The first record of Reed Bunting for the LLP involved a pair watched perching on tall grasses to the east of North Park hedgebank on the morning of the 12th after freezing overnight temperatures had presumably forced them down off the nearby moor.
The Belted Galloways that came in on 20th October for some late autumn grazing had found the River Ashburn at the cattle drink by the 3rd November. Unfortunately, their activity in the river seems to have played a role in blocking the abstraction system. This was easily rectified however, with the system being restored to full bore with the help of a stiff brush.
A neighbour brought a Dormouse into the office on the 7th. Sadly it was not in good condition, having originally been found in her bathtub! Despite being taken to a rehabilitator in Bideford this individual didn’t make it. However, this is incontrovertible proof of Dormouse presence at Waterleat, and so the 25 Dormouse boxes purchased from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species after the discovery of last month’s nest in a small bird box on site looks to be money well-spent. These will be erected in suitable habitat before next spring, and monitored by our volunteer Tony, who holds the appropriate Natural England licence – watch this space.
Six volunteers visited from Portugal and Spain on the 30th and helped the Conservation Team lay another 10 yards of the hedge above the barn.
On the 6th a Kestrel was noted hunting over the top of the field. Green Woodpeckers were very vocal at the start of the month with calling heard across the whole site for a few days.
On the 11th large white droppings were noted on one of the gates and camera posts, raising hopes that there might be a Barn Owl about.
A vocal Kingfisher was making its presence known on the Ashburn on the 19th, the day of the Autumn Colours Walk. There was a good turnout for this event despite the weather; the rain started just as the walk did and got heavier and heavier. It was cut short at Corner Wood and everyone returned to the Meeting Room to dry out and have a cream tea and a presentation, “The role of small NGOs in owl conservation: a case study – The Barn Owl Trust”, which had been prepared for the recent World Owl Conference. During the walk it was noted that the Germander Speedwell was still flowering, though most of the apples had fallen in the orchard.
With only evidence of browsed nutshells previously recorded on site, an actual Hazel Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) nest found in one of the small bird boxes in adjacent woodland on the 24th was fantastically exciting. This box had been checked in May and June for nesting birds and was found to be empty, so could only have been put to use in the late summer. After such a promising discovery a Dormouse box project will be undertaken this winter and next spring, with the erection of a number of Dormouse boxes around the site. Any subsequent occupation will be monitored by our volunteer Tony, who is a licensed Dormouse worker.
Evidence of approaching winter came in the form of some bird migration on the 27th, when about 15 Redwing and a couple of Song Thrush went overhead with a small flock of Skylark. There were up to 5 Meadow Pipits in the field and lots of Goldcrest activity in surrounding hedges.
The first frost appeared on the morning of the 30th.
September was an amazing month for hedgerow fruit here in the LLP. Blackberries, Rosehips, Hawthorn and Holly berries and the best crop of sloes (Blackthorn) along the Pennsland Lane hedge we’ve ever seen. The hedge was laid by Diana Smurthwaite over the three year period 2010–2013 and the Blackthorn seems to have really benefited from the process. Elsewhere on the land the Sloe fruiting isn’t nearly as impressive. It’s also been a good year for Acorns, with an excellent supply for woodland small mammals this winter.
Everything seems to be much earlier than usual this year with the apple trees in Forde Orchard shedding a lot of their fruit this month.
A few field mushrooms have been seen on the Long Path and the Parasol mushrooms are appearing in the long grass although not yet as many as previous years. We’ve seen a second flush of Germander Speedwell in some places and a few patches of Lesser Stitchwort.
Both deer and badger have been about, the latter only showing their presence by the large areas of dug grass. House Martins have also been plentiful this month, as have the dragonflies on the pond.
There was 109.9mm of rain during the month compared with an average (since 2006) of 62.32mm. The mean temperature during the month was 8.9°C compared with an average (since 2006) of 7.05° C. Unfortunately this meant that no butterfly transects were possible due to the generally poor weather combined with limited staff availability.
On the 27th the first group of Plymouth University volunteers visited to start annual scrub control by cutting bramble out of North Park hedgerow. This will facilitate the replacement of the rotten fence posts scheduled for November, as well as make it a bit easier when the hedge-laying recommences this winter.
