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Wildlife Notes

Read Terry and Susan Dove's monthly wildlife notes from Little Barton Farm

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Little Barton Farm Wildlife Notes

November 2017

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Written by Terry and Susan Dove   

The total monthly rainfall was  49.5 mm with a  maximum daily rainfall: 14 mm (11th). Maximum temperature was 15°C  on the 1st  and  3rd, while the  coldest day was 5°C  on the 30th. We recorded fog on the 2nd and 3rd, and frosts on the mornings of the 6th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 25th, 26th and 30th; during the afternoon of the 30th there were some snow flurries which failed to settle.

There were only a few first-sightings during the month, including an exceptionally rare brief sighting of a stoat’s head poking out of a hole in a railway-sleeper bridge to our wood on the 3rd, and a few fairy ring champignon fungi on the woodland floor on the 15th. Apart from that there were only three late-season species of moth, a mottled umber on a lighted porch window (11th), a December moth on a wall below the outside light (20th), and a winter moth on the porch door (25th).

Our wildflower species continued to decline, with the last dark mullein on the 3rd and rough hawkbit on the 4th. We then lost the knapweed and herb robert on the 12th, and nipplewort on the 19th. This leaves us with the occasional red deadnettle, dandelion, common daisy, sow thistle, tall melilot and oxeye daisy going into December.

With the month providing somewhat inhospitable weather for dragonflies and butterflies, we only saw the migrant hawker dragonfly until the 2nd, and common darter until the 10th. Also on the 10th we had our last sighting of the red admiral butterfly. 

Despite this being a season of bird migration, we have not added to the previous 47 species of wild birds recorded so far this year because they were here in the spring. On the 22nd we were visited by 17 canada geese, which now come and go as they please. There were also 22 mallard ducks, but this number usually swells when the ponds freeze over. In the last week we noticed a huge increase in birds visiting our feeders, with blue and great tits in perpetual motion on the peanuts and fat-balls, and even the resident jackdaws behaving like tits on the peanut feeder. Every few minutes a nuthatch landed upside down and disappeared with a whole peanut in its beak, while goldfinches swapped positions with blue tits on the niger seed. On the ground, chaffinches picked up the spilt niger seed, while dunnocks, like little mice, furtively mopped up the crumbs from the bird seed

The most visible signs of autumn into winter are the trees and hedges. It must be said that they vary in their progress not only between different species but also within the same species. Thus, at the time of writing at the end of November, there are some oaks recorded as “bare”, while a small number of others still retain a fair proportion of their leaves. Our observations show that some oak trees had a full brown tint to their leaves on the 4th, hazel had turned yellow by the 9th, and some hawthorn, beech and silver birch had reached their full respective brown, copper, and yellow by the 11th. Finally, some field maple were bare on the 2nd November, and some hornbeam and wild cherry on the 5th. This was followed by the horse chestnut (14th), hawthorn (17th), oak (21st), hazel (22nd), silver birch (23rd), and beech (30th).                                                                               


October 2017

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Written by Terry and Susan Dove   

The total monthly rainfall in October was 30.5 mm with a maximum daily rainfall of 6 mm  on the 20th.. The hottest day of the month (16th) reached 21°C whilst the coldest days(30th and 31st) fell to  13°C. October was a rather windy, cloudy month with 18 days having  100% cloud cover for at least part of each day, and a further 6 days having at least 75% cover. It was generally mild with overnight frosts on the mornings of the 28th and 30th. 

As usual during October there were few first-sightings to be seen. We recorded the crane fly Tipula paledosa on the 14th, having failed to see it with the more plentiful Tipula maxima during spring. Similarly, we noticed a pine ladybird (also called the 4-spotted) on the 15th  (see photo) having failed to see it in spring, when the more plentiful 7-spotted ladybird was first active. Our final first-sighting was a grey moth of the Epirrita sp. on the 25th,  three of which we disturbed in the wood and were almost certainly November moths.

