July is invariably a frantically busy month in most gardens and Winkworth is no exception, as the gardeners and volunteers have been hard at work recently endeavouring to hold back the sea of bracken and brambles threatening to engulf every footpath and specimen tree onsite. In amongst the hard graft and rushing around though, it’s good to pause and take time to appreciate the sights and sounds of the wildlife around the place.
Down at Rowe’s Flashe Lake we have at last seen our first Moorhen chicks of the year, with three present on the 11th, rising to at least five by the end of the month. Other new additions of late have been at least four Tufted Duck ducklings, more Mallard chicks and up to six young Little Grebes. The resident family of Canada Geese are still around, although I noticed towards the end of the month that one of the goslings had disappeared, leaving just three.
Tufted Duck female and young
There are plenty of young birds to be seen (and heard) away from the water too. We now have a resident family of Buzzards which presumably bred locally. They can often be seen and heard – particularly the very vocal juveniles – in the trees towards the southern end of Rowe’s Flashe Lake/Meadow, or soaring overhead.
Listen out too for the constant ‘huweet’ call of the many Chiffchaffs flitting about in the trees and shrubs by the lake. On the 21st there were some brief bursts of song to be heard from a Garden Warbler in the brambles at the south-eastern corner of the lake. It’s good to know they’re still around, although I’ve yet to see any juveniles so don’t know if they’ve successfully bred.
In the wall of the boathouse a pair of Grey Wagtails successfully fledged a brood of young early in the month. As I went down to close the boathouse one evening I joined a group of visitors who were gathered round enjoying watching through the windows as the adult birds alighted on the balcony railing with bills of food before delivering them to the noisily begging youngsters.
Although from our perspective, with the onset of the school holidays, summer is just getting into gear, for many birds the breeding season is already reaching its end and from as early as the first week of the month I observed small numbers of Swifts beginning to move southwards over the arboretum. As Gilbert White commented, “How strange is it that the swift, which seems to live exactly the same life with the swallow and house-martin, should leave us before the middle of August invariably!” As they are one of my favourite birds it’s always rather sad to see them go.
Sorbaria sorbifolia on Sorbus Hill
Early on 27th July there was a clear demonstration of migration in action as over a hundred Swifts piled west at quite some height in a tight group, followed swiftly (no pun intended) by a Black-tailed Godwit going the same way very high – the first documented record of one here. Other ‘vismig’ (visible migration) records in recent weeks have included Crossbills - one west on the 11th and nine south-west on the 16th – and Sand Martin, with one high over Rowe’s Flashe Lake with a couple of Swifts on the 22nd the only record this year. As far as I know they don’t breed anywhere particularly local to Winkworth so this individual was presumably on the move.
Rowe's Flashe Meadow
A few other bird highlights from July: Ravens were seen on the 20th, when one flew east, and the 23rd when one flew north-west. On the morning of the 21st a Hobby flew south-west over Rowe’s Flashe Lake. On the 29th there were two Whitethroats amongst lots of warblers and finches in the bushes in Furze Field – my only record to date at Winkworth of this otherwise fairly common species.
The number of butterflies on the wing in the arboretum has exploded in the last few weeks and it’s now easy to see 15-20 species here on a sunny day. The grassy areas are full of Meadow Browns, Ringlets, Large and Small Skippers, while on the 16th I noted the first Essex Skipper of the year in Rowe’s Flashe Meadow. The somewhat scarcer relation of the Small Skipper, the defining feature of the Essex Skipper is its black antennae tips (Small Skippers’ antennae have orangey-brown tips - see picture below)
Red Admiral having a rest on the senior gardener's hand!
While bracken bashing in Bluebell Wood with a big volunteer group on the 28th (we crush the bracken rather than cut it as this is widely regarded as a more effective method of reducing its vigour, thereby giving other plants a chance) it was entertaining to watch a Brown Hawker dragonfly chasing a Silver-washed Fritillary around at eye level. Just one of many sightings in recent weeks of this majestic woodland butterfly which seem to be thriving at Winkworth.
Buddleia is a great source of nectar for butterflies and other pollinators at this time of year. The other day I counted twenty-four individuals of nine species on a single bush! We have a few Buddleias dotted about the arboretum so it's worth looking out for one and lingering for a spot of butterfly watching if you're visiting soon, or even better plant some in your own garden if you have space.
Copper Underwing moth
Another fun thing to look for at this time of year is caterpillars. There’s a huge array of weird and wonderful larvae to be found if you keep your eyes open, like the bright yellow and black striped Cinnabar moth caterpillars, or this monster Drinker moth larvae I photographed down in Phillimore Wetland. They can grow up to 7cm in length!
The wild Honeybees in the arboretum have been very active recently, particularly the colony in the boathouse which have been swarming on occasion. Plants such as Sorbaria and Aralia (pictured below have been proving very popular!