30 Days Wild – Day 14: Getting Brown

A hot day and at this time of year one when you need to take care in the full sun. I was in the office for much of the morning, which was at least cooler. At lunchtime I went outside, hoping to see some hoverflies and soldierflies on the hemlock water-dropwort, but all I saw was bees. I think it was too hot for many insects, on these kind of days they often sit out the hottest part of the day in the shade and can be found clinging to the underside of leaves.

A number of people have commented on the lack of butterflies in recent days, it is true there are not a lot, but this is not that unusual at  this time of year. The spring species have mostly finished and the high summer species are just starting, the “gap” is often bridged by lots of white butterflies, but this year they have been quiet scarce. At Blashford the mid-summer butterflies are the browns and the meadow brown are just starting to appear in numbers now. They do not bask with wings open very much once the day has warmed, up so it was no surprise that they were all sitting with wings closed today.

meadow brown

meadow brown

Meadow brown has just one generation a year and they will fly from now until early September. Some species, like small tortoiseshell and comma have two generations, with the second over-wintering as an adult hidden away out of the worst of the frost. Another of the browns, the speckled wood has three overlapping generations so can be seen from late March to early November, it can also over-winter as ether a caterpillar or a pupa.

speckled wood

speckled wood

In other news, I saw the larger of the lapwing chicks today from tern hide and it must be getting close to fledging now, as is the one remaining oystercatcher chick. The three smaller lapwing chicks seem to have been reduced to two, but they at still growing well. Out on the rafts most of the common tern eggs have now hatched and generally they seem to be in broods of three, with lots of small fish being brought in, so they are growing fast. Today many of the chicks were using the shelters to get out of the strong sunshine, over-heating can be a real problem for small chicks, so shade is important.


Spring Cleaning

As is usual on a Thursday it’s a conservation volunteer morning.  For most of the year it seems we’re involved in either cutting things down (coppicing willow and hazel and bramble bashing) or pulling things up (nettles, ragwort and Himalayan balsam). At this time of year, however, we’re a bit ‘betwixt and between’ as it’s now the bird nesting season – so no cutting down – and the nuisance species have yet to pop their heads up. So now is a good opportunity  to get some housekeeping chores done.   If there are two words that go together at this time of year then perhaps they are ‘spring’ and ‘cleaning’.

Some of the team set-to in cleaning off the cobwebs and dirt that has accumulated on the outside of the Education Centre – and much better it looks now.  Another team spent an energetic couple of hours removing patches of mud that had been washed in over the previous very wet months and accumulated in patches on some of the paths. Still more to be done, but the paths are now less gooey and more pleasant to use.

A project that has been on-going for several weeks has been the reclamation of a piece of artwork – a mosaic of stones in the shape of a ‘Hurricane’ aircraft – which had become heavily overgrown.  A small dedicated team have been tirelessly clearing away the unwanted growth with the result below –

The recently cleaned-up piece of installation art -  symbolic of an earlier use of the site when it was a WW2 airfield and 'Hurricanes' flew from here

The recently cleaned-up piece of installation art – symbolic of an earlier use of the site when it was a WW2 airfield and ‘Hurricanes’ flew from here.                                               Photo courtesy of Judy Hunt

I’m told the mosaic is ‘actual size’ which if true is rather frightening – it seems tiny – my admiration for those that flew in these machines is immense.

But it’s not all just cleaning and polishing.  As many gardeners will appreciate, what grows where and how strongly isn’t always what we want.  It’s much the same on the reserve. There are areas where some stronger growth would be advantageous and one such is by the Ivy South Hide where gaps in the hedge make visitors too visible to the wildlife on the lake. The solution has been to put in a ‘dead hedge’ and  plant some willow ‘withies’, which,  hopefully, will grow to obscure the view.

New screen of withies and dead-hedge by Ivy South Hide

New screen of withies and dead-hedge by Ivy South Hide

Talking of being seen, it will soon be time to put out the rafts for the common terns to nest on. One of the many threats that the young terns will face is predation from some of the larger birds on the reserve. To help them survive, each of the rafts has been provided with tern chick refuges – little wooden shelters that they can hide in, but where the gulls and corvids can’t reach.  Many of the original refuges have now exceeded their ‘best before date’ so a couple of the volunteers were making some new ones out of re-claimed pieces of timber.

All new all singing 'Designer' tern chick refuges...

All new all singing ‘Designer’ tern chick refuges…