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Wildlife Notes

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

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Transactions of the Kent Field Club - Volume 20

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Little Barton Farm Wildlife Notes

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.


June 2017

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Written by Terry and Susan Dove   

Rainfall for June was a moderate 53.7 mm, but 19 mm of this fell on the 6th, and 20mm on the 28th, leaving a paltry 14.7 mm for the rest of the month. Temperatures were generally very warm, reaching 30⁰ C on the 21st with 19 days during the month having a maximum daytime temperature of 20⁰ C or more. The coldest day was the 6th, with a maximum temperature of 15⁰ C. There were fresh-to-strong winds between the 5th and the 8th, with many green leaves being stripped from the trees, and small and medium sized dead branches coming down in the woodland on the 6th, when force 7 gusts were felt for much of the day. Perhaps the magpies knew what they were doing last December 13th, when they started building their nest in a low hawthorn instead of at the top of a tall oak tree.

 The warm weather encouraged the flowering of 16 more species this month, bringing our total to 48 for the year so far. We spotted marsh bedstraw beside the lake and foxglove in the wood on June 1st. This was followed by hedge woundwort beside the woodland ponds on the 10th; nipplewort in the garden and honeysuckle in the wood on the 12th; agrimony in the flower meadow and dark mullein around the garden on the 14th, and self-heal in the flower meadow on the 15th. Sow thistle, meadow vetchling, yarrow, and knapweed bloomed in the fields on the 16th, 16th,17th, and 19th respectively while field bindweed beside the lake on the 20th, marsh woundwort in the fields on the 22nd, hedge bindweed beside the lake on the 24th, and redshank on the 27th completed the wild flower tally for the month. 

With seven butterfly species making their first appearance, we have now reached 21 species for the year. On June 1st our first large skipper appeared in the field beside our garden. A fortnight later, a rather early white admiral arrived on the 15th, to be followed by the first of six marbled whites in the wildflower meadow on the 22nd. Next morning, on the 23rd, we found a pristine silver washed fritillary repeatedly opening and closing its wings on bramble blossom in the woodland. The first small skipper we were aware of was found among grasses on the 26th, while the 28th produced sightings of our first gatekeeper and ringlet in the same permanent grass and wildflower meadow, the latter an infrequent arrival for the second year in succession. Nine new moth-sightings occurred this month including two on the 1st, these being a blood vein moth on waterside iris, and green oak tortrix moth on the woodland floor. On the 3rd, a snout moth came to light in our upstairs bathroom.  These were followed by two further waterside moths, the small china mark moth among rushes at the woodland pond (9th), and the brown china mark moth on marginal plants by the lake (11th). The 12th provided our first known record of a blue-bordered carpet moth on the underside of an apple tree leaf, while a large yellow underwing turned up in our log shed on the 16th. Finally, two moths associated with grassland habitats, the colourful micro-moth Pyrausta purpularis (26th), and the mother of pearl moth (28th) completed our month’s sightings. However, we consulted three specialist recorders about the identity of a green and yellow lakeside larva with spots which we photographed on June 22nd thinking it was moth-related. The third specialist informed us it may be the larva of a sawfly Dolerus ferrugatus. If you Google this, species you will be directed to ‘Nature Spot’ and a near- identical image. Many thanks to the three recorders Involved in this process. 

Two new dragonfly sightings this month brought our total species-count to 14. We witnessed the maiden flight of a common darter on the 19th, but could not find an exuvia of another one until the 23rd.  Our first-sighting of a brown hawker was in the woodland ride hunting insects on the 25th (no exuvia yet found). Interestingly, although we have often found partly-devoured damselflies in spider webs beside the lake, we found the remains of our first ever spider-damaged dragonfly on the 14th, when we spotted the head and wings of a four-spotted chaser (chunky and 44-48 mm long) ensnared by a web of a long-legged spider, which beat a hasty retreat when I collected the exuvia further down the rush. The abdomen had been eaten completely.

There were no new bird species seen this month, but the turtle dove – first heard on May 28th  was last heard in the locality  on June 14th, while the cuckoo, first heard on April 24th, was last heard on June 2nd. 


