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Tuesday 27th August

This week we made a start on our annual hay cut. It is a mammoth task to cut the remains of the grass and flowers and rake up the arisings. However, this will leave the reserve in the ideal condition for next spring. Although most of the plants have already set seed, there are still plenty of residents dependant on the reserve. I’ve mentioned the grasshoppers and bush-crickets before, but there are also plenty of reptiles and amphibians here. In particular, we expect to find Slow-worms, Lizards, Toads and Frogs (despite the distance from any water source). It is still some time before they slow down and hibernate for the winter. As a result we leave an uncut margin around the grass for them to escape to and continue foraging until the winter comes.

We rescued both Toad and Frog yesterday from the areas we were cutting. They didn’t seem best pleased but we were able to relocate them to safety.

Common Frog

Common Frog (Rana temporaria)

Common Toad

Common Toad (Bufo bufo)

Historical records for the reserve show that both Adder and Grass Snake have previously been recorded on the reserve. However, I have yet to see a snake here. Grass Snakes appear to prefer wetter habitats and are certainly to be found in the Gordano Valley, while across the valley, Adders can be found on Tickenham Hill.

 

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Wednesday 21st August

A disappointing day for butterflies. It feels like summer is almost over. Gatekeepers, which I was only recently counting in hundreds, are now down to relatively low numbers; and they are looking rather worn. There were, however, reasonable numbers of  Common Blue and Brown Argus still on the wing.

Common Blue on Marjoram

Common Blue on Marjoram

Late summer is the time for dragonfly numbers to build up. Although the variety of species is limited, actual numbers can be considerable. The larger of the two main species are the Migrant Hawkers who, unlike many dragonflies, are not territorial and can be found in ‘swarms’ in suitable sheltered sunny areas. Somewhat smaller are the Common Darters and these can be more widespread and are often seen perched.

In the last week or so I decided it was time to update some of the species lists. In particular, I was a bit surprised as to how many plant species were missing and ended up adding 20 or so new ones. Quite a few of these came as a result of the botanical monitoring we have been carrying out over the last couple of summers. One of these, Common Fleabane, is a bit unusual in that it generally prefers wet conditions. As it is at the bottom of a newly cleared area it might just be a temporary newcomer. It does provide some good nectar for some of our insects though. This particular hoverfly is, I believe, one of the Eristalis species. [Based on the excellent Introduction to Hoverflies of the Bristol Region from BRERC – I believe this is Eristalis pertinax]

Common Fleabane with hoverfly

Common Fleabane with hoverfly

Walking around the reserve it is very noticeable just how many grasshoppers and crickets are on the reserve at this time of the year. I found one in the grasp of a Hornet Robber Fly earlier this month. This time I managed a photo of a live one resting on a gorse bush – although that looks like a dangerous place to land. The Robber Flies are still around and presumably doing rather well.

Field Grasshopper

Field Grasshopper

 

Monday 5th August

Although today was supposed to be another butterfly transect walk, it was also a rather good dragonfly day with Migrant Hawkers, Common Darters, Ruddy Darter, Black-tailed Skimmers and Emperors all feasting on the other insects. However, the star of the day was a Red-veined Darter. This attractive darter was known mainly as a vagrant but is now appearing more widely, and breeding at some sites. This follows on from recent sightings at the nearby Portbury Wharf nature reserve a few miles away.

Red-veined Darter

Red-veined Darter

Butterflies continue to impress with a good range of species on the wing. For the last couple of weeks Gatekeepers have been the most abundant but both of the Fritillary species are still being seen with Silver-washed particularly showy. Painted Ladies have been in the news lately and a few were seen today after a quiet couple of week.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady

Of the smaller butterflies, the numbers of Common Blue are definitely increasing, although Brown Argus and Holly Blues are also around. Perhaps more surprising was a lack of Skippers.

Common Blue

Common Blue

There is masses of colour on the reserve, although much of the yellow St.John’s-wort is now setting seed. Marjoram continues to flourish as does the rather more delicate Harebells, which seem to be increasing every year.

Harebells

Harebells

 

 

Thursday 1st August

While carrying out my weekly butterfly transect, I was distracted on a number of occasions but a rather large insect that I wasn’t familiar with. I managed a few photos though. Initially there was one on it’s own, later I found one with one of our many millions of grasshoppers and then, finally, two of them mating. Although it has been recorded on the reserve before, it is an unusual sighting, especially in such large numbers.

