Never Seen That Before…..

Strange happens…

Over the many years of observing wildlife I’ve heard the phrase ‘never seen that before ‘ uttered many times either by myself or my friends with me. To me, this is one of the joys of studying wildlife and I always know that I will never be bored because there so many facts concerning the wildlife that is around us and without the best memory of our own observations or having so much time to continually observe wildlife we can never know everything about all the species that are present around us. The chance of observing something new is always a strong possibility whenever you go out to look for wildlife and if you see something new it often means you will learn something new as well.

After saying all that, sometimes you get to see things by people telling you of their observations. Over my many years of observing wildlife I have often looked at wildlife that others have told me about. The well-known grapevines amongst birdwatchers have existed for many years and have spread to many other groups of wildlife enthusiasts such as butterflies, dragonflies and moths. These days with internet, mobiles, pagers and various other modern communications; news of wildlife sightings can be shared with potentially thousands of people. However sometimes the old-fashioned way of people actually talking to each other still works and the other day this proved the case when my partners daughter returned home to inform me of loads of large moths in a tunnel by the playing fields in the village. After harassing me for a while, I walked down to the village with her to be directed to said tunnel. I jumped down into the nearly dried out stream and entered the tunnel and turned on the torch on my phone and was amazed to see a large number of Old Lady moths roosting on what you would call the roof of the tunnel.

The Old Ladies

My first word was ‘ wow ‘ quickly followed by ‘ I never seen that before ‘. Previously I had only ever seen single individuals and was unaware that they roosted communally in tunnels near water. I have learnt quite a bit about this species since I observed this roost the other day and the information that was given was by a teenager has also amazed me! It all goes to show that you can never be sure of what you can see out there and its sometimes worth investigating information that people give you as you could see something new or different.

Beauty closer

I was very happy and grateful to observe these Old Lady moths and it re reminds me that you never know what you can see in the natural world. Keep your eyes and ears open and you never know what could happen out there.

For the people ?

One of the privileges of older age, for me, is that I get to walk round wonderful places with wonderful people. Walking a new or familiar place on your on is one good thing but walking in the company of someone who is “part of” a place is just a whole different experience. You share part of the vision and experience of a much more informed and passionate friend whose enthusiasm is thankfully all too apparent.

Over the last couple of weeks amongst my regular haunts

Wey navigation
Evening light

…..and some wonderful wildlife at home

Small Copper

…..some more familiar than required!

Visitor at Work

I have walked with friends at Richmond Park and Norbury Park. Both are, on paper, greatly protected public open spaces but both are sadly showing the signs of the pressures created by the reductions in funding at the “pointed end” of service delivery and conservation need.

It is an admittedly personal view but one of the serious problems with conservationists is that we tend to be nice people who don’t want to cause a fuss. We, the public, get outraged by “obvious” harm to the countryside and wildlife like say, the threat posed by fracking or a new housing development or even fox hunting BUT the more insidious and obscured threat that financial cuts and neglect present to our environment is often ignored completely or invisible, packaged in political rhetoric.

It staggers me that no real comment has been made in response to the Chair of Natural England, Tony Juniper, admitting there is insufficient funding to properly manage the “in house” National Nature Reserves. These are a big share of the  premier wildlife sites in the country. Within the conservation sector this fact has been accepted as reality for some years but now its out there on the wider stage what’s the response from the establishment? Deafening silence, and I don’t believe that’s just because of other priorities (can’t think what!), more that most politicians, local and national, seem to regard the countryside as verging on the irrelevant and a financial burden that shouldn’t fall on the public purse.

In London!

Richmond Park as a Royal Park was funded directly from government but now the Royal Parks are managed by a charitable organisation that receives much reduced direct funding. Yes, the Royal Parks have for years raised income from activities and properties and yes the Royal Parks have become pretty expert in this area of fundraising but, and it is a huge but, though the overall budgets for running the Parks have remained fairly stable the money available for the pointy end of service delivery (rangers, estate workers, policing ) has diminished and will continue to decline as the costs of fundraising and property management increases. This isn’t rocket science, its inevitable when you, in essence, shift funding from direct taxation to a much more indirect tax (charity fundraising and income generation). Crudely you get less bang for your buck! The irony of all this is its seems many politicians believe that making new charities to undertake those jobs that they regard as superfluous saves money, FOR WHO EXACTLY? Taxpayers? I think not.

