Thursday, 30 April 2015

Wild Winkworth, late April

After what must rank as one of the driest Aprils in recent years, the combination of sunshine and some much-needed rain has led to plenty of scenes like this around the arboretum in the past few days - the richness of colour combined with the scents of the various emergent flowers making for an absolute feast for the senses.
Indeed, the change to south-westerly winds and damper conditions last weekend clearly brought with them a few migrant birds as was evident when I got down to Rowe's Flashe Lake on Saturday morning (25th) only to be greeted by the familiar sight of a Common Sandpiper flying about over the water with the Swallows before coming to rest on a buoy towards the southern end. Doubtless there have been several records of this species at Winkworth over the years but, as far as I can tell, this was the first documented record since 1987...
 Imagine my even greater surprise then when I walked past the lake again on the morning of the 30th and flushed FOUR Common Sandpipers from the north-west corner - surely a record count for the site? They then posed quite happily for several photos in the spring sunshine. A lovely sight.

Other new arrivals this past week have been the first Garden Warbler of the year, singing in the brambles towards the south-east corner of the lake on the 25th, and on the 26th a Sedge Warbler was singing in the small patch of reeds on the eastern side of the lake,  replaced on the 28th by a singing Reed Bunting which has remained all week. 
Also nice to discover down at Rowe's Flashe this past weekend was a Little Grebe constructing a nest on one of the buoys - the buoys, incidentally, are marking the areas where barley straw bales have been put in the lake to combat algae. 
Swallow numbers continue to increase, with at least ten zipping around over the water on the 26th although, aside from one House Martin on the 15th, I've yet to see any other hirundine species or Swifts here yet - I discovered the other day that Sand Martins used to nest in the banks of Rowe's Flashe. 
Amongst all this excitement there have also been increasingly regular visits from a couple of Greylag Geese, not all that common a sight here....
and the first Mallard ducklings of the year have emerged and are growing fast. There were twelve around as of the 28th. 

Thankfully they appear to have so far escaped the jaws of the local Grey Herons...
During sunnier spells the birdsong in the arboretum has been incredible. It was good to see and hear this handsome male Greenfinch singing away near Rowe's Flashe Lake on the morning of the 27th, especially as numbers of this species have fluctuated in recent years due to disease.
Talking of birdsong, this Sunday (3rd May) I'll be helping out at a dawn chorus walk at Winkworth. This walk is now fully booked but I will be leading another one at Uppark on the 11th, should any of you be interested in attending.
Back to Winkworth now, and another exciting development this past week was my discovery of a male Sparrowhawk adding material to a nest in the lower arboretum. He's been working on it for several days now and it's great to see him meticulously adding each twig one by one - fingers crossed he finds a mate and they go on to rear some chicks in a few weeks. 
Who's watching who?
The weather has been rather hit and miss for butterflies in the past few days, but during the warmer spells I have noted plenty of Orange-tips and Peacocks around, plus smaller numbers of Speckled Woods, Large Whites, Brimstones and this Comma, basking on a path in the meadow on the 22nd.
Less easy to spot was this well camouflaged Brindled Beauty moth...
And this hoverfly, Helophilus pendulus - 'The Footballer' (due to its stripy thorax) or 'Sun Fly' - was equally well hidden on the sandy soil. 


Thursday, 16 April 2015

Recent goings-on at Winkworth, April 2015

It's been a glorious couple of weeks at Winkworth, with some very warm days indeed for the time of year - the temperature peaking at 26 degrees celsius on the 15th.
The changes in the arboretum have been pronounced with the trees and wildlife springing into life. Where just a week or two ago there were bare branches, now there is a haze of green beginning to appear. Down at ground level too there is much fresh growth and colour to be seen, but more on that later...
Prunus Tai Haku, Great White Cherry (in The Bowl)

