP on the 12th.

The paths were mown for the first time in months on the 13th, as it had been too wet to use the tractor before this and they were getting quite long.

A ringed Blue Tit was retrapped in North Park hedgerow on the 18th. V272952 was originally ringed in one of our nestboxes not more than 200 yards from where it was controlled on 1st June 2008, making it over 4.5 years old.

November 2012

River Ashburn In Spate

The River Ashburn, normally a gentle stream, became a raging torrent

The abstraction pipes were unblocked on the 1st of the month, having blocked with debris between the river and the reservoirs. One unblocked just by wiggling the pipe. The second had to be unscrewed in the river and unblocked quite easily. The third was partly buried and couldn’t be unscrewed or unblocked at that time.

On the 7th our regular University of Plymouth Students’ Union Barn Owl Project group and members of the University’s Zoological Society arrived for the day. They had a presentation on volunteering, followed by a tour of the LLP. After lunch, half the group gathered the Holly and Beech saplings that would otherwise have been removed from the slope in Corner Wood and transported them to the site of the new hedgerow behind the barn. The other half started removing brash from the Pennsland Lane hedge, ready for hedge-laying. A Dipper, the first for many months, flew up the Ashburn towards Pennsland Bridge. Droppings were discovered on rocks in the stream indicating that the bird had been visiting regularly.

On the 14th, the group of visiting Hungarians plus a long-standing supporter of the Trust, Rob, planted the new species-rich hedgerow behind the barn. The turf was removed and rolled back to the fence, to stop the soil from washing away, then the resulting bed was dug over. Finally, 260 Holly, Beech, Hawthorn, Field Maple, Oak, Birch, Hazel, Dog Rose and Guelder Rose saplings were planted in a double-staggered row. This will now discharge the final condition imposed on the installation of the solar PV arrays by Dartmoor National Park Authority. A Woodcock was seen to fly from woodland by the office towards the remnant hedge at dusk, and as night fell a male Tawny Owl sat in the Ash by the barn and called into the inky blackness.

A day later, our 4 Hungarian volunteers started to lay the hedge to the east of Pennsland Lane gate under the careful supervision of our regular hedge-layer Diana. Good progress was made, though several more days will be needed before it is finished.

Two more sightings this month of the Barn Owl leaving the barn during the early evening suggest that it is a regular visitor.

Week commencing the 19th was a wet one! 11.6mm fell on 19th, with 32mm on 20th, 25.8mm on 21st, 18.4mm on 22nd, a massive 45mm on 24th and a further 11mm on 25th. After so much rain, the Ashburn was in full spate on the evening of the 24th. The sheer quantity of water had moved large boulders and both washed away and created new waterfalls along its length but we had fortunately kept hold of both bridges although the water did go over part of the lower one. The abstraction pipes appear to have been partially buried however, so will need to be liberated from the new river bed level.

October 2012

LLP Grazing Cattle

The cattle grazing in the gate way at the top of North Park

The autumn grazing regime came to an end on the 8th when the livestock were removed.

A chilly damp month, the mean temperature this month has been 10.7°C (12.7°C in 2011 and 11.3°C in 2010), 2.4° less than September. With rain on 30 of the 31 days we have had a total of 144.4mm in the month – the wettest day was the 5th with 22mm.

The poor ground conditions have meant the paths haven’t been cut and the topping of invasive species, thistles etc. has been postponed until the tractor can be used without churning up. A Conservation Team Work Party on the 17th removed the tree guards, then weeded and re-mulched around the fruit trees in the orchard.

A day later, the abstraction appeared to have blocked for the first time in ages and will need to be looked at but is almost certainly an inevitable consequence of autumn debris washing down the River Ashburn.

A Barn Owl was seen flying out of the barn just before 7pm on the 30th.

September 2012

LLP Nettles Aerial view

An aerial view of the nettle patches before topping with the tractor

A glance at the weather data for Waterleat from 2006 onwards, showed that April, June and August 2012 were wetter than in previous years with over 150mm of rain recorded in each month, amounts more typically associated with the autumn and winter months.