There was a young deer in the road adjacent to Kiln Close at about 9pm on the 8th. It or another came up the Kiln Close hedgerow from the road at about 6pm on the 12th and yet another sighting was of probably the same individual behind the wildlife tower on the 14th.
Three large Brown Trout showed well in the Flo pond on the afternoon of the 10th when it was in shade. Unsurprisingly, the only good numbers of froglets are being seen around the Oakley pond.
The blackberries in the hedgerow at the bottom of the orchard were beginning to ripen by the 14th. It also seems like a good year for sloes with the laid hedge below the Pennsland lane gate having the heaviest crop we can remember.
The LLP’s second Bat Walk was conducted on the cool, windy, drizzly evening of the 18th in less than ideal conditions for inverts. However, Pipistrelle, a Myotis species, Greater Horseshoe and Barbastelle were all recorded in Corner Wood. This is the second year on the trot that Barbastelle has been recorded from this area, in the vicinity of the bat boxes erected for the species after last year’s walk. Many thanks to Louise Woolley for leading the event.
The leaning apple trees in Forde Orchard got a summer pruning on the 5th as planned, the aim being to lighten the weight in the direction of the lean. They’ll get another winter prune on the opposite side to strengthen roots and promote new growth. On the same day, the time-lapse camera trench was filled in with the spoil kept from the initial excavation.
We held two Butterfly Walks on the 3rd and 6th and both were blessed with great views of butterflies, after recording the largest number of Marbled Whites ever this year. An early evening walk through the long grass along the lower side of the North Park hedge bank during the week was memorable for walking through clouds of butterflies. On the 7th a White Admiral, the second live specimen for Waterleat, was nectaring on bramble outside the office.
On the 18th a Conservation Team Work Party bashed bracken in the more inaccessible areas of the site with the help of two volunteers. The more accessible areas were topped with the tractor. More Bracken control occurred a day later when the site was finished, and Ragwort was removed from Kiln Close. About 12 Great Green Bush Crickets were observed on the slope by Corner Wood and a further 20 were in Kiln Close.
A vocal Kingfisher outside the office flew straight up the slope and into the LLP before disappearing over the field on the 20th.
The cherry trees in Forde Orchard all produced small dark fruit this year which was left on the trees for the wildlife, however there must be an abundance of food available as much of it is still on the trees.
The weather so far this month has been very variable. Hot sunshine, torrential rain, occasional strong winds and even lightening are making every day different.
On the 13th, and after a silence of about a month, a Skylark was again singing over the top field whilst the Dormouse boxes were being checked in Corner and Riverbank Woods. All but one were completely empty, having been cleared out the previous autumn. The only one showing any evidence was not cleared out at the same time as the others due to the presence of Wood Mouse. This one showed some additional grass lying atop the mass of moss but no further sign of any small mammals was discovered.
A licensed bat worker checked the wildlife tower bat provisions on the 15th. There were bat droppings in all the different compartments, and a myotis species was roosting behind the ridge beam in the top compartment but could not sadly be identified more specifically. With the River Ashburn and the ponds nearby it is thought most likely to have been a Daubenton’s which typically feed over water.
After our successful Bat Walk last August when we recorded a Barbastelle, we erected 3 multi-compartment bat boxes suitable for this species on the 21st on a tree in Corner Wood, with one facing east, one west, the other south. A huge crack heard at the time ended up being the fallen half of the tree by the top boardwalk section in Riverbank Walk ripping its heel from the tree stump and crashing to the ground.
The Mid-Summer Walk took place on the evening of the 22nd, a beautiful, balmy evening. The first clump of the Hedge Bedstraw in the grassland was coming into flower and there were Ringlets and Meadow Browns in evidence. Slow worms were seen under the corrugated sheet at the top of the field. The variety of grasses was very apparent with different heights, textures and colours.
The Skylark was still singing above the field on the afternoon of the 27th. The first Silver-washed Fritillary was by the office, and 280 Marbled White and 201 Ringlet were recorded in Week 13 of the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme.
On the 29th a flock of 30+ Wood pigeons was flying around at the top of the field and over the adjacent woodland, quite an unusual occurrence here.
