Managing our wildlife haven – known as the Lennon Legacy Project or LLP – for Barn Owls, has created diverse habitat for a wonderful array of native plants and flowers, insects, butterflies, birds and mammals.
Find out how we look after our Barn Owl habitat and share the monthly highs and lows of wildlife sightings, unpredictable weather and practical conservation work.
More about our Wildlife Diary.
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‘Transforming intensively grazed sheep pasture into Barn Owl Heaven’.
On the 9th, four volunteers from the University of Plymouth Students’ Union visited to help with some practical conservation work. They spent the day very productively, cutting back the scrub from around the solar panel arrays. On the day a Kingfisher was heard calling on the Ashburn.
The Linnet flock had dropped off to about 90 birds on the morning of the 16th, with 2-3 Dunnocks and a similar number of Wrens taking advantage of the crop invertebrates. The Linnets were busy feeding on the Fodder Radish seeds, of which there appears to be a good supply. The sunflowers don’t look ready quite yet but hopefully they should attract good numbers of Goldfinches and Chaffinches this winter. A couple of Song Thrushes and 3 Redwings went overhead west first thing.
By the 3rd the flock of Linnet had increased to about 90 birds, with a Blackbird seen flying out of the middle of the crop for good measure. The Sparrowhawk seen last month had apparently been successful, as plucked Linnet feathers were found by Pennsland Lane hedgerow the same day.
The next day a juvenile Grey Heron was optimistically standing on top of the Kingfisher Wall; it flew off down the valley after a short time. A Hobby was also seen low over the top of the field on the same walk.
By the 13th the Linnet flock had grown considerably. Two separate flocks flew from the crop and joined together above it about 8am, swirling overhead, when an estimate of 500 birds was made. Also recorded in the crop, at least 3 Stonechats differentiated on plumage characters and a couple of Dunnocks.
Later the same day the orchard received its annual cut with the brushmower, and its summer prune of the leaning apple and soft fruit trees.
The orchid patch in Kiln Close was brush mowed then brushcut on the 18th, with the arisings raked off. A shorter sward should give next year’s orchids a much better start and we’re hopeful we’ll get more flower spikes, but only time will tell.
Volunteer Helen Calver and her son Andrew conducted the last bat emergence survey of the season, also on the 18th. A Common Pipistrelle seen leaving the lower void and re-entering twice whilst still daylight, with a further 4-5 foraging passes also recorded overhead. In addition there were passes by a probable Daubenton’s and a (Brown) Long-eared. Most unusual was a Linnet seen trying to get into the tower at dusk, which it eventually did, presumably to roost!
On the 19th, 250+ Linnets, 5+ Chaffinch, 5+ Chiffchaff, 2-3 Dunnock, a Robin and a Stonechat were in the crop.
By the start of the month the Dwarf Sunflowers had started to come out and by mid-month they were an absolute picture. Also ripening were ears of Wheat, Barley and Triticale, and Fodder Radish seed pods.
At least 20 Linnets were in the crop by mid-month, and by the 23rd this had grown to a flock of over 30. This is far fewer than a year ago, but with a different seed mix this year we knew it wouldn’t be the same. The way the sunflowers are coming along the crop should attract large numbers of Goldfinches, Chaffinches, and hopefully as winter sets in, some Bramblings.
A Sparrowhawk was being mobbed over the field by a flock of small birds on the 18th. These were almost certainly part of the growing Linnet flock from the crop, as the presumed same Sparrowhawk was seen hunting low over the crop the following day.
Two recently fledged Meadow Pipits were seen in the vicinity of last month’s displaying adult on the 1st, confirming breeding in the LLP again. Just as exciting, the Tawny Owl nestbox check in Corner Wood revealed a recent nest debris, covered in feathers, most notably Jay and Blackbird! We’ll be checking this box a little earlier in the spring next year…
On the 2nd, 17 people attended the Butterfly Walk. In almost perfect conditions, good numbers of the usual suspects were recorded, including Marbled White, Meadow Brown, and Large and Small Skippers amongst others.
The Creeping Thistle Research Project gathered pace in this, its first year, with the prescribed management measures within each quadrat. Bracken control was also carried out on the slope by Corner Wood, and on the upper and lower slopes of the orchard, also on the 4th and again on the 10th.
Week 14 of the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme revealed 46 Small and 49 Large Skipper, 181 Marbled White, 297 Meadow Brown and 59 Ringlet, along with 1 Silver-washed Fritillary, 4 Painted Lady, 2 Red Admiral, 1 Small Tortoiseshell. The transects cover just 10% of the LLP so this means there were probably over 6,000 individuals across the site as a whole!
By the 18th the Fodder Radish in the bird crop was going to seed, just as the Corn Marigold flowers were reaching their zenith. They will continue to flower well into the autumn.
As the month drew to a close a Small Heath was recorded in Week 18 of the UKBMS constituting only the 5th record for the LLP.
The month started promisingly with several sightings of a Kingfisher along the River Ashburn and around the ponds on the 4th and again on the 13th. Although it would be nice to think it was a prospecting adult looking for a nest site the chances are it’s a dispersing juvenile. Nevertheless, it may well return next Spring with more intent, should it survive the winter.
