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’.
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.
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.