Three fresh pellets and some whitewash on the stones below the Kestrel access that originally looked like Barn Owl pellets from a distance were soon re-identified as Kestrel once they had dried out a little and closer views were obtained. This is the first time there’s been evidence of Kestrel occupation in the tower, despite a Kestrel first being seen sitting on top of the tower in September.
On the 16th our regular group of Plymouth University volunteers visited to continue cutting brash out of North Park hedgerow. The same day nine of the twenty apple trees in the orchard received their formative pruning. Many still had green, healthy-looking leaves on so the trim should hopefully stop any windthrow they might experience with all the wet and windy weather we’ve been experiencing of late.
The Oakley pond has another leak and the flow into the ponds stopped when blocked by leaves. Because of all the rain the river level has been too high for clearing and the pond levels, particularly the Oakley dropped some 10”. However by the 17th some of the leaves had washed away and the ponds are full again.
On the 18th and 23rd the apple trees received their annual pruning whilst a Kestrel hunted over the rough grassland. The pipes in the river needed clearing off on both days, after which flow was restored almost immediately.
The Conservation Team continued to lay the driveway hedge on the 4th when another 13 yards was accomplished. There is another 25 yards of driveway hedge to go before it’s finished, and with another 140 yards of North Park hedgerow yet to be started it looks like we’re going to be fairly busy this winter.
The autumn grazing regime ended on the 6th when the cattle were removed. This involved 10 heifers for 8 weeks, with an additional 4 adults and 4 calves for 4 weeks.
Further problems with the river abstraction were as a result of the large number of leaves washing down the Ashburn at this time of year. Strangely, the only pipe working a bit in the abstraction reservoir was the one furthest from the river (thought to be the missing buried pipe). The pipe in the river furthest from the dam was rodded through and cleared fairly easily. We tried to rod through the other one (further towards the dam) but this appeared to be jammed with gravel. However, the abstraction began to work with just one pipe and the flow into the ponds was soon at full bore. We tried to fit a 90 degree angled piece to the pipes in the river to minimise the amount of debris coming into contact with them but the water level was too high, the flow too strong and the river bed needed excavating in order to get to the join. It was considered not the best time to do this and to wait for the water level to drop. The forecast doesn’t look too clever for the next couple of weeks so we await a dry spell with anticipation.
A group of 4 Plymouth University students visited on the 18th to continue to cut brash out of North Park hedgerow in preparation for hedgelaying.
A tree that had come down on the ‘Apprentice path’ in Riverbank Walk towards the end of the month was partially removed to reinstate access.
The cattle were shut into North Park on the 7th for 7 days. They were let out just prior to the second visit by 10 Plymouth University students on the 14th, who tackled the vegetation around the ponds in the orchard before starting to cut the brash out of North Park hedgerow. This was done in preparation for hedge-laying this winter.
The float that had originally been fitted in the cattle drinking trough in Kiln Close in 2004 had finally started to lose buoyancy so was replaced at the end of the month. Drowning is sometimes a big problem for Barn Owls and water trough floats are relatively easy to build and install.
On the 13th the annual grazing regime commenced when our grazier introduced 10 heifers.
More young deer have been seen including two that stood on the ‘airstrip’ and watched us watching them for at least five minutes just after 6pm on the 11th.
Leaf debris and beach mast keep blocking the holes in the water pipes in the river which feed the two ponds causing the water levels to keep dropping and necessitating regular wading to unblock them. Unfortunately the repair made to the bund in the Oakley Pond in April that regulates water flowing back into the Ashburn didn’t solve the problem permanently, it has now sprung another leak and more drastic work will be needed as soon as time allows.
The first Plymouth University group of 9 students and their supervisor arrived to tackle the scrub towards Corner Wood on the 16th. They cut bramble back from the fence line and reduced the size of the scrub clump by Riverbank Walk. Although specifically managed as scrub for breeding birds this area has almost doubled in size in recent years and needed management.
The cattle were shut into Kiln Close on the 17th for 10 days in an effort to have the site more evenly grazed. Two deer were in the top of the field on the 19th doing their bit too.
