A Grey Wagtail was at the Tadpole pond on the 6th while a Heron is becoming a regular visitor at the new swamp pond. There were two Redwing at Vine Road on the 8th and four at Mill Hill on the 21st. Usually, there is a roving flock of a dozen to twenty birds on the Common at this time of year but these visitors from Scandinavia and Iceland have been remarkably scarce this winter.
At least two people have reported seeing a Little Egret on the Beverley Brook. This very handsome white heron would have been an absolute rarity 30 years ago but is now increasingly common. It is a very impressive bird in flight where its yellow feet and black legs can easily be seen.
A very early butterfly was seen on the wing on the 8th Feb at the cemetery and was likely to have been a Peacock.
The Long Tailed Tits are already in nest building mode and can be heard around the gorse bushes which provide their preferred nesting sites while nuthatches have been very noticeable by their calls at Ranelagh and Mill Hill. When nesting, mud is usually plastered around the entrance, side and roof of the nest cavity and if using nest boxes, mud is often plastered around the entrance hole too.
First signs of spring included a brimtsone on the 8th at Ranelagh, a blackcap was in song near Scarth Road on the 18th, the first chiffchaff was heard near the cemetery on the 25th and a peacock butterfly was seen at Common Road on the 31st.
Other sightings included a lone coot at the Swamp pond and 2 goldcrests at the Ups and Downs. Two goldfinches and two greenfinches were at Vine Road on the 25th, both likely to be pairs breeding close by.
Finally, the ladies smock (cuckoo flower) seems to have survived the winter work at the ponds and has put up a great show near the Tadpole pond with hopefully more to come.
The first sighting of interest was a hand sized dab/flounder disturbed in the Beverley Brook while clearing rubbish from the stream on the 1st April.
April saw some excellent weather for butterflies. On the 9th, numerous peacock and brimstone were on the wing along with holly blue (2), small tortoiseshell (2), comma, orange tip and speckled wood (2). On the same day two buzzards were high over Maisies meadow and probably part of a significant passage of these birds heading north over London that day – chiffchaffs and blackcaps have also been staking their territories while there is one bird that has taken up its post at Mill Hill that sings like a willow warbler but ends with chiffchaff notes. This behaviour has become increasingly reported but still not fully understood but it could be song switching where birds simply copy other notes or mixed singing where hybridisation has occurred. It’s likely the Barnes bird is a chiffchaff as willow warblers generally breed further north these days.
There were a pair of Mandarin ducks on the swamp pond on the 14th, while another two buzzards flew low over Mill Hill, drifting south on the 23rd. Even ten years ago, to see a buzzard over London would have been quite a sighting but now their expansion seems to be unlimited. A Tawny Owl was heard calling on the 26thon the dawn chorus walk while 2 Swallows flew west over Yarrow Meadow on the 29th.
The red campion planted last year at Ranelagh is now in flower with further plugs of this and native bluebell now coming through despite the lack of rain.
The first swift of the year was seen over Mill Hill on the 5th. These birds are known for their life on the wing where they feed on the aerial soup of insects of mainly aphids but also flies, wasps and sometimes spiders.
Raptors featured well in May with two Buzzards seen over Mill Hill on the 10th and again on 13th. Almost certainly now breeding locally, possibly at Richmond Park. A summer migrant and perhaps the most dashing of falcons, a Hobby was seen briefly near our boundary with Lower Putney Heath on the 20th while a Red Kite was seen flying over Vine Road Recreation Ground on the 27th and 28th.
By the end of the month, the two nest boxes at Mill Hill just contained empty nests which confirmed successful fledging for one Blue and one Great Tit family.
It was another good month for butterflies with 2 green hairstreaks seen near Common Road along with the first small copper on the 10thfollowed by the first small heath on the 13th. Brimstones, peacocks and speckled wood appeared to be in good numbers with another 2 small coppers at Mill Hill on the 21st. The latter should be well suited to the Common as their caterpillars feed on common and sheep’s sorrel which are abundant.
