The Pasque flowers have timed their appearance this year to perfection and are in full bloom across the centre of the reserve in some impressive banks of colour. Matched by the profusion of cowslips all across the reserve and the first Early Purple Orchids in bloom on a south facing bank just alongside the main path across the reserve the flora is doing its best to attract visitors.
These visitors include many insects and on a disappointing day for butterflies I was able to learn something about the bees and flies present on the reserve with the help of Albert and a lovely lady from Anglia Ruskin Life Sciences department. I now know how to tell the difference between a male and female Ashy mining bee (present along the path through the woodland adjacent to the wall), how to spot their nests in the soil along the path and technical terms such as “curly hairy things” to aid with bee identification. There were certainly plenty of other mining bees, bumblebees and flies around the apple blossom so if insects interest you as much or more than flowers then there are plenty to try and identify.
If you are looking for something a little bigger then Willow Warblers and Blackcaps have returned to the reserve after their winter breaks and Blue Tits can be observed nesting in the wall on the southern boundary. We still await the first Cuckoo call to be heard and Whitethroat to be seen. If you are interested in birds a reminder that we have planned a bird song walk at 6:00am next Friday 21st April please let us know on firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to attend so we know who is coming.
Please do let us know what you see on the reserve this week with an e-mail to email@example.com so we can let others know what is emerging onto the reserve.
With the Pasque flowers gradually spreading across the reserve for those not willing to make a 6:00am start for the Bird song walk on 21st April there is a more socially timed event being organised by the Peterborough local group of the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust.
This event will start from the main car park at 2pm on Saturday 29th April. The spring walk will obviously be on the lookout for Pasque flowers and many of the other spring flowers that, given the recent warm weather, will be present in considerable numbers across the reserve. Weather permitting sharp eyes will also be looking for Green hairstreak butterflies. There will be a small charge by the Wildlife Trust of £2 for this event.
With a few days of warmer weather everything is suddenly moving forwards. The violets and cowslips have been joined by the first Pasque flowers. These currently take some effort to locate, I found five flowers on a south facing slope enjoying the Thursday afternoon sunshine in compartment 1 (adjacent to the path approaching the northern most gate in the fence between compartments 1 and 4). Within another one or two weeks depending on the temperature any stroll round the centre of the reserve near the large gate between compartments 1 and 2 (south west and north west) will spot these lovely flowers in all their purple and yellow glory. Perfect timing for Easter.
The visit on Thursday also added my first Brimstone butterflies of the season as well as Peacocks, Comma’s and small tortoiseshells. Keep a look out for the first Orange Tips which should be on the scene soon along with Holly Blues.
All these signs of spring mean the birds are also becoming more active and vocal and Tim Sutton has kindly offered to lead an early morning walk meet at the main car park at 6:00am on Friday 21st April to help identify their calls. This will obviously be weather dependent so please do let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like to attend and I can keep you informed on the arrangements. Whilst not specifically renown for its bird life this walk should allow us to recognise many of the birds by their calls and therefore equip us to pick out and look for more unusual species. This event will be free for members and a small charge of £2 for non-members or you can join on the day for £5 and enjoy all other FBHH 2017 events for free.
With the warmer weather is is not just butterflies to spot on the reserve. The warmer days provide plenty of opportunities to find bees on the reserve in April.
Below is a table of the bees sited on the reserve in 2016 thanks to the efforts and reporting by Ryan Clark
|Tawny Mining Bee
||Andrena (Andrena) fulva
|Gwynne’s Mining Bee
||Andrena (Euandrena) bicolor
|Grey Mining Bee
||Andrena (Melandrena) cineraria
|Buffish Mining Bee
||Andrena (Melandrena) nigroaenea
|Early Mining Bee
||Andrena (Trachandrena) haemorrhoa
|Hairy Footed Flower Bee
||Anthophora (Anthophora) plumipes
|Red-tailed (Hill) Cuckoo Bee
|Southern (Vestal) Cuckoo Bee
|Common Carder Bee
|White tailed Bumblebee
||Colletes (Colletes) hederae
|White-footed Furrow Bee
||Lasioglossum (Dialictus) leucopus
|Two-coloured Mason Bee
||Osmia (Neosmia) bicolor
The last entry is particularly interesting to look out for as it makes its nest in old snail shells. It then uses very small “sticks” and grass to seal the entrance which it collects and carries to the nest. This can give the appearance of bees “riding broomsticks”.
For more information on these and other bees visit www.bwars.com
A very big thank you to all the volunteers and Natural England staff who turned out to clear and burn a lot of the scrub in compartment 3 (North East corner). By keeping the scrub cleared in this area we are providing every opportunity for the richer flora present in compartments 1 and 2 to expand and colonise the “hills and holes” in this area.