The first Linnets were recorded on the 11th, with about a dozen birds in the 2018 crop margin to the north of the cropped area. The 2019-sown plants appear to be doing well despite the lack of sunshine, so Red Clover was undersown on the 14th.
Also on the 14th, a large chestnut female Tawny Owl was setting off the local Blackbirds and Jays as she flew around Corner Wood for some time early afternoon. Remarkably, what was thought to be a male also put in an appearance later on, with both birds seen sitting in the Tawny Owl nestbox at various times. A Tawny Owl was also seen flying from the box at around 4pm on the 17th.
The second Wildlife Tower Bat Emergence Survey was conducted on the 23rd. Although a little quieter than last month’s survey, 2 (probably Brown) Long-eared bats and 1 Common Pipistrelle emerged from the Wildlife Tower, with an additional Common Pipistrelle, 2 Noctules, 2 Greater Horseshoes and 1 Lesser Horseshoe bat heard but not seen nearby.
By the end of the month the continent-wide Painted Lady influx had reached Waterleat, with at least half a dozen (no doubt a gross underestimate) recorded on the 26th. The Forage Rape is now in full flower across the crop, with the first White Mustard flowers and Corn Marigolds.
On the 28th a Meadow Pipit was song-flighting over the top of the field.
The month started well with a defensive Roe Deer hind in the field seeing off anything that came too close; presumably her fawn was in the grass nearby. A Cuckoo was heard calling not far away at the same time, sadly a very unusual sound these days away from the high ground of Dartmoor.
On the 3rd a Marsh Tit was found in a cavity in an Elder bush in Forde Orchard, with at least one bird going in and out with food. This is the first Marsh Tit nest most of us have ever seen and we were surprised by how exposed it was, with very little surrounding vegetation to provide cover for the nest hole.
A male Pied Flycatcher was in song in adjacent woodland throughout the month, audible from the orchard.
The first Wildlife Tower Bat Emergence Survey was conducted by for us by Ecologist Helen Calver on the 18th. She recorded 2 Common Pipistrelle, 2 Long-eared bats (probably Brown Long-eared) and 1 Lesser Horseshoe Bat emerging from the Tower. Heard but not seen were 1 Greater Horseshoe Bat, 1 Myotis sp. (possibly Daubenton’s), 1 Barbastelle and 1 Noctule. This was a fantastic insight to what is using the tower and adjacent hedgerows on site.
On the 22nd the area by Corner Wood, which always scrubs up with bramble during the growing season, was fenced off ready for the goats to move in. Hopefully this will be a more pragmatic way to manage scrub encroachment in this area.
The first Dormouse nestbox check took place in the LLP on the 28th by our volunteer Tony. Tony has undergone training that allows him to check the boxes under licence, as Dormice are a European Protected Species and cannot be disturbed without one. Out of the 25 nestboxes erected in the hedgerows and woodland, 5 had Dormouse nests, either finished or under construction, which is a great start. We absolutely struck gold in one of these boxes when we found not only an adult female but 4 young (called pinks)! The female weighed in at a healthy 20.5 gms, after which she was returned to the nest where she settled down immediately with her babies. Several well-feathered broods of Blue Tits had also found the boxes to their liking along with a couple of Wood Mice and a Common Shrew!
After a slow start to the month with cold winds from the north the Easter weekend was beautifully warm and sunny. With rain in the forecast the following week conditions looked perfect and so the new bird crop was manually sown onto the warm soil on the 23rd. This year the mix consists of;
40kg Organic Wild Bird Seed Mix (70% Organic Spring Wheat/Barley, 20% Spring Triticale, 5% White Millet, 2% Red Millet, 2% White Mustard and 1% Fodder Radish), plus 5kg Dwarf Sunflower and 4kg Quinoa.
A wildflower mix of Corn Chamomile, Corn Marigold, Cornflower and Common Poppy was sown amongst the ‘crop’. Once this has started to establish in a couple of weeks’ time we’ll undersow with a non-agricultural variety of Red Clover.
Also on the 23rd, the first UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme transect was walked. The survey actually starts at the beginning of April but the weather had not been good enough previously, or at least, any good weather hadn’t coincided with staff availability. All the same, 2 Peacock, a male Orange-tip and a single Green-veined White were a reasonable result in rather touch-and-go conditions.
Last year we decided to conduct an experiment to see if we could increase the size of our orchid ‘patch’. Last autumn we strimmed short and then raked off a small area around the single orchid that seems to come up every year in Kiln Close. For the first time ever we have more than one this year. In fact, four flower spikes have now come up in this small area, presumably as a result of this management.
On the 5th, a male Stonechat was catching invertebrates in the bird crop, another new species for the project, where there were still 6 Goldfinches, 5 Reed Buntings, a Chaffinch and a Red Fox. A Skylark was in song over the top of the field.
A pair of Mallard appeared to be taking advantage of the frogspawn in the Flo Pond on the 7th, and again on the 10th. By the 19th they were looking extremely settled.
