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Tuesday 1st September

A wildlife production team took over some of the Common on Monday. They were, apparently, filming for a documentary on poaching in Africa! Presumably, if they can get enough interest in the project, they’ll be off the Africa to do it for real! It was interesting to see them set it all up though … and the weapons looked very real!

As far the actual wildlife was concerned, two species stood out by their abundance; Silver-Y moths and Common Darter dragonflies. Huge numbers of both were present. Less common was my first Painted Lady of the year. Unless something else turns up (unlikely?) I think we recorded 27 species this year. There may have been some species that avoided detection during the lockdown though!

Silver Y
Silver Y
Painted Lady
Painted Lady

The recent storms didn’t appear to cause too much damage. Most of the fallen branches can easily be avoided but the tree blocking the lower path has now been removed.

Wednesday 26th August

Although it has been mentioned a few times that 2020 has been a great year for the Common, it seems to be coming to a bit of a premature end. So many of the flowers that would often flower well into September (and even later), have already set seed. No doubt the plants are reacting to the weather conditions. Butterfly numbers are now well down, although I recorded a very reasonable 12 species in all – including a couple of rather worn Silver-washed Fritillaries.

Dragonflies are still much in evidence with large numbers of Migrant Hawkers now starting to appear. Also, a good few Common Darters and single Emperor and Southern Hawker. Migrant Hawkers are a little unusual for dragonflies in that they aren’t territorial, so it isn’t unusual to see large numbers of them hawking together. In contrast the Southern Hawker doesn’t generally allow others into its territory. It also seems to have a habit of checking out human visitors as well. It isn’t unusual to see one circling you or hovering in front of you.

Southern Hawker
Southern Hawker

A fly that I recorded a couple of years ago continues to ‘pop up’ around the reserve. Usually on the paths – but that might be because that is the easiest place to pick them up. It is an impressive fly – although the image isn’t to scale!

Hornet Robberfly
Hornet Robberfly

Wednesday 19th August

My butterfly transect yesterday suggested that summer is nearly over! Numbers and species are well down and a lot of flowers have set seed already. However, there is still a lot of colour out there and plenty of insects as well. Migrant Hawker and Common Darter dragonflies have started to appear in good numbers (which they do at this time of year). They will be around well into September and probably October as well.

Beetles rarely feature in this blog – a serious oversight! Thanks to Giles Morris for this recent photo. This is Rutpela maculata, the Spotted Longhorn beetle.

Rutpela maculata
Rutpela maculata (courtesy of Giles Morris)

Although there is a lot of Marjoram on the Common, and much of it in flower, I was surprised to find an area with quite a few white flowered plants. The following being just one example.

Marjoram
Marjoram (white flowered form)

Friday 7th August

Earlier in the week, I spoke to a couple of visitors who were searching – without success – for Autumn Lady’s-tresses. They were just a couple of days early, as the first flowers had appeared by yesterday. Only two spikes so far though (and quite a challenge to find).

Autumn Lady's-tresses
Autumn Lady’s-tresses

Continuing my search for Grasshoppers and their allies, I found a couple of Long-winged Coneheads on the site. Very attractive little insects, but still the vast majority are Field Grasshoppers. Although they are called Long-winged, it is the antennae that are impressively long!

Long-winged Conehead
Long-winged Conehead

A few flowers are clearly doing rather well on the Common this year; some I’ve mentioned in previous posts. Another that I haven’t mention, is Common Centaury. This is a plant typical of calcareous grasslands, so its abundance is very much a ‘good sign’ that the grazing and other management is having a positive affect.

Common Centaury
Common Centaury

Finally, just because I like them, a photo of Eyebright. Another of our very small flowers, but when seen in close up, are attractive as any on the Common. The name suggests this is one species – but, in fact, there are about 20 species and 60 hybrids. Telling them apart is a real challenge!

Eyebright agg.
Eyebright agg.

Friday 31st July

I heard a rather nice comment from a visitor this week along the lines of ‘this is what a proper nature reserve should look like’. I tend to agree. The reserve was looking particularly good this week – with a fabulous variety of fauna and flora.

This is the time of year when one of my favourites flowers appears – the beautiful Harebell. This is popping up all over the place as are many of our flowers (having recovered from the heat of May).

Harebells

I might spend too much time on butterflies during the summer months but, for those interested, Purple Hairstreaks can be found (thanks Howard!) and the migrant Clouded Yellow has also been seen.

Those of you wandering around the reserve cannot but be impressed with the huge numbers of grasshoppers on the Common. I somehow managed to find a Speckled Bush-cricket in one of the oak saplings – easily overlooked though.