Glorious Richmond veteran
The other side

Richmond Park is a simply amazing place, full of seemingly impossible contrasts. Herds of large deer and the violence of the Red deer rut surrounded by the most cosmopolitan London. Ancient trees, wonderful flowers ..

Harebells in the grass

We also saw hunting Hobby and nesting terns, Sand Martins and Black Headed gulls.If you haven’t been go, go and walk away from the crowds, its a little piece of wildness amongst all the civility.

Don’t go and behave like the fools we witnessed.

Well meaning stupidity? Or selfish risk taking?

Less budget for service delivery means less police and less rangers which means more illegal parking and more people approaching too close, even feeding, large potentially dangerous wildlife. Without bodies on the ground to educate and to enforce if need, then numbers of fools increase.

Norbury Park, once viewed as the jewel in the crown of the Surrey County Estate , faces a different set of challenges but the root causes are very similar to those at Richmond park. Central as a cause of continued challenges is the abrogation of responsibility by the landowner using the same mechanism of shifting the management of the countryside to the charity sector.

Norbury view

The agreement between Surrey County Council and Surrey wildlife Trust is approaching 20 years old but for the past few years a small number of councillors have decided to renege on the spirit of the agreement and push for  reducing the “cash” contribution to £zero. I am very aware of the political justifications put forward but my bewilderment and anger is that the implications of this action are ignored and even worse disguised with empty rhetoric from ignorant politicians who continue to promote 2 falsehoods; the countryside in Surrey can pay for itself and they, the politicians, know how to achieve this. Defying advice and simple common sense seems to have become “de rigueur” for many politicians together with a complete unwillingness to consider that they might be wrong. For me an admission that a person was or is mistaken is NOT a sign of weakness but of strength and to be both respected and applauded.

So what difference does less money and hence less staff with often less knowledge actually make?

At Norbury Park I would point to the lack of detailed management like at the view point above. The view is now obscured by scrub, one of the benches is now viewless! As a conservationist the signs are there that lack of management affects Biodiversity, the open areas need to be regularly cut to maintain the quality of sward (in the absence of rabbit or domesticated stock grazing).

Ever diminishing Harebells

The remaining pockets of chalk grassland should be managed or they will disappear, with all the attendant species of insects.

Downland glade barely holding on.

Beginning to rage too much so I will write a short post about the wonder of Norbury Park but just want to finish this  on pointing out another problem of lack of funding, the push to use the countryside to produce an income even though it conflicts with what we, the people, have as an image of that countryside.

There is an important conversation to be had to try and answer the questions

How do you adequately fund the management of publicly owned protected countryside?

Is it a legitimate expenditure of the public purse and tax revenues?

 

 

 

Big and small beauty

Please don’t let any conservationists or naturalists like Francis and I bully you in to thinking its essential to be able to identify everything!

For me its taking pleasure in things both big and small, place and the wildlife encounters that you experience. The place can be a small reserve like a chalk pit recently visited which felt extra special as very few people know of its existence and even fewer visit.

Nature given a chance to reclaim.

Sitting quietly among orchids and flowers it would be easy to believe in sprites, it just felt like a space outside normal life, profoundly peaceful.

Did I spend my time trying to identify all the plants and insects? Nope, just drank in the ambience. Yep sounds a bit hippy but assure you it works for me!

Land of sprites?

In contrast to place, it can be individual species or a collection of species that are the attraction.

South of Dunsfold are a group of woodlands and forestry plantations that are well known for the butterflies found there. I’ve written about the birds encountered in these woods, Nightingales included, but a recent visit was to hopefully see a legendary butterfly. The place itself, Botany Bay, is not high (or even on!) my list of beautiful places but there is no doubting the sense of anticipation aroused by an intended visit.

On this occasion there were several other hopeful naturalists, passed by tolerant local dog walkers. The dream, well, to see one of these.

The glory that is a Purple Emperor

Treated by naturalists for many many decades with an almost reverential awe I had never glimpsed more than a flash of a high speed individual before this fantastic creature was tempted down on to a forest track with a cocktail of unmentionable substances placed by a well informed Emperor “addict”. Their life cycle and behaviour is worth reading up on, you may be truly amazed.

