Our Dormouse license-holding volunteer Tony checked the boxes on the 4th, making sure they were in good condition and clearing them out ready for next spring. Another nest discovered, making a total of 7 for the year, whilst a Woodcock was accidentally flushed from Corner Wood.
Monitoring of the winter bird crop on the 14th revealed a record count for the LLP of 11 Reed Bunting together on seed heads in the crop! Other species utilising the resource included 17 Linnet, 19 Chaffinch, 4 Goldfinch, 2 Dunnock, 2 Wren, a male Pheasant and a Red Fox, whilst a Buzzard circled overhead.
A walk around the bird crop on the 8th produced about 30 Linnets, up to 10 Chaffinches and a lone Greenfinch.
A Kingfisher was heard on the Ashburn on the 12th, and photographed on the 23rd.
During the Advanced Barn Owl Surveying and Mitigation (ABOSM) course on the 21st two Brown Long-eared Bats were found at roost behind the hessian sacking in the lower void of the wildlife tower, the first time more than one bat has been recorded at any one time.
A day later the first of this winter’s Bird Walks was conducted in cold grey weather. Nevertheless, the bird crop had attracted 300+ Linnet, 25+ Chaffinch, 10+ Meadow Pipit, 5+ Goldfinch and 4+ Reed Bunting (the 3rd-6th records of this species for the LLP). Other species noted included Redwing, Song Thrush, Nuthatch, Grey Wagtail and Pied Wagtail among the commoner species. By the 30th the Linnet flock had halved, but Goldfinch numbers had increased to at least 15 and there seemed to be Reed Buntings coming and going all the time; at least 6 individuals were separable on plumage features alone and it was thought there could have been up to a dozen individuals visiting the crop or North Park hedgerow. Surprisingly, over 10 Blue Tits were making forays into the crop from the hedge, along with a Great Tit, half a dozen Blackbirds and a couple of Dunnocks.
The regular commitment by not-for-profit organisation Ambios resulted in 8 Conservation Trainees from all over Europe helping to clear Blackthorn along the roadside boundary on the 29th. Good progress was made in less than ideal conditions.
November rainfall was the second highest since monitoring began in 2001, with just under 200mm recorded. November 2011 was the wettest November overall, with over 270mm. The mean November temperature of 9.2 degrees centigrade this month was also above the average of 8.8 degrees, but not as warm as 2001 and 2015 when the mean November temperatures exceeded 11 degrees Celsius.
The Linnet flock had grown slightly, with an estimated 50 birds in the bird crop on the 3rd. The same day Week 27 of the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) was undertaken in gorgeous, warm, sunny conditions. Two Small Copper provided the colour, a single Clouded Yellow gave things a more continental feel whilst not one but 2 Wall Brown represented the scarcity interest. This constitutes only the 9th and 10th records of this species for the LLP , which typically prefers shorter grassland swards; no surprise then that both individuals were seen on the mown access paths.
The autumn, despite being fairly dry, is still delivering the usual glut of Parasol mushrooms across the field.
Week 28 of the UKBMS transects uncovered at least 10 Small Copper in fine, sunny, unseasonably warm temperatures on the 9th.
On the 10th a CT Work Party tidied up debris from the recent fencing works, then tackled the bramble around the top of the Flo Pond, where the ingress from the River Ashburn feeds in. Later the same day, and in an attempt to increase nesting success for the Grey Wagtails, 2 of the mortar-filled pipes in the Kingfisher Wall were dug out to a depth of about 8″. It is hoped that this more recessed cavity should make any future nesting attempt less obvious to potential nest predators such as Magpies, Carrion Crows and Jays.
A day later the groundworks were started by our contractor to position the new livestock trough in North Park and trench the associated water pipe across Forde Orchard. On the 17th the regular University of Plymouth Student Union volunteer group visited and dealt with the roadside Blackthorn removed in the summer for the benefit of Brown Hairstreak butterflies. A Yellow-browed Warbler was heard calling at this time below the polebox, and constitutes the first record for the LLP of this once much scarcer Siberian migrant.
A Kingfisher was accidentally flushed from around the Flo Pond on the 27th and flew off upstream. As is often the case this was after an overnight frost and may well have involved a bird temporarily pushed off the higher ground of Dartmoor. After a couple of weeks of no activity at the crop, a flock of about 60 small birds were in North Park hedge, most probably Linnet.
