December wildlife

In the last few weeks I have been busy doing a variety of scrub cutting and tree felling at Fishlake Meadows and Blashford Lakes, trying to make the most of the breaks in the rain! In between the rain I have seen quite a few plants in flower! It’s lovely to still see some colour around, but is a sign that the weather has been a bit on the warm side. I saw this red dead nettle in flower at Fishlake Meadows and several common storksbill in flower at Blashford Lakes. Common storksbill often has 2 petals which are larger than the others and sometimes have black spots at the base. Its one of the food plants of the brown argus butterfly caterpillar.

REd dead nettle

Red dead nettle in flower at Fishlake Meadows

Storksbill blashford dec

Common storksbill in flower at Blashford, 2 top petals showing the darker spots

At Fishlake Meadows on the 5th December was another work party. This time we were thinning scrub through the middle of Ashley Meadow and cutting willow branches back that were getting near to the fence. On the whole we mainly cleared the more mature scrub, and the younger saplings were left. This way we can maintain some scrub through the meadow without their being an increase. Each year we will review how much scrub there is and cut any we think is needed. Thank you to Simon and his Lower Test volunteer team, also the 2 new forest apprentices for their help scrub cutting in Ashley Meadow.

While cutting some of the willow branches at the edge of Ashley Meadow we spotted this lovely drinker moth caterpillar. They hibernate when part grown, start feeding again in spring and are then fully grown by June. The caterpillars feed mainly at night, resting low on vegetation in the day. They feed on coarse grasses such as cock’s-foot, reed canary grass and common reed, favouring damp habitats.

drinker moth caterpillar dec

Drinker moth caterpillar

Back at Blashford Lakes and while we were clearing an area of scrub and non native grey alder we noticed that there were quite a few common puffball fungi on the woodland floor. They are sometimes called the warted puffball because they are covered in lots of little bumps. Once they have matured a small hole opens up at the top of the ball to release the large number of spores inside, released in a visible puff if it’s knocked.

stalk puffballs blashford

Common puffball

On some of the willow that was pulled out from the area was a vast number of giant willow aphids. I thought I would do some reading in to them to learn about them, and found that they have a very interesting lifecycle. They are anholocyclic which means there are no males, and the females reproduce without being fertilised, so are parthenogenetic. They typically group together in large colonies as we saw, with all different sizes present as they continue to reproduce through the winter.

Aphids dec

Cluster of giant willow aphids

There is lots of wildlife to see and learn about all year round, so I’m pleased to have seen so much in the last couple of weeks. On the run up to Christmas I will be keeping an eye out for even more.


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