Wildflowers have died back progressively throughout the month until there are now only a few species left in bloom, We lost bird’s foot trefoil on the 6th, watermint on the 9th, and fleabane on the 11th. Later in the month we saw our last red clover on the 28th, plus yarrow and white deadnettle on the 29th. We have also continued removing creeping thistle flower seed-heads throughout the month, and seem to have now completed this task for the year. We believe we have 9 flowering species left on site.

Butterflies are very dependent on the presence of sunshine and wildflowers, and have thus declined accordingly. Our last small white was on October 5th, followed by green-veined white and common blue on the 14th. Next day (15th) came our last small tortoiseshell and peacock, speckled wood on the 17th , and large white on the 19th. We have not seen the comma since the 25th or small copper since the 27th, but the red admiral has been prominent throughout the month, especially around an apple tree in our garden where drops are still plentiful.

Dragonflies too have only appeared in small numbers during the month, and we have had to be very diligent in hunting them down. Cloudy skies mean only fleeting glimpses of sunshine, so they are in hiding for much of the day. Our last ruddy darter was on the 19th, and southern hawker on the 20th (see photo). This leaves us with small numbers of common darters and migrant hawkers going into November.

This has been a stuttering month regarding autumn colours on our trees and shrubs. As early as the 1st there was considerable leaf-fall due to strong winds The effect of this was to remove the autumn-tinted leaves from the trees and deposit them on the ground. Thus, the trees which started their autumn colours early soon become bare, while those which coloured later continued to look green instead of a combination of green, yellow, orange and brown. Our photographs of the poplar and the oak, taken on October 16th (mid-autumn) dramatically show the result of this process.

On 11th October the first ash trees were showing full autumn colouring, with some of the hornbeam following on the 16th. Horse chestnut leaves turned their familiar full brown by the 25th, and wild cherry leaves were red by the 31st. First trees to lose all their leaves were the poplar and ash on the 16th. This coincided with the deposition of sand from the Sahara and pollution from the forest fires in Spain and Portugal during the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia, which turned our sun dull red. Some elder were also bare by the 28th.

The unidentified wave moth referred tin the September report was later identified as a willow beauty.



September 2017

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Written by Terry and Susan Dove   

Total monthly rainfall was 40mm with a  maximum daily rainfall of 15 mm  on September 28th.

The maximum temperature (hottest day) was 20°C on the 6th while the coldest day of 15°C  was on the 17th. September was neither too hot nor too cold; too wet nor too dry. It produced green pastures, but made no noticeable difference to the very low pond-water levels we have witnessed this year. The main feature, Storm Aileen, struck overnight into the 13th, depositing yellow and green leaves, twigs, and small-to-medium sized branches on the fields and woodland floor.

This month we have six first-sightings, several species still on-site, and also a report on the progress of autumn, with its subtle changes of colour and form. First-sightings includes a square-spot rustic moth in a lighted porch on the 8th, a devil’s coach-horse beetle under a reptile-shelter on the 9th, an angle shades moth on an indoor curtain on the 11th, and a stinkhorn fungus, living-up to its name, in our wood on the 12th . The list was completed by two more moths, an unidentified wave moth in the upstairs bathroom on the 24th, and a Herald moth on a (darkened) garage ceiling on the 25th (a new record for our site).

There were at least 16 wild flowering species still on-site, although their numbers are gradually dwindling. These included some of the vast numbers of knapweed, fleabane, watermint, yarrow, and bird’s foot trefoil, plus a large cluster of oxeye daisies. For these, we shall start listing last-sightings next month. The flower needing the most management here is the creeping thistle, a plant which is hugely beneficial to butterflies and moths. We manage this by a combination of pulling, cutting, and de-heading manually. In addition to its creeping root-system, it multiplies by producing masses of wind-blown seeds, which we collect daily as the flowers begin to die off and before the seeds depart. We also try to prevent the seeds along a 50 m stretch of the verge along our lane from blowing across our fields, and, in doing so, have collected two carrier bags-full.

