May is surely one of the best months on the Hills and Holes – the pasqeflowers out in their full glory, set off by bright yellow cowslips and this year a good show of early purple orchids.
As the month progresses many other flowers come into bloom, including one of the site’s great rarities, the man orchid. A count of this species has been organised for 24th May, when we hope as many Friends as possible will join us.
May is also a good month for butterflies – you should see familiar species such as tortoiseshell, comma, peacock and brimstone waking from their long winter hibernation.
They are joined by freshly emerged spring species such as orange tip, holly blue and speckled wood – this is likely to be seen in the wooded area next to Walcot Park.
One of the hardest to spot butterflies is the green hairstreak, whose green and brown colouration helps to camouflage it against the hawthorn and other shrubs where it flies. Birds are also busy at this time of year. Many of the birds breeding in the Hills and Holes are associated with scrub and wooded areas, including blue tit, great tit, blackbird, dunnock and willow warbler.
The strange need for humans to go out in the cold and wet on a Sunday afternoon saw me and the bloke I tolerate out on the Hills and Holes this weekend. The rain and hail has brought out all the scents and smells but as the website has not got these features enabled I’ll have to try my best with words.
The Common Dog-Violet are now flowering across the reserve. I am not sure why a flower with no scent merits the title “dog” but then many of the humans probably do not know they have no scent, the poor disadvantaged creatures that they are. Pairs of Great Tits are prospecting the hawthorns for potential nest sites and large plump Woodpigeons sit in the trees, feathers fluffed out against the cold wind bringing the ever changing weather across the reserve. The initial sunshine quickly disappears and has left the early Cowslip buds considering why they have made the effort to poke their heads out of the warmth of the grass sward. A blackbird’s shrill alarm call announces our progress into compartment 3 on the far side of the reserve. The piles of grey and black ash just beyond the gate where the scrub used to be provide evidence that the reserve needs man’s constant intervention to maintain its wide variety of rare plant life.
Not just nature’s signs of spring are present on the reserve. Man has also made his contribution with the arrival of rows of blue and black plastic sticks neatly attached by their “leads” to each other to stop them running away. Protecting this year’s wild flowers in the areas they zone off they help establish growing communities of the more endangered species so they can strengthen their foothold in this small reserve and spread more widely so all can enjoy them in the future. A fierce hailstorm sends me heading for the cover of the scrub along the boundary between compartments 4 and 3. Standing in this sheltered spot the few early white flowers on the Blackthorn add to the large number of white hailstones spreading across the surrounding grass.
As the sunshine gradually reappears the lazy flapping of a pair of crow’s heading to their roost and the rhythmic wing beat of a black headed gull high over head remind me it is time to head home for tea. The clump of invasive daffodils, the cherry blossom and breaking buds on the horse chestnut tree, on the opposite side of the road as we head back into the village, show that whatever the weather nature has decided it is spring.
Signed Ella (a young and enthusiastic Chocolate Labrador)
The first spring-like weather has brought a number of our resident butterflies out of their winter hibernation. Bright yellow Brimstones, and the familiar Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Comma butterflies, have all been seen. They are being increasingly joined by a few hardy Red Admirals – a species that used to arrive from Southern Europe as a summer migrant, but can now be counted as a permanent resident thanks to the vagaries of climate change.
All these butterflies look for early sources of nectar to feed up after their long hibernation. Some of the earliest flowers – snowdrop and daffodil for example – are introduced to The Hills and Holes and are a poor nectar source. More favoured is Blackthorn which was out in flower by late February. This is a vital food source for many insects, especially bees and hoverflies.
This month (March) should see the first pasqueflowers appearing if the weather remains kind, but the peak of flowering is usually late April. They will be joined by carpets of cowslips and less obvious patches of dog violets.
Visitors to The Hills and Holes over the Winter will have seen continuing work to clear overgrown scrub and bushes from the open grassland, to benefit the wild flowers.
This year there was also a thinning of the birch trees which were becoming increasingly tall and dominant in some areas, with significant shading and leaf-fall that was damaging parts of the flower-rich grassland. Some trees also had splits in the base and were removed to ensure public safety as the nearby hillocks are often popular picnic spots. However the trees are a familiar feature of the landscape and rather that clear too many, most were retained and dealt with by having lower branches removed to reduce their impact.
Panorama view in March
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The snowdrop adds a splash of variety in this rather dull month. It is not a genuine wildflower here but was introduced either deliberately or from dumped garden waste. It can be seen in profusion opposite the entrance to Millstone Lane and in clumps along Wittering Rd.