Wildlife reports, 2016

Thanks to Gill Massey and Paul Arthur for these reports

The sunny weather for our working morning last Sunday, 9th October, led to some wildlife sightings.
There are still a few pond skaters on the pond hoping for some hapless insect to land upon the water and provide them with lunch. Also on the lookout for an insect meal were a couple of dragonflies. They didn’t stay still for us to identify them but were probably Emperor dragonflies which we have seen here before. The only other contender of the same size would be the Common Hawker.
A Speckled Wood butterfly and some Red Admirals were making the most of the sunshine. We have some yellow toadflax and red campion still flowering in the wildlife area, but at this time of the year, the ivy flowers are the main attraction. In a sunny spot particularly you can find flies, hoverflies, bees, wasps, and butterflies all enjoying the last big nectar feast of the year.
While we were removing the contents of an old compost bin in the wildlife area (carefully in case we disturbed any slow worms), we found instead several newts of varying sizes. We quickly relocated them to a new home in an undisturbed area with some compost to burrow into. Newts do not hibernate fully in the winter, but hide away somewhere frost free, emerging on mild days to forage for food, usually slugs, insects and spiders. Hopefully we shall see them again on the pond next spring.
Gill Massey
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There has been a continuing presence of blue damselflies over and around the pond. Our frogs have wandered further afield, and some had a narrow escape when they were discovered in the long grass by our scythers. The pond also provides a welcome source of water for bees and wasps who regularly come down to drink.
Most of the birds are moulting at the moment, growing their new feathers to see them through the winter. Their mobility is somewhat impaired, and in consequence, they are skulking in hedges until most of the new feathers come through.
Grasshoppers are abundant where the grass is longer and we need to make sure that we don’t cut all our grass too short. Butterflies are also enjoying the better weather after the cold and damp of early summer. Red Admirals, Tortoiseshells and Speckled Woods have been seen as well as the Large and Small White whose caterpillars have nor doubt been happily munching on the assorted brassicas so thoughtfully provided for them by neighbouring allotment holders.
The recent rains have meant that some of our wildflowers, mainly red campion and ox eye daisies, have produced a second flush of flowers, all useful to a variety of insects as the number of flowers decreases with the season.

June: plenty of damselflies, red and blue, around the pond!

10th May
On our working morning last Sunday, we were clearing out one of the old compost bins made from pallets which is no longer in use. This had to be done carefully in case of any wildlife living in it. We found only two slow worms as we finished removing the debris, so left them in peace. Shortly afterwards a toad crawled across the bottom of the bin in a leisurely fashion and disappeared into the long grass nearby. We don’t usually find many of these around so it was a welcome sight. Earlier we discovered some fungi growing in the decaying straw in the bin. They had yellow caps and white stems, and after some research I think they may be Bolbitius vitellinus, which according to Roger Phillips is quite common and grows on rotting straw.
The first May blossom is out, and this along with the apple and pear blossom will keep our bees busy on sunny days.
3rd May
On a visit to the Orchard wildlife area today, we found lots of the yellow rattle we sowed last autumn coming up among the grass. We hope its semi parasitic feeding on grass roots will help to weaken the grass growth and allow some wildflower planting. This is a long term plan, and, here and in the main orchard, we are still some way off a flowery meadow but we live in hope.
The pond is very lively with lots of pond skaters whizzing about on the water’s surface. One had a confrontation with a spider on a water lily leaf. The spider gave way first and made its way across other leaves to safety. We still have lots of tadpoles who have now moved to all areas of the pond. I inspected them as closely as not falling in the pond would allow, and they don’t appear to have grown any legs yet so we will have to wait awhile for little frogs. We saw quite a few dragonfly nymphs, small and large. The large ones have probably been in the pond for two years and will probably turn into adult dragonflies this summer. They are most likely broad bodied chasers
* as these seem to be our most common species. One was making its way in a leisurely fashion through the water with a tadpole clamped firmly in its jaws. Either a late breakfast or early lunch.
* see wildlife 2014 for photos
14th March
At the work party yesterday I had a look at the pond and our frogspawn has nearly all turned into very small tadpoles with definite heads and tails. They were a bit comatose when we first saw them, but there had been a frost the previous night and the water must have been rather chilly. Luckily most of the spawn had been laid at the sunny end of the pond, and as the sun gained strength there was quite a lot of lively wriggling going on. Let’s hope no passing heron spots them!
28th February
We were down in the wildlife area last weekend ( 21st Feb) and found a good quantity of frogspawn amongst the plants at the northern end of the pond. We also counted twelve little froggy heads poking up above the water. These were probably males waiting for more females to arrive. They were obviously rewarded as we were there again today and found a lot more frogspawn among the weeds and alongside the dipping platform. No little heads appeared so it looks like all the activity is over. So far, the cold weather doesn’t seem to have had any detrimental effect so we are looking forward to a froggy spring.
The celandines are putting on a cheerful display of yellow flowers, and the first green leaves have appeared on the hawthorns in the hedge.
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