By the 12th, and despite the very wet and windy conditions, both Skylark and Meadow Pipit were in song, the latter in and around the crop.
The electric fence was removed from around the crop on the 19th, in preparation for necessary works before re-sowing. The rest of the apple trees also got their winter prune the same day, albeit a little later in the month than intended. With Spring definitely feeling like it was on its way, it was no surprise to see two male Brimstone on the wing. The Red Kite that lazily flapped south, then west over the field mid-afternoon was more unexpected.
All the hedge-laying brash was carefully burnt up on the 13th and again on the 20th, on the latter date with the help of the regular University of Plymouth Students’ Union Group.
With almost all the winter visitors to the bird crop gone by the middle of the month, the cutting started on the 20th, and was finished on the 26th. By the 28th our contractor had ploughed the area ready for harrowing and eventual sowing next month.
With the beautifully warm, still weather at the end of the month, butterflies were well represented, with Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock being recorded in good numbers throughout the site.
At the month’s end a pair of Grey Wagtails was around the Kingfisher Wall and the Flo Pond island.
The month started with several centimetres of snow and sub-zero temperatures. Half an hour’s observation at the bird crop on the morning of the 1st saw all birds keeping very low, flying infrequently and feeding voraciously. Numbers counted included 50+ Linnet, 10++ Reed Bunting, 5+ Goldfinch and 5+ Chaffinch, though it felt like there were many more keeping a low profile within the crop itself. However, the real excitement came in the afternoon with the arrival of a splendid adult male Hen Harrier for about 20 minutes. It had clearly been displaced from the higher moor by the snow. Nevertheless, it was seen to chase the bird flocks in the crop, before lifting gracefully over woodland to the north and again finally disappearing.
Rather astonishingly, 6 days after it put in its first appearance, the male Hen Harrier was seen briefly again, quartering the top of the field before disappearing off eastwards!
By mid-month the weather was so mild it had tempted 4 Brimstones and a Peacock butterfly out into the warm sunshine. The highest confirmed count of Reed Bunting of the whole winter was made on the 15th, with 21 watched flying into the North Park hedge one-by-one.
A pair of Mallards was on the Flo Pond briefly on the 17th but no sign since.
Another 10-12 yards of the North Park hedge was laid on the 21st in glorious conditions; Brimstone, Peacock and the first Small Tortoiseshell of the year were all seen floating past.
As the month drew to a close the numbers and variety of birds in and around the crop had dropped off dramatically, with only a handful of Reed Bunting and precious little else on show. The Meadow Pipit flock had also completely disappeared from the grassland, all presumably tempted back prematurely onto breeding territories by the unseasonably warm conditions.
As consolation for the drop in bird numbers at least butterflies were well presented, with Brimstone, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral all recorded.
After a fairly wet November and December, January started dry but significantly colder with a mean temperature of 4.9 degrees centigrade for the first 3 days compared to a mean of 9.1°C in December. The cold weather brought large flocks of Linnets and Goldfinches in to feed on our 2.5 acres of winter bird food crop. We also had our usual flock of around 30 Meadow Pipits feeding on the rough grassland.
Amazingly, on the 3rd, there was still the odd Cornflower flowering on the edge of the crop and Forage Rape in flower too.
A systematic count of birds visiting the bird crop on the 4th revealed a site record 18 Reed Buntings, counted in the North Park hedge adjacent to the crop. In addition there were approximately 140 Linnet, 15 Chaffinch, 15 Goldfinch and the LLP’s first record of Yellowhammer; a female sitting in the North Park hedge with Chaffinches.
Weather station data for 2018 was downloaded and compared with previous years. Most worryingly, mean temperature for 2018 was above the average for the period (2007-2018). Indeed, this has been the case for each of the past 5 years.
On the 10th some remedial work was carried out on the stream between the two ponds to fix several leaks through the bentonite pond bed at the stream mouth. This appeared to be successful although there still appears to be some minor works to be carried out to the stream bed further down.
Bird monitoring on the 11th revealed 13 Reed Buntings together in the North Park hedge. However, there were birds coming and going all the time and the feeling was there may have been up to 20 individuals of this species present. No sign of the Yellowhammer this week, but there were about a dozen or so each of Chaffinch and Goldfinch, and over a hundred Linnet.
On the 15th another 8 yards of the North Park hedge was laid, and with three other sessions scheduled in the near future we’re hoping to get a significant amount done to this stretch before the Spring.
On the 20th of January, frog’s spawn was observed for the first time this year in both the ponds in Forde Orchard. These are the first-of-the-year dates for frog spawn which have been recorded over some previous years:
- 20th January 2019
- 21st January 2018
- 30th January 2017
- 24th January 2016
- 27th January 2015
- 24th January 2014
- 30th January 2013
- 19th January 2012
- 4th February 2011
- 9th February 2010
- 28th January 2009
- 23rd January 2008
The alders on the pond island were coppiced on the 22nd and the reedmace around the stream egress was pulled, both necessary measures to protect the integrity of the bentonite and the open water nature of the ponds. A Grey Heron flew over around midday.
The annual apple tree pruning got underway on the 29th, with the first half a dozen trees dealt with.