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Thursday 15th December

This week saw the end of our 2022 work parties on the Common; celebrated with a few hot dogs and various other goodies [A big thank you to the Trust for that!]. With the hay cut out of the way quite early this year, we’ve been concentrated on some woodland work recently by continuing with some Hazel coppicing.

The recent cold weather has been long awaited. It is very much part of the cycle of life on the Common and, although rather late, is necessary. Even so, with so many trees still in leaf, the views are far more autumnal than wintery.

Now the hay cut has been completed, the archaeological features stand out nicely. They are also enhanced by the late afternoon sun. Yesterday the afternoon light brought out the ‘autumn’ colours rather nicely as well.

Not a lot of wildlife to report recently, but Walton Common is always worth a visit!

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Monday 10th October

Our weekly butterfly counts finished at the end of September, with the number of species and total counts on a par with the last few years. Our top 5 butterflies were: Meadow Brown (431), Gatekeeper (284), Brimstone (225), Speckled Wood (184) and Ringlet (161). These were 5 out of 23 species in all.

Towards the end of the summer, we are on the lookout for Harebells and Autumn Ladies-tresses. This year a few Harebells came into flower, but, for the first time in many years, the Autumn Ladies-tresses failed to appear. Hopefully conditions will suit them better next year – it was still very dry when we normally expect to see them.

Back on the 19th April, I posted a photo of a Wild Pear tree – standing alone up in the centre of the reserve. It was rather nice to see it actually bearing fruit this year.

Pear Tree

Monday 15th August

This summer will be remembered as being very hot and very dry. There was a fabulous showing of wildflowers for a while, but the intensity of the heat and the lack of rain soon left the reserve very parched. Most of our wildflowers accelerated their lifecycle and set seed as soon as they could. Hopefully there won’t be any long lasting damage to the reserve.

A view of the parched grassland.

Despite the premature end to the wildflowers, there is still plenty to enjoy. While carrying out our weekly butterfly count, a pair of flies were noticed. Not any old fly but Hornet Robberflies – our largest fly. These have been seen annually for the last 4 years now so, presumably, are find the reserve to their liking.

Hornet Robberflies (Asilus crabroniformis)

Although I’ve been mourning the loss of many of our flowers, the Harebells have had a reasonably good year, popping up in a few new places.

Harebells

Tuesday 12th July

The wildflowers are at their peak this week on the Common; an absolute mass of colour! That, coupled with a great showing of butterflies, makes it the perfect time to visit. By far the most common butterfly is the Gatekeeper, but Ringlets and Meadow Browns are also showing in large numbers. In rather smaller numbers there are Silver-washed Fritillaries; Purple Hairstreak; Brown Argus and a good showing of Skippers.

Ringlet
Ringlet
Gatekeeper
Gatekeeper

Of the wildflowers, there is a huge amount of Perforate St. John’s-wort, Marjoram, Wild Thyme, Common Stork’s-bill, Wild Basil and Wild Carrot. However, with a closer look, it is also possible to find Common Spotted Orchid, Viper’s-bugloss, Hairy St.John’s-wort, Slender St. John’s-wort and Restharrow.

Wildflowers
Wildflowers
Hairy St.John's-wort
Hairy St.John’s-wort

As if that isn’t enough, also noted: Emperor Dragonfly; Hummingbird Hawkmoth; Dark Bush-cricket and Ravens.

Friday 17th June

It’s a great time to explore Walton Common. In particular, it’s a wonderful opportunity to check out the many insects that find the reserve so welcoming. Such butterflies as Large Skippers, Marbled Whites, Common Blues and Meadow Browns – to name just a few – are now on the wing. And, any day now, we should see the appearance of our two Fritillaries – the Dark Green and the Silver-washed.

Marbled White
Marbled White
Common Blue
Common Blue

I’ve mentioned Howard Taffs and Rob Martin in a previous post. They have been walking the butterfly transect recently and Rob has been passing on some great photos of insects found along the route. The record of the Southern Hawker (found on the 12th June) was a very early record for this species! They also found a further records of Scarce Chaser dragonfly. A dragonfly that has been expanding in our region in recent years.

Southern Hawker
Southern Hawker (photo by Rob Martin)
Spotted Longhorn Beetle (photo by Rob Martin)
Spotted Longhorn Beetle (photo by Rob Martin)

In the past I’ve mentioned the masses of Marsh Orchids to be found on the footpath leading from Walton Street to the coast path. I’m assured they are there in numbers again this year. However, another short walk from Walton Common – but in the opposite direction – is Taggart’s Wood (another Avon Wildlife reserve). The path through the woods here is another orchid hot spot with good numbers of Pyramidal as well as Common Spotted Orchids.

Common Spotted Orchids
Pyramidal Orchid
Pyramidal Orchid

Tuesday 10th May

Another quick catch up! New dragonflies, birds, butterflies and plants are rapidly starting to appear.

I was too slow to capture the smart new Hairy Dragonfly or the bright yellow Broad-bodied Chaser, but this Azure Damselfly was rather more obliging!

