January-March Nature Notes 2017

LAPWG NEWS to start the new year~

The total amount of rain in Middlewood nearly reached 70 inches so yes, that was above the average and it was spread more evenly across the year; there were few really dry periods and just one rather hot spell.  

Outline Programme of Events for 2018. Please do let us know if you have any ideas for other events or 

Landscape below Gonamena


January 7th. Our Mince Piers (Pies) and muddy boots walk is back thanks to Dave & Mary Groves. A four mile squelch from Bowithick to Butterns Hill. Click for full details

On January 20th, Matt Stribley and the Cornwall Bryology Group (mosses & liverworts) will be around Middlewood & Berrio in North Hill parish, collectiong records. Apparently, there is only one record at present. This is quite specialist but will be open to anyone who would like to find out about this group of non-vascular plants. Details will be posted. 

Jan 27/28/29th is the Big Garden Birdcount organised by the RSPB.Please can everyone join in because entries from our area were down a bit last year.

 We need to meet to plan the year's programme but in March we will arrange a walk with a short AGM so our accounts can be approved and sent onto CWT. 

At the end of these Nature Notes, the list of web-sites for other county wildlife groups has been updated to include several other specialist organisations.

What to look for in the first quarter: Birds, Butterflies and Moths and other insects, Mammals, Amphibians, Plants
is quarter sees us move from the depths of winter into spring and the timing of wildife activities will reflect the changes in weather over the period. So far, and compared to last year, this is more of a proper winter with quite hard frosts in early December, rather too much in the way of mist and fog and although it has been mild at times and around the sheltered coastal areas, butterflies have been see, it is not as warm overall. A few may have even seen some snow although here it was more 'soft hail' and sleet.

Birds. Cornwall should expect influxes of birds seeking out our relatively milder climate and also birds from the moor often move down into the valleys during bad weather. This autumn seemed particularly rich in terms of wild food and leaf colour but I noticed birds at the feeders earlier than last year with large numbers of finches. We notice the daily movements of Starlings flying south then north again and it is worth travelling over to Davidstow Moor and the carpark below Rough Tor to see huge flocks of Starlings coming into roost, reported to be good this year. On moorland areas, and along our estuaries, look out for larger flocks of Lapwings and Golden Plover. Please record details of any large flocks of Golden Plover. Ravens breed in January so look out for the aerobatic flight of a pair of Ravens in courtship over the moors & coast.  The Red Kite has been reported from Polson & North Hill parish and close to South Petherwin ~ details should be kept so that we can monitor their spread into the county.

Learn to recognise the call of Tawny Owls; if you can recognise male and female, you will know if you have a pair possible nesting nearby. Little Owls are now very rarely recorded in Cornwall so if you do see one, please let others know. Grey Partridge is another species that ERCCIS would like to know about, now very local. Very pleased to hear that Barn Owls have been seen again in North Hill Parish ~ we plan to install a new nest box above Broad Wood in Stara Woods very soon.

Watch out for interesting waders & water fowl on any sizable stretch of inland water.

On our bird tables, look out for the Siskin and possibly the Brambling & Lesser Redpoll in addition to the normal visitors.Lesser Redpoll
In the hedgerows look out for mixed flocks of Tits. They stay together for safety and are sometimes joined by other small species such as the Goldcrest. Woodpeckers particularly are more visible while the leaves are off the trees but the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker has not been recorded in our area for some time. They are about the size of a Chaffinch and if you do see one, take a photo!
Birdsong. This is a great time to get to identify birds from their call and song as there are not too many. The Song Thrush sings its song thrice over but the Mistle Thrush or Storm Cock will sing a loud & rich song from the top of a tree; each phrase ends on an upward note.  If you are awake early in the morning, you will start to hear more birds joining the Dawn Chorus. The RSPB web-site contains an index of birds including their songs. 

Greater Spotted Woodpeckers start to 'drum' in the new year to claim breeding territories. Nesting may start as early as February for some of our resident birds but during March, the winter visitors will leave us, moving north. Sand Martins & Chiffchaff start to arrive in the middle of March. Yellow Hammers will increase in numbers and become more vocal.

Insects, Butterflies and Moths. Butterflies & queen wasps may wake from hibernation if we have a sunny warm spell. Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Brimstone and Comma, all hibernate as adults; look out for other early fliers in March such as the Small White (usually the first butterfly to emerge from a chrysalis), Large White, Holly Blue & Speckled Wood. Bumble Bees, especially the Buff-tailed, are frequently feeding through the winter where winter flowers are available~ please record any dates seen. 