Small beauty maybe but completely entrancing to the small group of observers that gathered.

Francis hooked!

There were more, honest!

Intimate close encounters like this allow consideration of the staggering beauty of the form of individual species. From all angles.

Yes we also saw Wood Whites, White Admirals, Silver Washed Fritillary, and many more species. Although the woods are not the most attractive place to walk (limited views, openness or exposed water like streams) the terrific variety of species of butterfly and the rarity of some of the breeding birds are proof that the partnership approach to management adopted here works for biodiversity. It does probably help that these woods are a little off the beaten track, not particularly close to housing or even a main road.

Bucking The Trend

As we have now actually experienced some typical mid-summer weather in the last couple of weeks, I made the most of my not enough spare time and got out for a few expeditions and at four of the sites I visited, one species seemed ever present and that was the Marbled White butterfly.

This striking butterfly has been a joy to watch on areas of unimproved grassland and open chalk downland areas along the Hogs Back. I saw my first ever Marbled Whites over 30 years ago at a chalk site called Folkestone Warren in Kent and remembered being impressed with this eye-catching yet subtle at times species. I’ve had the pleasure to work at a number of sites where they occurred and have always been impressed by their colours and behaviour.

In my recent wanderings I have been really pleased with the numbers of individuals that were on the wing and at one site along Hogs Back well over 150 were present and we also saw them on the grass verges along the A31 as we went home. The visit to Broadstreet Common near Guildford was nothing short of spectacular with 100s being present. It was almost an idyllic image of high summer in an English flower meadow; idyllic apart from the roar of the busy main road only a few 100 meters away!

Me and Steve who was with me, remarked on the good numbers present. I recalled a paper I had read recently saying unlike many butterfly species, Marbled White is a species that is spreading and increasing in numbers in this country.

 

Before we look at why this species is doing well in the UK it’s probably worth pointing out a few facts about this eye-catching species. Its name for a start is misleading although understandable as Marbled Whites are not even in the same family as Large, Small and Green Veined Whites which belong to the family called Pieridae. Marbled Whites belong to the family called Satyridae which contains mainly brown species including Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers and Ringlets which are species that are often seen alongside Marbled Whites. There habitat preferences are similar to with unimproved grasslands often being popular for all of these ‘brown’ butterflies. All of the species just mentioned lay their eggs on various grass species and the Marbled White prefers Red Fescue and Sheep’s Fescue although has been recorded on other grass species. These fine leaved grasses provide the caterpillars with all the food necessary to reach a size to pupate. Marbled Whites over winter as caterpillars and are at a very vulnerable at this part of their lifecycle as disturbance of sites can be life threatening during cold winter weather. They normally bury themselves in grass tussocks in cold weather. If they survive the winter they begin to feed on new grass growth in the spring. They enter pupation late May and early June and can be seen as adults from late June through to August.

So, what has happened in the UK over the last 40 years to create the spread and explosion in numbers in recent years. When I was a teenager and first started taking a real interest in butterflies, I associated Marbled Whites with chalk downland and read that it also occurred in Limestone and sand areas as habitats of preference. Since those days this species has spread into new habitats like the previously mentioned unimproved grass land areas. Broadstreet Common near Guildford is a site I have known of for nearly 30 years and it is only in the last 10 years that Marbled Whites have occurred there. So why is this happening? The answer is a very familiar one and probably won’t shock you to find out the biggest reason for the spread of the Marbled White in the UK over the last 40 years is the heating up of our planet. This is the key reason why there are more about nowadays and to a smaller part their colonisation of different habitats as Broadstreet Common shows driven by the warmer temperature we have been experiencing in recent times. Butterflies across the world are feeling the effects of global warming already as the Marbled White and several other species in the UK are already showing. I feel caught between a rock and hard place over this issue as watching the Marbled Whites has been a brilliant experience and to have seen many so close that you could see the slight variations in the markings between the male and females’ butterflies, the male being smaller and darker than the larger females with their brown/orange hues on the undersides of the wing being noted.

