Wildlife Reports 2017 (Thanks to Gill Massey and Paul Arthur)
November Autumn is now marching steadily towards winter and the orchard wildlife getting its collective head down in preparation for colder weather. Very little activity in the pond now, even the pond skaters have disappeared. The newts will have found somewhere sheltered to hang out in semi hibernation. They will emerge in mild weather on the lookout for anything worth eating. A few weeks ago, a sunny day produced quite a variety of birds. They have shed family responsibilities and grown some smart new feathers to see them through the winter into next springs mating season. Starlings, sparrows, blackbirds, goldfinches, bluetits and robins were all active and calling or singing. A lot of finches and tits gather in big mixed groups at this time of year. No doubt some of this year's youngsters will be learning the best places to find food. A few flowers were attracting Red Admiral butterflies. It seems to have been a good autumn for them. Convolvulus, dandelions, white dead nettle and wild toadflax were all providing some late food, but the winners in the nectar stakes, as ever were the ivy flowers. On a sunny day especially, these can be literally humming with bees, flies, wasps, hoverflies and butterflies. Now the flowers are nearly all gone and instead colour comes from the rosehips and hawthorn berries and the yellow of the field maple leaves. The mild and damp weather has allowed an abundant growth of the Many zoned Polypore on two of our log benches. This is a common bracket fungus with bands of brownish grey, dull green and rust with a cream growing edge. It has given our benches a somewhat frilly look which is probably not all that comfortable to sit on. However it can be knocked off the wood quite easily. Although winter is advancing, today on the 19th November, our orchard bees were moving briskly in and out of their hives laying up stores for the cold days ahead, so obviously finding a source of nectar and pollen somewhere. Soon the first severe frosts will see them staying sensibly in their hives.
July Summer has been progressing well for our orchard wildlife. The tadpoles have disappeared from view in the pond. They have either turned into little frogs or succumbed to peckish dragonfly larvae on the prowl. There must have been quite a few of these, as over the last few weeks we have seen many of their larvae climb out onto any vertical stem to hatch out into their final (and more flashy) phase of life still as a top predator. They seem to be mostly Broad Bodied Chasers, always our most common dragonfly. Other smaller and more delicate nymphs appearing on lower stems and leaves are from the blue Damselflies which we have seen flying and mating over the pond in sunny weather.
In the long grass young grasshoppers have been hatching and growing over the summer. We discovered a lot of these when scything the meadow area recently, plus a few adult frogs rather put out at having their nice, cool, damp home removed. Luckily we have lots more lovely long grass for them to hang out in. Our local robin and blackbirds were down onto the cut sward in minutes to take advantage of the newly opened up patch full of invertebrates.
Butterfly sighting have been patchy with quite a lot of Meadow Browns and a few Ringlets together with occasional Tortoiseshells, Peacocks, and Red Admirals. If we get some southerly winds there is always a chance of a Clouded Yellow coming over the Channel.
Today, up at Jubilee Green on our regular working morning, we came across a Great Green Bush Cricket in the long grass. As their name suggest they like to live in bushes and undergrowth. They lay their eggs in the soil where they overwinter to hatch next spring. The adults are spectacular to look at, and although this one was silent (possibly from shock), they can make quite a loud noise.
The earlier wildflowers including our yellow rattle have set seed but the purple loosestrife and meadowsweet near the pond are doing well. Knapweed and betony provide some later colour and nectar, and after the recent rain some of the earlier flowerers such as the ox-eye daisy will often have a second flush of blooms, but with the apples filling out, seeds setting, and spiders becoming more noticeable, the season is definitely looking like late summer.
April: Spring is definitely here and our wildlife pond is full of, well, wildlife. Last Sunday the sun brought out many of its watery inhabitants. Lots of newts were in evidence, often in pairs performing their complex mating displays. The adult frogs, having done their bit in producing numerous tadpoles, are taking it easy and were spotted lounging about with just this heads above water either chilling out or sunbathing, and not taking much notice of passing humans. Their tadpoles are growing apace and often found basking in the warm water at the edge of the pond. They had better watch out though as we spotted a Great Diving Beetle, probably a female which is duller in colour than the male, moving among the water plants. These beetles, which can be up to 35mm long, and their larvae, are ferocious predators tackling anything from small fish downward with tadpoles high up on the list for lunch.
On a less gruesome note, an investigation of the remaining plastic compost bin revealed three slow worms enjoying the heat that builds up inside. We were also visited by a Speckled Wood butterfly which had probably recently hatched from an overwintering pupae, and was appreciating the dappled shade of the hawthorn. Celandines, primroses and white dead nettle are still in flower and other plant growth is speeding up with the lengthening days, in particular our precious yellow rattle, which is now quite visible in the grass. It won’t be long now before the May blossom is coming out.
9th March:Breaking news, or should that be hatching news? We now have tadpoles, as quite a lot of our frogspawn has just hatched into tiny black commas which are wriggling in a seething mass on the pond surface. I’m sure that, in the deep dark depths of the pond, the dragonfly larvae are waiting to enjoy a tadpole lunch. As ever though, there are enough tadpoles around for some to make it into adult frogs. Some adult frogs and a newt have also been spotted. Our solitary pond skater has now been joined by some friends, and the whirligig beetles have put in their usual energetic appearance whizzing about on the surface of the water. Good news too on the plant front, as the first tiny seedlings of the yellow rattle we planted late last summer are coming up in the meadow area. Hopefully this will do its job of weakening the ever vigorous grass and allow some wildflowers a bit of elbow room. Sadly we found a dead juvenile hedgehog in the second compost bay from the left. It is thought that hedgehogs that don’t have time to mature in the months leading up hibernation are rather vulnerable.
5th March:We were in the Orchard last Sunday enjoying some sunshine and were pleased to find our wildlife pond now has masses of frogspawn. During the winter, the orchard group took some expert advice and cleared out a lot of encroaching vegetation from the pond. Bullrushes and yellow flag iris were threatening to overrun least one end of it. We had some concerns about possible disturbance as this was the main area for frogspawn last year. However our froggy friends have not taken offence and have come back to a slightly different area which will, we hope, shortly be heaving with tadpoles. While we were admiring the frogspawn a solitary pond skater put an appearance, a party of long tailed tits flew through, the celandines and primroses and gorse were in flower and the first green shoots have appeared on the hawthorn. Spring is gradually making her presence felt.