A Barn Owl was in an Ash tree in the hedge adjacent to the road on the 20th, whilst a Kestrel was observed perched on the wildlife tower a day later.
Another deer was next to the bramble patch at the bottom of North Park on the 24th. It was very hesitant and quite reluctant to leave the vicinity so may have had a fawn nearby.
An obviously scaly juvenile Skylark, the LLP’s second record, was accidentally flushed from the dung heap on the 17th.
A male Beautiful Demoiselle was on an Oak by the Trust offices on the morning of the 18th, and a female by the ponds later on.
Also on the 18th, a licensed Dormouse worker visited and kindly checked our 6 boxes. No Dormice were found, with only 1 box having anything resembling a nest, though this could equally have been made by a small bird. Of the remainder, 2 were entirely empty and 3 had loose leaves, probably from occupation by Wood Mouse.
Another bout of invasive species control involved pulling Himalayan Balsam from the top of the field by the Holly hedge, with the help of 4 students, 3 of whom were from Portugal.
A Mini Beast Safari took place on the 27th, with 6 people enjoying a sunny afternoon (for a change). Several species were recorded, including this European Garden Spider enjoying a grasshopper meal (pictured).
A Barn Owl was seen sitting on the tall pole and a second seen flying along Pennsland lane heading towards North Park hedge at dusk on the 28th. A couple of days later 3 Roe Deer, possibly a hind and two fawns were watched in the orchard, until they left through the gate next to the wildlife tower.
On the 10th a probable Golden-ringed Dragonfly was seen to take a Marbled White butterfly in flight just above the weather station, leaving only a wing spiralling to the ground. The same day a demoiselle by the lower pond looked like a male Banded Demoiselle and would constitute the LLP’s first record if so. Finally a small fritillary sp. was seen by the gate to Corner Wood that was smaller than the normal Silver-washed Fritillaries that are relatively common on site at this time of year.
Himalayan Balsam control continued in Kiln Close on the 13th, with 10 plants pulled and disposed of. A male Beautiful Demoiselle was also in Kiln Close at the same time.
Throughout the month a Barn Owl has been seen hunting at dusk and one evening two were seen, one carrying prey.
The grasses have ripened this month and diversity of the species is a wonderful spectacle of different heights and colours providing a beautiful backdrop for the Marbled Whites and other butterflies that are peaking now; 150 Marbled White, 160 Meadow Brown, 44 Ringlet, 13 Small and 12 Large Skipper were seen in Week 15 of the UK Butterfly Monitoring Programme along transects representing a tiny percentage of available habitat.
In rather dull but muggy, heavily overcast conditions a surprising number of butterflies were seen on the Butterfly Walk on the 15th. Conditions were actually pretty perfect with the lack of sun slowing everything down so good views were obtained of almost every species; hundredss of Meadow Browns, Marbled Whites and Small Skippers, with Gatekeepers and Ringlets common. Also recorded were Large Skipper and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies, as well as Silver-Y, Clouded Buff and Six-spot Burnet moths.
Ironically, a day later, on the 16th July, a female Purple Hairstreak was spotted crawling around on bracken and bramble on the slope below Corner Wood early afternoon. This fairly common , if rarely enjoyed butterfly, has never been seen on site and represents the LLP’s first record of the species.
The first confirmed sighting of a Brown Long-eared Bat involved an individual at roost in one of our batboxes in the lower section of the wildlife tower on 23rd, which was photographed by some of the participants on our Advanced Barn Owl Surveying and Mitigation (ABOSM) course. This constitutes the 5th bat species recorded in the wildlife tower, with a Noctule seen to leave the tower in June, and droppings of Lesser Horseshoe, Pipistrelle sp. and a Myotis sp. also found during previous courses. The bat provision is only checked on the course because that’s the only time there are licensed bat workers on site.
At the end of the month the orchard was brushmowed and brushcut.
A Conservation Team Work Party carefully cleared some spreading Bramble from around the gates in Kiln Close and North Park on the 3rd, and the path between the ponds was strimmed on the same day.