May also sees the emergence of the first dragon and damsel flies with a pair of large red damselflies at the Swamp pond with a female banded demoiselle there as well on the 21st. On the same day a Hairy dragonfly was also on patrol at the Beverley Brook. This is the earliest of the large hawker dragonflies on the wing and is characterised by its sharp, low level zig zagging flight. Once relatively scarce, this species appears to be increasing its range.
On the 20th May, Mary Clare led a botany walk which included a look at the plants that have developed on the land at the former goods yard – there was a surprising range of well over 50 species including several vetch and trefoil species along with medick, mayweed, wild carrot, hardhead, teasel and interestingly, yellow rattle which parasitizes various grass species and is useful for reducing their dominance.
While an evening search for newts provide fruitless on the 28th, it was very encouraging to see at least four pipistrelle bats foraging for insects at the new ponds.
June has been the month for Black- tailed Skimmers. This is a handsome dragonfly where the female or immatures have the appearance of very large wasps while the males have pale blue abdomens with black tips. It’s a fast, low flying species but can often be seen perched on open ground. The first was a female / immature seen at Common Road on the 9th followed by daily sightings with a high count of two males and at least another half a dozen females / immatures around on the 17th.
Other dragonflies included the first emperor on the 18th where the males with their electric blue abdomens generally boss the areas they hunt over.
Butterflies have had another good month with undoubtedly the highlight being a pristine marbled white at Mill Hill on the 23rd followed by another two at Common Road on the 25th. Unfortunately this is one of those butterflies that rarely stops but is very striking if it is seen at rest.
The first meadow brown of the year was seen on the 17th followed by the first large skipper at the cemetery on the 23rd and 4 small skippers at Mill Hill on the 24th June. A small tortoiseshell was also at Maisie’s on the 24th with two common blues at FGY.
Stinging nettles are not all bad especially for peacock butterflies who uses them as their larval plant. Their black velvety caterpillars are currently chomping their way through nettles on the bank of the Beverley Brook and in the meadow next to Common Road.
Other insects included an impressive male stag beetle found in the leaf litter near the station on the 18th June.
Birdlife tends to quieten down in the summer months but a grey wagtail was at the swamp pond on the 11th, the mixed singing willow warbler / chiffchaff continues to sing, presumably in vain, at Mill Hill, while a family of kestrels have been quite vocal at the far end of the cemetery where three youngsters have been waiting for food to be provided.
There are about 16 reptile refugia or mats out on the Common at the moment but as yet we have had no sightings of any reptiles. We will probably collect them up at beginning of July but put them out again in September when temperatures start to drop again.
Mammals are not often reported but one local resident did have a sighting of a hedgehog in their garden on the 16th June.
The month got off to a great start on the 2nd with three white letter hairstreaks characteristically flitting elusively around an elm clump. The larval plant is exclusively wych and common elm although the adults will feed on bramble, thistles and ragwort. We are looking at some stage at planting disease resistant elm along with wych elm to replace the dying elms. This should help this butterfly as they are not good colonisers, often using the same site year after year.
On the same day there was also a painted lady butterfly near the cemetery. These butterflies are extraordinary migrants travelling from N.Africa, the Middle East and central Asia, in some years arriving in huge numbers.
July usually sees an explosion of smaller orange butterflies usually crammed onto ragwort or some of the escaped stonecrop at Mill Hill. These are the skippers, either small or essex if one can get ever get close enough to see their antennae and tell them apart.
On the 4th there was a handsome male Broad Bodied chaser at the tadpole pond. As the vegetation around the ponds increase hopefully this species will become a regular breeder.
The first gatekeeper butterfly was seen on the 7th while a blue tailed damselfly was at the Brook. More butterflies included two purple hairstreaks near the cemetery on the 9th. It was reassuring to see this species as no-one is entirely sure of the collateral damage from OPM spraying.
There were two black and crimson six spot burnet moths at FGY on the 18th.
