A riot of colour and life; there’s so much to see at Clandon Wood in high summer.

Well, there’s an amazing amount of things to talk about since my last blog post – it’s certainly been an action-packed few weeks at Clandon Wood!

First up, I’m pleased to report that all five Kestrel chicks have grown strong and healthy enough to leave the nest box. It’s been great fun watching them learning to hunt and fly around the car park area recently or sometimes all perched in a line on the roof of the new shepherd’s hut. You might still see them around this area for a little while yet but as they gradually extend their horizons they will start to blend into the landscape a little more and by the end of the summer will most likely have dispersed to other locations. As ever, the licensed bird ringer who installed the nest box has fitted the youngsters with coloured leg rings so we can keep tabs on their movements. I was chatting to another ringer the other day who said he’d caught one of last year’s juveniles just up the road in Ripley a few months back, and of course the year before that one turned up in Essex!

Ben, Gareth, Michael and George with Kestrel chicks
One of the youngsters on the shepherd’s hut. Photo by Ralph Clark

We again are pretty sure we have a pair of Skylarks nesting in the East Meadow. Unlike last year, they seemed to give it a miss earlier in the summer as the grass was a little slower to get growing but, as is the case with many bird species, they will sometimes try for a later brood as and when the conditions are more suitable – as we hope as happened at Clandon Wood. Please remember to keep all dogs on a short lead when onsite as these ground-nesting birds are particularly vulnerable to disturbance.

On the Lady Pond in the East Meadow a pair of Moorhens have successfully reared five chicks which have now half grown into black powder puffs on stilts, squeaking constantly as they pester their parents for food. You can get good views of them from behind the willow hide which Gareth and I built earlier this year. Sadly, not such good news for the Coots on the West Pond which have failed to breed successfully for the first time in the four summers I’ve been working here. The adult birds have now left but hopefully they or another pair will be back next year.

The butterfly season is in full swing now. We had one of our best ever springs for Small Blues with several adults seen in early June and a number of eggs found on the patches of Kidney Vetch around the site – the larval food plant of choice for this species. The Small Blue’s flight period is over for now (there’s another shorter one in late summer) but one of our other flagship species, the White-letter Hairstreak, is now out and about. Look out for the males furiously duelling above any of the Elm trees around the edge of the site, particularly near Lady Pond, or if you’re very lucky you may find one nectaring on a nearby thistle or hogweed.

Small Blue
White-letter Hairstreak, photo by Ralph Clark

The other big bit of butterfly news this summer has been the amazing invasion of Painted Ladies. Thousands upon thousands of them have been seen in coastal areas and some of these made it to us at Clandon towards the end of June with at last 75 seen in a single tour of the site on the 24th. The most migratory butterfly in the world, Painted Ladies fly from Africa up to Northern Europe and back in successive generations, in effect chasing the summer weather and the suitable breeding conditions that go with it.

Painted Lady

Another far-flung migrant lepidopteran species is the Hummingbird Hawk-moth and we’ve also started seeing a few of these around the site as I write this in early July. These extraordinary insects look something like a cross between a giant bumblebee and a hummingbird as they whizz around looking for nectar sources which they then hover at as they feed. Their larval food plant of choice is the bedstraws, which is lucky as we have masses of Lady’s Bedstraw and Hedge Bedstraw in the meadows at Clandon Wood. If you visit soon you can’t help but notice the wonderful clouds of yellow and white around the place and smell their honey-scented fragrance. We were really lucky to stumble across two Hummingbird Hawk-moth caterpillars on a Lady’s Bedstraw just this morning; not something I’ve seen here before.

Hummingbird Hawk-moth caterpillar

Talking of plants, the meadows really are looking their best now. Particularly of note this year have been the best ever displays from the various orchid species. Just three years ago we discovered our first Bee Orchids on the verge by the front gate; this year we have found at least sixty around the meadows. Similarly, we have at least five Pyramidal Orchids in the East Meadow compared to just two last year, and we’ve also found our first truly wild Common Spotted Orchid near the West Meadow (as opposed to any that have been planted on graves). By continuing our annual cycle of cutting and removing the hay in late summer we’ll reduce the fertility of the soil year on year which should mean species like this continue to thrive and spread, and hopefully new species will move in too.

Bee Orchid
Pyramidal Orchid, photo by Ralph Clark

There’s always so much to see at this time of year that it’s sometimes hard to know where to look, but a good tip if you’re a little overwhelmed by it all is to start small and concentrate on one thing. By that I mean either one particular group of animals, plants or insects, or rather just have a look at what’s living on one plant or small area of grass. As an example, we have a good amount of White Bryony at Clandon Wood and there’s a particularly good clump of it by the gate that cuts through from the West Meadow to the Pavilion area. I spent a few minutes looking at this the other morning and enjoyed watching several Bryony Mining Bees visiting the flowers, and also found adults and a pupa of the Bryony Ladybird. As their respective names suggest, both these species spend most of their lives on this one plant. If that plant goes, so do all the insects and other species which rely on it. Isn’t nature amazing?

Bryony Mining Bee
Bryony Ladybird
Bryony Ladybird pupa