Still with us at the end of the month, were many insects, including butterflies such as the small, large, and green-veined white; small copper, common blue, comma, red admiral, small tortoiseshell and speckled wood. Dragonflies include the migrant hawker, plus common and ruddy darters, both of which were egg-laying on the 30th. It is possible that the brown and southern hawkers, last seen on the 28th, will also re-appear during October. Also on-site are many crane-flies, and the buff-tailed bumblebee. Other creatures include slow-worms, common toads, and wood-mice.

Familiar indicators of autumn’s onset are falling ripe conkers ( 6th); yellowing leaves on blackthorn (3rd), ash (10th), field maple (11th), oak (14th), beech (27th), and red leaves on wild cherry (17th); plus complete leaf-colouring of a poplar on the 16th (yellow), and field maple (orange) on the 28th.

Aside from the effects of Storm Aileen on the 13th, natural leaf-fall began on elder (6th), and oak (21st). By September 30th, these, together with maple and the earlier poplar, hornbeam, and hazel, were forming a noticeable covering of leaves on the ground below. 


August 2017

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Written by Terry and Susan Dove   

The total monthly rainfall this month was 57.5 mm; the maximum daily rainfall of 16 mm was recorded on August 31st. A maximum temperature of 27°C was recorded on August 29th while the previous day was the coldest day (14°C). There were 20 days when the maximum temperature was 20°C or more, and 11 days when it was below 20°C. The driest week was between the 21st and 27th August when only 5 mm of rain fell.

We are not aware of any further species of wildflower blooming this month, so our wildflower total for the year remains at 62. However, on the 8th August, a continuous loud humming among the purple blooms of the knapweed led us to discover what must have been a whole colony of honey bees gathering nectar. Perhaps a new beekeeper has moved into the area. By the 25th, the bees had moved on to the fleabane, leaving a flock of about 30 goldfinches feeding on the remaining knapweed seed-heads. On the 10th, by which time 24 mm of the month’s rain had fallen, several fungi had appeared in the woodland and around field-edges, including common funnel, parasol, and birch polypore. More of nature’s “fruits” continued ripening this month, with many hawthorn berries being ready by the 14th, acorns dropping on the 24th, dog rose-hips softening by the 28th, and sloes a deep purple by the 30th. On the 25th, we photographed two hop plants – one male, the other female (see photographs), which have “escaped” from our hedgerows and occupied two separate areas between the house and its surrounding path.

A male emerald damselfly, probably the last of our 19 species, appeared among soft rush beside our lake on the 16th. As autumn progresses, dragonfly species are beginning to disappear. By the end of the month, we only had 8 species on site (blue-tailed, red-eyed, and white-legged damselflies; common and ruddy darters; and brown, southern, and migrant hawkers). With no new butterfly species appearing during the month, our total remains at 24. By the last day, 8 species remained, including meadow brown, common blue, small copper, large white, small white, green-veined white, red admiral, and clouded yellow. The comma (29th) and painted lady (28th) may also re-appear next month. The 6 new moths which appeared this month bring our total to 47 species so far. On the 16th, the micro, brown plume moth, which we have not seen before, appeared on the inside of our kitchen window, where it remained for a fortnight until ushered out through an open window. On the 19th, we found a grey dagger moth (see photograph) on our Velux roof-light window. We have not seen this moth before but had recorded a grey dagger moth caterpillar on 4th September 2010. On the 21st, a micro-moth of the Crambus species (probably C. perlella; see photograph) came to light in the front porch accompanied by a small square-spot moth (kindly confirmed by Keith Palmer). The 23rd produced a setaceous hebrew character moth in the porch, while a pale eggar moth appeared inside the lighted porch window. Susan went to get my camera, and as I focussed it on the moth, it unexpectedly flew straight down towards the floor. The dog beside me opened its mouth, and “snap!”, it had eaten it!

On August 29th we discovered that the swallows which raised two broods of young in our garage had departed on their migration south. It is highly likely that we will see other swallows over the next week or two, as some usually stop to feed above our lake on their way to Africa 

At 8.30am on the 31st August, an autumn mist, illuminated by a brightly-rising sun, highlighted hundreds of glistening spider- webs in the wildflower meadow nearest our house. Unfortunately, the four photographs we took failed to live up to the splendour of the scene we had just witnessed

Unexpectedly we found early yellowing on the leaves of some hornbeam on the 15th (see photograph), followed by silver birch on the 18th. Poplar then followed on the 21st, with hazel on the 22nd. Three of these – hazel, poplar, and hornbeam were dropping leaves by the 30th. It seems autumn has started.


