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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!

Sunday 31st October

Our annual hay cut is progressing, although we are a bit further behind than would be ideal. With large areas avoiding the cut last year (as a result of Covid) our task seems to be even more challenging than usual. Our bar mower is proving to be an invaluable tool, cutting through some strong bramble and sapling growth. It is even more effective on the herb rich grassland. However, we have had to resort to brush-cutters on the steeper slopes and some of the areas that the bar mower doesn’t like (ancient ant-hills for example!)

Our tasks don’t stop at the cutting stage as it is equally essential for the arising to be taken off the grassland. This avoids nutrients making their way back into the soil. It is the de-nuding of the surface that gives our wildflowers the opportunity to thrive. Without it, a natural succession to more robust grasses and trees occurs (as has already occurred in some areas of the reserve).

As we don’t have a mechanised method of collecting the arisings, we are dependant on volunteers raking up the cuttings and physically moving it off the grass areas. Today we were very fortunate to have a visit from a large number of volunteers from the Gordano Conservation Volunteers group who did an amazing job in raking off our cuttings. Many thanks to Sarah and her team!

We have had a very mild autumn and although our plants are largely ‘over’ there is still plenty of wildlife around. Voles are still very active and so are many of the insects. Yesterday Common Darter and Migrant Hawker dragonflies were found and even a Red Admiral butterfly was battling the cool winds.

2021 has proved to be a very good year for Brown Hares which have been spotted far more often than ‘normal’. There has also been proof of breeding again with Leverets seen as well as adults. These have been recorded in previous years but perhaps they are finding the reserve rather more to their liking this year?

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