A group of ten Plymouth University student volunteers visited on 4th, and tackled scrub along Corner Wood and North Park hedgerows. As always, good progress was made.
Some white splashes and a small Barn Owl pellet were found around the wildlife tower on the 6th.
Field Voles holes have started appearing in the grassland this month. In fact, the voles are still breeding, with a young half-grown vole under the corrugate at the top of the field on the 7th. This is no doubt due to the unseasonably mild weather we’ve been experiencing in recent weeks.
Two more trainee hedge-layers attended on the 10th, and completed another 20 metres of driveway hedge. A flock of about eight Song Thrush and ten Blackbird were disturbed from under the remnant hedge whilst clearing up the hedge arisings the same day. A Bullfinch was in the orchard.
A Kingfisher was seen over the Christmas period around the ponds.
The first sign of some of our winter visitors arrived at the beginning of the month in the form of flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare. Both breed further east into Scandinavia and beyond (and for some Redwings, Iceland), and move south and westwards in the autumn into the British Isles to benefit from our milder winters.
Redwings are classic nocturnal migrants, and on a clear night from mid-autumn onward can be heard passing overhead with their thin, harsh ‘sreeep’ calls. Fieldfares on the other hand are most often seen in flocks during the day, making their presence known with typical, guttural ‘chack’ ‘chack’ calls. They are largely nomadic in the winter, moving around to new areas once food is depleted. Fruit and berries make up a significant proportion of the diet in the winter months, whilst invertebrates are more often taken during the breeding season.
The hedgerows that have been reinstated since the creation of the LLP have been planted with a variety of indigenous hedging plants, including berry-bearing species such as Holly (Ilex aquifolium), Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), Dog Rose (Rosa canina), Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus), Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and Spindle (Euonymus europaeus). These species provide fantastic habitat for a variety of species, including the winter thrushes. Unfortunately, Blackthorn fruit (sloe) has been noticeable by its absence this autumn, presumably due to the cold spring.
The lizard was being regularly spotted under the corrugated sheet until 10th November and a family of young Field Voles were seen under another sheet (the one by the pole in the Kiln Close hedge bank) then but have since dispersed.
Four trainee hedge-layers visited on the 29th to take their ‘test’ on the drive hedge. Two instructors from the Devon Rural Skills Trust assessed their work and all passed. About 40 metres of hedge was laid on the day with more scheduled for December. A Woodcock was flushed from one of the LLP paths at dusk whilst tidying up.
The mean temperature for November this year was 14.8oC, compared with 13.4 oC in 2012. Rainfall was 94.2mm this November in comparison with 175.6mm in November 2012.
On the 9th Matthew and Tim completed the burning up of the Blackthorn cuttings in Kiln Close – see August 2013 to find out why we are cutting it back.
Since being spotted under the corrugated sheet at the top of the LLP last month this little fellow – top right – a Common Viviparous Lizard (Zootoca vivipara) has been regularly in residence and obligingly kept still to be photographed on the 15th. The first four Fieldfares of the autumn were also seen.
On the 16th the latest group of Plymouth University students arrived for the first time. They worked with Hannah in Forde Orchard clearing this year’s scrub from around the ponds.
On the 2nd, a Spotted Flycatcher spent the afternoon in the copse behind the barn, making sorties out into the field and landing occasionally on the fence by the solar arrays.
A day later, some pruning work was carried out later than planned on the cherries and plums in the orchard. The same or another Clouded Yellow was seen, whilst a Green Woodpecker was heard yaffling nearby.
There doesn’t seem to have been any long-term effect from the Weasel that visited the vole nest under the corrugated sheet at the top of the field in July, killing the adult voles. More adults evidently like the site, as four young Field Voles were seen scurrying about under the sheet on the 8th. We continue to see Slow Worms regularly under the sheet on the top side of the Kiln Close hedge.
Rowan berries and Blackberries are prolific this year but Sloes (Blackthorn berries), like last year, are not doing as well.
Another first for the LLP was when a Lizard was seen under the corrugated sheet at the top of the field on the 16th.
On the 30th 60+ Meadow Pipits were seen, the largest flock to date.