Weather data for October revealed the second highest temp in the month since 2006 – 21.3 degrees centigrade (average 19.29; highest 25.2 in 2011) but what is remarkable is that we also recorded the lowest ever in the month -0.2 (average 3.18; previous low 0.9).
One of the presumed released Barn Owls was seen to come out of the roost provision in the roadside polebox mid-afternoon on the 7th. It flew around in a circle as if loath to leave, then over the remnant hedge into Kiln Close where it disappeared. Probably the same bird was watched foraging over the field by the mobile release aviaries at dusk on the 9th before flying off at about 8.30pm.
By mid-month the Poppy, Corn Marigold and Cornflower were all still in bloom.
Both Forde Orchard and the difficult slope next to Corner Wood were brush cut and brush mowed on the 13th. A day later a very vocal Kingfisher was heard calling on the Ashburn from mid-morning to at least lunchtime. It was still being heard intermittently on the 18th.
On the 17th, 10 Limousin heifers were introduced for another bout of grazing.
The large flock of Linnet that had been frequenting the bird crop, up to 300 birds perhaps at its peak, had started to dwindle in number and by the 19th not one bird appeared to be present.
Towards the end of the month, on the 27th Linnets were again back in the crop, with a small flock of between 10 and 20 birds present. This had increased to about 40 birds a day later, along with approximately 60 House Martins over the field.
At the beginning of the month, some Blackthorn removal was carried out for the benefit of Brown Hairstreak butterflies. Keeping in mind it was the bird breeding season, trainees and volunteers from Ambios carefully and diligently removed a section of mature Blackthorn from under the Ash trees along the roadside boundary. Only one unoccupied bird nest was found, a beautiful Long-tailed Tit dome of moss, covered in pieces of lichen.
On the 3rd the now-annual Bat Walk was held with local expert Louise Woolley and 12 members of the general public; Common and Soprano Pipistrelle, and a Myotis species were recorded on the bat detectors on a mild, calm, dry evening.
The monthly Dormouse box checks were undertaken on the 7th. Despite finding another 2 new nests in different locations, there had unfortunately been no progress on the other nests discovered earlier in the summer.
The same day, a male Brimstone, a Gatekeeper and a Large White were all recorded on the nectar strip around the winter bird crop.
By the 9th there were still up to 200 Linnet feeding on the Gold of Pleasure, millet, mustard and Fat Hen seed heads, along with at least one House Sparrow.
On the 15th some of the apple trees received a corrective prune to address leaning for the second consecutive year. Cutting away growth in the direction of the lean in the summer months lightens the load on that side and restricts future growth. Pruning the other side in the winter promotes growth, giving more weight to pull the tree back up straight. It seems to be working.
A pipit flushed from the grassland on the 21st flew away silently, thereby evading specification identification, though a Tree Pipit was heard calling nearby moments later. Also on the 21st, our grazier removed his cattle for TB testing. We may be getting the Belted Galloways back for a bit before the end of the year.
The opportunity to check the Grey Wagtail nests was taken on the 5th whilst there were no adults about. The first nest was slightly flattened so the fledglings seen at the end of last month may have come from there. However, that’s considered unlikely based on the lack of other sightings preceding this event. The second construction was found to be finished but empty. No adults have been seen for a few days now so we fear it may have been abandoned.
Eight people attended the Butterfly Walk, also on the 5th. A good selection of the usual suspects was enjoyed in fine, warm weather, including Silver-washed Fritillary, Comma, Small Skipper, Marbled White, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper and Small Tortoiseshell.
More bracken bashing of the roadside boundary took place on the 6th, the same day that a Meadow Pipit was observed flying out of the bird crop. It sat briefly on one of the electric fence posts before starting to sing in flight, finally parachuting in display down to the telegraph pole above the airstrip. Two Peregrines went over late morning, with one calling for food, so presumed to be a juvenile from nearby.
A Pearl-bordered or Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary was seen well albeit extremely briefly on Marsh Thistle around the Flo pond on the 13th, the same day that a large Great Green Bushcricket was seen in the nectar margin of the bird crop.
The remaining bracken in Kiln Close was topped mechanically on the 16th.
Increasing numbers of Linnets were observed in the bird crop on the 24th; a total of 68 were counted as they flew out of the field in dribs and drabs into North Park hedgerow. By the 26th this number had increased again to nearer 200 birds, estimated by counting individuals in a photo taken of a small proportion of the larger flock. The photo also revealed that the first two Goldfinches of the autumn had joined the Linnets.