A grey wagtail was at the Brook on the 10th while an encouraging count of seven greenfinches on the 14th at Vine Road suggests successful local breeding as did 30 swifts above Maisies on the 18th and 20 house martins over Van Burens meadow on the 20th.
There have also been further reports of hedgehogs, both dead and alive but it is encouraging to know they are around.
Bird migration is well underway by August with the last sighting of swifts over the Common on the 5th with four heading west. These birds are always one of the earliest migrants to depart our shores while small flocks of house martins have also been moving through. A kingfisher whistled down the brook on the 5th, while a little egret flew along Maisie’s meadow on the 11th. Thirty years ago, this would have been an incredible rarity but there are probably now around 700 pairs in the UK.
Butterflies have been scarce but a painted lady was at the Goods Yard on the 5th and a rather dazed but very fresh looking small tortoiseshell was at Vine road on the 11th.
While the tadpole pond has looked rather sad with the limited rain, the swamp pond has been a triumph, retaining its water with a profusion of plant life including arrowhead, water plantain and flowering rush. Other life is already arriving with two water boatmen, a large water snail and three Common Darter dragonflies there on the 28th.
While we had no sightings during the summer, we will put out the reptile mats again for the beginning of September as the slightly cooler days can still yield results.
Bird sightings included 2 redpolls over Vine Road on the 23rd, 2 redwing at Common Road on the 26th and skylarks heard going over Mill Hill on the 18th and 25th.
Redwings are winter visitors from Iceland and Scandinavia and are well known for raiding the berries on the hawthorn and rowan trees as soon as they arrive. However, it seems that Redwings are somewhat unusual in that while many birds show some site allegiance with regards to their summering or wintering grounds, it appears that Redwing s that winter in the UK one year may well be found wintering in other southern European countries the following year.
It has been extremely mild for the time of year with butterflies still on the wing including speckled wood on the 2nd and both red admiral and holly blue seen at Vine Road on the 25th. While mowing the meadow at the football pitch Frances found a very impressive spider – we were not sure whether it was either full of eggs or it had had a very good breakfast!
Finally, on the last day of the month David Warwick led a fungi foray where over 70 different species were found including three mycorrhizal species growing with the same Silver Birch tree: Lactarius glyciosmus (smelling of coconut), Lactarius tabidus (whose milk turns yellow) and Russula betularum. Also found was the the disgusting tasting Lactarius turpis fruiting in large numbers under Birch and the exceptionally pretty, purple Laccaria amethystina in leaf litter under Oak.
Typically November sightings are limited, although the mild weather has meant red admirals were still on the wing with individuals seen on the 12th and 27th.. Other signs of autumn have been an increase, albeit a slow one of redwing numbers. Flocks usually number a dozen or so but these birds are now taking up station on some of the berried holly bushes around the Common.
A grey wagtail has been much in evidence at the swamp ponds recently while a great spotted woodpecker was seen and heard drumming on one of the receptors at the top of the nearby telephone mast. It was clearly to the bird’s liking as it continued to drum for ten minutes or so making an impressive resonating sound.
Goldcrests have been numerous on the Common this month with a maximum of four at the cemetery on the 11th – it is always worth checking these birds in case one has a white eyestripe and is the rarer firecrest. The goldcrest population is considerably swelled each autumn by birds arriving from Scandinavia, having made the hazardous journey over the North Sea. Weighing only a few grams, the goldcrest and firecrest are the UK’s smallest birds and constantly on the move looking for food.
The grey wagtail is still frequenting the ponds while a lone siskin flew over Mill Hill on the 21st.
While chipping and clearing at Rocks Lane, a short tailed vole (also called field vole) was seen in the grass but safely removed to another area. These animals are different to mice in that they have much blunter noses and less prominent eyes. They do not hibernate but moult to provide a dense layer of fur for winter and a lighter coat in spring. As each female can have up to six litters of half a dozen young a year, it is likely to be the most common mammal on the Common and certainly forms a major prey item for the local kestrels and foxes.