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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

December 2018

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Written by Terry and Susan Dove   

Total monthly rainfall was 121 millimetres with a maximum daily rainfall: 12 mm (20th December). Measurable rain fell on 20 days of the year, and there were 17 days with 100% cloud cover for at least part of the day. Total rainfall for the year ended above-average at 867.5 mm. Maximum temperature on the warmest day was 13°C on December 2nd, 3rd, and 22nd, while maximum temperature on the coldest day was 3°C on the 14th and 15th. Varying degrees of frost occurred from the 11th to the 17th and on the 25th.

It was December 16th when we saw the last oxeye daisy flowering, which left common daisy, white deadnettle, and red deadnettle still in flower on December 31st.

Two species of wild birds arrived during the month, these being a cormorant at the lake on December 3rd, and a grey wagtail at the back woodland pond on the 9th, where it remained on-and -off until the 15th.

At the end of the month, some of our hazel shrubs contain catkins up to 7.5 cm long, enough to be releasing pollen, but they lack the red female buds to fertilise.  We are awaiting developments to see how this affects the hazelnut crop in 2019.

By December 14th, overnight frost was cold enough to partly freeze three of our ponds without affecting the lake. By the 16th, the position was reversed, and all ponds were clear of ice while one-third of the lake was thinly covered. After that, ponds and lake remained ice-free for the rest of the month.

In our December 2017 notes we described and photographed the effect grey squirrels were having by stripping the bark of mature honeysuckle plants in our wood. This has left a large part of the wood with only very thin immature honeysuckle plants growing at low levels. They have also been attacking hornbeam stands, often at low, medium, and high levels of the same trees. This ring-barking has killed-off one or two trees in each group across the woodland.  The hot, dry summer and total lack of an acorn crop this year seems to have speeded up the process.



November 2018

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Written by Terry and Susan Dove   

Total monthly rainfall was 154.5 mm with a maximum daily rainfall of 24 mm  on November 10th . Measurable rain fell on 21 days of the month, and there were 17 days with 100% cloud-cover, almost continuously from the 19th to 29th. Maximum temperature on the warmest day was 15°C on the 6th, while maximum temperature on the coldest day was 4°C on the 20th. There were 5 days with overnight frost, and strong winds brought down many leaves and medium-sized branches on the 28th and 29th.

There were only six new first-sightings this month, including four moth species. On the 1st we found a grey moth of the Epirrita species (likely to be a November moth) in our lighted porch; the 8th produced a common plume moth on the lighted porch door, first time for our site; another Epirrita species moth posed inside our bathroom roof-light window on the 13th, this time believed to be an autumnal moth; while an umber moth (probably scarce umber) also new to our site, had to be rescued from our back woodland pond on the 23rd. The remaining first-sightings were a dead long- eared bat (confirmed by the Kent Bat group) on our grand-daughter’s unoccupied bedroom floor (November 2nd), and a live devil’s coach horse (Ocypus olens) in water beneath a water downpipe on the 18th.

Wildflowers continued to die-back during the month. We saw our last flowering centaury on the3rd, knapweed and fleabane on the 5th, plus yarrow and rough hawkbit on the 9th. Two days later, on the 11th, we counted our last red clover – followed by the redshank on the 18th, and oxeye daisy on the 26th. This left the red and white dead-nettles and common daisy to flower into December.

We have had very little to report on wild birds during this autumn, as we seem to be “off the map” at present for migrating species which are not normally present for the rest of the year. We did have over 70 Canada geese, the most we have ever seen here, on the 10th, but they only stayed until they were photographed, whereupon they took-off en masse for other waters. Apart from that, some redwings flew over on the 26th, but did not land, so we shall have to be satisfied with our core species for a while longer. 

The prolonged period of cloudy, wet, and sometimes windy weather made watching dragonflies and butterflies extremely difficult this month.  The only dragonfly species to last into November was the common darter, last seen here on the 18th when four were present on the only cloudless day of the month. Two other days with plentiful but not complete sunshine produced the two butterflies seen. These were a comma on a garden garrya shrub (17th) and a peacock, fluttering behind indoor window curtains on the 30th.