Early ThornAnd a few moths will be flying; might be worth setting moth traps on fine evenings to see what is out there? The December Moth will fly on through January. We can expect to see the Winter Moth & the Early Moth; from February the Early Thorn & Red Chestnut; then the March Moth, Dark Swordgrass, Small Quaker & less commonly, the Dark Chestnut. And of course the Angleshades which can be seen all year round. We now have quite a few moth recorders in both our group and the Mid-Tamar Group so moth-ing should be well represented in east Cornwall.


Hibernating dormouseMammals. Keep an eye out for Foxes hunting in daylight for food, when it is scarce. The Mole is still active and it is worth recording the extent of new mole hills over this period. February is probably the busiest time around the badger set. Sows, impregnated the previous February, give birth to their cubs in a special breeding chamber. Within a couple of weeks of giving birth, she will be ready to mate again. The blind cubs (1 to 5) are about 12cms long, and grey in colour at birth, but already have the distinctive dark eye-strap. Hedgehogs will be waking up from Hibernation. Squirrels seem to be active most months, especially in the milder winters. Water Shrews also remain active.  Dormice should still be hibernating.

In March, Otters make a meal on frogs, literally and metaphorically, so they move away from main rivers and push up into streams, boggy/marshy places and ponds where the amphibians are congregating to breed. So, look out for piles of frogspawn in the grass where a bird or an otter has eaten a frog, and squashed out the spawn.

Keep records of any Bats seen flying around; this can be in the afternoon if the weather is mild; in the south-west, it is quite obvious that bats do not hibernate for the whole winter period; if you are interested look out for bat survey events listed on the home page or ask your parish coordinator for further details. This winter, the bat boxes in Armstrong Woods are being monitored on a regular basis to record activity away from hibernation sites. Take advantage of any snow to look for and identify mammal tracks. Do this early before the snow starts to melt.

Amphibians Lots of Frog spawn and Toad spawn should be found in stagnant ponds from January onwards Check on the maps available on the Natures Calendar Phenology web-site and compare with your own dates. With so much standing water around this year, look for trapped frog spawn & tadpoles as these pools dry out. Common toads breed a few weeks later than common frogs in most parts of the UK, and produce somewhat different spawn. Toad spawn is a string of jelly with eggs embedded in it, usually wrapped around vegetation
Reptiles: March is the time for the Adder, Common Lizard and Slow-worm to appear after hibernation.

Gorse flowers in JanuaryPlants. Try learning to identify some trees from their twigs and shapes against the sky. Use your Common Species booklets to build up knowledge of the distribution of winter & early spring flowers in the 4 x 1 Km squares near your home. Ask your Parish Coordinator if you would like your own booklet printed. 

Gardening for Wildlife. It is now recognised that gardens, both urban & rural, can really help to promote bio-diversity by providing a variety of habitats in a small area. Many garden shrubs flower over the winter and provide food for bees and small flies & in turn, the flies become food for small birds and even bats flying on afternoons when the temperature gets above 5C. Especially useful are varieties of Oregon Grape Mahonia, Winterflowering Honeysuckle Lonicera x purpusii (lovely scent), the Witchhazels Hamamelis and The Cornelian Cherry Cornus mas. These shrubs will bridge the gap until the first bulbs start to flower. Lenten Roses Helleborus, also attract bees. Despite the difference in size, Snowdrop flowers are favoured by early flying Red Admirals and this year, unless we do have an extremely cold spell, many more butterflies will have over-wintered.

Don't be in too much of a hurry to tidy up heaps of leaves and seedheads where insects & other creatures could still be sheltering. And make sure that any ponds have a small area that stays ice-free.

Parish Maps. Do explore these as they can be extremely useful if you need to check a location. All the parish tetrads (2x2km squares) are available and can be copied and printed out. Look at your parish pages; select parish maps from the left hand menu; select the parish tetrads map which will indicate the tetrad names & are also listed above the map. For details, just click on the tetrad label. 

For updates on Wildlife in Cornwall from other organisations, do look at the following websites which offer a lot of current information, even to non-members:

Cornwall Wildlife Trust to which we are affiliated.     Environmental Records Centre for Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly (ERCCIS).

Wildlife Information Service (WIS) for queries about wildlife.  

Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Federation of Biological Recorders (CISFBR) Provides the list of botanical events plus some very interesting downloads.

Cornwall Mammal Group concentrates on the terrestial mammals of Cornwall & are working towards the publication of a Mammal Atlas for the county.

Butterfly Conservation, Cornwall Branch. A lot of information about butterflies in the county; also events, distribution maps etc.

Cornwall Birdwatching and Preservation Society and the Cornwall Birding Association provide interesting records and pictures of latest sightings.

Cornwall Bat Group. Although mainly for bat group members & licensed recorders, this does give advice and contact information for help regarding injured bats.

Cornwall Moth Group Several of our members are now sending in records from this end of the county.