Only in the future will we see how far the effects of global warming can affect our insect populations. I do advise you to go and have a look at some Marbled Whites if you get the chance for they are beautiful butterflies and should be on the wing for a short while yet for you to find them and it’s worth checking the grasslands near you to see if any are about. Good luck and enjoy

And There’s More

It seems summer is reasonably intent on remaining glorious or is the wet summer just waiting for the school holidays?

Most birds are in scruffy mode, adults a bit worn out and in need of a moult and young birds gradually changing in to adult plumage. In the garden, woodpecker year has continued with the arrival of the Greens feeding on the numerous ant nests in the turf.

Thought I had someone with me?

To me, there is something endearing about woodpeckers appearance, they always seem to look rather “too sincere” or , less politely, a little dumb. It might be to do with their rather direct gaze but I love them.

 

There you are!

Over a number of days the spotty young bird was taught and fed about ants nests. As I write the young bird is now flying solo and seems to be making a good job of mining ants.

Surprises round the house has included one inside when I noticed a gem like wasp trapped on the inside of the window above my desk! Though I have seen these wonders in the garden they are usually so active, bordering on frenetic, that they are impossible to photo. As you can probably deduce being caught inside allowed photos whilst covered by a glass.

Ruby Tailed wasp

Even the photos I have don’t really do justice to the amazing colours. Beauty can’t disguise behaviour as they are parasites on other insect species, this one I think on solitary bees which nest in my brickwork. Tiny but definitely a designer insect for everybody!

The flower meadows on Broad Street have moved in to a further glory with mass Knapweed attracting hundreds of Marbled White butterflies.

Butterfly heaven.

There are definitely losers amongst the natural world as the UK experiences climate change but there are also the occasional winners. Marbled Whites used to be an uncommon species, a special sight when I was young, but this year numbers really are exceptional.

Enjoying the blooms.

Broadstreet has provided surprise after surprise. Round the corner from the meadows is a woodland glade that has been managed “by accident” as it follows the line of some electricity pylons and stretches of path. The first time I have walked down this path, ridiculous as this sounds after 25 years of living locally, to immediately encounter a sunbathing White Admiral butterfly.

 

My wife was thrilled and Francis was well chuffed on subsequent visits to see not just the White Admirals but the orange glories that are Silver washed Fritillary’s.

In fact we have now seen 14 species of butterfly which for a local patch is really wonderful. patience and  a bit of sun really pays off but do remember there are losers in the fallout from climate change. Just for 1, ask yourself when you last saw a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly?

Surprises haven’t just come butterfly shaped or flower shaped. met an old friend Brian whilst walking round the meadows and he showed me an unusual tree in the adjacent woods.

Wild Service Tree

Thanks Brian! Hope to write a little piece about this “stranger” in the woods so I’ll leave it here for now.

Have a Close Look

A couple of weeks ago I was looking at bees in the reserve and one caught my eye. I instantly knew it was a species I was unfamiliar was and after a little research and help it was identified as a Tree Bumblebee. I was pleased as it was a new species to me and helped to add more information in my quest to learn about bee identification and their habits and requirements. They are very handsome bees with a unique colour formation amongst the UKs Bumblebees. They have a very gingery fury thorax and its very eye-catching and was the feature that drew my attention to it originally. So far, my observations have all been made of individuals feeding on flowers in the reserve and I have seen them seen them feeding on 7 different flowers so far.

I did some reading up after seeing them on my reserve and discovered a lot of interesting facts about this species.

This attractive Bumblebee has only been recorded in the UK from 2001 when there were first sightings were at a Wiltshire site. Since its arrival it has done something that most other UK bee species are not doing, increasing and spreading rapidly, and is already in southern Scotland and Ireland. It doesn’t seem to be slowing down much in spreading and will probably be seen throughout the UK within a couple of years. I had least 3 feeding the other day out the back on the reserve.
The effects of this species have yet to be studied properly but a positive effect can be seen already with the fact that they will pollinate other plants and flowers. With the drop-in numbers of other bee species, additional plant pollinators are to be welcomed.

Their name comes from their original choice of nest site but now it seems that nest sites can include; bird nest boxes, loft space in houses and even specially built bee nest boxes. They have also been known to use holes in the ground like many of the other bumblebees and this shows that they are an adaptable and opportunistic species. In other parts of their range populations can reach the arctic circle. From the looks of things, and with the continued warming of the climate, it looks like Tree Bumblebees will keep spreading. I’m quite glad as I think they are an attractive and helpful specie to have around in the UK. We shall see what long term affect their presence will have on our countryside.