The grazing regime continued, with the livestock being shut in Kiln Close for ten days at the start of the month. The Blackberry bushes that looked so hopeful back in August have so far failed to deliver the bumper crop we had hoped for.

A 1st winter Wheatear was an odd sight atop North Park polebox on the 17th, before flying into the orchard.

The management of invasive species continued with the tractor topping the nettle regrowth, also on the 17th.

A Conservation Team Work Party brush-mowed the top half of the orchard and some of the lower area was strimmed on the afternoon of the 19th and this was finished off the next day.

On the 25th, single Meadow Brown and Red Admiral were recorded on Week 26 of the UKBMS butterfly transect, whilst the first five Meadow Pipit of the autumn appeared at the top of the field.

We had 19 days with rain during the month and a total of 63.2mm in the month – less than 2010 and 2011! Of this 26.2mm fell on the 23rd when the river level rose significantly again.

LLP Great Green Bush Cricket

At least 5 Great Green Bush Cricket were seen in the orchard

August 2012

More Creeping Thistle was removed from the orchard and various other areas around North Park. The Hogweed that was going to seed was also carefully removed.

At least 5 Great Green Bush Cricket were seen in one very small area in the orchard and one wonders quite how many would have been seen with a more concerted recording effort.

Several of the plum trees have had fruit but the lack of sunshine and rain is causing the fruit to rot before they ripen. Hopefully they will provide some food for insects, birds and even small mammals before they disappear. It appears to be a particularly good year for Bramble flowers so hopefully the Blackberry crop will be unusually good this year. The Blackbirds and Magpies are feasting on the Rowan berries as they ripen.

The heavy rain on the 14th/15th swelled the river tremendously for August making a walk along the apprentice path spectacular on the 15th.

Our dusk walk on the 15th was cancelled (due yet again to appalling weather and lack of bookings) but our daily walks when the rain stops have revealed large numbers of Damsels flies around the ponds and the occasional Emperor Dragonfly.

We decided to prune a handful of the apple trees in the orchard due to the damage they had sustained over the spring, when many had suffered from windthrow and/or broken branches. Despite not being at the optimum time for pruning apple trees, this won’t do them any long-term harm. With a mean temperature of 16°C it was overall a warmer August here than any since 2006 but with unusually high rainfall.

July 2012

LLP Solar Fence Hungarian Volunteers

A group of Hungarian volunteers helped to build a fence around the solar panels to protect them from the cattle.

A dead Slow worm on the path to the bird hospital in the morning of the 3rd was perhaps the result of the wettest and 2nd dullest June on record. Four Slow worms were seen under the corrugated sheet by the pole in the Kiln Close hedge on the 12th.

A butterfly transect on the 5th yielded the first 20 Marbled White of the year, 40+ Meadow Brown, 5+ Ringlet and 10+ Large Skipper.

More invasive species control on the 6th removed more Docks and some Creeping Thistle from the top of the field, where another 4 Crossbill went over calling north eastwards.

Despite a very wet start to the month our evening guided walks were mainly dry, a second group from the Kingsbridge Natural History Society visited on the 9th and Parke WI from Bovey Tracey joined us on the 13th. Both groups saw large numbers of tiny froglets in the grass in Forde orchard and also amazingly on the path adjacent to the Pennsland lane hedge, about 200m from the ponds.

The group of Hungarians returned to bash bracken on the slope by Corner Wood and then proceeded to pull Creeping Thistle on the 10th. They also helped to build a fence around the solar panels to protect them from the cattle.

A butterfly transect on the (dry and warm!) afternoon of the 17th recorded over 100 each of Marbled White and Meadown Brown, and double figures of Ringlet.

The annual grazing regime commenced on the 19th July with the first 8 calves and a cow being brought on. A day later, a further 6 calves joined them, making a total of 15 head. Due to the record-breaking rainfall so far this summer, the grass has grown in huge quantities, so hopefully the livestock will help to thin it out a bit.

The end of the month saw two Green Sandpipers accidentally flushed from the muddy edge of Flo pond. A Pipit was also flushed out of the grass by North Park the same day but remained silent, thereby evading specific identification.