In June we recorded 14 days of rain (116.8mm total) here but only two of those had significant amounts. Over the last four years we recorded less than 50mm each June. Top temperature recorded during the month (in the shade) was 27.6c this was the highest since recording began in 2006. The mean temperature was 15.5c.
On the 9th at least 2 male Pied Flycatchers were in song in adjacent woodland, the new songster clearly audible from the orchard.
The Wild Flower Walk was held on the muggy afternoon of the 11th in heavy showers. Despite the rain and a thorough soaking we saw lots of flower species including huge patches of Germander Speedwell with their heads down and the wonderful display of Bluebells in Corner Wood and finished up with a hot drink in the Meeting Room.
At least 2, possibly 3 male Pied Flycatchers were in song in adjacent woodland but still audible from the LLP on the 19th.
A couple of days later, at about 5pm, a bee swarm flew over a neighbouring garden heading for the orchard but could not be relocated.
On the 1st the male Mandarin was sitting on top of the duck box erected on the Sycamore stump in mid-December raising hopes that they would at last stay and breed. They haven’t been seen since . . . . .
After another very disappointing show of Snowdrops and Daffodils in the orchard for the second year on the trot, replacements were planted on the 10th – hopefully these will do much better in years to come.
The first of the spring butterflies put in an appearance on 5th with Comma, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell all recorded. The Skylark was still in song above the field.
The sunshine early in the month brought out the Spring flowers. As well as the Primroses, Celandines and Dandelions we were seeing Greater Stitchwort, Violets and Herb Robert by the 10th. The Blackthorn blossom is magnificent this year and in some parts of the LLP is in full bloom but in others just beginning to come out.
The Tadpoles in the Oakley Pond are amazing and can been seen from a distance as you walk towards the pond whilst the ones in the Flo Pond are much more elusive and confined to the margins and cover. This is probably because of the Trout in the Flo Pond.
The paths were given their annual double width cut on the 18th. This increases the diversity of the vegetation along the edges as a single width is mown in the centre of the path during the rest of the year.
One of our volunteers reported seeing a Hobby thermalling high over the field in the morning of the 25th.
On the 27th a Magpie was not endearing itself much by ripping up a Slow Worm just above the solar panels.
A quick check of the small bird boxes on the 28th revealed that the Grey Wagtails had decided not to bother with the nest they’d built in the Kingfisher wall. It was bad news on the Dipper front too, with nothing in the usual nestbox under the top bridge, the first blank year since that box was erected in 2013. On the plus side, a Pied Flycatcher was in song in woodland adjacent to the top bridge, the 2nd consecutive year this species has been recorded on site after an absence of 5 years.
The final 5 apple trees were pruned on the 8th, some of them quite hard.
A pair of Grey Wagtails was seen by the Kingfisher Wall, also on the 8th. By the 17th all three of the holes created for them by removing stones from the wall face showed signs of interest, with accumulations of dry grass and moss inside. Fingers crossed we’ll get a nesting attempt this spring for the second consecutive year.
10-12 Meadow Pipits were in the top of the field in the afternoon of the 6th.
After a wet and overcast start to the month the sun came out on the 9th and hundreds of Celandines were flowering at the top of the field. A stunning Peacock butterfly was seen sunning itself beside a patch of Primroses at the foot of the Pennsland Lane hedge.
On the 10th a Skylark was heard singing above the airstrip. It was in song again from the 17th onwards, with a total of three birds seen in that area the same day.
A Kingfisher was seen briefly by the ponds by some of the luckier Plymouth University volunteers on the 15th before disappearing rapidly upstream. The group then went on to finish cutting bramble out of North Park hedge, ready for the fencing contractor.
Singing and displaying Meadow Pipits were in evidence on the 17th.
The first Greater Stitchwort flowers were seen along the Pennsland Lane hedge on the 19th.
By the 17th the Grey Wagtail appeared to have taken nesting material into all three spaces in the Kingfisher Wall but the extreme right hand one had most material in. At least one, possibly two singing and displaying Meadow Pipits were above the solar panels, and a pair of Skylark plus another individual were in song above the air strip in the morning, with all still there in the afternoon.