August 2013In line with management guidance for Blackthorn hedges for Brown Hairstreak butterflies, about one third of the roadside Blackthorn buffer was carefully cut out to ground level on the 7th. The length of the hedge will ultimately be managed over a three-year rotation, ensuring that the 1-2 year old Blackthorn shoots that are the main food plant for the Hairstreak caterpillars will always be available.
The first Clouded Yellow for the LLP for several years was observed the same day. In fact, it or another was recorded in the orchard on the 9th during Week 19 of the UKBMS, and again on the 13th in Week 20.
Large numbers of Swallows and House Martins have been seen throughout the month particularly during late afternoons on dry days. There have also been more Great Green Bush Crickets around than recent years and the ‘chirruping’ from the crickets and grasshoppers in the grassland and hedges during the evenings is amazing.
The Himalayan Balsam was pulled (again) from Pennsland Lane hedge at the end of the month. This invasive species is now fairly common around many UK watercourses, and spreads readily if not controlled.
On the 30th, a Kingfisher was heard calling on the Ashburn outside the offices. The occurrence of Kingfishers in the area is now an almost annual event, no doubt involving dispersing juveniles which presumably fledge from nest sites nearby.
July 2013A single Sand Martin was recorded on the 1st, feeding with 30+ House Martins over the field. A couple of days later, about 25 Swifts were showing well as they flew low over the field feeding on flying insects. A Weasel had found the Field Vole nest under the top corrugated sheet, had killed both voles and decapitated one, as Weasels do.
A Conservation Team Work Party dug out the abstraction pipes and removed the stones that had blocked the flow into the reservoirs. This reinstated the flow from both remaining pipes in the Ashburn.
On the 4th, the first Marbled White of the year was seen by the solar panels and a day later 107 Meadow Brown, 35 Small Tortoiseshell, 11 Marbled White, 9 Ringlet, 6 Small Copper and 2 Painted Lady were recorded on Week 14 of UKBMS. The next two weeks of the survey saw Marbled White numbers top 60, with peaks of 256 Meadow Brown, 50 Ringlet and over 30 Small Skippers.
Whilst topping creeping thistle on the 19th, three Buzzard captures of small mammals were observed, as were three Great Green Bush Crickets. On the 18th, 8 visitors attended an LLP butterfly walk in perfect conditions in unbroken sunshine. Hundreds of butterflies were on the wing and every one had a thoroughly nice day.
A Skylark was flushed from the grassland at the top of the field on the 25th, a rather surprising record presumably involving a dispersing juvenile bird.
We recorded a mean temperature of 17.9°C during July with a high of 30.9°C at 16:30 on the 13th. There were 12 days with rain totalling 50.2mm during the month.
Another couple of broods of Blue and Great Tit were ringed on the 3rd, with more on the 7th, including a brood of 7 Nuthatches.
A total of 3 Small Coppers were recorded on Week 10 of the UKBMS; one in North Park, one in Forde Orchard and the last in Kiln Close. Also during the transect, a Red Kite tracked southwards over Bowdley at 12.35pm viewable from North Park hedge.
By the 10th, lots of Dipper noise on the river suggested that the brood had fledged successfully, although the bank vegetation made confirmation impossible.
On the 13th, a single fist-sized duckling was on the pond. Three mallards were seen to fly in at dusk. About half a dozen swallows and 20+ house martins were over the field, and one slow worm was under the metal sheet by the cut-off pole. One field vole was under the sheet by Pennsland Lane.
By the 25th there was no sign of duck or ducklings on the ponds, however a wood mouse and two slow worms were seen under the metal sheet by the cut-off pole and on the 26th there were five slow worms present. The field vole under the sheet by Pennsland lane had created several food stores of grass clippings and built a couple of potential nests.
A Kestrel was seen hovering behind the barn on 6th.
Our usual Mandarin drake appeared on the 9th in the cattle drink and seemed reluctant to go very far from the area. By the 12th, he was busy preening on the island. No further sightings were had until the 20th when he had returned.
Sarah Williams visited for her charity challenge on the 8th. The Barn Owl Trust visit was her 104th of the scheduled 150 which she intends to complete, raising £150 for each charity. Some hedge cuttings were tidied up and the fruit tree mulch was weeded. A really inspirational woman . . .
Our Early Purple Orchid again popped up in Kiln Close on the 10th.
A survey for breeding Meadow Pipits in the top of the field drew a blank but a large flock of House Martins and Swallows foraging low over the grassland made looking for a pipit flying in and out difficult.