Week 17 of the butterfly transect yielded 38 Marbled White, 227 Meadow Brown, 24 Ringlet, the first 12 Gatekeeper of the summer, 17 Small Skipper and 3 Large Skipper.

Slow worms continued to be seen under the corrugated sheet with up to seven on one day, several small ones and the largest thicker than a man’s thumb.

The Kestrels have been noticeable by their absence this month with very few sightings over the field.

June 2012

LLP Wildlife Tower 2012

The Wildlife Tower had evidence of visiting bats

The wildlife tower and both our poleboxes were checked on the 11th as part of our Annual Monitoring Site visits. In the tower, over a dozen bat droppings were on the floor of the upper nestbox access space but none of the dedicated bat provisions were checked. Some extremely fresh roosting evidence was found in one of the poleboxes.

Some patches of nettles that were already going to seed were topped at the top of the field, as were the docks in Forde Orchard on the 12th – the first time this has been done so early (usually July).

The sparrows are breeding in at least two of the nestboxes on the barn and have also got a brood in a box on one of our neighbour’s homes.

On the 19th, a butterfly transect recorded the first 9 Meadow Brown, 2 Common Blue, 1 Small Copper, 1 Large Skipper, 1 Peacock and 1 Large White. Large Red and Common Blue Damselflys were also recorded around the ponds plus a female Beautiful Demoiselle in Corner Wood. A Roe Deer hind was startled from Riverbank Walk.

All of the rain (106.4ml so far this month) has resulted in more grass than the last two years. By the 19th we had had 15 days with rain, which has not been good for the Barn Owls or the insects. 79.7ml fell in June last year when we had 21 days with rain, and 26ml in June 2010 when we had just 6 wet days. Temperatures have been lower with the weather station recording mean air temperatures of 12.5°C so far this month compared to 12.7°C in 2011 and 15.4°C in 2010 and highs of 25.4 °C in 2010 and 17.1 °C in 2011 compared to 17.8°C today for this year. Where is the British summer?

June 2007, which is the first month we have a full data set for, was also wet. With 20 wet days, we had a total of 138.4ml rain but the mean temperature was higher at 14.3°C with a high of 21.9°C.

One or possibly two Barn Owls were seen hunting at the top of the field at about 8am on the morning of the 19th, and watched again just above the office at 8.20am on the morning of the 22nd. Both sightings were after overnight rain, which presumably forced the bird to forage during daylight after the rain had cleared through.

A butterfly transect on the 19th and recorded the first 9 Meadow Brown of the year, plus 2 Common Blue, 1 Small Copper, 1 Large Skipper, 1 Peacock and 1 Large White. Large Red and Common Blue Damselflys were also recorded around the ponds plus a female Beautiful Demoiselle in Corner Wood. A Roe Deer hind was startled from Riverbank Walk.

Our mid-summer evening Walk was extremely wet with only two brave souls attending and getting soaked. However we did confirm another first for the LLP with the identification of a new plant on the site – Bristly Ox Tongue. The rain held off (mostly) for an evening guided walk on the 25th with a large group from the Kingsbridge Natural History Society.

On the 26th, some invasive species, mostly Docks, were controlled in Forde Orchard, and some of the fruit trees that had suffered some wind throw had to be re-staked. A vocal flock of 13 Crossbill went over the field heading northwest at 12.00pm. Excellent, prolonged views of a Common lizard scurrying around in the long grass were also had in the orchard.

A C.T. Work Party on the 28th finished invasive species control in the orchard then, with the help of the third visiting group of Hungarians, erected a fence around the solar panels ready for the annual grazing in July.

Pictures of a polebox being erected

May 2012

Blue Tit Nestbox

Blue Tit on a nestbox in Corner Wood

The first Cuckoo of the year was heard in the field on the 1st. A day later, a lizard was seen under the corrugate along the remnant hedge, constituting the first May record of this seemingly elusive species in the LLP.

On the 3rd, a Conservation Team Work Party sunk some posts to create 10m. x 10m. vole quadrats for training and monitoring purposes. The start of Riverbank Walk was also tidied by the cattle drink just outside the orchard.