Keep your eyes open in your gardens and you may well have some around you.

Babies and Blooms

Sadly I have the kind of mind that readily gets distracted by the politics of life, but over the last few weeks, following a series of family dramas, pleasure and peace has been found in the living world which surrounds all of us. Rather than write a logical and sequential piece about walks and wildlife, thought I would simply share a rather random number of thoughts, experiences and encounters. Late May and early June is the time for young birds and hopefully a display of natures fecundity.

Couple of weeks ago my wife, good friend Jo and myself repeated a walk, in reverse (always a good idea, looks and feels rather different) starting at Cutmill.

Cutmill Grebe

Woods a little quieter as many birds are now in the midst of breeding and spending less time on singing but the lake busy with breeding birds. There were already a couple of family groups of mallards with very small ducklings and interestingly there were 2 pairs of Tufted ducks.

Mallard family by Steve Duffy

Though the Bluebells were over, and much of the hedgerow blossom, the Surrey countryside feels rich and burgeoning at this time of year.

Near Shackleford

There is such simple joy in encountering  and observing the living world so don’t walk with me or my ilk if you want to get anywhere quick! Though I am impressed at those who use walking as serious exercise or as a means to get some where I am always going to want to stop and stare. A long walk with me means time , not distance!

Our garden, like many others, is full of young birds and very harassed parents. Poor weather has meant fat balls and sunflower seeds are disappearing at an incredible rate! Both feeders are designed to restrict the size of the feeding birds (Jackdaws are capable of emptying normal fat ball feeder in under an hour!) and I am amazed at just how many birds you can squeeze in to a cage feeder with the record so far being 12 tits! As usual our tits, Great and Blue , have apparently done well but the entertaining surprise this year has been a Great Spotted Woodpecker family that successfully bred in a very neat hole made in an old apple tree. One of the young birds has remained in the garden and still continues to be fed by mum, whilst generally lounging about.

Waiting in the sun for food

If birds have character……..

What to do when bored

Persistently lazy and incredibly persistent in calling for mum, who has cleverly figured out how to access the fat balls (upside down from underneath!), this young bird even survived a collision with our back door.

My head hurts!

Yes, that is our door mat.

Pleasingly both the House Sparrows and Green Finches have returned to the garden as breeders but no Starlings or Song Thrushes this year. It’s also now the second year without a cuckoo around which coincides with a lack of Whitethroats in our hedgerows. Might be a link but declines of species are as a  result of complex factors and rarely a single pressure. It is clear that, locally, there is a shocking lack of Swallows, Martins and Swifts.

To repeat myself, larger birds doing well often disguise the underlying trend, downwards.

 

Little Egret in Chobham stream

It is however a real thrill to sit outside our back door and watch a Red kite spiral to the ground and pick up food scraps!

Red kite by Steve Duffy

Whatever the reason it does seem that this year and its weather has proved to be great for triggering flowers whether its on hedges with fantastic blackthorn and hawthorn or wonderful Cowslips and meadow flowers.

Our usual visit to the Hogs back illustrated this “bloom” year with unexpected and rather large Bee Orchids.

To further surprise me (or so it felt!) I then glimpsed some purple in a roadside verge on our return journey which the following day proved to be dozens of Pyramidal orchids.

In close up….

I suspect this verge has by chance been missed off a mowing schedule as the verges along the Hogs back have been cut, leaving a couple of similar orchids in the long grass away from the road. So unexpected were these glories that I submitted a record to find that they had not been recorded before!

Some flowers are much less obvious but on closer inspection just as beautiful. Nearby Broad Street common is clearly going to outstanding for grassland flowers and hence, if the weather gets better has huge potential for butterflies.

On a recent stroll I was surprised at the number of a little often missed vetch

Flashes of fuschia pink

On closer inspection…

Grass Vetchling

More flowers more butterflies

My first Common Blue this year

And more moths…

Forester Moths

In between the showers do get out and look, you will find little gems like these.

