Appleshaw Nature Watch
Read the Appleshaw Village nature diaries by wildlife expert Rob Read
About Rob Read
Rob Read is a photographer, author and founder of A Wild Read, a nature website which aims to bring people closer to the wonders of nature by sharing wildlife facts, commentary, trivia, musings and prose from expert contributors – all illustrated against a backdrop of stunning wildlife photography.
Rob was also one of the founding directors of Bird Photographer of the Year, but has recently moved on to establish WildArt Photographer of the Year, an international photography competition designed to celebrate the art of wildlife photography.
July / AugustSummer arrives…
As we trip over mid-summer’s day and the school holidays loom, summer really seems to get underway proper. It’s also the time of year when perhaps our birdlife is at its quietest. Yes, the Swifts, Swallows and House Martins are still making their presence felt, but many other species are starting to feel the rigours of the breeding season and are much less showy than usual. And for those garden species that do appear, they are often showing the strains of the breeding season, their plumage in a poor state as they await a refreshing change of clothes the next moult will bring. Just take a look at your Blackbirds and you’ll see what I mean.
Here are a few things to look out for this July and August
Now is the time of year when invertebrate life is coming to its peak. The wildflower meadow in our garden has played host to a number of butterfly species over the last few days including Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Large White, Small Tortioseshell, Red Admiral and Large Skipper. All number of bees and hoverflies are taking advantage of the flowering poppies and mayweed. The pond we dug in the spring has already attracted Broad-bodied Chaser and Emperor Dragonflies, both of which have been egg-laying on the native pond plants, along with three species of Damselfly. Its depths are alive with all manner of pond critters.
A few months ago, I found a colourful caterpillar sheltering from the rain under the umbels of a Cow Parsley plant growing outside our back gate. My new caterpillar identification book was employed, and I discovered it to be the caterpillar of the Scarlet Tiger Moth. The adults were in abundance last year around the garden and they are now once again flying in number. They are a day-flying species, so do keep a look out for them as they are extremely beautiful.
A few months ago, I found a colourful caterpillar sheltering from the rain under the umbels of a Cow Parsley plant growing outside our back gate.
The bats seem to be taking advantage of this invertebrate larder, and the village is home to a number of species. I can lean out of our bedroom window on some nights and watch them swoop around the house silhouetted against the last glimmers of light as the sun says goodnight.
Now is also the time of year when grasshoppers and crickets start to make an appearance. I have already found small versions of several species, all of which are moving swiftly through the growth stages (or instars as they are known). Perhaps the most impressive species you could encounter locally is Roesel’s Bush-cricket – I came across a rather diminutive individual the other day cowering in the long grass on the edge of Ramridge Copse. In a few weeks it will become a much more impressive sight and the source of part of the evening Orthopteran serenade on still, muggy evenings.
Make the most of the good weather when it arrives and enjoy all the smaller things that can be found in abundance around the village.
May / JuneTeetering on the Edge of Summer
As spring starts to morph into summer (not that you’d know it this year with all the recent rain!) there are a few avian arrivals that always herald the coming of the long daylight hours and warmer temperatures. I always find it heart-warming to see the arrival of the hirundines (Swallows, Martins and Swifts) back in the village. We are so lucky to have all of these birds as, in common with so many other species, their numbers have been falling dramatically for the last 50 years.
Here are a few things to look out for this May and June
First to arrive are the Swallows and House Martins. It was mid-April when the first of the Swallows swooped low over my head on its way to hawk for insects over the field at the back of the garden. I remember spending quite a lot of time last summer trying to photograph them flying low over the crop, but they are so fast and small that I never managed a decent shot. Perhaps I’ll try again this year. A week or so later, numbers of House Martins were evident over the village, swooping around the rooftops of the houses as they prospected for suitable nesting sites.
As I write, although I have seen Swifts, I have yet to hear their screaming calls as they glide across the skies above the village. When I’m sat in the office, I often hear their unmistakable piercing calls filtering through the open window – a true sound of summer that’s sadly missing in so many places across the UK these days.
The nest boxes in the garden have seen the busy comings and goings of the over-worked Blue Tit parents as they struggle to feed the broods that must be sheltering inside. No doubt it won’t be long before the fledglings emerge and face the outside world. Juvenile Blackbirds and Starlings have become a common sight in the garden in the last few weeks, their parents doing their best to teach the youngsters a bit of self-sufficiency.
Ramridge Copse is teeming with birdlife as everything seeks to ensure their genetic line continues. Nesting Wrens seem to be at every turn; Blackcap and Chiffchaff have also established distinct territories, their song predictably coming from the same places every day as I walk the perimeter path. Red Kites and other birds of prey are busy feeding young from their untidy nests, perched precariously high in the Douglas Fir.
Ramridge Copse is teeming with birdlife as everything seeks to ensure their genetic line continues.