July 2017

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Written by Terry and Susan Dove   

The first 18 days of July were largely dry and often very warm, the exception being the 11th going into the 12th. On the morning of the 12th, we recorded 29.5 mm of rain, the wettest 24 hours of the month. After the 18th, the weather tended to be cooler, windier, and wetter, and altogether July produced a respectable 71 mm. The hottest days were the 6th, 8th, and 9th, with 27°C, while the coldest daytime maximum was 16°C on the 24th.

With 14 wildflowers blooming for the first time, our species tally for the year reached 62. We were greeted by the great willowherb on the 1st, quickly followed by fleabane (see photograph) on the 2nd, and marsh willowherb on the 3rd. The 4th produced three species including water plantain, a marginal plant by the woodland pond; gipsywort in the woodland ride, and tall melilot which absolutely loves the gravel in our drive. Back at the pond, woody nightshade began flowering on the 5th, followed by a gap until pale persicaria showed its distinctive white colours around our vegetable garden, and red bartsia bloomed beside the lake on the 11th. On the 14th the small number of ragwort which we allow to flower for a short time because of its attractiveness to insects began producing its distinctive yellow flowers. The last four flowers to bloom this month were stone parsley in the permanent pasture (15th), water mint around the lake (16th), rough hawkbit in the wildflower meadow (18th), and teasel in the ride (21st). Some wild fruits on the property have suffered a mixed fate this year. Those which have successfully ripened are the blackberries of our hedgerows and woods, the first of which were ready for eating by July 21st. These were followed by our first ripe elderberries on the 26th. Less successful, however, were the crab apples in the ride, which are eaten by some mysterious birds by the end of July every year before they can ripen. Suffering the same fate, this time by the grey squirrels, are the hazelnuts, which also disappear before we can pick some for ourselves.

On July 25th the clouded yellow was the only new sighting of the year for butterflies, and brought our total to 24 species. Our best butterfly day of the year so far proved to be the 16 species seen on the 9th July. New moth sightings began with the first six-spot burnet among the wild grasses on the 1st. July 4th produced 3 sightings all to light. The first was the ghost swift moth seen by torchlight while fluttering in the field; the second was the micro-moth Endrotricha flammealis on the lighted porch door; the third a dingy footman inside the lighted porch. July 5th found a riband wave moth inside the same lighted porch; the 9th produced a small magpie moth on the dining room ceiling; the 16th brought forth a magpie moth resting on our drive. Finally, on the 21st we spotted a cream wave moth on a waterside iris leaf, and on the 22nd we found a flame shoulder moth on the wall inside the lighted porch, to bring our species count to 41 for the year so far. The four species of dragonflies first seen this month bring our total to 18; the emerald damselfly, has still to be discovered. On the 4th July we spotted our first common blue damselfly, a rather late sighting, and possibly previously overlooked because of its tendency to spend most of its time out over the water. On the 10th we collected the exuvia of a southern hawker without seeing the pre-flight dragonfly, while on the 17th we saw a migrant hawker in our garden without finding the exuvia. Our last sighting was a mature ruddy darter on rushes beside the lake, but we have yet to find any exuviae for the species. So far, the late-season dragonflies have only appeared here in small numbers. Our ponds are down by up to 60cm vertically from high-water level, and this may well have some bearing on the low dragonfly numbers. In addition, our back woodland pond has about 40% of its area without water, and the lack of oxygen has left it covered in duckweed. As the distance from water to marginal plants is approximately 11 metres at its widest point on one side, and 2 metres on the other, the distance for an emerging larva to crawl to some of the waterside plants may leave it susceptible to predators like the grey heron. Blackbirds are also well known for taking emerging dragonflies.

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