The last hedge-laying session of the year resulted in another 8 yards of the Kiln Close hedge being finished.
The usual annual routine of Mandarins appearing briefly was repeated on the 30th when the pair was on the pond all day.
The month started with Kingfisher sightings in the orchard on two consecutive days, probably using nearby tree branches as a perch for fishing in the ponds. Unlike other winter sightings, which are usually after freezing overnight temperatures, the weather at the beginning of the month was wet and mild.
On the 8th a small flock of about 10 Meadow Pipits was in the top fields, whilst a Dipper was very vocal on the Ashburn outside the Trust offices. These are being seen almost every day now.
The Wildlife Tower was given a cursory inspection on the 10th, when a roosting Barn Owl, probably one of those rehabilitated and released here in December was seen in the Kestrel provision. About 10-12 small black pellets along with lots of whitewash indicated short-term use of this facility.
The 6 Belted Galloway cows and their calves were removed on the 14th.
On the 16th, attendees on our Advanced Barn Owl Surveying and Mitigation course found a Brown Long-eared Bat at roost in one of the bat boxes in the lower section of the Wildlife Tower. This is the second time this species has been recorded on one of the courses, the first in July 2015.
Our wonderful volunteers cut back saplings on the island in the Flo Pond on the 21st, leaving just one as a Kingfisher perch. They also pulled the Reedmace which would take over without management. The area of fence line behind the Wildlife Tower was flailed in preparation for our fencing contractor, who is due to start replacing fence posts in early March. The annual apple pruning started the same day, with half of the trees pruned on the upper slope.
More apple tree pruning took place a couple of days later. On the 24th a volunteer group from Exeter spent all day cutting bramble and scrub out of North Park and Forde Orchard hedges, to clear the fence line for the fencing contractor.
By the 27th the Bluebell leaves were coming up in profusion along the Apprentice Path and in Corner Wood. This should mean we have a great display of flowers in May when we have our Wildflower Walk. There were also clumps of early Primroses appearing on the North Park slopes.
The month ended with a Grey Wagtail seen on top of the Kingfisher Wall.
The New Year arrived damp, windy and mild. On the 3rd our grazier brought in an additional Belted Galloway cow and younger calf, bringing our herd to six cows and six calves now. There is still plenty of grass for the voles, so the cattle will stay until at least the end of the month. We met a fox hunting for voles at midday on the 3rd.
The area of Corner Wood where all the Bluebells flower, was strimmed on the 6th to clear it of saplings ready for the spring. A couple of days later the old wasps’ nest was removed from the Tawny Owl nestbox in Corner Wood.
On the 10th two of our wonderful volunteers, Kim and Tony, were venturing into the orchard when one of them saw a flash of blue disappear into the trees above the river Ashburn. Cursory inspection of the Kingfisher Wall showed signs of excavation around several of the holes in the sand/cement-filled pipes. Despite this very exciting development the trail camera that was set-up immediately afterwards, hadn’t recorded any additional activity by the 12th. Nevertheless, this is a great sign and bodes well for the early spring when nest cavities tend to be prepared in earnest.
The encroaching bramble in the bottom corner of Kiln Close was flailed on the 13th. The trail cam was set up again by the Kingfisher Wall also on the 13th but when it was checked on the 18th nothing had been recorded.
On the 17th, our fencing contractor was invited to quote for replacement of some of the LLP boundaries, whose posts have begun to rot through at the base. The same day another 7 yards of the Kiln Close hedge above the barn was laid.
Signs of spring were recorded on the 18th with singing Grey Wagtail and Treecreeper, whilst 2 Stonechats, a male and a female, were in the top fields the same day.
A day later, fresh Kestrel evidence in the form of whitewash and pellets was noticed by the John Woodland Memorial Wildlife Tower, as was one of the rehabilitated Barn Owls released here in December.
More hedge-laying training took place on the 24th when Geoff and Frankie visited to help start the North Park double-comb. Excellent progress was made, with 10 yards laid in fine, spring-like weather.
Heaps of frogs and frog spawn were noticed on the 30th, some 2 days later than the average lay date in the ponds between 2008 and 2016.