Wildlife in March/April 2018
10th March: After the snow, where are the small birds?
What a difference a week makes! Here are some pictures taken last weekend when Fineshade was effectively shut off by repeated heavy snow. Temperatures remained stubbornly below freezing for several days and strong easterly winds provided a further chill making it feel like -14C on some nights.
At the "Fair Tree" where the Duddington bridleway crosses Justice Riding
Fresh snow in Far Markham's Wood
The pond in front of the Wildlife Hide during another blizzard
The thaw came very quickly and already we are beginning to see signs of new plant life emerging.
Lesser Celandine emerging in the middle of a grassy wayleave in the Assarts
Primrose along the Kings Cliffe bridleway in Westhay wood
Bluebells beginning to push through the leaf litter in the Ancient Woodland areas
However, it is the animal life that appears to have been very hard-hit by the arctic blast, coming as it did so late in the season. Small birds had already had to endure two periods of snow earlier in the winter when food would have been very hard to come by, and then the abnormally cold weather in late February must have taken a very severe toll.
This week we've been looking out particularly for birds as we've been surveying and walking in the wood. The larger species seem fine: there are Red Kites and Buzzards defending territories, Crows and Jays are noisily competing and the Ravens appear to be back at the nest they used for the first time last summer. At the pond in front of the Wildlife Hide the resident pair of Moorhens seem to have survived the big freeze.
But many of the smaller birds are very hard to find. We've not recorded any Willow Tits this week. There are some pairs of Long-tailed Tits in their pinkish breeding plumage, but their numbers seem to be far lower than in mid-February. However, in hours of careful searching we've only located two Wrens - normally one of our commonest species. And as for the Goldcrest, the UK's smallest bird, so far we've not managed to record any at all. The graph on the right indicates that, as you might expect, this may be part of the wider national picture.
16th March: Spring warms up - today at least
A short walk from Top Lodge this morning provided three signs of spring. There was no song of a Chiffchaff yet - perhaps they have heard the forecast of more snow overnight. But along the side of the field near the railway bridge there was a large patch of Dog Violets and many more Primroses opening up in the sun.
But further on, in the wood itself there were two male adders, beautifully disguised and hard to see as they lay motionless, soaking up the sunshine. These are the first we've seen in the wood this year and they are one of the species the Back form the Brink, Roots of Rockingham project will be trying to help. There's more about Fineshade's Adders and other reptiles here and, if you'd like to learn more and to help protect these rare protected species this free training may be just the right thing for you.
7th April: More signs of spring
Simply a list of some of the indicators that spring must be here - all recorded during a 2-hour stroll in Fineshade today
Lords and Ladies
Great Tits mating
Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming
A very dark male Adder
9th April: Planning a spider suvey
Dull, grey, rain and mist - it was a not a good day for finding spiders, but we were nevertheless very pleased to welcome Richard Pearce and Ben Reeve to Fineshade and to begin to plan a thorough survey to take place later this year. Arachnids, (that's spiders, ticks, mites, harvestmen, scorpions etc) like many other groups of invertebrates, have not previously been studied in any detail here and we are aware of only 16 species previously recorded.
Richard is a very experienced Arachnologist and lectures in Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology at Warwickshire College. He is also the Area Organiser for the British Arachnological Society
and Ben, one of the Friends of Fineshade and a member of BAS, had invited him to come to see if he felt the wood would be worth surveying. In the intermittent rain they visited the mosaic of different types of woodland here and many of the other features such as the old railway line and remote ponds - all of which were brim full to overflowing.
We think it's fair to say Richard was impressed! He posted some of his images on Twitter saying:
Prime spider habitat with many arachnid treasures to uncover. Really looking forward to digging deeper into the arachnid community at this fantastic site. Extremely promising; a rich mosaic of woodland and associated habitats.
So plans are being hatched to visit some of these locations on several days later this year when it is possible that hundreds of different spiders will be discovered. Lots to learn - watch this space!
Above: Richard and Ben visiting one of Fineshade's remote ponds during a gap in the rain.
Below left: Steatoda bipunctata, AKA the Rabbit Hutch spider. This is one of the so-called false widows (although a small species and native to our shores)
Below right: Metellina sp. A type of small orb weaver. This one had a delicate horizontal orb web with hub 'gap' in the centre
14th April: Return of the ranger - and signs of Otters!
Last Thursday (yet another cold, wet, sunless day!) Richard the Ranger came back to revisit his old stamping ground.
For many years until he retired, Richard worked as the Wildlife Ranger for Fineshade and other nearby woodlands. His knowledge of the wildlife in the wood was second to none and he was responsible for the construction of several of the ponds in Fineshade, the deer lawn in front of the wildlife hide, and also the hide itself. During his years here Richard became aware that Otters were using the stream that runs along the northwest boundary of the wood and he even built an artificial holt to encourage them to breed here.
Last week Richard went back to the stream to see if he could find any signs that Otters were still using it to move between the River Welland to Fineshade Abbey Lakes.
Being a nocturnal mammal it's very difficult to observe an actual Otter but, if you know what to look for, it's possible to find the signs they leave behind - footprints and, in particular, their droppings or "spraints". They deposit these on prominent positions along the water courses that they are using, marking their territories out.
Richard searched all along the stream and was able to find both dried and very fresh spraints on many of the fallen tree trunks crossing the stream. In one place there was also what looked remarkably like a Barn Owl pellet. This was easy to take away and, when dissected it was clear that it consisted entirely of fish parts - bones and scales - so not an owl pellet at all, but another Otter dropping.
It's great to know that this elusive large mammal is still here in Fineshade Wood - and it was great to see Richard back again too.
Because of the recent rains the stream was flowing very rapidly.
Under the tree root were marks indicating that an Otter may have used it to provide shelter and seclusion while resting during the day.
Above: Dried and very fresh spraint indicating frequent use of the stream
Below: A dropping, shaped like an owl pellet but actually made up of fish remains
24th April: Another new moth for Fineshade
With the warmer weather during the weekend it seemed a good opportunity to put the moth trap out in a garden at Top Lodge. So at 9:30pm the twin actinic bulbs were casting a bright light and drawing in lots of flitting shapes. However, two hours later it began to rain so a halt was called to proceedings.
By that time several moths had been retained in pots so that they could be identified, and one of these was a species new for us - the very attractive Lunar Marbled Brown. After its release we noticed that it must have been female because in the bottom of the pot there was a collection of eggs - a beautiful pale cyan colour. We looked up the food-plant of this species and found that the larvae feed on Oaks so, very carefully, all the tiny eggs were placed on an Oak tree in the garden - and fingers were crossed for them.
In all, we recorded 36 individual moths of 11 species. There were Early Thorns, Water Carpets, Blossom Underwings, a Pine Beauty, an early Grey and three types of Quakers. Moths often have interesting and delightful names and some of them are very apt like the Frosted Green, pictured right. This is uncommon in Northamptonshire and is more often recorded in the southern woodlands such as Salcey Forest.
We didn't realise it at the time, but it was the first record of this species in Fineshade - quite amazing really given the great effort that has been put into studying moths here over the years. You can see photos of some of Fineshade's other moths and, if you wish, download the full species list here. This brings Fineshade's moth species to no less than 754!