May 2017

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Written by Terry and Susan Dove   

During May we recorded 60.5 mm of rain, the wettest month of the year so far, but insufficient to restore ponds to an appropriate level for the time of year. Only two mornings showed a significant amount or rainfall, these being 20 mm on the 18th, and 21.3 mm on the 19th. There was a generally cool start to much of the first half of the month, and an encouragingly warm spell throughout much of the second half.  Thus, the coldest daily maximum temperature of 10⁰ C occurred on the 7th, while the warmest was 26⁰ C on the 24th. An overnight frost between the 9th and 10th set back our potato crop mentioned last month for a second time, but signs are that they have now recovered and their leaves are looking healthy once more.

As we moved through spring towards summer, the wildflower first-sightings began to increase. Garlic mustard on the 1st was followed by creeping buttercup on the 2nd.  The native yellow water-lily started blooming on the 8th, while on the 14th, yellow flag iris and oxeye daisy appeared. The 15th produced purple vetch, and the 18th red clover; then on the 23rd we spotted bird’s foot trefoil and the white water-lily, with tufted vetch on the 25th. Finally, on the 28th, lesser stitchwort and white clover completed our monthly tally. These 12 records brought our total for the year so far to 32 species. 

Four new butterfly species during the warmer second half of the month brought our total for the year so far to 14. They were the small copper on the 16th, common blue on the 23rd, painted lady (very early for our inland site) on the 28th, and meadow brown in our woodland ride on the 30th. Moths also featured more strongly during the second half of May. Of the 13 species seen this month, only two came to our well-lighted windows and porch. Those attracted to light were the scorched carpet to bathroom window on the 1st and common swift moth on an indoor wall on the 24th. Two caterpillars, both regulars, turned up on successive days: the drinker moth caterpillar appeared on waterside iris leaf on May 12th, and the lackey moth caterpillar on waterside soft rush on the 13th. Apart from that, a latticed heath moth, last seen here in 2012, was in our meadow grasses on the 16th; we rescued a white ermine moth from our lake, dried it out and released it on the 17th; and saw three longhorn moths (Nemophera degeerella) “dancing” among hornbeam and brambles on the 23rd. Three moths among our meadow grasses were the straw dot moth on the 23rd, the grass moth (Chrysoteuchia culmella) on the 25th; and yellow shell moth on the 27th. Two further moths, our old favourite, the silver Y moth found among waterside rushes, and the common white wave moth among hornbeam in the woodland, were seen on the 27th. May proved to be a very good month for emerging dragonflies and damselflies. First damselfly seen here this year was a red-eyed damselfly, which emerged onto an iris leaf on the 4th. This was followed on the 6th by a pre-flight azure damselfly, a pre-flight white-legged damselfly on the 7th, and a fully-coloured large red damselfly on the 10th. Since the latter was much more mature than the others, we had missed its emergence and pre-flight stage earlier in the month. A pre-flight blue- tailed damselfly was observed on the 11th, to be followed by a lull in new damselflies until a banded demoiselle flew round the lake on the 24th, obviously a visitor from the River Beult. We spotted a hairy dragonfly on May 16th, having missed its emergence somewhat earlier, then saw two pre-flight four spotted chasers on the 18th, a mature broad bodied chaser and an emperor dragonfly on the 25th, and a black tailed skimmer on the 29th. With eleven damselflies and dragonflies this month, this brings our total to 12 species for the year so far. Last month, on April 23rd, we reported seeing our first pre-flight downy emerald of the year among waterside vegetation (soft rush). This is the normal method of emergence for most dragonflies, but on 22nd May, we spotted a downy emerald exuvia on the end of a sawn-off oak branch on our ancient waterside oak. Every year since 2012, when our grand-daughter Isabel (8 years old then) discovered one while she was tree-climbing, we have found between one and three such specimens there. This one was 9ft.5inches (about 280cm) above water-level and away from the bank, and we include three photographs to illustrate the incident.

Final tree and shrub indicators of spring are as follows:

Full leafing:

  • 1st May - beech
  • 10th May - ash 


  • 4th May - elder
  • 9th May - Holly 
  •  19th May - Dog rose

Other incidental observations:

  • 10th May - breeding female common lizard 
  • 19th May - mayfly among waterside vegetation.
  • 28th May - very importantly, the return of a turtle dove a little late this year, but welcome no less as it purred among the trees.


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