Walking across Flora Field (arable section) this morning during the volunteering session I flushed a large group of snipe (at least 6, probably 8-10) from the lower northern slope, towards Lower Sowerholme, and then a further 2 nearer Pony Wood. They must have been tucking into small creatures in the recently-spread manure. I was headed for the beetle banks and the water supply points, which needed marking with tape to alert the ploughing contractor, so I certainly didn’t cover the whole field. Maybe next season the flush count needs to include Flora Field as well as the wet areas, at least after the muck has been spread?
It was a very misty morning with low cloud and low visibility, but we heard geese passing over – greylag I think- and several curlews in the distance, down towards the estuary.
Two summers ago, the Hay Meadow acquired its first orchids – a little patch of Common Spotted Orchids, probably slowly developed from seeds in the green hay scattered in 2011 but possibly from seeds blown in more recently, who knows? Last year the patch was a bit bigger, and this year there are quite a few scattered individual plants in both the Hay Meadow and Carr House Meadow. Mostly they aren’t easy to see in among the rich vegetation, but there is a nice example which is visible from the Fauna path: it’s between the two gates into the Hay Meadow. To judge by other local hay meadow restorations (e.g. Brown Robin Reserve at Grange over Sands), within a few more years they should be all over the place.
On our routine monthly inspection yesterday we (Oliver and Glenys) found quite a number of flourishing plants among the Flora Fields stubble, which had been sown in the arable crop last spring. Some flowers were visible in July when the crop was high, but they seem to have been given a new lease of life by the crop removal at harvest time. They are fairly clearly visible from the footpaths, in two strips paralleling respectively the Canal boundary and the Long Pads boundary. We identified Corn Marigold and Cornflower quite easily but were unsure of the other two – possibly varieties of Chamomile? Can anyone identify these (apologies for photo quality!) ?
Ascot and Bee will be leaving tomorrow (Good Friday) after a first attempt at grazing rushes. They have clearly been eating clumps of rush round the edges of Big Meadow even if the overall rush coverage hasn’t changed a great deal. They have also been much admired for their decorative qualities and their occasional displays of teenage athleticism… and they have provided a useful source of manure for some of Fairfield’s gardeners. The FA will be discussing the experiment next month and will hope to decide whether pony grazing would be useful again next winter, perhaps at a slightly different time or even with larger numbers. In the meantime many thanks to their owner, Nicola Evans and to all the volunteers who kept an eye on them every day. They have been in good health throughout, and the picture shows Bee discussing with her vet last Friday the pros and cons of her annual flu and tetanus injection. The vet persuaded her to go for it.
A return visit last Friday (19 February) with volunteers who’d not been able to join us the previous week. Bee and Ascot were more willing to be caught than last time (though Bee was busy with a mouthful of rushes and needed coaxing to join us), and seemed pleased with the renewed attention (see picture of Bee dozing peacefully). And yes, they are definitely eating the rush – perhaps because it’s colder and there’s less grass to go at, perhaps they’ve only just realised how tasty it is? They’ve got a long way to go, but you can see some chewed off tufts if you look.
Leading Bee and Ascot to the gate
Even little Fell ponies are quite big!
What are we going to do with this tail??
Even muddy legs get attention
Bee is very relaxed!
Last Friday (12 February) a group of pony volunteers spent some time with Ascot and Bee, the two Fell ponies. They were checked over carefully by Chloe, our vet-volunteer, who declared them both in good health and certainly not underfed (that’s a polite way of saying they are distinctly tubby). The rest of us were invited to brush and comb them – there was plenty of mud to go at, and Bee in particular had achieved some remarkable self-plaiting of her mane. By the time we’d finished they looked distinctly smarter, and they seemed quite pleased with all the attention (unless it was the bag of hay they were given to keep them quiet). And yes indeed, they were clearly seen nibbling at the soft rush. The last few days’ colder weather has evidently slowed down the grass growth – if it would only last for a week or two, they might begin to make a serious impact on the rush.
Thank you to Aidan Cragg for the photos.
Ascot looking for treats in pockets (no luck)
Plans for Ascot’s facial
Bee deciding not to be collared
Bee with three attendants
Centre of operations
Mane-straightening for Ascot
Two (at least) curlews were circling this morning over the Flora west field: with luck they were eying up the new pond and scrape in the middle. Even the sound of chainsaws from the hedge working party didn’t send them away for long. Maybe they landed for a closer look this afternoon once peace and quiet were restored?
An inspection visit to Upper Sowerholme today revealed a snipe – which is intriguing, because although there are plenty in Big Meadow we don’t often see them elsewhere – plus a hare. One male wheatear was again clearly visible in Big Meadow. Richard, our RSPB expert, says that it had probably stopped off on passage to feed up before heading for the uplands to breed. He also said that there were so many snipe in Big Meadow during the winter that it’s entirely possible that some may be nesting in the rushes in the middle, even though they too generally breed in the uplands. It’s virtually impossible to be sure, but a good sign might be hearing them ‘drumming’, i.e. defending their territory, at dawn or dusk. If anyone’s around then and does hear them, please do report it here.
Also spotted a pair of buzzards taking off from Pony Wood, where a woodpecker was drumming; and a ‘leucistic’ crow (with unusual white wings) towards Cromwell Road.
There is a nice little patch of white dog-violets already in flower just now (early March), along the public footpath just beyond the Orchard heading south (on the Big Meadow side of the path). There was some concern last year that they might have fallen victim to the contractors’ hedge-laying and planting activities, so it’s great to see they have recovered, and quite possibly benefited from the increased light around them. They are by no means a rarity either locally or nationally, but they are much less common than the well-known blue ones.
We have started monthly ‘flush counts’ in the winter months, to try and determine how many wetland and water birds are taking advantage of FAUNA’s developing habitats. The first count took place on Monday 28 January (2013), as part of Graham’s monthly inspection of the site. He was accompanied by Glenys and they were mentored by Richard, our RSPB adviser, so we feel pretty confident of the amazing results: they counted no less than 95 (yes, ninety-five!) snipe in the rushy areas of Big Meadow. This is a huge number for any one place: although we’ve no reliable counts for previous years (we know snipe have been wintering there for a long time) this very grand total does suggest that we’re doing something right as far as the snipe are concerned. They also spotted a solitary brown hare in Big Meadow, 2 moorhens on School Pond, 2 pairs of mallard on Lucy’s Pool and 10 teal on Upper Sowerholme Pond.
There’s more about snipe – and just about every other British bird – on the RSPB’s website: http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/s/snipe/index.aspx
A group of us walked the FAUNA path this morning (30 January) with our Natural England Adviser, Nigel. There were still a number of fieldfare towards the northwest of Grammar School Field.