Wildlife Diary 2014

December 2014

Owl Sanctuary Barn Owl Trust Ashburn Valley

The Ashburn Valley where the Barn Owl Trust is based

A damp start to the month, the temperature dropping below freezing on some nights and predominately northerly winds. Despite this the grass is continuing to grow slowly, good news for the voles living in the litter layer and everything that eats them! By the wreath making workshop on the 11th all of the Holly berries had disappeared from the field as had the incredible prolific crop of hawthorn berries this year, fortunately we found some holly with berries on a neighbour’s land. The water level in the ponds started dropping as the month began. This appeared to be the result of leaves clogging the abstraction pipes, and once these were cleared off the flow increased to normal. However by the 16th the water level was dropping again necessitating ‘getting in there’ to investigate.

We recorded 1,375mm of rain in 2014, of which 72.2mm was in December. The mean temperature for the year was 11.2°C with a high of 26.9°C in July and a low of in -2.6°C in December. The strongest wind recorded was 43mph in February.

November 2014

Magpie Ink Cap Fungus LLP Akos Klein October 2014

An ink cap fungus (shown) was a nice complement to all the Parasol Mushrooms we’ve had this autumn.

On the 5th, the brambley slope by Corner Wood was cut. When we first started controlling scrub on this site it would take nearly a whole day to cut, but it only took about an hour this time in comparison. It seems we’re finally winning!

Two pairs of Mandarin Ducks were seen on the pond on the morning of the 10th, whilst a fox was seen up by Pennsland Lane in the afternoon. A couple of days later a/the Kingfisher was calling outside the office in the morning. It was also heard a week later on the 19th around by the ponds.

A group of Hungarian trainees helped clear part of the Bluebell slope in Corner Wood on the 12th, with an estimated 6000 tiny saplings of mostly Ash and a few Holly removed. This may sound a lot but represents less than 10% of the total wooded area of the LLP (Riverbank Walk and Corner Wood) and is the only location on site that has a good display of Bluebells and Dog Violets, so is worth making the effort.

A week later, our usual Plymouth University group of volunteers finished tidying up around the ponds and cut back the large saplings that have begun to take over the island. One sapling was deliberately left, and cut back to provide a couple of low fishing perches for the Kingfisher, should it choose to use them. They also cut back scrub along the fence lines.

A pair of Mandarins was on the ponds again on 21st, and a Kingfisher flew downriver on the morning of the 24th.

We had some rain on 24 of the 30 days totalling 138.2mm and a mean temperature for the month of 9.5°C.

October 2014

Lennon Legacy Project First Kingfisher Photo

The first Kingfisher to be caught on camera, perched over the Flo Pond in Forde Orchard

There have been regular sightings of a Barn Owl hunting in daylight this month, usually at dusk, but on the 21st it was seen at 9am hunting near the North Park hedge. A Kingfisher was seen again by the ponds on the same morning. The cattle left in the middle of the month having done a grand job of grassland management and leaving behind lots of cow pats to provide a habitat to support an insect population that will feed birds and bats.

At dusk on the 26th we surprised a Roe Deer grazing near the solar panels and it rewarded us with a great view of it bouncing off across the skyline. It was seen again at lunchtime on the 28th near the roadside polebox and at the sight of us headed up and across the field. A handsome dog fox was spotted hunting for voles during the day early in the month and again on the 27th.

On the 29th the Conservation Team went out in damp and dismal conditions to reduce the mud near the cattle drink before the Autumn Colours Walk on the 30th.

The unusually warm weather has really benefited the Parasol mushrooms, there are loads of them and we’ve also seen a few Field mushrooms on the mown paths.

September 2014

LLP Parasole Mushrooms [David Ramsden]

Parasole Mushrooms do really well in the rough grassland

Parasol mushrooms have been appearing in the rough grassland since the beginning of the month.

Our grazier introduced 15 head of livestock on the 5th (14 half-sized bullocks and a cow) which were allowed to free range everywhere (except the orchard).

On the 10th, the Forde Orchard slopes were cut with the brushmower and brushcutter, whilst the rushes were cut back from around the pond edges by hand. Cuttings were left on the banks close to the pond edges so that any invertebrates could find their way back to the water. A vocal Kingfisher flew low over the ponds twice then down river in the afternoon. This was probably a dispersing juvenile from a nesting nearby and has become an almost annual occurrence in recent years.

The Wild Bees living in the Mandarin Duck nestbox by the cattle drink have now created a comb that is visible through the entrance hole. The cattle were shut into Kiln Close on the 19th for 5 days to ensure that this area was adequately grazed.

A few more Himalayan Balsam plants were pulled from the Pennsland Lane hedge during the month, despite our efforts they do keep appearing!

August 2014

LLP Orchard Fruit Plums [David Ramsden]

Our first plums in Forde Orchard were ripening nicely by mid-month

Three pipits flushed silently from either side of the path at the top of the field on the 4th during Monthly Monitoring Photos landed in trees along the road. A Tree Pipit was heard to call but not seen during Week 18 of the UKBMS the same day in the same general area so probably all were Tree Pipits. On the 7th, 2-3 vocal Tree Pipits were again accidentally flushed from roughly the same place. A Clouded Yellow was also seen again.