A Kingfisher was seen on the island on the 8th. This now annual sight probably involves dispersing juveniles from nearby and is the earliest report by about a month, with most observations occurring between mid-July and February.
On the 14th a Barn Owl was seen hunting over the top of the field at 22:00 whilst it was still light.
On the 15th a Green Woodpecker flew off from a tree in the orchard. It certainly made a nice change to actually see one after weeks of only hearing their yaffling nearby. A Dark Green Fritillary was seen well, below the wildlife tower, also on the 15th.
The Great Spotted Woodpeckers were bringing their young to feed at the bird tables by 16th.
Meadow Brown butterflies and a species of Burnet moth were spotted during a lunchtime walk on the 17th with the first Marbled Whites a day later.
Rather unusually a rabbit was seen running out of Corner Wood on the 24th, whilst a pair of Mistle Thrush was in Forde Orchard. A Fox was seen up by the dung heap the same day.
On the 25th, a large group from Chard and Ilminster U3A attended an LLP talk and walk; lots of Marbled White and Small Skipper were seen, along with Swifts, House Martins and Swallows and a Dipper on the river. Most surprising was a large gingery bat (Noctule?) that was seen to fly out of the wildlife tower mid-afternoon.
A Roe Deer was at the top of the field on the 27th.
On the 15th, a group of 13 people attended the Dawn Chorus Walk and breakfast on a disappointingly cold and grey morning. All the usual suspects were heard, including Dipper on the Ashburn and Siskin by the barn.
On the 18th, the continuing small bird box monitoring resulted in the ringing of a brood of 3 Dippers, 7 Nuthatches and 3 House Sparrows, as well as broods of the usual Blue and Great Tits. At least 1 fledged Dipper was seen on the Ashburn on the 30th.
A Small Heath was seen on the 27th close to one of the paths and a Cuckoo was heard somewhere in or near the LLP on the 28th.
A baby Slow Worm was found under the corrugated sheet at the top by Pennsland Lane, along with several Field Vole food caches on 31st.
The Greater Stitchwort provided a good display this month but wasn’t quite as impressive as last year, whilst the Lesser Stitchwort is just coming into flower as the month draws to a close.
A Cuckoo was heard on the 28th, either in or near the LLP in the morning.
As the month began, the first Blackthorn blossom was out along one of the laid sections of the Pennsland Lane hedge. A Dipper was heard on the Ashburn outside the offices on the 1st and then again on the 10th.
The first Brimstone was seen on the 4th, whilst a day later 2 Small Tortoiseshells and an Orange-tip were on the wing in Kiln Close. The same day, 2 Lizards, 5 Slow Worms (including 2 very small young ones) and a Toad were also seen in Kiln Close.
The first Chiffchaff was in song on the 6th, with a Blackcap in song on the 8th. Week 2 of the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme recorded 13 Peacock, 3 Small Tortoiseshell and 1 Comma, also on the 8th.
By the 12th, some of the native Daffodils that had been planted in the orchard on the 25th March were in flower, along with the first Plum and Cherry Blossom.
The Dippers were seen to have built a nest in the nestbox under the top bridge on the 13th, and one was seen going downstream by the cattle drink late morning where the bees in the duck box have become very active. The same day 4-5 Orange-tip, 2-3 Brimstone, 1 Comma, 1 Peacock and 2 Small Tortoiseshell were on the wing in the orchard.
The bund that regulates water flowing from the Oakley Pond back into the Ashburn had sprung a couple of leaks and the water level had dropped as a result. In order to facilitate repairs, the abstraction pipes in the river were deliberately wrapped in bin liners temporarily so that the level dropped below the leaks. These were then concreted within a couple of days and full flow restored.
Diana and Rachael, our dry stone wallers came on the 22nd to repair the wall by the gates into the LLP.
An exciting development was the discovery of some splashes of Barn Owl faeces under the Kestrel provision in the wildlife tower and what looked like 4-5 Barn Owl pellets on the stone perch going into the provision on the 23rd. A Holly Blue was in the orchard on the same day.
