At the end of April we planted 70 wild flower plugs in the wet part of the Hay Meadow. The ragwort Working Party had time this morning to inspect the plugs and we were pleased to find that all but one were thriving. We found a ragged robin in flower. This is one of the plants we put in but from its position and flowering I think this one has arrived independently. This is even better as we have not observed this plant on the Reserves in recent years.
The joys of ragworting are limited but this morning we did have one or two good wildlife experiences. Two hares were playing a chasing game, (we suspect male and female!), in the School Field. We could hear the birds singing including encouraging ones from the direction of the Flora Field. At ground level we noticed a cowslip which, on investigation, seems to be the first one noted on the Reserves since we started keeping a record. A photo next week. The Hay Meadow is full of yellow rattle, ribwort plantain and clover as well as smaller amounts of good king henry and yarrow. Another step forward on its way to a flower meadow.
The final flush count of the winter yielded just 16 snipe: one in the Hay Meadow, one in Upper Sowerholme, six in School Pond, five in Big Meadow and – for the first time – three in Lower Sowerholme (Willow Tree Pond). But whilst the snipe are moving on now, there were plenty of other birds about. A chiffchaff was singing in the trees around Upper Sowerholme. BIg Meadow yielded a mistle thrush, meadow pipit, male reed bunting, blackbird, moorhen and two mallards. There were another two mallards swimming on the pool in Upper Sowerholme. Flying over the reserve were a heron, buzzard and sand martin. There was just one female teal in School Pond, but her behaviour suggested that she could have a nest.
The wonderfully sunny and almost warm conditions suited the flush counting team this morning. And the snipe too must be finding conditions more to their liking. In contrast to the disappointing figures recently, today’s count set a new record. Snipe were coming up so thick and fast and in all directions that it was almost impossible to keep track. And there may be some double counting as birds disturbed in School Pond settled into Big Meadow only to be disturbed again. But the tally of 160 snipe (7 of them jack), comfortably tops the previous high of 119 from 2nd February last year. The breakdown was Hay Meadow 6; Upper Sowerholme 1: School Pond 82 common and 3 jack; Big Meadow 64 common and 4 jack.
In addition we noted: 13 teal, 2 mistle thrush and 2 mallard in School Pond; 2 water rail along Lucy Brook in the Hay Meadow; 3 mallard on Friars Pond in Big Meadow and a meadow pipit; a great tit calling loudly from the south end of the Orchard. To round things off nicely, there was a glimpse of a brown hare keeping a low profile in the Big Meadow marsh.
We delayed a week because of strong winds and I was starting to think we would have to do so again. But it’s the southern part of the country that has born the brunt this time and so we ‘just’ had to combat a rain squall and more water underfoot than ever. A more rewarding snipe count this time: 80 snipe overall, double last month’s number. Breakdown: 1 found in Flora Field, 1 in Upper Sowerholme, 4 in the Hay Meadow, 19 in Big Meadow (including 1 jack) and 55 in School Pond (3 of them jack). In addition. there was a moorhen on School Pond and 8 teal in Willow Tree Pond (Lower Sowerholme). Later the same group of teal flew up as we entered the Big Meadow marsh and headed back in the direction of Lower Sowerholme.
Snipe numbers on the reserve have previously been on a rising trend at this time of year. Not so today. A measly total of 38 (including 2 Jack), down on December and considerably lower than January in the past two years. Picking Jon’s brain for an explanation and the mild weather is probably a factor, allowing the snipe to disperse more widely. But the recent flooding could also be playing a part. It is creating new (albeit temporary) pockets of habitat full of drowned invertebrates, which present lush feeding opportunities. The number of snipe roosting on the reserve therefore may well be higher than this count suggests.
In terms of spread between the fields, the Hay Meadow again yielded a higher number than anticipated. 11 birds, principally flying off from around Cromwell’s Pond. This marsh is now full of standing water, so perhaps this greater wetness is more attractive. In contrast, the Big Meadow marsh was not much wetter than normal and only 9 birds were counted, including the 2 Jack. School Pond yielded 14, Upper Sowerholme the remaining 4. But still no woodcock, nor were there any teal on School Pond.
Other highlights: a single long tailed tit in a tree by the Fauna footpath near School Pond, a female reed bunting near the old alder tree and two meadow pipits in Big Meadow.
After the dryness of the early autumn, the marshes are now awash. And the snipe are coming back in numbers, although with the temperatures remaining above average we did not count quite as many as in the last two years. Total count today was 45, broken down as 11 common snipe in School Pond, 32 common and 1 jack in Big Meadow and surprisingly a sighting of one in Pony Wood. In addition, there was a group of eight flying round. Despite the fog, Jon was able to follow them for quite a while, but they did not appear to land on the reserve. We also saw a small group fly up as we approached the Big Meadow marsh, disturbed by three dogs off the lead on the footpath. So overall quite a good number of snipe around.
Other sightings included a heron on the Grammar School Field, three teal on School Pond, a sparrow hawk above the Hay Meadow and 4 meadow pipits in Big Meadow.
Jon has also had a sighting of the barn owl, and advises going out at dusk for the best chance of seeing it.
Our first foray of the winter through the marshes this morning raised a total of 7 snipe: one in each of the Hay Meadow, School Pond and Flora Field, and a further four in Big Meadow. Small numbers, but still more than the past two years at this early part of the season. Extra sightings were a jay in the Hay Meadow, a kestrel over Lower Sowerholme and a wren in Upper Sowerholme.
Three sightings of roe deer today, two very definite ones of a single deer running through Lower Sowerholme and then later in the Flora Field heading into Pony Wood. The third sighting of two deer between Lower Sowerholme and Flora Field rather more certain.
Whilst in the Big Meadow Bog ragworting we put up a couple of snipe.
Two new flowers to report. First water mint in Lower Sowerholme
And finally, now that the haymaking has finished we can report Common Spotted Orchid in the Hay Meadow. About 20 of them in total but we didn’t want to encourage people climbing the gates by announcing them earlier. This photo is from 22nd June.