 

So Far

A year ago
A wall of scrub

 

This morning I was looking at the reserve and assessing the work that I need to do. I noted that there was a total of 15 flowering species out and thought t to myself that none of these species were growing here a year ago. I then remembered the date and realised that it was exactly a year to the day that I started working on the site and it seems a good time to chart the progress of impact my work on the local wildlife.

Today
Room for flowers and beasties

The aforementioned flowering plants have not only bought colour to the site but have attracted a host of insects to the area. A total of 9 bee species have been recorded at the site so far and in the last week I have noted various species feeding on the flowers that I had planted in last 12 months. Bees were one of the many reasons for creating this site and it has pleased me to see the variety of species present. Hopefully even more species will be seen with further habitat improvements.

Buff Tailed Bumble

Being quite an obvious group of insects, they are quite easily seen and one of my neighbours recently said that he had never seen so many bees in the area as he had in last year. This is the kind of thing I wanted to create and for my neighbour to say this recently means that my habitat improvement is working in a relatively small space of time.

White Tailed Bumble

It is a basic understanding that flowers will attract insects and insects will attract more insects which in turn will provide food for larger life forms such as birds.

Loved up Craneflies

Again, birdlife has become more obvious since the clearance and replanting began. The clearance of the woodland area has created some space and even though I haven’t had my bird feeders going for a few weeks now there are regular visitors to the cleared area including Jay, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush occasionally and the local Stock Dove dropped in early one morning recently. There are the regular common species ever present and I have a pair of Wrens in the pile of brash that have been feeding young but sadly the local Robins chicks were killed by cats. Its hardcore out there.
In the management of woodlands, the areas with most biodiversity are the woodland edges and although it is very early days in improving the woodland area there are signs that the local wildlife is reacting and benefitting from the changes I have made. Over the course of next winter more work shall be undertaken to try to improve the area. Birds are similar to bees in the fact that some species are very obvious and again this has been noted by my neighbours and I’m having regular conversations with them about the birds that they have seen out there. As I said earlier when my neighbours are remarking on the wildlife, I know that the big plan is coming together.
As I reflect over the progress over the last year I am starting to put together species list of the different wildlife families that I have seen in and around where I live and its starting to look quite impressive with 47 Macro moths, 11 butterflies, 53 birds, 7 mammals, 3 Hoverflies

Marmalade Hoverfly

and the aforementioned 9 bee species. To me this is just the beginning and I again have a feeling of hope for the well-being of our environment in the future when I looked at what I have achieved over the last year. Now all we need to do is start serious habitat creation on a much larger scale and is a government responsibility. I wonder how much they have been listening in recent months. Us everyday people can start the small-scale change in our gardens, if you have one, as I have been doing. My project is on-going and I still have many hours of work ahead of me but if the improvements in the wildlife keep occurring I’m more than happy to carry on and we shall see what the next year brings.

Progress

Today I realised that I hadn’t I hadn’t reported on the new reserve for a number of weeks now and I also realised many changes had occurred since I had last written about it, that I’m not sure where to start this piece but will go with the important and traditional word about the weather.
So, I’ve reported about how warm the winter was and saw some of the plants in the reserve staying green throughout the cold season. So, the cold weather that moved over the country from mid-April into early May then proceeded to slow down plant growth and many of the seedlings I had planted struggled to grow. These particularly cold night really held back the growth and was only relieved about a week ago with the arrival of some warmer conditions. The reaction of the warmth was the kick started the plants and many species put on rapid growth and some came into flower to join the already flowering Green Alkanet and Common Forget Me Knot. I was encouraged to see plants that I had sown or planted coming into flower for the first time.

Ragged Robin

These new flowers included ones that I had bought as plugs and ones I had grown from seed and I as write this there is the beginnings of an array of colour with Cut Leaved Cranesbill, Ragged Robin, Birds Foot Trefoil, Charlock, Red Valerian, Germander Speedwell and the first Common/Black Knapweed all coming into flower in the 10 days. It was not only the new flowers that were growing but a whole host of unwanted plants, commonly called weeds, we’re proliferating in places and I have spent a good few hours trying stop their invasion and will have to keep doing so in order to give the new flowers a chance to establish themselves.