A day later, more invasive species control involved pulling Himalayan Balsam from the roadside boundary and along the entrance track in Kiln Close. On the 13th, the rampant Angelica in Forde Orchard was cut back.

The plums and apples in the orchard were ripening nicely by mid-month.

Lots of young froglets were spotted in the long grass in the Orchard on the 19th and throughout the rest of the month.

July 2014

LLP Rough Grass [Jo Plant]

The rough grassland is a wonderful mixture of species and colours in the summer

We were blessed with good weather on the 9th when twenty-four people from the National Trust Axe Valley Group joined us for a Butterfly Walk and a cream Tea. They saw hundreds of Marbled Whites and Ringlets, plus Meadow Browns, Skippers and Burnet Moths. The following day the sun also shone for the first of our two open Butterfly Walks and the butterflies were once again out in force.

By mid-month butterfly numbers had built impressively, with over 100 Marbled White, 200 Meadow Brown and 50 Small Skipper recorded. More frustratingly, a smallish, brown butterfly with lemony orange underwings was seen all too briefly as it zipped over a section of laid Blackthorn hedge along Pennsland Lane, near an Ash tree. It may be wishful thinking but was this the LLP’s first sighting of a Brown Hairstreak?

Whilst emptying the small bird boxes, two more bee nests were found in use in the boxes, one of which was probably Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum). The honey bees in the Duck Box had also been busy and the comb of their nest was clearly visible through the access hole.

The bracken-covered slope by Corner Wood was bashed on the 17th.

Invasive species control on the 21st involved scouring the site for Ragwort plants. Fortunately only 4 plants were found and these were dug up and disposed of. Later in the day a large group from Kingsbridge U3A group visited, and enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the site. There were lots of butterflies on the wing in the glorious weather, and included 5-6 Silver-washed Fritillary, lots of Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers, and Small Skippers.

At the end of the month, the first Tree Pipit of the autumn was accidentally flushed from above the weather station. A flock of about 30 House Martins and 5 Swallows were foraging overhead.

LLP pictures of flowers and grasses

June 2014

LLP Tufted Vetch (Vicia Cracca) [Chris Richards]

Tufted Vetch (Vicia Cracca) is found in the hedges and the grassland

The first Marbled White butterflies started appearing in the 3rd week of June, which is about 2-3 weeks earlier than normal.

On the 5th, a male Beautiful Demoiselle was on bramble in Corner Wood, presumably waiting for a passing female whilst a chorus of calls generated by various fledged broods of Blue and Great Tits filled the air. A Roe Deer hind stood motionless in the top field, presumably guarding its fawn.

By mid-month, approximately 30 Swifts were watched hunting over the top field whilst another Beautiful Demoiselle graced the Oakley Pond.

On the 19th, a large patch of Hairy Tare (or Tiny Vetch; not the Tufted Vetch pictured) was found along North Park, and later that day great views were had of the/another Roe Deer hind by the group that joined us for the mid-summer evening walk. We also saw a Marbled White freshly hatched in the orchard.

A day later the Wildlife Tower was checked as part of our annual monitoring of Barn Owl sites. Although no fresh Barn Owl evidence was found, a House Sparrow nest was located on the wall top next to the Kestrel provision.

On the evening of the 21st a Barn Owl was seen hunting over the field at dusk. The Duck Box by the cattle drink was taken over by a swarm of honey bees mid-month. A group of volunteers bashed bracken along the roadside hedge, whilst a C. T. Work Party pulled a dense stand of some 2,000 Himalayan Balsam plants in Kiln Close that seemed to have appeared from nowhere.

LLP pictures of flowers and grasses

May 2014

LLP Walk [David Ramsden]

Come and see how Barn Owl habitat benefits other wildlife and, see the seasonal changes, each visit is unique

A brood of 4 Grey Wagtails and a brood of 2 Dippers were ringed on the 8th. This is the second year that Dippers have bred on-site, raising 5 young. The wagtails fledged successfully on the 14th.

Also on the 8th, great views were had at lunchtime of a fox vole-hunting. In the evening, the Barn Owl was still very vocal.

A Whitethroat was in song in Pennsland Lane hedge on the 12th and again on the 13th. Two Swallows were watched going into the barn extension outside the bird room in the afternoon on the 14th, raising hopes they might be considering nest-building.

The Wild Flower Walk was attended by 6 people in lovely warm sunshine on the 15th. Highlights included the Bluebells, which looked stunning in Corner Wood, both Greater and Lesser Stitchwort, and Germander Speedwell in flower. It was followed by tea and home-made cakes in our Meeting Room.

The weather for the month of May was decidedly average in comparison with previous years’ average. Mean average temperature was 11.9oC (2006-2014 average 11.63 oC), whilst total rainfall was 86.4mm (average 80.02mm) and wind speed was 2.4mph (average 3.26mph).

LLP events

April 2014

LLP Celandine Flower [David Ramsden]

An impressive crop of Celandine flowers sprouting up through the litter layer.