Birds-wise, the migration season is now fully underway at last with the arrival of the fine weather. The morning of 9th April saw a notable influx of the common woodland warblers, with at least fourteen Chiffchaffs and eight Blackcaps around the arboretum as well as the first Willow Warbler singing out on Sorbus Hill. By the 13th there were at least three WWs around the site. On the morning of the 10th I heard my first Cuckoo of the year singing just to the north of Bluebell Wood. This male has been seen and/or heard daily since, regularly commuting between the Winkworth area and the far side of the valley to the east. Hopefully his efforts will be rewarded and a female will arrive soon. Swallow numbers are increasing locally and are now a fairly frequent sight skimming over Rowe's Flashe Lake or chattering away overhead, while the first House Martin of the year was seen racing north on the 15th.

The warmer weather is good news for butterflies too, not to mention those of us that enjoy seeing them! In addition to numerous Peacocks, Brimstones and Small Tortoiseshells, the 14th saw the first Orange-tip, Speckled Wood and Small Copper of 2015 take to the wing in the arboretum - the latter the first record of the year for Surrey. There have been a couple of Small White sightings recently too, and the Winkworth butterfly list for this year currently stands at ten species.

Not a butterfly, although it had me fooled for a moment - this Orange Underwing moth was still a very nice sight basking in the sun on the newly resurfaced path past the Winter Garden on the morning of the 10th.
As I alluded to earlier, there are some wonderful displays of flowers to be seen around the arboretum now, not just from the magnificent Magnolias, Cherries and Acers, but also from many of our native wild flowers. Here are just a few of the many flowering at Winkworth recently...

Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium)

Wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)

Green Field-speedwell (Veronica agrestis)

Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)

Common Dog-violet (Viola riviniana)

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)

Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum)

and, of course....

Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

I love this time of year!


Monday, 6 April 2015

Wild Winkworth, late March-early April

Spring is now in full swing at Winkworth, and the birdsong has really crescendoed since my last blog post. Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Chaffinches and many other resident species are now belting out their best tunes around the arboretum and have been joined, as of today, by up to nine Chiffchaffs and three Blackcaps.
Song Thrush mid-song

Chiffchaff - 'not really my best side'


As you can see from the above pictures, we've been treated to some wonderful sunshine in the past couple of weeks, although it has often not been all that warm. Luckily on Easter Monday we finally got some more pleasant spring weather, with the mercury rising into the high teens celsius.

The cold and often strong winds that typified the end of March and early April seriously hampered bird migration right across Britain, so it was with some considerable relief that I saw a single Swallow feeding over Rowe's Flashe Lake on the morning of 1st April - my first one of 2015 and truly a sight for sore eyes!
On Rowe's Flashe Lake itself, all the usual suspects remain present and correct - the Pochards have been around on and off, with two drakes and a female still present as of 1st April. Here's one of the drakes with a drake Tufted Duck. 
A Pochard asleep? Surely not...

Kingfishers have become a more regular sight and sound in recent days - I use the plural there because on more than one occasion I have seen a pair together.

Our resident pair of domestic Greylag Geese have built a nest on the gabions on the west side of the lake, and the female is now to be found curled up there for most of the day. 
Mandarin Ducks are still seen most days too, although not in such large numbers - clearly some have dispersed to breed elsewhere.  
The usual trio of Roe Deer have been seen frequently in Bluebell Wood, the buck now looking particularly impressive with his new antlers.
In addition to the many ornamental trees now coming into flower, the native wild flowers are also starting to put on a great show. Look out for the small and delicate Wood Sorrel and Wood Anemone dotted about the woodland floor like stars.
Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella)
Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa)

After an early flurry of sightings, the chilly weather has meant there haven't been many butterflies around just lately, but Brimstone, Red Admiral and Peacock have made occasional appearances during calmer moments in recent days, although I am still waiting to see the first non-hibernatory species of the year - when the first Orange-tip takes to the wing in the arboretum then it will be truly Spring! In the meantime, here's one I photographed earlier...(last year!)