Marvellous May

May. A wonderful month.

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The pond
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The path alongside the paddock.
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Ox Eye Daisies, Common Vetch and Buttercups

Yesterday we saw a new reptile species on the path, although a dead, bird-pecked Slow Worm does not really count especially as it was probably dropped by a bird and could have come from anywhere. But surely there have to be Slow Worms here somewhere.

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Half a Slow Worm

The longer days and shorter nights have meant that we have started to catch the badgers out and about in daylight on the trap cameras. Until now they have been strictly nocturnal and it is lovely to now get some better images of them in improved light conditions:

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No badger young seen as yet though. Perhaps they didn’t have any.

 

The Emperors

Now it is the turn of the Emperors to emerge from the pond:

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An emerged Emperor with wings not fully straightened

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These are Britain’s largest dragonfly, highly territorial and catching flying insects on the wing and a notable coloniser of new ponds. ¬†Everything I have looked at about them say that the larvae are two years in the water, but clearly this is not true, or not always true, because this pond was only dug last year. There are upwards of 15 larvae, most now emptied attached to the reeds around the pond:

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In the process of emerging.
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An empty case, 54mm long

Emergence

This afternoon we sat by the pond to have a cup of tea and to look for butterflies. This was slightly optimistic because it was softly raining at the time and the chance of butterflies was at best poor. However, our perseverance in the face of adversity was rewarded when we saw that we were in the midst of a mass synchronised emergence of Broad Bodied Chasers and thank goodness we didn’t miss it!

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Broad Bodied Chasers emerging

There were probably about ten newly emerged dragonflies waiting to go off. It had been a warm dry morning which had maybe encouraged them to come out of the water but they should have seen the forecast because it has now been raining all afternoon and it must be difficult for them to heat up and get the blood coursing through their wings so that they can fly.

Broad Bodied Chasers are early colonisers of new ponds. Our pond was filled in March last year and so it has had just one summer. I looked up their lifecycle and it apparently does usually take two years – that is the larvae are two years in water – but sometimes it only takes a year as in this case. The females are this yellow colour but the males are a beautiful smoky blue. However, the blue develops later and the juvenile male adults are yellow and so we probably have both sexes here, not just females emerging.

Here are photos of the Broad Bodied Chasers on the pond that we took last year:

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A male Broad Bodied Chaser
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A female Broad Bodied Chaser
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A female shining gold in the sun.

The vacated larvae cases of the Broad bodied chasers are short and wide. However, there were also at least ten larvae of another type clinging on to the Irises:

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A Hawker larva with a fly on it

Looking in our dragonfly book, these could well be Hawker dragonfly larvae, possibly the Southern Hawker and they have climbed out of the water but are yet to emerge. Its amazing to think that a very large dragonfly is about to come out of these. We will try to catch this as it happens.

In other pond news, yesterday the first Iris flower opened:

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A beautiful yellow flag Iris comes into flower by the pond.

Its a lovely bloom and we are expecting a lot more by next week.

 

 

Mullein

Picked up this moth in the trap last night:

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A Mullein.

 

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How wonderful is this moth? A moth of calcareous habitats, it flies in late April to May and lives up to five years in captivity.

Its caterpillars look quite striking too and feed on Mulleins, Figworts and Buddleias. Not quite sure what Mulleins and Figworts look like, but will try to check them out to see if I can see the Mullein caterpillars which look like this:

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A Mullein caterpillar

Once seen, not forgotten!

May Meander

One word: buttercups…

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Looking down towards the orchard in the first meadow.

This is the meadow that we are working towards it becoming a flower meadow and it is looking stunning right now.

As we reached the second meadow, our attention was immediately drawn towards this rosette of grass that wasn’t there yesterday:

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Right in the centre of the whorl was the remains of a large crab

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perhaps suggesting that the foxes are foraging along the shore line.We would love to have seen it returning home carrying a large crab.

We flushed a couple of grey partridge from the long grass who the dog saw off the premises

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And since it was such a lovely morning and very conducive to flopping around, we started investigating ants:

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A large yellow anthill in the paddock

There seems to be a large variety of ants here, none of which we know anything about. Large anthills seem to spring up almost overnight whilst others, particularly in the paddock where there has been no mowing for many years, are long established and seem to have their own special ecosystem associated with them. Anyway, a subject identified for further study another day.

A First

Such a delight to see a hedgehog on the trap camera. Never seen one before here and had presumed that there were just too many hungry hedgehog predators around.

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The first ever hedgehog seen here.

Hopefully it got through the night because that really is a stupid place for it to hang out – the trap camera catches a pretty steady stream of foxes and badgers right there through the night, both of which would be happy to put hedgehog on their menu.

Viviparous Lizards

A year ago I didn’t know that there were lizards in England. Then we started finding them in the meadows and I wanted to know more. This is what I’ve discovered so far:

The Viviparous Lizard, Zootoca vivipara, is the most northerly of lizards and its range extends to north of the Arctic Circle. They give birth to live young (thats the viviparous bit) which is really unusual for a reptile and must be something to do with the northerliness because in the southernmost bits of their range they actually lay eggs as you might expect reptiles to do.

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A lizard we found while cutting the meadows last September

They have got very variable colour and patterning but females tend to have dark stripes on their flanks and down the middle of their backs. This would make the lizard above a male then. The males have brightly coloured undersides – yellow, orange or, more rarely, red while the females have paler, whitish underparts.

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A male lizard with a coloured underside.

They feed on invertebrates – mainly small insects. Mate in April/May and the offspring develop inside the female for three months and she gives birth to 3-10 young in July, one every few days. The young are blackish, and we have been finding a lot of small very dark lizards under our reptile sampling squares that we have laid out around the place:

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The arrival of 10 reptile sampling squares – they seem just like bits of roof felt, actually.

These sampling squares have actually been great – we routinely get lizards under a couple of them and have also found voles and, less excitingly, a vast number of snails.

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Adult and juvenile lizard under one of the sampling squares

Males reach sexual maturity after about 2 years and females after three with both having a lifespan of about 5-6 years.

So thats very interesting and probably all I need to know about them for now. We will continue to turn the squares over as we go round the meadows and see whats going on – maybe one day we will see a slow worm or a snake as well.