Whilst it was a fairly grey day with constant drizzle and a few heavy showers (which I managed with perfect timing to miss) the work, fire and companionship kept us warm. The sharp eyed will note a missing beech tree in the area and far fewer hawthorn bushes work started by the Peterborough conservation volunteers and extended by today’s efforts. Some more minor cutting back and taking out of smaller hawthorn growth in the next week will conclude activities in the area for this season.
This week has seen some lovely weather and spring really does look like it is getting its skates on now with a lot of plants starting to show through the dry grass and winter debris on the reserve. The cowslips are now clearly visible and on a walk on Thursday I spotted the first flower bud tentatively showing yellow. Also violets are now in flower across the reserve. I suspect the Pasque flowers are still three or so weeks away depending on the weather but for the botanists among you there is plenty of new plants showing through that I am confident you can identify and they are easier to locate at present before the grass starts to really grow.
Butterflies are also emerging primarily along the road side adjacent to the village. So far I have seen Comma, Peacock and a Small Tortoiseshell on the reserve and several Brimstones around the village itself.
The birds are definitely pairing up and bird song is increasing every day. Our next event is likely to focus on this with a guided walk by Tim (Reserve Warden) on 21st April starting at 6am (weather permitting) and a follow up on 12th May at 6 am if there is sufficient interest. Please do let me know at email@example.com if you would like to attend and look out for more details and updates on this website.
This year we are intending to reproduce a set of images from around the reserve based on images originally taken in 1977. So if you see puzzled people walking around the reserve trying to match black and white images, often full of trees and bushes, with pieces of open grassland you know why! The difference the scrub clearance work has made is clearly evident and an encouragement to those able to join us on Monday to continue this vital role.
Our close neighbours have an event this Thursday 16th March at Castor Village Hall doors open at 7:00pm.
Those who were unable to attend our A.G.M. may be interested in hearing Chris Gardiner talk further about this S.S.S.I. and also Froglife and Nene Coppicing and Crafts will be present on the evening.
The Friends of Castor Hanglands and Ailsworth Heath have recently formed and are keen to put together a working group interested in helping maintain the reserve and learn more about what is present on the reserve and how it can be improved. They already have an interesting programme of events arranged with the Langdyke CountrysideTrust for the spring so if you are interested in more details please visit langdyke.org.uk/events
A brief post to let you know of the first opportunity to meet up in 2017 and help with the maintenance of the reserve.
Tim from Natural England will be leading a working party on the Hills and Holes to undertake a variety of tasks to prepare the reserve for the season.
The group will meet at the main car park at 9:00am and if you are willing and able to join us then you would be very welcome. Work on the reserve will continue throughout the morning and into the afternoon so please feel free to join us whenever you can and for however long you can.
Whilst any required tools will be provided please come with appropriate gloves, footwear and appropriate clothing for the weather. Depending on how long you are able to join us please also ensure you bring relevant refreshments for yourself. (Although I suspect if you want to sneak off to The Millstone at lunch time that will be permitted).
Work over the winter has seen many of the historic records of surveys of the reserve added to the F.B.H.H. database. The records are of somewhat varying age and detail but in general they give a comprehensive record of what has been seen and when on the reserve.
Currently, and allowing for some duplication due to species name changes and re -classifications, errors in recording and simple transcription errors the database contains the following information
Flora – 363 entries
Lichen – 57 entries
Mosses – 71 entries
Fungi – 77 entries
Moths – 104 entries
Butterflies – 36 entries
Molluscs – 31 entries
Spiders – 10 entries
Myripoda – 5 entries
Other insects – 390 entries
Birds – 111 entries
Mammals and Reptiles etc.. – 6 entries (not including humans, dogs or cats!)
So there is plenty to look out for and please do let us know preferably with a photograph attached of anything unusual you see on the reserve so we can add it on to the database.
Also we would welcome hearing from anyone carrying out a survey or maintaining a list of what they see during 2017 so we can update the records with current sighting dates. (Current database indicates Turkey Oak has not been seen on the reserve since 2014 perhaps a slight oversight they are not that difficult to spot!!!)
The committee met last night (thank you once again to The Millstone pub for hosting us).
The major issue we face is finding a secretary, somebody (or bodies) willing to help coordinate event dates, record simple action lists and meeting notes from the two/three committee meetings a year. We have plenty of support from Natural England and financially are secure at present but we do need another volunteer if the group is to function effectively so please consider getting in touch. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Other opportunities are to seek funding from a local government initiative to help improve the site and to manage a specific improvement project again please let us know if you are able to help.
On a more positive note we have made some progress in arranging events for 2017 and as dates and timings are agreed please look out for these on the website or on Facebook (and also unfortunately for updates due to weather!)
A final request for membership fees to be paid and a big thank you for the circa 25 members who have already renewed.
A final thank you to the sheep who have completed their many months of conservation work on the reserve and have now left to enjoy a well earned “holiday”. It always seems a shame they do not get to enjoy the rewards of their labour but I know we will this spring and summer with another fine floral display.