Now we come to indicators of autumn into winter as depicted by the trees and shrubs. These are:

  • remaining full autumn leaf colour - oak (5th), beech (6th), hazel (9th), and  silver birch (10th).
  • bare trees and shrubs – wild cherry (5th), ash (6th), field maple (7th), elder and hornbeam (11th), blackthorn (12th), horse chestnut (14th), oak (16th), hazel, silver birch, and beech (20th).

Two features to emerge by the end of the month were the new growth of young leaves on the woodland honeysuckle and the appearance of young catkins about 1 cm long on hazel.



October 2018

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Written by Terry and Susan Dove   

Total monthly rainfall: 36 mm. with a maximum daily rainfall of 14.5 mm (30th October). Measurable rain fell on only 6 days of the month, leaving our ponds at very low levels. Maximum temperature on the warmest day was 22°C on the 10th. Maximum temperature on the coldest day was 7°C on the 30th. There were, however, only 11 days when 100% cloud-cover occurred, and there were strong winds on the 11th and 12th.

We had only one new wildflower sighting this month, and that was a small cluster of centaury, obviously overlooked by us earlier in the year. It appears most years, but rarely in the same place, and grows among other plants, this year being lakeside among fleabane.

Other species first-sightings were two moths, a flounced chestnut on a lighted porch wall on the 9th, and a beautiful plume moth to light indoors on the 17th, both being new to our site. Additionally, on the 26th, we discovered a new species of crane-fly on our French window (either Tipula rufina or Tipula staegeri, which are difficult to tell apart from just a photograph). We have to thank Keith Palmer and Laurence Clemens respectively for assisting  in the identification of these insects. Finally, also on the 26th, we found a dark bush cricket on top of the compost bin. 

Wildflowers still left on site and in flower are yarrow, knapweed, fleabane, red clover, dandelion, white and red deadnettle, redshank, and rough hawkbit. We lost great willowherb on October 4th, and water mint on the 9th. We also removed the last spiny oxtongue and dead-headed the last creeping thistle on the 27th.

 Of the dragonflies on-site during October, we saw the last willow emerald damselflies on the 9th, and southern hawker on the 21st. With cold, cloudy weather on the last five days of the month, we saw our last migrant hawker and common darter on the 25th. It is probable that one or other of these will re-appear during November if the weather improves.

The five butterfly species which survived into October were last seen as follows: common blue on the 10th, peacock (14th), red admiral (21st), small copper (23rd), and speckled wood (25th). Again, it is possible for one or more of these to return in November.

A dramatic feature of autumn is the appearance of spiders’ webs on sunny, misty mornings. One such day was October 5th, when, after successive years of trying, we finally managed to produce a photograph doing justice to the occasion – the secret being to find a dark background, and reduce the distance shown in the picture! You just have to imagine this scene reproduced fifty-or-so times around the lake. October 15th represents halfway through meteorological autumn. On this day there was little autumn colour among the woodland trees, because most of those colours were on the woodland floor, deposited there largely by the wind. By the end of the month there were still more trees showing green than displaying autumn colours.

Development of autumn by flora occurred as follows: Ivy flowered on the 1st, and holly berries were ripe on the 15th. Hornbeam leaves turned orange on the 4th; field maple also orange on the 12th; hawthorn turned yellow and orange on the 15th; ash turned yellow on the 20th; wild cherry turned red and brown on the 25th, and horse chestnut turned brown on the 30th. Finally, poplar became bare on the19th – the only tree to do so this month.



September 2018

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Written by Terry and Susan Dove   

Total monthly rainfall was 39 mm with a maximum daily rainfall of 22 mm on 23rd September. Measurable rain fell on only 6 days of the month, and woodland ponds are at a very low water-level.

Maximum temperature on the warmest days was 23°C on the 3rd and 17th; the  maximum  temperature on the coldest day was 13°C on the 23rd. Overnight grass frost occurred on the 24th and 25thand strong winds occurred on the 11th (green leaf-fall), and 18th to 23rd, when leaves, large twigs, and small, thin branches came down.

There was a shortage of first-sightings for the year, consisting of a knotgrass  moth caterpillar on lake-side iris leaf (3rd), a pink-barred sallow moth among wildflowers (13th), a lunar underwing moth beneath porch light (22nd)  and a square spot rustic on a lighted window frame on the 27th.