On the 28th, 28 people attended the Wildflower Walk on a sunny, if somewhat breezy, afternoon. Germander Speedwell, Thyme-leaved Speedwell, Ivy-leaved Speedwell, Early Purple Orchid, Greater Stitchwork, Lesser Celandine, Primroses, Crosswort, Hedge Bedstraw, Restharrow, Wintercress, Maidenhair Spleenwort, Lady’s Smock, Red Campion, Wild Rocket, Garlic Mustard, Forget-me-Not, Ground Ivy, Bluebell, Bulbous ButtercupFields Clives, Mouse-ear, Dandelion, Foxglove, Hawkbit, Hemlock Water Dropwort, Wood Sorrel, Saxifrage, Common Sorrel, Ribwort Plantain, Spear Thistle, Common Nettle, Dog Violet, Yarrow, Sweet Vernal Grass, Field Wood Rush and Bush Vetch were all seen.
A Dipper flew upriver in Riverbank Walk and there were more fresh Barn Owl droppings under the Kestrel provision of the wildlife tower.
For the first time in a couple of years a brief snatch of Pied Flycatcher song was heard in neighbouring Waterleat Wood on the 28th. The Dipper nestbox was checked under the top bridge where 5 eggs were discovered and a Redpoll was singing from the Larch plantation beyond Pennsland Lane.
March 2015The final group of Plymouth University students visited on the 4th and tidied up the brash from the recent hedge-laying of the drive hedge in Kiln Close in February. The final section of about 4m., that hadn’t been completed due to time constraints, was also finished the same day.
On the 11th, Forde Orchard was brush-mown. The scrub patch towards Corner Wood that has probably doubled in size in the last few years was also cut back to its original size.
Two Roe deer were seen on the 15th prancing across the top of the field towards the Pennsland Lane boundary, the first for several weeks.
A group of six Hungarian and Portuguese volunteers helped cut bramble back off the fence line along North Park, Forde Orchard and Riverbank Wood in fine spring-like weather on the 17th.
The grass hasn’t really started to grow yet so you can easily spot a tremendous amount of vole activity.
The Conservation Team planted 300 native Snowdrop bulbs and 100 native Daffodil bulbs in the orchard on the 25th. Trees on the upper slope had 10-12 Snowdrops in four places, interspersed with 4 Daffodils. Trees on the lower slope had just the Snowdrops. Both species were also planted along the top of the wall, overlooking the ponds.
On the 12th the paths were mown, and scrub was cut along both sides of the Kiln Close hedge.
The apple trees were pruned on the 12th and are finally beginning to look like typical ‘standard’ fruit trees.
The Heron disappeared for a couple of weeks and the surviving frogs took advantage of this and produced more spawn in the Flo Pond. By the end of the month the Heron was back to making regular visits.
The first Celandines were seen flowering on the 27th with a few brave Primroses a week earlier.
Typically quiet for the winter period.
The river abstraction pipes were blocked again and the levels in the ponds dropped over the Christmas break until we had some significant rain. This time it was due to a build-up of silt in the reservoirs. Once this had been removed on the 14th flow was restored to full-bore.
The usual flock of Meadow Pipits had exceeded 30 by mid-month.
103.8mm rain so far in January, 54.6mm fell in the overnight storm between 14th-15th when we recorded the strongest wind at 41mph.
A Grey Heron which appeared around the ponds was being seen regularly by mid-month. Its appearance was almost certainly associated with the frogs that had laid frogspawn by the 27th. Unfortunately this didn’t last long, although some spawn laid towards the end of the month did survive.
On the 21st a group of Plymouth University students arrived to clear brash out of the roadside hedge in Kiln Close, ready for laying in February.
Works to the abstraction reservoirs that had reinstated the water supply to the ponds earlier in the month proved short-lived, as the flow had all but stopped by the 22nd. A lot more sediment was removed and the metal screen that had been installed to limit the amount of detritus flowing through the system was found to have perished. This was replaced with plastic screen, and once the pipes were rodded through once again, the outflow was back to full-bore.
The Tawny Owl nestbox that had been knocked off one of the trees in Corner Wood earlier in the winter was re-erected on the 27th. A pellet found beneath the box on the 18th February was an interesting development.
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