Hornet Robber Fly (Asilus crabroniformis)

Hornet Robber Fly (Asilus crabroniformis)

Hornet Robber Fly (Asilus crabroniformis)

Hornet Robber Fly (Asilus crabroniformis)

Hornet Robber Fly (Asilus crabroniformis)

Hornet Robber Fly (Asilus crabroniformis)

Monday 15th July

The last few days have been fabulous on the reserve! The weather helps of course. There is a lot of colour on the grassland with St John’s-wort, Rock-rose and Ragwort providing the yellows while Marjoram, Thyme and Wild Basil provide the purples. The overall effect is stunning. Thanks to Owain Thomas for the photo.

Colours on the South Slopes

Colours on the South Slopes (Owain Thomas)

There are excellent numbers of butterflies all over the reserve. I was particularly pleased to see my first Purple Hairstreaks of the year. These were in oaks down the side of the quarry and, as a result, could be watched without straining my neck. They usual inhabit the upper reaches of the trees and, being rather small, can be difficult to find and see. The Silver-washed Fritillaries in contrast are very easy to spot being big and bright. I found about 20 on my circuit.

Silver-washed Fritillary

Silver-washed Fritillary

Rather smaller in size, it was good to see Gatekeeper numbers building up. Again, thanks to Owain for the image.

Gatekeeper on Marjoram

Gatekeeper on Marjoram

Up on the reserve there are good views down on the Gordano valley, and the village of Walton-in-Gordano. Last weekend was the village Summer Fete which I was invited to attend on behalf of the reserve and the Trust. With thanks to a loan from the local Avon Wildlife group (Portishead), and some images from the Trust, I managed to cobble together a display. John Rickard and I met a good few people and were able to discuss what we are up to in terms of management … and a bit of history of the reserve.

Walton-in-Gordano village

Walton-in-Gordano village (photo by Owain Thomas)

At the Village Fair

At the Village Fair with John Rickard

 

Friday 28th June

The reserve is looking really good at the moment. All sorts of things to see. Lots of butterflies, dragonflies and, especially, plants. Look out for the beautiful Long-stalked Crane’s-bill as well as the more regular Rock-rose, St. John’s-wort, Thyme and Margoram. Also, after an absence of a couple of years, it was great to see such a good display of Viper’s-bugloss.

Viper's-bugloss

Viper’s-bugloss

When it comes to butterflies, there was a good variety on the wing …. but Meadow Brown dominated with literally hundreds to be found. There were also plenty of Painted Lady, an interesting butterfly which migrates from southern Europe in variable numbers each year. This year looks to be a bumper year as I saw plenty around Portishead as well. Also to be found are the tiny brown skippers. I found both Large and Small Skippers .. and a probable Essex Skipper as well.

Meadow Brown

Meadow Brown

Of the other insects that were present, look out for the Humming-bird Hawk-moth (we saw two), and the impressive Emperor dragonfly (we saw at least four hawking over the grassland).

 

 

Thursday 20th June

I grabbed the opportunity, with a slight improvement in the weather, to visit the reserve and walk my butterfly transect. Unfortunately I rushed out without my camera …. but bumped into Pete Evans who was busy snapping away. So the images that follow are thanks to him (and far better than I can manage)!

Black tailed skimmer edit

Black-tailed Skimmer (Peter Evans)

Marbled White

Marbled White (Peter Evans)

Initially, it was good to find a few Marbled Whites among the many Meadow Browns. However, as I made my way up onto the top, I found a couple of Fritillaries dashing around. One I was confident was a Dark Green and the other a distant, but possible, Silver-washed. However, this would be an early date for Silver-washed. A bit later I found a very confiding Dark Green feeding on Clover while a short way up the path Peter was photographing another one. Dark Green Fritillaries have been in short supply in recent years so it was particularly pleasing to find a few today.

Dark green Fritilary

Dark Green Fritillary (Peter Evans)

Finally, a Large Skipper. Although I didn’t find one myself, I’m hopeful a few more of our Skippers (Large, Small and Essex) will be on the wing before too long.

Large Skipper

Large Skipper (Pete Evans)