It feels rather like I’ve started every blog post recently talking about the weather but it really has turned into one of the most turbulent springs we’ve seen in recent years. Aside from the brief settled spell in mid-April and the May Bank Holiday heatwave we’ve had just about every type of weather imaginable, which is unfortunately not great news for wildlife. After a shaky start though it does at last feel as though the season has stuttered into gear, although the lasting effects of such unpredictable conditions may take time to show.
The East Meadow, beginning to flower after a difficult spring
Butterflies will have doubtless struggled this spring, with so little in the way of clement weather for them to fly, feed and find a mate. Indeed, we are seven weeks into the transect survey season and have only managed to carry out three walks so far, and many of the classic early species have been emerging later than usual. On days when the sun has shone here at Clandon Wood we have at least seen a few bits out and about including the first Orange-tips, Holly Blues and Whites (Large, Small and Green-veined) of the year, along with the more numerous Brimstones, Peacocks and Commas. One species which is bucking the trend and does seem to be having a good year so far is Green Hairstreak. We are lucky to have all four of the Hairstreak species found in Surrey here at Clandon Wood, and although Green is the most common of the four it is still rather localised in its distribution. On our transect walk last week, Green Hairstreak was in fact the most numerous species, with eight recorded. Hopefully our efforts to increase the availability of their larval food plants such as Gorse will mean they continue to do well here.
Migrating birds, too, have been held up by the unsettled spring but it’s reassuring to see a few coming through at last. One of the sights birdwatchers eagerly look out for in March and April is the first Wheatear, the smart bandit mask-wearing birds that return to Europe from sub-Saharan Africa every year and undertake one of the most remarkable migration journeys. We’ve recorded two at Clandon Wood so far this spring, with one near the pavilion on 9th April and a second male favouring the log bench in the middle of the East Meadow on the 18th. Wheatears are not the only visitors from the south to have arrived recently as we’ve seen several Swallows, Swifts and House Martins along with most of the common warbler species. More notable was a singing male Lesser Whitethroat in the roadside hedge which arrived on 19th April and has been heard on a few occasions since. We’ve only recorded this species once on site before, a non-singing bird in the main hedgerow last August. Even if it doesn’t hang around all summer it’s still an encouraging sign as this species favours dense hedgerows so clearly ours are now to their liking.
The ponds have been proving popular recently too, particularly West Pond which is now playing host to pairs of Coot and Little Grebe, both on nests, as well as occasional Moorhen, Mallard and Canada Geese. Rather more unusual was the male Tufted Duck which visited on a couple of days recently. This diving duck would usually favour larger, deeper water bodies, although we have recorded it once before with a small number discovered to be visiting during the night thanks to our motion sensor wildlife camera.
The resident Kestrel pair have again taken up residence in our nest box, so fingers crossed they’ll be successful in their breeding attempt again this year – the licensed bird ringer who installed the box will be checking on their progress soon so I’ll keep you updated in the next blog post. A recent addition to our bird species list was the first sighting of a Barn Owl hunting along the roadside edge of the West Meadow, seen by George over the Bank Holiday weekend, followed by another sighting of one flying over the Pavilion on the 14th, reported by Simon. This is really encouraging news, partly because it means we’re providing good habitat for rodents for them to hunt, but also because they are a species that is very vulnerable to poor weather, so for one to be out now means it has endured the very worst that the British climate can throw at it and will hopefully go on to breed nearby. We have considered installing a nest box for them on site but the proximity to the road is a worry – Owls tend to fly quite low and slow which makes them vulnerable to being hit by cars, so a nest box would ideally need to be further away from the road than the size of our site allows.
As the days grow longer the meadows are now really bursting into life. As I type this the East Meadow is taking on a yellow haze thanks to the abundant Lesser Trefoil, particularly around the Pavilion. These will soon be followed by the richer gold of Bird’s-foot Trefoil – one of our most numerous plants here. As I’ve said in a previous blog post we really are discovering new species all the time, and recent additions to our plant list include Bulbous Buttercup, Field Wood-rush, Spiked Sedge and Cyperus Sedge. After last year’s reasonably settled and very dry spring gave us a tremendous floral display from drought-loving species such as Lady’s Bedstraw it will be interesting to see what the results will be of the completely different start to the growing season this year.