Two Hobbies were over the field on the 5th but didn’t hang around long. Also seen were; two Green Woodpecker, plus a Roe Deer hind, a Kestrel, and the female Mallard from the island with 8 ducklings! She was later seen marching her eight newly hatched ducklings from the pond through the hedge to the river.

A female Sparrowhawk flew down the field from the Holly hedge on the 7th. A Barn Owl came out of the same hedge and landed on a post along the road, then moved down onto another post before flying off at about 4pm in bright sunshine. The Sparrowhawk was seen again a day later.

A Pied Flycatcher was in song by the big Beech tree along Riverbank Walk on the 22nd, the first record of this species for about three years. Three recently fledged juvenile Grey Wagtails were on the island the same day, constituting evidence of breeding nearby.

On the 24th, the Pied Flycatcher was still in song in the same place. The luckiest Blue Tit alive was freed from one of the nestboxes she had been breeding in, having got her hind claw caught up in nesting material, probably horse hair. The hair has caught tightly around the toe and claw and had to be cut away with nail scissors. This was the first time the box had been checked for about 9 days so she was very lucky in that respect. She was otherwise in good condition and a good weight, indicating she had not been trapped very long. Once freed she set about reproaching us from a nearby Holly!

The Bluebells and a few Whitebells are in full bllom as is Red Campion, Herb Robert, Hawthorn blossom, Crosswort and buttercups.

The same(?) pair of Mandarin reappeared briefly for the first time since the middle of April when they flew over the Trust’s offices and upstream on the evening of the 25th. Over 50 House Martins were foraging over the field on the 28th.

April 2012

LLP Corner Wood Flowers

Bluebells, Primroses and Celandines in Corner Wood

The well-camouflaged female Mallard was eventually picked out prostrate on the island on the 2nd, presumably incubating eggs. Also in the orchard, a late Fieldfare went off ‘chacking’ northwards from the top of one of the Sycamores. Another 3 Orange-tip (2 males, 1 female), 3 Peacock, 4 Small Tortoiseshell and a Holly Blue were recorded during more fine weather.

A small charm of Goldfinches was seen in North Park hedgerow on the 12th, whilst a Blackcap was in full song in trees by the barn. Several Chiffchaffs were also in song, as was a Grey Wagtail. At least two Mistle Thrushes can be heard in song at opposite ends of the field and a Green Woodpecker was heard yaffling nearby.

The House Sparrows are making lots of noise in and around the barn nestboxes, as are at least one pair of Blue Tits and a pair of Nuthatches. The first Swallows and House Martins of the year were seen soaring over the field on 14th.

Bluebells are beginning to flower joining the primroses, celandine, stitchwort, dandelion and violet already in bloom. The primroses in particular are creating an amazing show this year as is the Blackthorn blossom in the hedges. Leaves have appeared on the Hazel, Silver Birch and the Elder, which also has flowers starting to form. The recent combinations of sunshine and rain have encouraged the grass growth and we are now seeing Ladybirds.

The neighbour’s three white geese were on the pond, as was the male Mandarin on the 17th. There were 4 Mallard eggs on the island but no adult, raising concern that the female had been flushed or had deserted the nest. However, she reappeared and was still incubating on the 19th. Also on the 19th a male Grey Wagtail was around the Oakley pond, several Blackcaps were in song around the field, with a Song Thrush singing in Riverbank Walk.

On the 20th a bird on the bird table outside the office looked very much like a Willow Tit, the scarcer cousin of the Marsh Tit which is a frequent visitor to our bird feeders. Unfortunately views were all too brief and the bird didn’t call so will go down as one that got away.

LLP pictures of flowers and grasses

March 2012

LLP Stonechat [Marton Arvay] 050312 (C)

A male Stonechat was spotted feeding in the grassland above the orchard

On the 5th, the second cohort of Hungarian volunteers arrived for the first of their three days at the Trust. Day 1 consisted of presentations about Barn Owl conservation in the UK and about the LLP, followed by a tour of the LLP. Day 2 was spent making outdoor nestboxes, whilst the final day was a Conservation Team work party; the track by the cattle drink just outside the orchard was improved and various areas of scrub were cut back. The newts which were being seen in the ponds were positively identified as Palmate (Lissotriton helveticus). A male Stonechat was photographed feeding in the grassland above the orchard.

