Early autumn is a time of plenty in the natural world as plants and trees are heavy with nuts, seeds and fruits. One species that benefits from the glut of nuts at this time of year is the Jay, the most colourful member of the crow family, which relies on acorns for the bulk of its diet. They are often more conspicuous in autumn as they roam about in search of oaks. It was particularly encouraging recently to see some harvesting acorns from some of our young oak trees in the East Meadow, which are mature enough to be producing fruit now.
The shortening days and lengthening nights around the Autumnal Equinox are the trigger for many birds to leave our shores and, as was the case last autumn, we saw some impressive numbers of Swallows and House Martins on the move recently, with as many as six or seven hundred of the latter flying over on 11th September, some coming down to feed over our ponds and meadows for a while before continuing on their journey. Most of these will be well on their way across Europe now, heading to Africa for the winter, but it’s nice to know that the landscape of Clandon Wood played a small part in their epic expedition.
House Martin (photo: Malcolm Fincham)
Yellow Wagtails seem to have had a good year in their breeding areas as we’ve seen more than usual dropping in or flying over recently. Particularly impressive was a flock of at least sixteen which dropped down for a short time at the West Pond on 20th September. The drought this summer means both our ponds are lower than usual for this time of year and this is particularly beneficial to wetland birds or any other wildlife that likes to feed on exposed mud.
In addition to the Yellow Wagtails we’ve seen Meadows Pipits, Yellowhammers, Stock Doves, Green Sandpipers, Snipe and various small mammals visiting this area lately, either to bathe in the shallow water or feed in the mud. Of particular interest in early October was our first site record of Water Rail, with one captured on our trail camera running across the mud in this area. This elusive bird spends much of its time skulking away in reedbeds and marshy areas, its presence often only betrayed by its pig-like squealing call. They’re fairly scarce as a breeding species in Surrey so this bird is probably a migrant that has dropped in on its way elsewhere, or if we’re lucky it may stay and spend the winter here. With all this life going on at the ponds please remember not to approach too close to the water’s edge and keep dogs under close control at all times.
Another unusual migrant bird seen recently was an Osprey which flew south early on 18th September. This fish-eating raptor which comes to us from West Africa every year is really increasing in number now after a sharp decline in the 19th Century. It now has breeding strongholds in Scotland, Wales and parts of Northern England.
Another season of butterfly transect walks has now come to an end and early indications suggest it’s been a bumper year for many species. Scarcer species such as White-letter Hairstreak, Purple Hairstreak, Brown Argus and Small Copper seem to have done particularly well and this has been reflected in our records here. Only time will tell if the dry conditions have a detrimental knock-on effect on other species, as happened in 1977 after the famously hot summer of ‘76. Species such as Small Tortoiseshell are already in decline and could do without another setback such as this. Nice to see on 18th September was our first Clouded Yellow of the year, one of the species which migrates to our shores from Africa and southern Europe. Species such as Speckled Wood, Red Admiral, Peacock and Brimstone can be seen on the wing on sunny days almost until the end of the year and some of them will hibernate and emerge again in the spring – so look out for them if you’re visiting Clandon Wood in the coming weeks.
The main meadows were mowed in early September and we are now busy cutting half of the grass in the treed areas of the site. It’s tempting to think that there is a dearth of flowers at Clandon Wood at this time of year, but as any of you who attended Gareth’s recent plant safari will know there is still much to see. Plants such as Field Scabious, Musk Mallow, Yarrow, Toadflax and Greater and Common Knapweed are putting on a great late display of flowers, helped along by the prolonged dominance of fine weather we’ve been enjoying at the tail end of one of the hottest summers in living memory combined with the cool nights and dewy mornings of early autumn.
Of particular value at this time of year is Common Ivy, the rather unusual-looking flowers of which provide a late source of nectar for butterflies, wasps and hornets and the Ivy Bee; a colonial species which was only recorded in the UK in the early part of this century but which now appears to be thriving in the south of England. Its flight season is perfectly timed to coincide with the flowering period of Ivy (September-November) as it relies almost exclusively on this plant as a source of pollen. As they are one of the mining bees they make their homes in holes in south-facing areas of exposed sandy soil and we have discovered we have a busy colony near the Wildlife Garden.