Dawn Chorus May 6th. We have had a bit of a break from reporting Sightings due to changes in staffing - and all the busy times that go with that! So we thought, what better way to re-start, than with news of our Dawn Chorus, led by Adrian and kindly submitted by Mike:
This year the weather was dry, but cloudy, cool and windy. We started just after 5.00am with the chorus in full song, but many sheltering from the wind. This meant many of our sightings were in fact 'hearings'!
Our route took us around the eastern portion of the Common, through meadows, woodland and glades with a similar number of species recorded to previous years. It is always always a pleasure to see swifts on the wing, to spot a kestrel, as well as the strong presence of song thrush and green woodpecker – all pointing towards the success of our mixed habitat.
Larger birds seen were geese, seagulls, carrion crow, jackdaw, magpie, jay, wood pigeon, stock dove, parakeet, and mallard. Our regular summer visitors included black cap and chiff-chaff; the wrens were singing loudly, and we spotted chaffinch, great and blue tits, as well as robins and blackbirds in large numbers. A walk back near the ponds after breakfast near the ponds added nuthatch, dunnock and starlings - our local ‘flock’ now numbers 26 with fledglings adding to the number week on week.
No signs this year of tawny owls which were such a highlight last year; nor goldcrest, greater spotted woodpecker, wagtails, long-tailed tits, kingfisher, and numerous other species we know to be around – so do keep your eyes peeled and let us know if you spot a buzzard or kite flying over, birds on their migration. It is always a delight to get reports of these sightings which make our day as well as yours!
LATE ADDITION: Gold finch at Vine Road 8th May : )
December usually sees roving flocks of long-tailed tits and goldcrests moving through the woodlands in search of food - it is always worth looking closely at these flocks just in case there is a firecrest with them. This species is on the increase and the areas on the Common with dense stands of holly and ivy are ideal for them.
At the end of the month, redwing numbers were just starting to build with a few flocks of a dozen birds or so feeding on holly trees berries at Paddock Wood.
At the start of the month on the 2nd at Ranelagh, there was still a red admiral on the wing.
In the first winter period, redwings are usually sparse on the Common, with just a maximum of four seen at Mill Hill on the 10th. A moorhen, possibly the only surviving youngster from last year, seems to be resident at Tadpole Pond now, while the only other sighting of note was a pied wagtail feeding on the football pitch on the 30th – after the prolonged spell of cold frosty weather it’s quite possible that this was a migrant / continental bird.
While the heather plugs planted at Mill Hill all seem to be surviving, encouragingly a few tiny shoots are also appearing elsewhere. These will have grown from seed that came with the heather brash we received from Wimbledon Common and that was put down after the area was cleared a couple of years ago– It will be an ongoing battle to keep the gorse down but hopefully the heather will prosper.
There were a couple of reports of hedgehogs seen around the Common while the only bird sightings of note were two skylarks heading SW over Half & Half meadow on the 26th Oct. Passage of these birds at this time of year is not unusual, but they are also prospecting for future nesting sites.
With regard to butterflies, a few small coppers were still in evidence with four on the 7th making the most of the remaining ragwort at Mill Hill.
Depending on the weather, October can be a great time for fungi and the goods yard has been very productive with shaggy ink cap, weeping widow, spring fieldcap and sulphur tuft all putting in appearances. Pick of the crop by a distance though was a blue / green gill mushroom 'Roundhead' or 'Verdigris agaric' found by Keith and his family over by the raised beds.
A hobby, a migratory falcon that spends it summer in the UK, sped over the meadow near the cemetery on the 1st. A few house martins were seen drifting south over Van Buren meadow on the 10th and a grey wagtail was at Tadpole pond on the 29th.
There were still good numbers of small coppers and speckled wood on the wing, with other species such as red admirals, tortoiseshells and painted ladies seeming distinctly lacking. There were good numbers of dragonflies, with many migrant hawkers in several areas of the Common. Two common darters were at the ponds and three southern hawkers were patrolling some of the paths nearby. The males of the latter are a vibrant apple green and blue in colouration and can be very inquisitive, readily approaching people for an inspection if they are prepared to be still for a minute or so.
As ever, butterflies provided the main sightings for August. Even in its first year, the weekly butterfly transect has provided valuable insight into the Common’s butterflies, not least the Purple Hairstreak. It appears that this butterfly is definitely not an early starter preferring to fly on fine summer evenings from 6pm to 8pm. On one transect walk, three oak trees were hosting about 10 butterflies each so it has probably been under recorded in the past and more encouragingly, it does not seem to have been unduly affected by the OPM spaying.
Karen who leads the transect also had 26 Small Coppers in one day which is a potential record for a site in Surrey. Hopefully our clearance work and the resurgence of sheep’s sorrel which is the larval plant for this butterfly has helped in its success.
Other sightings included a buzzard flying low over the cemetery meadow on the 24th and a further two buzzards seemingly prospecting over the cricket pitch at Vine Road on the 31st.
Purple Hairstreak Marbled White White-letter Hairstreak
Butterflies provided the main sightings for July 2016 with several records of both white letter hairstreak and purple hairstreak. While the adults of the latter generally feed on honeydew, the larvae feed exclusively on oak, so sightings of this butterfly are very encouraging in light of the spraying for OPM. There were also a couple of sightings of marbled white, a very striking butterfly that will hopefully increase in numbers with our management of the meadows.
Not such good news for the moorhens – at one stage the parents had one juvenile from an earlier breeding attempt in the Spring plus an additional half a dozen small black chicks from the most recent nesting in June - however by the end of July, only the juvenile appeared to be left – the fox may well be the most likely culprit having been seen at least twice at the ponds during the day, although the heron or local crows may also have played a part.
There was a good gathering of swifts at Vine Road on the 20th and 21st July with at least 30 in the vicinity, flying low over the bowling green presumably feeding on a recent hatch of insects, probably flying ants. Hopefully, they have had a good breeding season but as one of the earliest migrants returning back to Africa, within a month, the majority will have already departed our shores.