Monday, 31 August 2015

Wild Winkworth, August 2015

There's something about the middle to end of August that I can never quite put my finger on but I absolutely love. The misty, dewy mornings, the golden sunlight, the subtle scent of ripening fruit - it all adds up to the unmistakeable and wholly wonderful feeling of early Autumn. I know Autumn is a dirty word to some people, bringing with it as it does images of endless grey and drizzly days, soggy leaves and the long winter to come, but I just love the change, the feeling of an endless cycle, things taking place in their natural order, season following season, unfettered by our daily goings-on. Winkworth is a great place to observe these changes, as each day brings new things to see as wildlife prepares for the season ahead and - whisper it - the leaves begin to turn. Yes, any of you who have visited the arboretum recently will have noticed there's already a fair few reds, golds and yellows beginning to pop up amongst the greens - particularly amongst some of the Acers. Liquidambars and those strikingly red Cercidiphyllum japonicums in Rowe's Flashe Meadow.
It's not just the leaves that are changing colour; there are also some brightly coloured berries ripening up around the arboretum. Look up on Sorbus Hill and you'll see the colourful sprays of the various Sorbus berries, while amongst the nettles and leafy undergrowth beneath the trees you may spot the bright red-orange spikes of Arum maculatum.
 I mentioned in my last blog post about the birds beginning to move and that has stepped up a pace in the past few weeks. The Swifts have now all but gone; I saw one locally on the 22nd but haven't seen one over the arboretum itself since the 10th. Swallows are now on the move too with some fairly steady southerly movements noted recently. There have also been some sizeable congregations of House Martins - on the 18th at least 40-50 were over Sorbus Hill. The large flocks of Chiffchaffs and other small birds around Rowe's Flashe Lake seem to be getting bigger every day and attracting all sorts of species into their ranks, including several Willow Warblers and the odd Garden Warbler and Whitethroat. On the morning of the 23rd I noted Firecrest, a singing Willow Warbler and several Marsh Tits flitting about in the trees by the boathouse. Talking about the boathouse, and moving away from birds for a moment, I got a bit of surprise when I opened the boathouse on the 2nd and checked the 'Plant of the moment' samples only to find this Old Lady moth on one of the Cotinus clippings!  

The predominant raptor species this month have been Sparrowhawk and Buzzard, both having evidently bred locally as there have been very vocal juveniles of both species in the arboretum recently. A family group of Sparrowhawks made their presence known in the Phillimore Wetlands for most of the middle of the month, while a family of Buzzards have been similarly vocal towards the southern end of Rowe's Flashe Lake. Some days it's seemed almost as if the two sets of juveniles have been playing a game of 'who can whine the loudest', the sound of their cries echoing around the arboretum. Early on the 12th there were eight Buzzards soaring over The Bowl - the highest number I have seen together here to date. While having my lunch on the 30th I caught a brief glimpse of what I judged to be a Goshawk flying north-east low over the upper arboretum. I alerted my friend Ed who I knew was birding on the other side of the valley from Winkworth at the time and he was able to locate the bird in question and confirm its identity. A first record for the arboretum as far as I can tell!
Five of the eight Buzzards soaring over The Bowl on the 12th

On Rowe's Flashe Lake it's been a rather quiet few weeks. On the 11th a female Mute Swan was present for a couple of hours before flying off north - amazingly only my second record here this year - while on the 18th a female Pochard made a brief appearance. By the middle of the month the remaining three Canada Goose youngsters had mysteriously disappeared, and the last I saw of the two adult birds was on the 19th. Kingfishers were seen on heard several times throughout the month, including a juvenile on the 19th. Grey Wagtails are a common enough sight around the lake and spillways but a congregation of six together on the 28th was an unusually high count - presumably the family group that recently vacated the wall of the boathouse. There are still a few Little Grebes and Mandarin Ducks to be seen as well.
Mute Swan on Rowe's Flashe Lake

Other bird highlights in August have included the return of Water Rails to Phillimore Wetlands, with one announcing its presence with its unmistakeable squealing on the 7th. I've heard it regularly since, and on the 13th there were certainly at least two calling in the Gunnera Swamp area. Flyovers have included Hobby (24th) and Raven (29th). Also on the 29th it was good to come across a Spotted Flycatcher flitting around the trees in the north-western corner of the arboretum, roughly between the overflow car park and the viewing platform; the first one I've seen here since the one that hung around for a while in June, so this is likely a bird stopping off on its way from its breeding area back to its wintering grounds in the tropics of Africa. It may not have come all that far though, as I have recently seen a couple of family groups along the neighbouring Thorncombe Street.
I unfortunately didn't have my camera handy to photograph the Flycatcher, so instead here's a juvenile Song Thrush I photographed on Sorbus Hill on the 11th.

On to butterflies now, and it's been rather quiet on that front just lately, partly due to the wet weather in the past week or so but also as some species are coming to the end of their flight season. There's still beeen a few around though, especially worthy of note is this Painted Lady I photographed sunning itself along the Spring Walk on the 22nd.
On the 17th we stumbled across this striking individual in our yard. It's a Buff-tip moth caterpillar. If you haven't ever seen a Buff-tip moth then look it up - they are amazingly camouflaged to look like a bit of broken twig!
With the damper weather recently there's been some cracking fungi popping up around the arboretum like this Chicken of the Woods along the Spring Walk.
There are also Parasol mushrooms in Rowe's Flashe Meadow...
 ...and this lovely Shaggy Inkcap halfway along the dam.
Whilst we were driving past the Winter Garden on the 14th fellow gardener Giles spotted this little Wood Mouse running around. I was amazed how close it let me get - I took this picture on my phone camera with very little zoom! I think it thought if it stayed still I wouldn't see it.

I unfortunately wasn't able to attend the bat walk on the 15th but I'm told it was well attended and several bats were seen and heard on the bat detectors, including Common and Soprano Pipistrelles, Noctule, and Daubentons, the latter seen skimming low over Rowe's Flashe Lake catching insects.
There have been loads of dragonflies around lately, with Southern Hawker and Brown Hawker being the most numerous and conspicuous, although I've also noted the odd Migrant Hawker darting around higher up in the tree canopy.
On the 28th, Grass Snakes and Slow-worms were seen basking on paths in the warm morning sunshine, although sadly neither was obliging enough to hang around for a photo!
Finally, to finish this rather eclectic blog post, a Tanner Beetle! This large beetle species - one of the largest found in the UK - is classified as nationally scarce, so needless to say I was rather surprised to stumble across this one while sweeping out the gardeners' workshop on the 30th. 
Tanner Beetle - what a beast!


Tuesday, 4 August 2015

High summer at Winkworth

Eucryphia glutinosa

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.

Moorhen chicks

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.
Essex Skipper

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)

Small Skipper


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. 

Silver-washed Fritillary

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!