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Sunday 29th August

Although we are getting towards the end of the summer, there are still plenty of things to see on the Common. Although butterfly numbers are starting to fall off, the Speckled Wood continues to thrive and is, our most numerous species at the moment. A beautiful butterfly that I don’t seem to feature often enough on this blog. They are more often found out of the sun, in the shadier parts of the reserve.

Speckled Wood
Speckled Wood

As most plants have now flowered and set seed, our autumn hay cut is underway – preparing the ground for next spring. Although this applies to most species, there are a few ‘late’ flowers appearing and, although in reduced numbers, many of our typical calcareous plants are still flowering. It won’t take too much hunting to find examples of Marjoram, Wild Basil, Rock-rose, Small Scabious, Harebell, Wild Thyme, Eyebright, Wood Sage, Common Stork’s-bill, Wild Carrot and various others. However, it might take rather longer to find our late flowering orchid, Autumn Lady’s-tresses. These orchids are tiny and rather inconspicuous and easier to step on than spot! I managed to find six spikes in one small area but I’m sure there are plenty more about.

Autumn Ladies-tresses
Autumn Lady’s-tresses

At this time of year, the second brood of some of our butterflies start to appear. This week there were good numbers of the tiny Brown Argus, a species I hadn’t seen much of so far this year.

Brown Argus
Brown Argus

Thursday 29th July

The big news today was the return of Dexter cattle to the reserve. These small, short legged cattle are ideal for conservation grazing and their return is much appreciated. Just the three individuals for the moment, but we are hoping to gradually increase numbers in the near future. These cattle looked a little lost and nervous but will, I’m sure, settle down and realise they are very lucky to be able to graze on such rich, organic pasture. I left them wandering around starting to explore their new home.

Dexters
Dexters

Also this week, we made our start on the annual hay cut. As we were unable to complete as much as we would normally do last year, and without the help of the cattle, a few areas are in less than ideal condition. Over the next few weeks we’ll cut and rake the poorer areas of the grassland while leaving the rest to continue proving a botanical spectacle. Not until the vast majority of the grassland has set seed will we move onto those choice areas. Certainly the reserve is looking very colourful, with the large areas of Marjoram now in flower (much appreciated by the numerous butterflies).

Dragonflies continue to hunt over the reserve, occasionally picking on the less fortunate butterfly that happens to be passing. This year appears to have been rather good for Brown Hawkers and Emperors, two of our largest dragonflies. Only slightly smaller than these, is the Migrant Hawker. The first of these have started to appear in the last week or so.

Migrant Hawker (female)
Migrant Hawker (female)

Friday 16th July

My weekly butterfly count was quite a bit better than in previous weeks with a total of 188 butterflies of 15 different species. The improvement in the weather was, no doubt, a factor!

Earlier in the week, a butterfly I had been hoping to find for many years put in an appearance. This was a ‘valezina’ form of Silver-washed Fritillary. A much darker form than the usual orange and black colour. Up to 15% of females are thought to be of this form, but this was the first I’d seen in 10 years at the reserve (although others have been more successful!). My fellow volunteer, Mick Morrison, spotted this butterfly and managed to photograph it before it flew away.

Silver-washed Fritillary (photo courtesy of Mick Morrison)
Silver-washed Fritillary (photo courtesy of Mick Morrison)

Another butterfly that is now on the wing is the Purple Hairstreak. As these are rather small and tend to inhabit the tops of oak trees, they are not seen quite as often as some species. They are, however, relatively common around the Gordano valley. Other visitors I spoke to had also had success in finding them in at least two other widely separated areas of the reserve.

Purple Hairstreak
Purple Hairstreak

Gosh, July has come around very quickly! Just a quick post to highlight a couple of first appearances of the year. Good numbers of Ringlet have appeared this week, all in very fresh condition. Also this week my first Common Darter of the year. The Darters will be with us well into the autumn, often in very large numbers. This is a female, the males are an orange colour.

Ringlet
Ringlet
Common Darter
Common Darter

A butterfly that has been with us for a while now is the Large Skipper. I haven’t, as yet, found either of their close relatives, the Small Skipper or the Essex Skipper. It shouldn’t be long now though; both will be on the wing this month.

Large Skipper
Small Skipper on Perforate St John’s-wort

A wander around the reserve this week unearthed a few interesting flowering plants as well. Anyone visiting will have seen the south slopes covered in the yellow flowers of Perforate St John’s-wort (as seen above). These will soon be joined by the purple flowers of Marjoram. However, tucked away on the ‘quarry ride’ (the path leading away from the quarry), a few other interesting plants have popped up. The yellow flowers of Meadow Vetchling have appeared (they aren’t a common sight on the reserve). In fact, they don’t appear on my list for the reserve – although quite a common wildflower. Also nearby two further plants of the Hypericum family; Hairy St John’s-wort and Slender St John’s-wort. Both subtly different from the far more numerous Perforate St John’s-wort although the Slender St John’s-wort isn’t flowering fully yet. There is another member of the same family, Pale St John’s-wort, which hasn’t been recorded here in recent years but will hopefully reappear this summer.

Meadow Vetchling
Meadow Vetchling
Slender St John's-wort
Slender St John’s-wort

The reserve is now looking rather good and butterfly numbers are certainly on the increase. This week the Silver-washed Fritillaries were on the wing, joining the Dark Green Fritillaries and Marbled Whites that emerged last week.