The majority of our observations for this month relate to the progress of autumn as indicated by our trees and shrubs. Ripe conkers were falling from the horse chestnut tree on September 2nd.  Poplar leaves began falling on the 3rd, followed by field maple leaves on the 7th when we noticed the first signs of orange colouring on them. There was yellowing on some hornbeam leaves on the 8th, while leaves of the hornbeam, hawthorn, and silver birch fell quite strongly on the 11th. By the 12th dog rose, silver birch, and hazel leaves were turning yellow, and two days later, on the 14th, hawthorn leaves were turning orange, blackthorn were yellow, and wild cherry becoming red. Orange-coloured leaves began appearing on the horse chestnut on the 15th, while on the 21st some oak leaves were becoming yellow. At last, on the 28th, the horse chestnut began to shed its leaves.

As damselflies began to disappear for the year, the autumn batch of crane-flies emerged, initially only a few but rising to a vast number by the end of the month. The first damselfly to go was the red-eyed damselfly on the 2nd, followed by the blue-tailed damselfly (15th), emerald damselfly (16th), white-legged damselfly (21st), and willow emerald damselfly (27th). With the ruddy darter disappearing on the 19th, the only dragonflies probably left on site by the end of the month were the southern, brown, and migrant hawkers, and the common darter.

Butterflies suffered a similar decline, starting with the disappearance of the comma on the 3rd, the large white on the 7th, and the meadow brown on the 13th. We saw what may be the last green-veined white on the 21st, red admiral on the 26th, and small white on the 28th, although it is possible one or other of these may re-appear next month. The speckled wood (29th), small copper, and common blue (30th) may well continue into October.

A count of wildflowers still in bloom on September 30th produced the following list: Knapweed, fleabane, yarrow, white and red deadnettle, oxeye daisy, water mint, dandelion, rough hawkbit, red clover, redshank, and great willowherb. We are still also relentlessly dead-heading thistles and removing spiny oxtongue .                                                                                                             



August 2018

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Written by Terry and Susan Dove   

Total monthly rainfall was 65.5 mm with a maximum daily rainfall of 14 mm on August 10. Rain fell on 11 days during the month, and there were 15 days with 100% cloud cover. Maximum temperature on the warmest day was 31°C (3rd August). Maximum temperature on the coldest day was 17°C on the 26th. Temperatures exceeded 27°C for the first 7 days of the month. Strong gusts of wind on the 10th brought down twigs and clusters of green leaves, together with some dead branches in the wood. 

August is often a month of few first-sightings and this was no exception. We only spotted two new flowering plants, water mint which we realised were already out by the 1st, and red bartsia on the 8th, bringing our wildflower count to 72 species for the year.

There were no new butterfly species this month, so it is looking unlikely that we will now see the clouded yellow. There were, however, 5 new moth species, starting with a red underwing on a shed wall on the 2nd. Our grand-daughter Isabel brought us a vapourer moth caterpillar on a rose-leaf on the 8th, and we saw a twin-spot carpet moth among field grasses on the 16th. A lime-speck pug moth appeared to light in our bathroom on the 18th (identified with thanks by Keith Palmer, from our photograph). On the 24th a snout moth among field grasses alongside woodland completed our sightings for the month, and brought the species-count to 40 for the year so far. 

Our dragonfly count for this year rose to 20 species when a pair of willow emerald damselflies oviposited into a young bank-side willow shrub during late sunshine on the 31st. Although we have recorded the willow emerald here before, this was the first time we have seen a male and female egg-laying in tandem at the lake,  the previous lone damselfly being recorded at the back woodland pond in 2013.

During much of the summer, our reptile shelters have yielded little more than large numbers of ants, plus recently the occasional slug.  On the 18th we came across a large leopard slug, which we left because it was a long way from the vegetable garden, while on the 25th we came across our first slow-worm accompanied by a grass snake.

On August 21st we found three parasol mushrooms at the back of the woodland, and some common funnel fungi were growing near the lake on the 27th.

We also had a brief rare sighting of a black American mink near our back woodland pond on the 29th which ran from the pond edge into some nearby brambles, and was gone within about 5 seconds!

We finish this month’s sightings with some early autumn fruiting: ripe elderberries (1st), ripe sloes (17th), ripe hawthorn berries (27th), and, finally, ripe dog rose-hips on the 28th.


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