Speckled Bush-cricket
Speckled Bush-cricket

Tuesday 14th July

It is now 4 months since our last work party. Yesterday was also exactly 10 years to the day that I started as volunteer warden for Walton Common. Although we aren’t able to carry out any work on the reserve, it seemed like a good opportunity for a reunion. It was fantastic to get together again for what I’m calling a ‘Cake on the Common’ event; where we enjoyed a picnic lunch together (without all of the hard work that usually accompanies our get togethers).

It was also an opportunity for a wander around and review how our work over the previous 12 months has progressed. Much of the grassland is looking very good and far more ‘herb rich’ than it has been for a long time. We are even getting a lot of theĀ  bramble and bracken under control. Obviously this isn’t entirely thanks to our work parties – Andrew Waygood and a herd of Dexter cattle have helped enormously!

A good chunk of the winter was spent coppicing some of the woodland. Hazel was cut down to the ground and ‘doughnuts’ established around the stumps to stop fresh growth being browsed by the deer. Also, extra light was let into the area with some selective felling (mostly Ash). This also had the effect of giving some of the oak trees a bit more room to grow. The Hazel stumps are already looking very impressive for just a few months regrowth. This area will soon look very different at this rate of regeneration.

Hazel coppice

Hazel coppice

 

 

 

Saturday 11th July

A very pleasant afternoon in warm sun to carry out my butterfly transect. The variety of species on offer is increasing (as it does at this time of year) with Silver-washed Fritillaries particularly prominent and Gatekeepers looking very fresh.

The hot spell earlier this summer left a few bare patches. It is interesting to see which species are quickest to fill these patches. This year there are large areas covered in Red Barsia, a species rarely seen in such numbers.

Obviously the recent cooler, wetter weather has helped to freshen up the flora and the reserve is looking very good with a lot of Dropwort in flower now; as well as large areas of yellow St John’s-wort and purple of Marjoram and Wild Thyme.

Although the main purpose of the visit was to count the butterflies, the highlight for me was a Roesel’s Bush-cricket, a species I don’t think has been recorded on the Common previously. This one appears to be one of the long winged variety (seen in hot summers) form Diluta. 

Roesel's Bush-cricket

Roesel’s Bush-cricket

Note: For some reason the link from these ‘thumbnail images’ to the full image doesn’t seem to work. Apologies, I’ll try and sort it out (but many images can be found with the ‘photos’ link on the right hand side of the post).

Friday 19th June

A quick catch up while the (much appreciated) rain falls. One very general observation this year; many of our butterflies have been spotted far earlier than usual while, at the same time, our wildflowers have been reluctant to emerge. I guess it makes sense? Wildflowers are certainly not going to germinate if conditions aren’t quite right, while butterflies are more dependant on sunshine and warmer temperatures.

Two butterflies photographed on the 15th (although both first seen somewhat earlier) are the Silver-washed Fritillary and Ringlet. We should expect a few Gatekeepers along soon, but they’ll have to appear before 3rd July to beat my previous earliest record.

Ringlet

Ringlet

Silver-washed Fritillary

Silver-washed Fritillary

I quite often find male Emperor dragonflies hawking insects over the reserve, but this one is a female and decided to pose for a photo.

Emperor Dragonfly (female)

Emperor Dragonfly (female)

Finally, something so common that it is easy to overlook. However, it’s difficult not to be impressed by a fresh oak leaf. Wonderful two tone green and, as yet, unspoiled by anything hungry!

Oak leaf

Oak leaves

Friday 5th June

This dry spell continues to have an impact on our flowers … and hence our butterflies. Normally I would expect to find quite a few Common Spotted Orchids around the reserve. Today I only found one, and that one is rather underwhelming; although still rather lovely!

Common Spotted Orchid

Common Spotted Orchid

One of our other specialities, Dropwort, is looking much more promising with quite a few just starting to open up.

Dropwort

Dropwort

Today was a bit cool and breezy to expect to see many butterflies, but quite a few Meadow Browns were out and about. Earlier this week, when the conditions were rather more favourable, one of our visitors found (and photographed) a couple of Dark Green Fritillaries; one to look out for when the weather improves! The long, dry, warm spell seems to have had an impact on some of our other butterflies with both Marbled White and Small Skipper seen; both on dates far earlier than I have ever recorded them before … as is the Dark Green Fritillary.

Tuesday 26th May

Todays wander around the reserve produced quite a few Meadow Brown butterflies – into double figures anyway. Other species were rather thin on the ground (and the air for that matter).

Meadow Brown

Meadow Brown

Two new dragonflies for the year list today. A very smart Scarce Chaser posed nicely as did a Black-tailed Skimmer. The Scarce Chaser really is that stunning colour with a hint of smoky wingtips to clinch the identification.

Black-tailed Skimmer

Black-tailed Skimmer

Scarce Chaser

Scarce Chaser