We were back exploring the Cotswold hills around Winchcombe again this weekend, this time above Alstone in some flower-rich meadows. As well as the beautiful views there was plenty of wildlife to enjoy, especially butterflies and flowers. I find the over-sized Goat’s Beard seed heads and the Woolly Thistle flower buds both pretty impressive and it was great to see so many grasshoppers and butterflies. So far I’ve only seen the odd butterfly visiting the garden, and moths are not very numerous either, but in the wilder meadows there were very many meadow browns, ringlets, marbled whites and skippers..
This weekend we enjoyed a lovely walk over Alderton Hill to Dumbleton and back. There were plenty of butterflies, including many Marbled Whites and these, easier to photograph, Large Skippers hanging out on brambles next to a field of uncut wild grass. The Ragwort flowers were covered in Red Soldier Beetles, mostly busy making baby beetles. This Robin’s Pincushion, on a wild rose in the hedge, is caused by the larvae of a small gall wasp (Diplolepis rosae), which secrete a chemical that causes the rose bud to grow abnormally. Each gall contains many larvae living in separate compartments inside the gall. Birding-wise, I was happy to see a little owl and my first spotted flycatcher this summer.
Thanks to some really lovely weather this weekend, I had a couple of beautiful walks up the local hills enjoying the butterflies and wild flowers. I was very happy to find Bee Orchids on Cleeve Hill and many Pyramidal Orchids on Bredon Hill. No photos, but a calling Quail at the top of Bredon Hill was also a good find.
This was my first visit of the season around the reserve at Greystones. Spring seems always a bit slow to arrive up there, but the meadows were starting to come alive. The Cow Parsley was in full bloom on the Iron Age ramparts; meanwhile orchids (Spotted, Southern Marsh and Early Marsh) were all in bloom, as were some nice patches of blue Vipers Bugloss. It was a bit windy, but even so very few butterflies and dragonflies to be seen.
Last weekend saw my final survey visit for the new BTO English Winter Bird Survey. This survey covers my regular Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) km square just outside Broadway, Worcestershire. Due to the recent warm weather it was more like an early Breeding Bird Survey, with resident birds like song thrush, robin, wren, chaffinch, linnet and skylarks singing everywhere. There were some winter redwings still around and a fly-over siskin, but due to the lack of leaves I saw more of the resident birds than I often do when I visit in April. Bullfinch, marsh tit and treecreeper are some of the less common residents on this square that were showing well. Lesser-spotted Woodpeckers are easiest seen at this time of year, but one seen calling and drumming on a dead tree is a rare sighting here or in indeed most other places in UK.
I liked doing the survey on my regular square and seeing different birds there, but doing the expected 4 visits was a problem as short winter days make it hard to do the survey around other weekend activities, especially in the pre-Christmas period. As it was I only managed the two visits in December and February, but I do think this was enough to accurately survey the wintering bird population on the site.
Attended a really interesting GWT course on Small Mammals and their ecology at Greystones Farm. After some background on British small mammals, we learned how to set Longworth traps and run surveys and also recognise small mammal bones from Barn Owl pellets. On a wet day our traps looked inviting, lined with bedding hay and furnished with a variety of different foods - for vegetarian voles, omnivorous mice and carnivorous voles - but placing them for a couple of hours in the afternoon we didn’t catch anything. However, some traps lines that had been set early in the morning were more successful, and we caught 2 Common Shrews, a Bank Vole and (very exciting!) a Water Shrew that had been foraging quite far from its normal riverside habitat. The mammals were sexed, weighed and returned back, none the worse for the experience. I thoroughly recommend the course and will definitely go on some more GWT courses. It was really good to see these mammals alive and close up.
Check out GWT courses at https://www.gloucestershirewildlifetrust.co.uk/courses
Back at Greystones today for a walk. Despite the windy day there were still some butterflies about in the sheltered spots. Several Commas around the brambles, Small Coppers and also some Speckled Wood butterflies. The meadows are growing back a bit after their July hay harvest haircut, allowing some flowering of Devils Bit Scabious, Silverweed and hawkbit. Four Little Egrets on the nearby gravel pit were a sign of the season.
A beautiful sunny, still and cool morning, starting to feel even a bit autumnal. There were lots of birds around, especially in the neighbours' large birch trees at the foot of the garden. Family groups of blue tits, great tits, goldfinches, greenfinches, blackbirds and house sparrows were more apparent than usual. A singing willow warbler and a lesser whitethoat (new for the garden and species #313 for the microEden list) were not locals. They are migrant warblers slowly moving south & west, feeding up for the long migration to Africa as they go. Families of swallows, house martins and swifts were overhead - the swifts will be gone any day now, heading South. By 10.00 am the birds are almost silent - you'd never know they were there.
It seems a good time to mention the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and their Garden Birdwatch survey that collects data - weekly maximum counts - of the bird species in your garden. You can also optionally record other wildlife like mammals, butterflies, etc. This is great as everyone's records build up a very representative dataset of changes in bird populations in gardens across the UK. The website it interesting. Consider signing up - It's not too much of a commitment (https://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/gbw)
I like the crazy patterns leaf miners make in the leaves. The traces are made by larvae, mostly of flies or moths, that live between the top and bottom surfaces of the leaf, eating their way around the interior in different ways until they eventually are ready to transform. By the plant species involved and the pattern left by the larvae you can mostly identify which the species. I've recorded mines on sugar snap peas, chard and aquilegia; also on weeds such as sow thistles, herb bennett & willowherb. Mostly they're fairly harmless, though I'm not so happy about the damage to my chard - not that I can do much about it, if I don't want to use insecticide.