Wildlife in the Orchard 2021 Thanks to Paul Arthur for the reports click on the bars on a tab below to open and read
As the days are lengthening, and the temperature slowly but surely rising, the wildlife in the community orchard is beginning to wake from its winter slumbers with clear evidence that spring is well and truly here! We are delighted to be able to report that a large mass of frog spawn has recently been spotted in the wildlife pond. In a few weeks time, this will have turned into a seething mass of tiny tadpoles, which in turn will develop into small frogs which will be venturing forth in late summer. The wildlife area is maturing very nicely. There is a clump of perfect daffodils at one end, which is enough to brighten up anybody’s day, and a large patch of wild primroses in the bog garden area. The yellow Celandines are flowering profusely, and are now at their peak. These are some of the earliest wild flowers to be seen, and in favourable conditions can be seen as early as late December, and even then can be attracting honey bees, eager to get at their valuable nectar. There is an old hedge at the southern boundary of the orchard, which unfortunately had contained several non-native shrubs and trees. We recently severely trimmed back the fast growing non-native sycamore, and removed several cotoneasters, which are not particularly wildlife friendly. In their place, we have planted 30 saplings of native hawthorn, hazel and rowan. These will be nurtured over the coming season, and in a few years' time the berries of the rowan and hawthorn will provide vital sustenance to birds, and could even attract winter migrants such as redwings and fieldfares. Our three beehives are all showing much activity, and the attraction of the nectar from the many orchard wild flowers, will ensure they are available to fertilise the blossom on our fruit trees in April and May. We eagerly await the distinctive call of the chiffchaff warbler, which should soon be heard singing from the ash tree near the pond, and which in the past has been spotted ferreting about for insects during the winter months. We believe that there are a few of these normally migrant birds that are choosing to overwinter around the community orchard.
We are now in high summer, and after a very wet and cool May and June, the recent hot weather has at last allowed nature to do some catching up! The prolonged cool weather earlier in the season was not good for our insect populations, and butterfly numbers have been much reduced. Also, the various species of butterfly have been emerging up to two weeks later than usual. However, numbers are now increasing.
We have a reasonable number of Meadow Browns flying around our orchard hedgerows and meadow area, and more recently the Ringlet, an attractive dark brown butterfly has been seen too. This butterfly is unusual in that it is one of the few that is often seen flying in dull and damp weather, and sometimes even when it’s raining! I am now spotting my first Small Skippers of the season, which are orange/brown in colour, and are often seen gathering nectar from the Knapweed plants that are scattered through the meadow area. We are still seeing Common Blues, which rely on the Bird’s-foot Trefoil to give food for their larvae, and these plants can be seen dotted about the meadow.
We are cutting the meadow on a rotational basis. We started scything in early July, with a view to completing the whole area by mid to late August. This way, the flowers of the Yellow Rattle which are now just going over will have had time to set their seed, and that characteristic ‘rattle’ will be a sign the seeds are ready to fall to ground to provide plants for next year, a process enhanced by the act of scything. We are saving the most wildflower rich areas until last, and it is here that I’m already seeing the Common Field Grasshoppers, with their ’song’, a series of short chirps.
Although our songbirds are beginning to go quiet as they approach the moulting season, the swifts are making their presence felt by their distinctive shrieking calls, and on my recent visit to the orchard in brilliant sunshine, they were flying low over the apple trees catching insects in flight, and making a great spectacle.
The pollinator bed (next to the beehive enclosure) is full of wild flowers, which include Lady’s Bedstraw, St.John’s-wort, and Ox-eye Daisies. These in turn are supporting many insects with their nectar, and are being frequented by our resident bees and the butterflies.
We have spotted quite a few slow worms this year, often nestling in our compost heaps, and have already seen some fully grown frogs, some of which lurk in the meadow area hunting for their prey of slugs.
The pond is a wonderful sight at the moment. The tall and dramatic Purple Loosestrife not only provides nectar for the insects, but is also a convenient location for the dragonfly nymphs to climb out of the pond and attach themselves to, where their adult phase of life takes place as the dragonflies emerge from their casings. Again, dragonfly numbers are down this year, but I recently saw a Common Hawker, a large blue and green insect that patrols the area hunting for its prey of small insects. We also have a good number of Blue Damselflies flying over the pond too.
The apples on the trees are beginning to fatten up. The combination of mown grass paths that enhance the longer grass of the meadow area makes for an area of varied habitat that is favoured by many different types of wildlife.
The orchard is a wonderful place to visit at the moment, a relaxing haven close to the centre of town, and is a joy to behold!