Silver-washed Fritillary
Silver-washed Fritillary

Also of interest, I often mention the flowering of Viper’s-bugloss around this time of year. This year they have appeared in a new part of the reserve. I optimistically believe this is a result of the management work that has been put in over recent years. It would be rather good to report the return of some of the other flowers that have been missing for a few years now e.g. Autumn Gentian. Fingers crossed!

Viper’s-bugloss (Echium vulgare)

With trees now in full leaf, it is rather obvious that Ash dieback is affecting a lot of the Ash trees on the reserve. This fungal disease is characterised by leaf loss, usually affecting the ends of the branches first. The picture below shows just one of the affected trees which, although not yet in a dangerous condition, is unlikely to improve.

A lone Ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) suffering from Ash dieback

Tuesday 15th June

After a very poor start to the year, the number and variety of butterflies on show made a big leap forward this week in the sunshine. The stars of the show were the Dark Green Fritillaries of which more than 5 were seen dashing around the grassland …. but failing to stop for photos. It was also very good to see the Marbled Whites on the wing as well as Meadow Browns and Large Skippers. Here’s hoping for a much improved second half of the summer!

Marbled White
Marbled White

While the Early Purple Orchids have had a good year, the Common Spotted Orchids were a bit more difficult to find. A few were found though ….

Common Spotted-orchid

Tuesday 8th June

This summer promises to be a rather good one again for our wildflowers. One of our specialities, Dropwort, is already flowering and putting on a fine display.

Dropwort (Fiipendula vulgaris)
Dropwort (Fiipendula vulgaris)

Another flower doing rather well is Yellow Rattle. This species is partially parasitic on grass species and in one area where it is particularly prevalent the lack of grasses is very noticeable.

Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor)
Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor)

We seem to have had rather more sightings of Brown Hare this year. Their habit of quietly disappearing in the vegetation, means they are probably seen more often when disturbed. Another reason why we ask visitors to keep dogs on leads.

I have previously mentioned that we are close to a very interesting field. In fact, it can be seen from the top of the quarry. It is where the footpath leads down to the coast path. There are a couple of springs in this field that make for some very boggy patches. These are particularly good for orchids at the moment. I lost count at 300 spikes of Southern Marsh-orchids there – very impressive!

Southern Marsh-orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa)
Southern Marsh-orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa)

Still rather chilly, but even so, butterfly numbers are rather disappointing. Plenty of Brimstones on the wing, but no Green Hairstreaks on their favoured gorse bush. However, it was rather nice to find a Hairy Dragonfly there even if it didn’t stop for photo.

Cowslips (Primula veris) (Photo courtesy of Mike Toogood)

It is proving to be a very good year for Cowslips with numerous plants to be found all around the grassland. They make an impressive display, with a few of them beautifully captured above by Mike Toogood.

The wildflowers are now really starting to come alive. A select few below:

Bird’s-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)
Rock-rose (Helianthemum nummularium)
Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys)
Early Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula) photo courtesy of Mike Toogood

I haven’t had any reports of our speciality early butterflies yet. We should have found Green Hairstreaks at least by now. The gorse bush is a favourite place to find them, although they can appear anywhere on the reserve. Although the butterflies might be missing, there were lots of tiny moths on the gorse. I’m indebted to Andrew Jones for proving some excellent photos of them (and the ID as well).

Grey Gorse Piercer (Cydia ulicetana)
Grey Gorse Piercer (Cydia ulicetana)

The Early Purple Orchids have now decided the weather has improved enough to start flowering. They seem to be having a good year as well, but their preference for appearing on the paths means quite a few are trampled before they can reach maturity.

Early Purple Orchid
Early Purple Orchid

Another first for the year, the Large Red Damselflies have started to appear. These should be followed by the Hairy Dragonfly (a local speciality) any day now and then a good range of other dragonflies and damselflies as the summer progresses.

Large Red Damselfly
Large Red Damselfly

Finally, a Stoat, a mammal that I’ve yet to spot on the reserve, was seen by Andrew Waygood this week.

Still disappointingly cold, but spring continues to progress. Two of our ‘purple’ plants are now in flower and fairly widespread; Common Dog Violet and Ground-ivy. Ground-ivy is an attractive member of the Dead-nettle family but is not related to our better known Ivy. The Common Dog Violets are all over the grassland now, although only one of five viola species that can be found on the reserve.

Common Dog Violet
Common Dog Violet
Ground-ivy
Ground-ivy

A few species of birds have started to appear, some will be resident and others just passing through. Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps have been singing away, along with the commoner residents, but the drumming of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was very unexpected. However, it appears to have continued on its way rather than hang around. Far more common though are the Buzzards. I just about managed to picture this one .. but it was a rather long way off.

Common Buzzard

Walking along the lower woodland path, there are the first signs of sedges starting to appear. A few small clumps of Wood-sedge and quite a bit of the much larger Pendulous Sedge. Sedges aren’t restricted to the woodlands, there will be plenty of Glaucous Sedge (and some Spring Sedge) to be found in the grasslands, as well as the similar Field Wood-rush. Not our most colourful plants but very attractive in their own way!

Pendulous Sedge