Azure Damselfly
Azure Damselfly

A little while ago, Howard Taffs and Rob Martin noticed (and filmed) some butterfly behaviour that I hadn’t seen before between two Brimstone butterflies. It is believed that the female is trying to explain to the male that she isn’t amenable to mating. She does this by lying on her back and raising her body towards the sky. This week we observed the same behaviour while carrying out our weekly butterfly count. Perhaps it’s more common than we thought!

Brimstone butterflies
Brimstone butterflies

Just to round off, a couple more photos. A female Northern Wheatear put in an appearance at the end of April and an Early Purple Orchid popped up in an area of the Common that we haven’t seen one before.

Northern Wheatear
Northern Wheatear
Early Purple Orchid
Early Purple Orchid

Definitely a good time to visit! Walton Common will be getting better and better through the summer – if the weather behaves!

Tuesday 19th April

A bit of a catch up! Since the beginning of April, and despite a cold snap, the Common is coming alive with all sorts of insects, birds, butterflies and plants. It’s difficult to know where to start.

I’m hoping to pin down the identification of this large beetle that we found – possibly an Oil Beetle?(Meleo sp.)

Oil Beetle?

Another shrub that I’m not sure about is this Pear. Currently in full bloom and looking amazing. This may be a Wild Pear (Prunus pyraster) – but it isn’t easy to differentiate from Pear (Prunus communis). Wild Pear has been recorded on Walton Common so I need to check my reference books!

Pear sp. in full bloom

Although there is plenty to come, it won’t take much hunting along the grassland to find a variety of Violets, lots of Strawberry plants, Ground Ivy and Common Stork’s-bill. A bit less easy to find, but a hunt along the woodland paths should produce an Early Purple Orchid or two.

Early Purple Orchid – almost flowering!
Common Stork’s-bill – thanks to Rob Martin for the photo
Field Wood-rush – thanks to Rob Martin for the photo

No butterfly photos today but plenty of Brimstones on the wing at the moment. Also seen recently on the Common: Hare, Buzzard, Pied Flycatcher, Redstart, Wheatear, Willow Warbler and plenty more besides.

The volunteer team has been very busy this winter. The regular Tuesday work parties have been very well supported and a great deal has been achieved. With Ash die-back seriously affecting many of our Ash trees, we’ve been dealing with those at risk of falling on the main footpaths around the reserve. Although this is ‘work in progress’, the main tracks around the reserve should now be safe to navigate.

The main areas of grassland (defined as lowland calcareous grassland) have been cut and the arising moved away. This is now largely completed and ready for our wildflowers and insects to take full advantage. And that should be very soon!

As well as a wonderful nature reserve, Walton Common is also a designated Ancient Monument. As far as is possible, we have spent quite a bit of time this winter making sure that the visible archaeological features are free from scrub and tree growth. As a result, this is the ideal time of year to see the features on the ground; in particular, the ‘banjo enclosure’ is now clearly visible.

A section of the banjo enclosure

As is often the case, it is the woodland plants that are first to appear in spring. These need to make the most of the available sunlight before the canopy blocks out that light. Carpets of Dog’s Mercury are already pushing up through the soil. I was also pleased to see the first flowering violet this week – an Early Dog-violet (Viola reichenbachiana).

Dog’s Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)

Wednesday 9th February

Perhaps one of the more surprising specialities on Walton Common, are some very rare mosses. One in particular is exceptionally rare and the health of the population is regularly monitored by the Species Recovery Trust. It has the common name of Rabbit Moss (Cheilothela chloropus) – despite the lack of rabbits on the Common! Today was one of those monitoring visits. It was also an opportunity to carry out some very careful ‘gardening’ to ensure it has every chance to survive against some serious competition from other plants and mosses in that area. The outcome of the visit was that about 160 plants were found, a very similar total to the previous visit. However, these plants are tiny and rather fragile and their continued presence requires careful monitoring.

Another of our rare mosses is Side-fruited Crisp-moss (Tortella squarrosa – previously Pleurochaete squarrosa). The good news is that this species is doing exceptionally well, with a much increased population.

Our regular work parties have been very well attended during this winter enabling a great deal of management work to be carried out. The grassland restoration work has been particularly impressive with bramble and other scrub species cut right back. All is looking very good for the Spring flowers that will be with us in the not too distant future.

Keeping an eye on us on most of our work days has been a Kestrel. Always a treat to see them hunting over the Common!

Kestrel

Unfortunately, Ash dieback has arrived on the reserve and many of our trees are suffering. With the distinct possibility that many of these will eventually come crashing down, we have been selectively felling those that would fall onto main paths around the reserve.

Sunday 19th December

Not for the first time, it’s a warm ‘welcome back’ to the Dexters! Hopefully the new invisible fence system will prove a lot more reliable than the old one; it is certainly far more flexible and even allows the collars to be tracked via a smart app. The dozen arrivals soon settled in and started to explore the boundaries of their new home.

Although we have been busy cutting back last summers vegetation, there is still plenty of grazing and browsing left for them. Walking around the reserve there are signs that they’ve been eating rather well!

Here’s to a great Christmas ….. and a much better 2022!