On the 18th we were treated to an amazing low level flying display when two Crows chased off a Buzzard – spectacular aerobatics.
The small bird boxes were checked towards the end of the month, with several Blue and Great Tit broods, and a House Sparrow brood ringed. Most exciting was the brood of three Dippers that were in the nestbox under one of our bridges over the Ashburn!
The female Mallard initially had 4 ducklings on the 25th but by the end of the month she’d managed to keep hold of only 2.
Despite a couple of days of sun this week, temperatures weren’t sufficiently high enough to allow Week 1 of the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme survey to be undertaken. Nevertheless, 2 Small Tortoiseshells and a Peacock braved the biting northerly wind in the afternoon to bask on some bramble.
On the 10th, a pair of Dippers was on the river and a female Siskin was watched collecting nesting material just outside the office window. A Conservation Team Work Party tidied up the roadside hedge and then cut back the overhanging branches between the Holly hedge and the roadside to facilitate access with a tractor to top the bramble. The Dippers were again watched swimming in the river below the offices on the 12th. In warm(ish) sunshine, 1 Small Tortoiseshell and 1 Peacock were seen and a Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were heard in song briefly.
Primroses appear to be doing particularly well this year and are spreading in the LLP, and the gorse is in full flower. On the few milder wet evenings in the month toads were much in evidence, disappearing again when the nights were dry and the temperature dropped to freezing.
A Peregrine just failed to take a Woodpigeon over the field on the morning of the 16th. By the afternoon, two Chiffchaff and a Blackcap were in song, along with a Song Thrush in Corner Wood, whilst 2 Swallows flew over, oddly, southwards. On Week 3 of the UKBMS, 2 Brimstone (male and female), 2 Peacock and 6 Small Tortoiseshell were noted. A pair of Nuthatches was in and out of the nestbox outside the office window.
A group from Exeter University Business Team visited on the 17th for a day’s volunteering. In the morning, the Alders on the island were coppiced and a duck bivouac built for cover if the Mallards reappear to breed again this spring. After a wonderful lunch, a huge mass of bramble was cut out of North Park; a task that had been on the ‘long-list’ of things to do for some time. It’s quite amazing how much can be achieved by a small group of diligent and focussed individuals in such a short space of time . . .
On 23rd, 13 Peacock and one Small Tortoiseshell were recorded in Week 4 of the UKBMS as a Chiffchaff and two Blackcap sang in warm sunshine. On 30th, in Week 5, two Brimstone, one Orange-tip, eight Small Tortoiseshell and two Peacock were seen. A pair of Swallows was feeding over the ponds and possibly checking out the new implement shelter. Further up the valley, a pair of Nuthatches was packing mud around the access hole of the deep passerine (Woodpecker) nestbox by the top bridge. A Green Woodpecker was yaffling in the background.
Our hopes were raised that we may have our first breeding Meadow Pipits in the field on the 25th when a pair was seen in a couple of locations. Up to four pipits flew up from the field a week later, but whether they were potential nesters or migrants remains to be seen.
A Barn Owl was heard repeatedly screeching over the field and then towards the orchard for several nights from the 29th.
A welcome, sunny, warm day on 5th encouraged the first of the over-wintering butterflies to spread their wings, with 2 Small Tortoiseshells, a Red Admiral and a Peacock seen in various parts of the field. Some bird movement the same day included 3 Mistle Thrush and a Bullfinch over east.
The first of the year’s toads appeared on the evening of the 6th and the frogs reappeared briefly in the ponds, disappearing as the temperature dropped again.
A conservation team day on the 6th enabled us to get walls on 2 of the 3 sides of the implement shelter in the orchard and on 13th a group from Plymouth University tidied up the last of the brash from the hedge-laying in between periods of warm sunshine and horizontal snow!
On the 12th, 6 replacement small bird boxes were erected in place of those that had seen better days.
By the 15th, House Sparrow, Blue Tit and Robin were all seen carrying nesting material in and around the barn in the morning.
A day later, a Woodcock was flushed from nearby woodland for the second time in a week.
For the first time in several months, a pair of Dippers was seen in the Ashburn below the office in the morning and a Mistle Thrush was in song nearby later the same day.
