Thursday, 8 May 2014

Decoy Heath and Hartslock

I had been keen to get back to Decoy Heath BBOWT Reserve where I used to monitor the reptile populations to see how the site was looking and see what reptiles would be out. The weather was perfect for basking on the day, although the temperature could have been higher.

A walk around the usual route yielded at least 10 male slow worm but only 1 female which is what I have come expect this early in the season. I even found one basking in the open which is actually very unusual as they rarely expose their entire body in the open preferring to remain hidden or under ground.

(Slow worm m)

I was slightly worried by the lack of adders which I was hoping to find but I did hear a couple slither away that were likely hiding under dense gorse. Eventually I found one basking in heather in a favourite location.


Later in the day I made my way to another BBOWT Reserve, famous for its chalk grassland communities; Hartslock.

(River Thames, from Hartslock)

I was particularly hoping to find pasqueflower (Pusatilla,vulgaris), a stunning flower that only blooms around Easter. After a little search I found a small colony, although I was hoping to find slightly more they were such vivid colours that the 10 or so were good enough! This species is very much restricted to calcareous grasslands and only occurs at 19 sites in England.


(Early purple orchid)

(Chalk milkwort)

Dawlish Warren

I have a made a couple of visits to Dawlish Warren recently mainly looking for birds, the first visit involving mostly lingering over-wintering waders and wildfowl out in the Exe estuary including a flock of brent geese that included an individual of the pale-bellied race.


(Pale-bellied brent goose)

Later on I saw more newly arrived migrants including a mixture of common warblers, sandwich terns, several flocks of whimbrel, common scoter and buzzard coming off the sea.

I also timed my visit to see the nationally rare sand crocus which usually blooms in the first two weeks of April. The sand crocus (Romulea columnae) which is known locally as the warren crocus is only known to occur at one other site in Britain in Cornwall. It is a native species right on the very northern edge of its range. The mild winters, warm summer climate, poor nutrient levels and freely draining soil at the warren make it suitable outpost for a small population of the species to thrive. At 7mm in diameter they are pretty tiny and surprisingly easy to miss, but still bigger than some of the other specialities of the site I found.

(Sand crocus)

There was plenty of early-forget-me-not in flower too which was nice to see and with some advice from the warden I finally tracked down petalwort. Petalwort (Petalophyllum ralfslii) is a small green liverwort found in damp hollows within sand dune slacks and is only known from 26 sites in the UK. It was a real hands and kness job to find one, but one you find it is was surprisingly conspicuous but was still restricted to just  maybe 2 or 3 square metres within the dune slacks that I could find. Very much a niche existence!

(Early forget-me-not)


On the way home from work with my colleague a couple of days later, we had an osprey fly low directly over the car, which was a nice surprise. (no pictures unfortunately) We suspect it was following the River Dart to head north initially.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Yarner Wood

I recently spent a very enjoyable day exploring Yarner Wood NNR near Bovey Tracey on the eastern edge of Dartmoor. The wood is beautiful with gnarled sessile and English oak trees covered in moss, mixed with hazel and rowan completed with an understory of holly and a ground layer of bilberry.

I was particularly hoping to find pied flycatchers and lesser spotted woodpecker. I was successful in finding 5 male stunning and very vocal pied flycatcher throughout the wood, but there was no sight nor sound of the woodpecker unfortunately. I was slightly too early in the month for the other denizens of this habitat such as wood warbler and tree pipit, but did see a nice range of other woodland species and common butterflies.

(pied flycatchers)
Wood ant nest (Formica sp)
I also visited Hembury woods again a great example western oakwoods on the southern edge of Dartmoor earlier in the month to see the spectacle of hundreds of wild daffodils blooming in the oak woods there. I have never seen wild daffodil in these numbers before, there was a carpet of yellow in many places.

(River Dart)

(Wild daffodils)