As the Bluebells fade and turn to seed, so the other plant life starts coming to life and engulfing the sunnier paths, rides and clearings. The Bugle and Yellow Archangel are particularly lush this year, but if you look carefully enough before the first week of June has elapsed, you may find an Early Purple Orchid, one of the first orchids of the year to appear.
Enjoy what’s left of spring.
AprilNature Gathers Momentum
April and May see spring get into full stride. After the clocks go forward, it isn’t long before we are enjoying the longer daylight hours as dawn and dusk stretch out at either end of the day. With luck, temperatures will also be rising, and nature will react to this gathering momentum as life gets increasingly frenetic for many of our local species. I love this time of the year. There’s an uplifting freshness to everything – the light at the end of winter’s dark tunnel as the flowering season begins and the spring migrant birds start to arrive.
Here are a few things to look out for this April
There are so many things to look out for over the next few weeks and I’ll be forcing myself out of bed early to enjoy as much of it as possible before breakfast. I’m particularly enjoying the blossom this year; the Blackthorn looks impressive this spring with its small white flowers coating the hedgerows like fresh snowfall. With the early blossom comes the early pollinators and the air is starting to fill with the hum of their buzzing wings – the bumblebee queens first to emerge.
But there are two species that for me are the true icons of spring, both of which are easily seen around the village. The first is the impressive Bluebell displays that carpet the woodland floor in parts of Ramridge Copse and other pockets of local woodland. Bluebells are a slow-coloniser and are a good indicator of ancient woodland. The recent cold weather appears to have delayed their display and the period from late April through to early May looks as if it will see the best of these plants this year.
Looking back at photographs I took last year, by mid-April these flowers were in full bloom – weather plays a large part in the timing of these yearly cycles of course. Please do make sure you get out and enjoy the displays as they seem to be over as soon as they start, or is that just time seemingly disappearing at an increasingly alarming rate as I get older?
I often stand in Ramridge Copse as the sun rises, my eyes closed, listening to each of the instruments that make up this avian orchestra.
If you wander through our awakening woodlands around dawn, you will be treated to one of nature’s most precious gifts, the dawn chorus. As the sun warms the woodland rides, keep your ears open for a bird which, for me at least, is a sure sign that spring has arrived – the Chiffchaff.
The Chiffchaff is a rather unassuming small warbler that’s not that much bigger than a Wren. For its diminutive size, it punches well above its weight in the voice department, delivering an unmistakable onomatopoeic song at an impressive volume. It can be quite tricky to see as it’s so small, but follow the voice and you will eventually spot one, especially if you take binoculars and look for them now before the trees come into leaf. At first glance, they look quite drab, but when you look more closely, you’ll find their subtle markings quite beautiful in their understatement.
Enjoy the spring, it’s a special time of year.
MarchAn Ode to Spring
March is a time of change in the wildlife calendar, and it can be a busy time of the year as a result. By the time you read this the birds will be nest building, frog and toad spawn will be decorating our ponds and ditches, and the landscape will be taking on a much more colourful hue with the fresh greens of new growth and the first of the year’s wildflowers in bloom.
Here are a few things to look out for this March
Appleshaw village is blessed with a large amphibian population with toads, frogs and various species of newt all finding a home in the village. At this time of the year, these animals will be making their way from their terrestrial wintering sites to their breeding ponds. This often involves them in crossing the roads through the village that fragment their habitat. The fact that this happens as darkness descends and coincides with the homebound traffic, does nothing to improve their chances of making a successful crossing, and thousands of these animals are killed on roads across the country.
Appleshaw Toad Patrol has been helping to mitigate the loss of amphibian life by patrolling the roads for the first hour or two of darkness, collecting these jaywalkers in buckets and seeing them safely across the road. Let’s hope these efforts result in our ponds teeming with tadpoles again this year, ensuring a healthy population is maintained into the future.
The village also boasts a diverse range of birds, some of which are resident year-round, others which arrive for the spring and summer months. By now, most will be busy with family plans for the year and nest building will be in full swing. The Blue Tits in our garden have found the nest boxes I put up in the winter and are now busy ferrying in all manner of twigs, grass, moss and similar nesting materials.
Get up early and you will be blessed with the increasingly loud dawn chorus as the avian world vies for territory and mating partners. The Robins and Blackbirds are the first to break the dawn silence, but it’s never long before the tiny Wren wades in and delivers its unmistakable song, vocally punching well above its weight.
The Robins and Blackbirds are the first to break the dawn silence, but it’s never long before the tiny Wren wades in and delivers its unmistakable song, vocally punching well above its weight.
And any day now the first of the Chiffchaffs will be heard delivering its onomatopoeic song along the sunny edges of Ramridge Copse as it arrives from more southerly climes.
Primroses and Lesser Celandine will start to add their hues of yellow to the landscape and the blossom of Wild Cherry and Blackthorn will soon also add their cheer.
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Appleshaw is a village and
parish in the English county
of Hampshire. It lies directly
on the border with Wiltshire