February 2013The 5th Hungarian cohort visited week beginning the 5th. During their week of volunteering, they helped Diana with some hedge-laying, tackled the canopy of the fallen tree in Corner Wood with bow saws, dug out the abstraction pipes from the Ashburn that had been partially buried during the flooding in December and then helped pile stones to increase the depth of water around the pipes. They also searched for Brown Hairstreak eggs, starting at the Blackthorn roadside buffer by the remnant hedge polebox. This resulted in the discovery of 2 or 3 possibles that appeared to have been predated or destroyed, apparently not uncommon. Finally, they made some outdoor nestboxes for the Conservation Team to erect when next out nestboxing with our carpenter Jaz.
A ten inch fish was seen in the Flo Pond by torchlight on the night of the 6th , probably a Brown Trout that came in as an egg or fry through the abstraction pipes from the river.
A brief ringing session in the orchard on the 7th resulted in 2 Marsh Tits, 3 Blue Tits, 1 Great Tit and 1 Coal Tit.
On the 13th, 3 University of Plymouth Students Union volunteers continued to search for Brown Hairstreak eggs with no success. They then helped to cut back bramble from around the gateway into riverbank walk and along towards Corner Wood by the scrub patch.
The apple trees were formatively pruned on the 15th to give them some shape. Some of the side branches were cut back and the leaders were removed entirely. This should generate some decent growth at the crown so that next year they can be pruned to a ‘standard’ shape; a nice clean trunk up to about 6 feet in height. The same day, a duck nestbox was erected over-looking the cattle drink. If we’re lucky, the pair of Mandarin Duck that has appeared briefly every spring might stay and breed, safe in the knowledge that their ducklings would have the perfect wet landing. A Dipper was seen flying up the Ashburn in this area a day later, it or another was in song outside the office on the morning of the 25th, with another flying downstream on the 28th. Nice to have them back.
A foraging Barn Owl was seen in the field at 8.30am on the 18th, presumably our resident male, who appears to be prone to some diurnal sorties.
The laying of the section of Pennsland Lane was completed by mid-February.
The year started with Diana, our hedge-layer, on site as she continued to lay the top section of the Pennsland lane hedge.
A Peregrine flew south over the LLP on 7th, scattering the flock of 30 or so Meadow Pipits and pushing half a dozen Redwing out of the grass and into the hedges.
Two Dippers were heard calling on the Ashburn outside the office a day later, raising hopes they may hang around long enough to set up territory here for the first time in a couple of years.
On the 9th, the brush-mower got a work-out when it was put into service cutting the brambly slope at Corner Wood. Where in the past it had taken a couple of people nearly 2 days to complete, the whole slope was done in only 2 hours, due to the area contracting year on year because of our continued efforts. Most notable however was the appearance of a large brown bat which, for nearly half an hour, flew over the newly cut slope catching insects, then periodically disappearing into the woodland. Its appearance coincided with a spell of mild, dry weather, the warm sunshine probably encouraging this individual to come to forage opportunistically.
Our regular University of Plymouth Students Union group visited on the 16th and almost finished clearing the brash from Pennsland Lane hedgebank to ready it for laying.
On the 18th some significant snow fall first thing turned everything white. The bird tables were busier than usual with Blue and Long-tailed Tits, House Sparrows, Chaffinch, Robin, Nuthatch and even the occasional Magpie. Pictured above is the island in the Flo Pond in the Orchard. It started thawing during the late morning as the temperature moderated and the rain set in.
On the 22nd two foxes were spotted during the middle of the day from the office window, one on either side of the river which was in full spate. Work started on the erection of our implement shelter in the orchard week commencing the 28th, and by the 31st, the roofing had commenced. After 5 days of hard graft, in mainly appalling conditions, all the structural work and the roof had been finished, leaving only the sides to be clad.
On the 30th, the first frogspawn had appeared in the Flo pond, some 3 days later than the average over the last 6 years. Frogspawn and two partial dead frogs were found on top of the shelter suggesting a local Buzzard had been using it as a perch to feast.
After recent heavy rain and strong winds, a large Oak had fallen straight across the path in Corner Wood, narrowly missing both the Tawny Owl nestbox and two small bird nestboxes.
Our hedge-layer Diana continued laying Pennsland Lane hedge as the month ended.
Overall the month was wet! – 26 days with some rain totalling 186.9mm.
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