Bringing you a recent sightings update based on the photos that have been sent in by visitors and volunteers!
Firstly, the birds...
Green sandpiper by Gareth Hughes
Little ringed plover by Gary Trew
Peregrine by Gary Trew.
West Mead hide has been particularly good over the past few days with green sandpiper, greenshank, dunlin and little ringed plover showing very well. Out on the heathland, by black pond we've been seeing spotted flycatcher (one of my favourite birds).
Secondly, the dragonflies...
Brown hawker by Gareth Hughes
Emperor by Gary Trew
Emerald damselfly by Gary Trew
The dragonfly viewing area next to black pond on the heath is now open - head through the pedestrian gate to gain closer views of the dragons and damsels.
Thirdly, the butterflies:
Gatekeeper by Gareth Hughes
Brown argus by Gary Trew
Small skipper by Martin Parker
The fleabane on the zig zag path is now flowering so this is a great spot for butterfly watching. Pick up a big butterfly count spotting sheet in the visitor centre and see who you can find.
Fourthly, the other insects...
Four banded longhorn beetle by Martin Parker
Roesel's bush cricket by Keith Harris.
If you have visited over the past couple of weeks you may have seen some changes around the nature trail, and if you're planning on visiting over the next month you're likely to see plenty of activity too. So, I thought it would be worth a bit of an update.
You will have probably noticed several very large muddy puddles around the wetland trail over the past few months. Well these 'puddles' have now been clay-lined (using clay from the floodplain that we obtained whilst creating new ditches) so will hopefully now develop into great wildlife ponds. The clay lining will enable these ponds to stay wet for longer into the summer and hopefully provide a habitat for dragonflies, water beetles and newts and provide drinking and bathing opportunities for birds. It's amazing how quickly the ponds are populated - our main dipping pond outside the visitor centre was created 4 or 5 years ago and is now has an incredible variety of wildlife - all 3 species of newts, hawker and chaser dragonfly larvae, whirligig beetles, great diving beetles and water stick insects to name a few.
This southern hawker dragonfly has just emerged leaving its exuviae behind on the rushes. (Photo by Russ Tofts)
Next week, we'll be starting work on a new raised pond in Fattengates courtyard. We're hoping that the new pond will be a great focal point in the courtyard and again provide a home for wildlife - it will be designed to echo the courtyard wall and existing water trough (which many of your will know is home to newts). The raised pond will also enable us to offer an accessible pond dipping experience for wheelchair users. Whilst the work is being undertaken the courtyard will have to be closed.
Out on the heathland, we'll be dealing with some of the bracken. When the ground has been cleared, bracken and birch are one of the first things to colonise bare ground and they out-compete the heather that we're so keen to encourage. Both the heather, and areas of bare ground, are vital habitats for our heathland wildlife - check out the solitary bees and wasps on the sandy soil of the heathland zig zags - so we do need to get the growth of bracken and birch under control. As nothing will eat the bracken, we'll be using a bracken specific herbicide to treat some of the areas on the heath. As we undertake this we'll be closing off specific areas of the heath for a couple of days. We'll be spraying in black wood to begin with and this area (including Hail's View) will be closed for the next couple of days. We'll also be working on the central area of heath and the triangle so please keep an eye on the signs and do not enter marked areas. The public footpath and outer loop will remain open throughout.
But the main task that the wardens will be carrying out over the next few months is 'topping'. So if you visit in the next couple of months you will almost certainly see at least one of the wardens out in the tractor mowing the grassland. This is essential work and helps us to keep the vegetation or sward height right for our wintering wildfowl and our breeding waders. We have to manage the water levels in coordination with this work - you'll have noticed that the water levels are quite low on the North Brooks at the moment - this helps us to complete the work without getting the tractor stuck in the mud. We also manage the water levels to try to ensure there is plenty of mud which entices in any passing waders.
Thanks to volunteer Gary for his report and photos.
The bright sunny morning soon deteriorated into rain, a quick look at Hails View produced two greenshank and two little-ringed plover, a flock of about fifty lapwing and a sparrowhawk but little else. However, the ponds on the heath had several emperor dragonflies, four-spotted chasers and lots of azure damselflies. Walking through the woodland I had the curious site of stationary hoverflies each in their own shaft of sunlight looking like they were suspended on a thread.
Walking back to the main nature trail, viewing was then restricted to the hides with a quick dash in between. At both West Mead and Winpenny, swifts and sand martins were much in evidence and skylarks could be seen when there was a break in the weather. During such a bright spell, the field near West Mead seemed alive with small skippers; they liked the knapweed in particular.
The North Brooks had a large gaggle of greylag including some young which have been absent for a few weeks and there were twenty plus pied wagtails on the mud; a solitary green sandpiper seemed to be the only wader. As the weather improved in the afternoon, greenfinch, goldfinch, bullfinch, green woodpecker, blackcap, chiffchaff and whitethroat could all be seen and heard. Butterflies were now bouncing over the wet grass and I managed to see a newt eft in the water trough in Fattengates courtyard.
Ringlet, cinnabar moth caterpillars and newt eft.