On the 17th a pair of Mandarin were on the Flo pond, possibly the same pair that spent a few days there in early April last year. However, a day later a pair of Mallard seemed to have replaced them. They have been there every day since so fingers crossed for breeding on the island again this year. Unfortunately our feathered friends have had a significant impact on the huge numbers of tadpoles that were to be found in thick swathes around the edges of the ponds, those that have survived can still be seen swimming further out in the water now.

Spring flowers have responded really well to the sunshine with bright clumps of primroses, celandine, stitchwort, dandelion and violet appearing.

Our resident House Sparrows are thriving on the organic corn provided for our neighbour’s hens and are investigating nestboxes now.

The paths were cut and various areas of invasive species topped on the 28th with the Trust’s new flail mower.

Week 0 (the preparatory week) of the new season’s UKBMS Butterfly Transects was conducted in beautifully warm sunny weather and the following were recorded; 3 Orange-tip, 6 Peacock, 3 Small Tortoiseshell and 1 Comma.

February 2012

Solar panels in the LLP

Our new solar panels in the LLP on the slope above the office

Energy on the House Ltd., our chosen solar installers started work on the 6th. The holes for the field-mounted frame were augured and those for the upper array filled with concrete the same day, whilst the holes for the lower array were concreted on the 7th. Much of the ground works, such as the trenching for the DC cables was done on the 8th and 9th, and Western Power Distribution came to lay their new three-phase cable to the barn on the 10th. The aluminium field-mounted frame was also installed on the 10th but poor weather stopped work on the 11th before the panels could be installed.

Work recommenced on the 13th when the panels were finally fitted. All that now remains is for WPD to come back and erect the new three-phase transformer on the 24th, and our new energy supplier to connect up and turn everything on on the 29th. After that we’ll be generating our own electricity, which should support all operations in the office during fine days, and provide significant reductions to our carbon footprint and our energy bills.

One or two Woodcock were seen flying around the field just before dusk on the 6th. About 20 each of both Fieldfare and Redwing were on the move northwards on the afternoon of the 14th, along with several vocal flocks of Siskins. Has winter passed?

On the 17th some 150 Starlings were seen in field and later the Holly hedge, representing the first record of Starlings feeding in the LLP.

A week later, two male Bullfinches were around the bird tables again. The same day, Western Power Distribution came to fit the new Three-Phase Transformer, returning on the 24th to insulate the droppers.

January 2012

Tawny Owl nestbox LLP

A Tawny Owl had been seen sitting in the entrance of this Tawny Owl nestbox in Corner Wood

On the 4th our volunteer Kim noticed a Tawny Owl sitting in the entrance of our Tawny Owl nestbox in Corner Wood. This is the first confirmed use of the box since it was put up. Unfortunately it hasn’t been seen since, but we’re optimistic it may be used for nesting this year.

A flock of Long tailed Tits were seen working their way up the green lane hedge from Corner Wood on the 7th but they haven’t been seen on any of the bird tables yet, they were frequent visitors last winter.

On the 11th, a Conservation Team Work Party cleared the area around the top of the big pond where the artificial Kingfisher bank is planned. About half the rock pile in Forde Orchard was also sorted for this project.

The same day, four small bird nestboxes that were in poor condition were replaced in the valley and two specially-built Willow Tit nestboxes were erected in an area of wet woodland. Willow Tits are fussy and prefer to nest in their own excavated holes in rotten tree stumps so nestboxes need to be covered in bark and pre-packed with sawdust to stand any chance of use.

A Song Thrush was in full song in scrub behind barn on the afternoon of the 16th, a male Tawny Owl was on the telegraph pole outside the office on the 18th and a male Bullfinch was on the bird tables again on the 19th.

The first frog activity was recorded on the 18th, with the first frogspawn recorded in the Flo pond a day later, and in the Oakley pond by the 26th.

A volunteer work party took place on the 18th when a Harvest Mouse nest was found along the Pennsland Lane hedge. The usual Plymouth University group came on the 25th and the scrub in the area behind the barn was cleared ready for our very own solar PV array to be installed.

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