Birds Foot Trefoil

 

Cut Leaved Cranesbill

In the second week in April whilst talking with my neighbour I discovered that the boundary of the garden/reserve expended into the woodland on the bank behind the flats. This news sent me into a lot of thought about how this area could be connected with the area that I had already started trying to manage for wildlife. The woodland is a mix of broadleaved trees with everything from Pedunculate Oak, Hornbeam and Sweet Chestnut to the more common Sycamore and Ash. These last two species were shading large areas of the new reserve and gardens bordering it. After a couple walks in the woods I found a few old Hazel coppice stools that had been abandoned and grown leggy and old Hawthorn that had been chopped down every few years and done the same. I decided that removing some of the Sycamore and Ash would help some ground flora grow and I could try to create a small area of Hazel coppice that would give the wood land in general more biodiversity. The aforementioned cold weather had held the plant growth up and I felt there was enough time to take some of the trees down and I borrowed an electric chainsaw and spent a few hours taking the shade offenders down. When I took the Ash trees down I discovered that they had the Ash dieback disease Chalara and were destined to die before I felled them. I had better say that I have been trained in the use of chainsaws and looked at health and safety before under taking the work. I only did a few hours work because the leaves started to appear and there were Blackcap and Chiffchaff using the area and I didn’t want to scare them away. They do still seem to be holding territory in the area and the male Blackcap even sat on the pile of brash I had piled up and sang the other day. The woodland work has been started and will start again in the autumn once the birds have stopped nesting and the plants have died back. Exciting times ahead.

Charlock

Other wildlife sightings have also been encouraging and hopefully are showing the improvements in the local habitat. I was up early one morning and observed a pair of Jay’s feeding for 15 minutes on a whole host of food from animal to vegetable. The Jays were joined for a little while a Song Thrush who was then chased of by a male Blackbird whilst a Mistle Thrush sang in the woods behind. There have been quite a few Bullfinch sightings and I’m fairly sure they are breeding in some bramble scrub on the edge of the woods…

White tailed bumblebee

There have been a couple of interesting insects seen with a Grey-Patched Mining Bee seen on a dandelion on April 25th and a Lesser Stag Beetle on the May 21st.

Lesser Stag Beetle

Up to 5 White Tailed Bumblebees have been seen on a number of days using the few available flowers that were present and I’m hoping that with the emergence of more flowers they will in turn attract more insects to the area. We shall see what happens.

Hope to Reality

The state of our planet is very big in news at this point in time and the potential extinction of many species is also being widely discussed. This is starting to happen already and I have watched many species here in the UK decline during my lifetime and still declining wildlife has to struggle or cling on to survival.
This last point hit me hard four years ago when I paid a visit to little site I knew that contained Nightingales. Now Nightingale are a migratory species that arrive in the UK in mid to late April and the male birds sing their famed song to attract a mate. They were always on the edge of their European range here in the UK but numbers have been falling mainly due to lack of decent habitat for them. So, every site that is being used is a precious site for this species. On that May afternoon four years ago, I arrived at the site to find that the whole area where the birds had been singing had been cut to the ground and there were no birds present. I was pretty angry to say the least.

I visited the site in the following years and there were no birds present. Some of the cut down vegetation had started to regrow and a couple of years ago I wondered whether the Nightingale would possibly return because of improvements in the habitat. And so, to last Monday when I found myself back in this place and whilst 6I was looking around the unmistakable song of a Nightingale erupted from a scrubby area. I was delighted and very quickly made some notes of what the bird was doing and where it was singing. After 20 minutes I moved off and was left with a few questions in my head. Where the bird had been singing was an area where I had never recorded them before. I had seen them close to this area in previous years but not in the corner where I had refound them that day. This area had been scrubbing up with Brambles and Blackthorn over the last few years and these two species are known to be favourable to nesting Nightingale. I’m hoping this is a breeding pair and they will stay and breed successfully. We shall see.
This episode reiterated the point that if suitable habitats is present it will be used by wildlife, common and rare alike.
Many species that have undergone population declines in recent times could be helped with a few comparatively simple measures and this example of the Nightingale shows this well with good habitat availability being available.
I am old enough to remember the times where many species were far commoner than they are today and I know that nature has the capability to recover if given the chance and opportunity. This can only happen if land management and wildlife laws are radically changed. We shall see if the new political pressure makes any improvements so we can still hear the incredible song of birds like Nightingales in years to come