On the 31st our grazier brought in 10 heifers for about a month when they’ll be removed for TB testing.
A Red Kite was watched flying south over the field at low altitude down the valley towards the town at lunchtime on the 14th.
Some of the wild bird crop has been in flower this month, notably Mustard, Linseed and Gold of Pleasure. The wild flowers have also started to show their colours, with Cornflower, Corn Marigold and Field Poppy putting on a display.
Our fencing contractor started work replacing the rotten fence posts in North Park on the 18th and will hopefully be finished by the end of the month.
On the evening of the summer solstice on the 21st the Mid-Summer Walk event was attended by 9 people in perfectly warm, sunny weather. Before the walk had even set off a Red Fox was spotted close by walking along a field edge in broad daylight. Towards the end of the walk a Roe Deer appeared out of the long grass and ran across the field down the valley.
Twenty Swifts were joined by a Sand Martin over the field on the 25th, the same day the annual bracken bashing started.
On the 26th, it became apparent that the Grey Wagtails had built a second nest in the Kingfisher Wall. Also the same day the second Dormouse box check took place, with nests found in the same 3 boxes as last month, and a further nest elsewhere. All the Blue Tits appeared to have got away successfully, to be replaced by Wood Mice.
A day later a Goldcrest was in song in Corner Wood, the first singing male of this species we’ve heard since the extreme winter weather events in March.
Our contractor finished the replacement fencing on the 29th, the same day that two fledgling Grey Wagtails were seen on the pond island.
A preliminary visit to check the LLP small bird boxes on the 1st revealed two male Pied Flycatchers in song along the Ashburn, several pairs of incubating Blue Tits, incomplete clutches from both Great Tit and Nuthatch, and a sitting Grey Wagtail in the Kingfisher Wall. There were also 8 House Sparrow nestboxes seemingly in use dotted about the barn with two having clutches of 4 eggs.
The winter bird crop seed had started chitting by the 4th and continues to green up.
Singing Pied Flycatchers had increased to 3 individuals by the 3rd and were all still in song by mid-month – one can only hope some females turn up! The Grey Wagtail was still incubating in the Kingfisher Wall, and the Skylarks were still around the top field.
The first monthly Dormouse box check took place on the 22nd. Rather amazingly the first box that our licensed volunteer Tony checked revealed a Dormouse and nest! What’s even more extraordinary is that box number 2 about 20 yards away had another Dormouse and nest!! And the 3rd box had a nesting Blue Tit!!! All-in-all, a total of 4 Blue Tit nests and 3 active Dormouse nests were recorded across the LLP – a fantastic result for the 25 new Dormouse boxes erected in the winter (see January and February below).
The Grey Wagtails appeared to be doing okay in the wall, or at least hadn’t been predated, by the 23rd.
Up to 4 male Pied Flycatchers were in song until the month’s end but weren’t using any of the small bird boxes. This was presumably due to an absence of females, although brief views of a bird inspecting a nestbox on the 27th might have been a prospecting female a tad late to the party. Nevertheless, we’re lead to believe that nest building can still take place into early June so we”ll carry on checking for a few more weeks yet.
A count of the bulbs in the orchard on the 5th revealed at least 17 daffodils in flower with a further 32 plants not in flower this year. This included both snowdrop and daffodil leaves.
Three Skylarks were chasing each other around the top of the field at the beginning of the month and were still very vocal until at least mid-month.
On the 12th it was just about warm enough for Week 2 of the butterfly transect. This recorded 4 Peacock, 2 Comma, and 1 each of Small Tortoiseshell and Green-veined White. A Green Woodpecker was yaffling in the background and two pipits were in the grass at the top of the field but eluded specific identification by generally showing badly and staying silent when accidentally flushed.
Also on the 12th, the winter bird crop area was flail mowed for a third and final time. This area was then ploughed on the 18th, on the first beautifully warm, dry day of the spring, leaving a generous field margin against North Park hedge.
A Dipper, only the second record of this species this winter, was in song on the Ashburn for much of the day on the 18th and again briefly on the 20th.
