Acting locally to protect green spaces for wildlife and people…
We are a small charity operating in the counties of Flintshire, Wrexham, Denbighshire and Conwy. Our business involves land management, providing training courses, running public events, working with schools and colleges to provide educational activities and running a volunteer programme. These activities are dependant on funding. Learn more about us
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Spring will soon be rapidly upon us following another milder, wetter winter than the ones I remember growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. I remember winters of deep snow that lasted for weeks and long drawn out spells of freezing weather where hats and gloves, wellies and duffle coats were the norm almost every day! I also remember hours spent in cold, wooden hides and hiding behind wind-break hedgerows just to try and get closer to that flock of thrushes in the hedgerow.
Were they song or mistle thrushes? Blackbirds? Maybe fieldfares? Or even, my favourite, redwings! Winter walks for me were never complete without spending a few hours watching these fascinating winter visitors from Scandinavia. As I predicted last time, a visit to our Glascoed reserve near St Asaph showed some of these wonderful birds foraging in the hedgerows. They were joined by a few fieldfares and with the help of many blackbirds on site, on one visit I counted a flock of about 15. They soon cleared the bushes of berries and then moved on to pastures, well bushes, new! Unfortunately I was never able to get close enough to them to get any photographs. As the weather was mild I suspect that they had lots of spare energy and hence at the slightest disturbance or threat away they would fly. I can remember in harsh, colder years being able to slowly approach to within about an arm’s length when they would only then take flight so that they conserved their energy until they definitely had to use it.
Here at the feeding station outside of our office at Rhydymwyn things have been quiet. The squirrels, blue tits, great tits, coal tits, dunnocks, wrens and robins are here most days, but not in very large numbers and not continuously. Again I feel that the milder winter has allowed a large number of invertebrates to survive and these are being searched out by the birds in preference to our dried food.
One group of animals that are still hiding away from the cold are the bats. Their maternity roosts have all been vacated and are devoid of bat life. But if you know where to look they are still around. I have surveyed various buildings on the site and tucked away I usually find a few species. This year I mostly found the beautiful brown long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus) but in other years I have recorded six species!
As I wandered around the buildings this year I decided to do something different. This year I counted the hibernating Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies). There were only two butterfly species [peacock butterfly (Aglais io), small tortoiseshell (Aglais urtica)] and one moth species [herald moth (Scoliopteryx libatrix)] to count.
It was quite surprising to discover such a consistent number or peacock butterflies over the two surveys. What was also very interesting was that this was despite predation of the butterflies by bats or birds as the quantity of discarded wings on the floor increased between the surveys. Whether this is from birds foraging in the buildings during the day, or by bats foraging on the milder nights is unknown. It has, however, occurred despite the peacock’s wonderful anti-predation strategy. When at rest it folds its wings up above its body. This displays a wonderful cryptic camouflage that in a hollow tree is probably entirely realistic, unfortunately on a building painted white it can still stand out! If disturbed, however, it can briskly flick its wings open to display its vivid eye spots. These, in theory at least, should scare off a predator as it must be quite a shock to suddenly have two pairs of eyes blinking at you! In addition as it opens its wings they rub against each other producing a loud rasping sound to add weight to the ploy that this butterfly means trouble and should be avoided!
Well, very soon it will be back into the amphibian survey season, and we will be out at night counting lots of newts, frogs and toads on our reserves. Will we top the record of 1925 common toads seen on just one night in 2013? Will we see great crested newts predating smooth newts like we encountered in 2012? Will we find more great crested newts at our Broughton reserve?
I don’t know but why don’t you get in touch and come along and help out this year? We can’t guarantee good weather BUT we can guarantee that you will see our reserves in a totally new and exciting way!
Karl Martin – Reserves Officer