The 6th Hungarian cohort visited for three days from the 2nd. As well as helping build tree boxes for us to erect, they replaced the rotten Dormouse boxes in Riverside Wood. These were in such poor condition that no Dormouse in its right mind would have used one. After advice from the British Trust for Ornithology that it appears to be an early breeding season this year, they also helped with preliminary small bird box checks at Waterleat. No small birds were found sitting, although a number of boxes contained nesting material. The most exciting news was that the Dippers were found to have nearly completed building a nest in one of the Dipper boxes and we’re optimistic of a breeding attempt there for the second year on the trot. On their final day the Hungarians helped carefully cut back bramble over-spilling from the Pennsland Lane hedge.

The first handful of Swallows started going through during the first week of April. A Barn Owl has been seen around frequently, screeching over the field every night and using the nestbox in the barn to roost sometimes.

The first Slow Worm sightings of the year were recorded on the 22nd; under the corrugate behind the barn and along Pennsland Lane. A day later, a Kestrel was watched hunting over Hayes Close in the afternoon. By the 28th it had started to become so territorial that it was seen to stoop 16 times on a perched Buzzard before eventually chasing the Buzzard off into the larch plantation beyond Corner Wood. It was also seen around on the 30th.

On the 24th, our Early Purple Orchid spike was up in Kiln Close again, with just the start of the petals erupting.

The Dawn Chorus walk was attended by 5 people on the 25th. The walk started at 5am and was initially deathly quiet except for the screeching of a nearby wild Barn Owl. However, within about 10 minutes it had really kicked off and the noise was almost deafening. Species heard included; 6 Blackcap, 4 Song Thrush, 2 Blackbird, 2 Chiffchaff, 3 Goldcrest, 3 Chaffinch, 2 Goldfinch, 2 Siskin, House Sparrow, 8 Robin, 5 Wren, Dunnock, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Woodpigeon, wild Barn Owl and wild Tawny Owl. Towards the end of the walk, good views of a Barn Owl were had over Kiln Close and later Hayes Close. A buck Roe Deer gave prolonged views in North Park.

A pair of Mandarin was on the Flo Pond and didn’t flush when the tractor went past. However, they soon disappeared and haven’t been seen since.

On the 30th, a Dipper was sitting in nestbox under the top bridge, presumably incubating.

LLP pictures of flowers and grasses

March 2014

Rehabilitation Release Aviary Open [David Ramsden]

The owls are released from the aviary by opening the roof after they’ve spent sometime there to get used to the area

The Dipper was heard again on the mornings of the 3rd and 20th, and in between times the first tadpoles hatched in the ponds on the 9th.

A rehabilitated Barn Owl, released from the Trust’s static release aviary on the 11th, was seen hunting in daylight on the 15th, with it or another seen entering the Trust’s barn after dark on the 18th.

The first Redwings of the year passed through calling noisily on the 19th as they presumably headed back northwards after spending the winter nearby.

A Dipper was seen flying off downstream of the top bridge on the 24th, an encouraging sign for things to come perhaps.

Barn Owl release methods

February 2014

LLP Dipper Nestbox [Sarah Nelms]

One of our two Dipper nestboxes, this one under the lower bridge on the River Ashburn

A Dipper was heard calling on the 10th along the Ashburn outside the office for the third or fourth time over the previous couple of weeks, raising early hopes that one of our nestboxes may yet again get some use later in the Spring.

The ground is totally saturated and blustery winds have brought down lots of small branches but no trees so far. On the 11th rain was interspersed with sleet and snow showers but the ground was too wet for it to settle.

January 2014

Litter layer Field Vole rough grassland [Kevin Keatley]

The litter layer, the dead grass in rough grassland, is where the Field Voles tunnel and breed

Another vole nest was found under the top corrugate on the 5th! This is the first confirmed winter breeding we have ever had, after a different litter was spotted in December, no doubt a result of such a mild winter. Indeed, Field Vole signs are beginning to appear all across the field, which is great news. It’s probably no coincidence then that the first Kestrel for over a year was also seen hunting over the field on the 6th, and again on the 7th. Two Woodcock were flushed from along Pennsland Lane hedge in good light on the 6th.

Remarkably, the first 6 days of the month yielded a staggering 120mm of rain. This is already more than the whole monthly rainfall totals for 2010, 2011 and 2012 (96mm, 77mm and 99mm respectively)! The resulting wet ground (and strong winds) resulted in a tree falling over in the Green Lane and trashing part of the fence in Corner Wood.

On a refreshingly mild, dry, calm morning on the 9th, Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Great Tit and Robin could all be heard singing nearby from outside the barn.

A Conservation Open Day was held on the 23rd. Two intrepid volunteers dared the weather forecast and helped cut back gorse and bramble encroachment from Kiln Close. The rain stayed away for most of the day and a great deal of progress was made – thanks Jane and Tina!

The first frogs appeared on the 23rd January, with spawn a day later. For comparison, previous dates have been;

– 30th January 2013

– 19th January 2012

– 4th February 2011

– 9th February 2010

– 28th January 2009

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