A Pied Flycatcher was briefly in song in Corner Wood at lunchtime on the 19th and the winter bird crop area was twice harrowed in the afternoon. The very next day the Conservation Team sowed the AB9 bird seed and wildflower seed by hand. This was a mix of triticale, barley, wheat, mustard, linseed, forage rape, dwarf sorghum, white millet, Japanese reed millet, red millet and gold of pleasure, as well as Cornflower, Corncockle, Corn Marigold and Poppy. It was then harrowed over a final time a day later.
Subsequent monitoring of the area has revealed use by birds already including a flock of the red-listed Linnet, a pair of Mistle Thrush and the amber-listed Stock Dove, as well as Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit and Chaffinch.
A pair of Mallards has been seen on the ponds over consecutive days towards the end of the month.
A small group of international volunteers from Ambios attended on the 8th and burnt up the brash from the North Park hedge. More orchard apple trees were pruned the same day, with another batch on the 9th.
After the appalling red warning ‘Beast-from-the-East-meets-Storm-Emma’ weather last week, lots of birds are back in song again; all three thrush species, three tits, Siskin, Chaffinch, Grey Wagtail, Treecreeper, Robin and Dunnock.
Apple tree pruning continued in the orchard on the 9th, running into the following week. Skylarks had started singing at about this time and were in song throughout the month, and on into April.
Another group of volunteers from Exeter visited on the 13th and did a wonderful job of finishing the laying of the hedge above the workshop, as well as cutting scrub out of the hedge in front of the solar panel arrays.
On the 15th a new camera post was set up looking towards the proposed site for the winter bird crop. This area was subsequently flailed a day later, and again on the 25th in preparation for ploughing, raking and drilling next month.
Another 9 metres of the North Park hedge was laid on the 7th, whilst the Hazel stand in Force Orchard was coppiced.
The pond abstraction system continued to cause problems with a slight blockage on the 9th that was probably the result of mud washed downstream, but this was easily rectified.
On the 16th a Roe Deer was sitting in grass by the roadside polebox as the first of the spring’s Skylark’s was in song above the lower part of field. Scrub was strimmed around the roadside polebox, outside and around the back of the orchard top hedge, and around the wildlife tower. Another 8-9 yards of the North Park double comb was laid.
More Dormouse boxes were erected on the 20th, raising the total number on site to 25. Two more small mammal nests were found; one was probably a Wood Mouse nest, though a Common Shrew was in occupation in the box at the time of its check. Five more are planned for an adjacent woodland site where Honeysuckle is common.
The February group of volunteers from Plymouth University came on the 21st and tidied and burnt up the brash from the hedge-laying behind the barn, and along North Park, as well as the bramble strimmed in various places the previous week.
The apple trees on the upper slope in Forde Orchard received their annual pruning on the 22nd, when a Dipper was heard on the Ashburn for the first time in over a year. A pair of Stonechats was on the vole quadrat posts just above the orchard the same day.
The orchard and slope by Corner Wood was brushmowed on the 12th.
The abstraction system got a bit of attention on the 19th as the ingress had slowed into the Flo pond. Brushing off the pipes in the river and wiggling the pipes in the reservoir seemed to do the trick and full bore was re-established in quick time. What looked like an old Grey Wagtail nest was found in the nearby implement shelter.
The first clumps of frogspawn had appeared by the 21st, and by the 23rd there were huge clumps of it in both the Flo and Oakley ponds. Comparative spawning dates are below, showing that this is the second earliest since 2008:
- 21st January 2018
- 30th January 2017
- 24th January 2016
- 27thJanuary 2015
- 24thJanuary 2014
- 30thJanuary 2013
- 19thJanuary 2012
- 4thFebruary 2011
- 9thFebruary 2010
- 28thJanuary 2009
- 23rdJanuary 2008
It seemed a good idea to check the friability of the Kingfisher pipe mortar, and this was found to be eminently excavatable. We just need a pair of Kingfishers to take up residence now.
Another 6 yards of the North Park hedge was laid on the 23rd with the help of a volunteer (thanks Ollie). The first Celandine was in flower, and a very early Small Tortoiseshell flew over the hedge at lunchtime. Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Blackbird were all noted in song during the day.
Pond management at the end of the month involved pulling Reed Mace from the Flo pond, an important measure to maintain open water.
As part of our Dormouse site enhancement work 18 boxes were erected around the LLP. During this work another Dormouse nest was discovered in an existing box in Corner Wood; leaves cut into small pieces and mixed with fine pieces of Honeysuckle bark, with whole leaves on top. A Woodcock was flushed from Corner Wood nearby.
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