April-June Nature Notes


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  Not sure how the weather has compared with last year but we do seem to have had more than our fair share of damp grey days, often quite cold. Now into April with sunshine and showers so we shall see. Chiffchaffs were in by the third week of March followed a few days later by Blackcaps. Swallows in Rezare by April 3rd (thanks Alison!) and at Congdon's Shop on the 10th. Oil Beetles are out, as are most of the butterflies. Results from moth counts are mixed at present, always so weather and moon related.

OPERATION HEDGEHOG is an initiative started by various wildlife groups across Cornwall to encourage people to record and report hedgehogs seen, both dead and alive and also to spread the word about some simple measures that will help to conserve them and stop the apparent decline. If everyone who used to record could focus on that one species for this season, we could do well. Please contact your parish coordinator or Jen Bousfield (01566 782661) jenbousfield@gmail.com if you think you can help. 

Please do add to the list of 'firsts' which are already on the web-site Forum shown on the Home page 

Events Programme (full details as arranged will be on the Home Page):

Our April event on the 23rd is to visit ChurchTown Farm reserve near Saltash.

May looks quite busy with the first of two annual visits to Armstrong's Wood on the 14th with the Bat Group; Wildlife surveys at Luckett & East Kit Hill mines for the East Cornwall Mining History Association and on the 29th, Lezant have their parish boundary walk.

On either May 27/28th or June 4th, we hope to visit Tresellern Marsh near North Hill to see the orchids and butterflies (date to be confirmed); more butterflies at Greenscombe Reserve on the 10th and possible mothing at Armstrong Woods on the 11/12th 

Recording:  The new system provided by ERCCIS which is called ORKS is up & running with a group page for our locality. Once you have gained a login/password for ORKS you can elect to join our group. There is still some work to do on our page and we hope to provide the equivalent form for recording the species on our checklist but in the mean-time, it is quite possible to enter records for all species. Some first sightings would be good. 

We will need to up-date the relevant pages on this web-site to direct people to ORKS~ hopefully this will be accomplished fairly soon. Sorry, this is still pending....

What to look for in this quarter: Birds, Butterflies and Moths, Mammals (Bats), Amphibians, Plants

Birds. Most of the summer bird migrants arrive during April but Swallows are already flying in & will follow river valleys as they move inland; Sand Martins were recorded at Marazion in March~ note any new nesting sites in river banks or quarry waste. Male Bullfinch (close up)Bullfinch numbers seem to be recovering but Wrens will have suffered from the winter so expect numbers to be down.There is concern about the plight of Kingfishers up country where more intense cold iced up ponds & lakes where they normally feed. Areas of heath could still hold Tree Pipits; we did hear them on Kit Hill last May.
Record when you see any members of the Swallow family, especially Swifts, as they seem to breed in only a few places. Look out for Yellowhammers, Stonechats and Linnets, especially near the moor. Be sure to record any Spotted Flycatchers Spotted Flycatcheras numbers vary a lot.
End of March: Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Wheatear, Sand Martin.
Mid to end April: Cuckoo, Swallow, House Martin, Grasshopper Warbler, Whitethroat.
End of April to early May: Spotted Flycatcher, Swift, Garden Warbler.

Birdsong. Note how many different summer visitors are singing, defending their territories. They are easier to hear than see with all the dense foliage on the trees, so brush up on your bird song. (Use the RSPB web site to listen to sound clips) 

Try to learn the song of the Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap. The Chiffchaff notes are separate and crisp with no syncopation. Blackcaps & Willow Warblers have much prettier songs which they deliver from high up in shrubs & trees.

Record if & when you hear the Cuckoo ~ heath & moorland seem to be the best areas now.The drumming of the Great Spotted Woodpecker and the yaffle of the Green Woodpecker are lovely sounds at this time of year.
Other birds. The Grasshopper Warbler makes a sound like a fisherman's reel and sings from dense scrub, difficult to see.Whitethroats have a very scratchy song, sung from scrub. 

Butterflies and Moths& other Insects. Not many bees or butterflies will have been recorded over this past winter but were flying in good numbers by the end of March. The bees are out foraging on willow catkins and garden flowers together with a large number of Queen Wasps. Look out for the Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum), it is back in Middlewood again this year but never when one has a camera. Download a PDF about this species.

Other butterflies like Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Brimstone & Comma will have survived hibernation (hopefully!) and the Whites: Small, Large, Green-veined, Orange Tip (& Marbled White in some parishes), will emerge for their chrysalises in this period along with most of the blues; the Small Copper will be the last to fly and then stay on through to autumn.

By the end of June, we could hope to see other immigrants, like the Clouded Yellow and the Painted Lady. Of the Browns, we should see Wall and Speckled Wood in April- May but Meadow Browns and Ringlets over-winter as a caterpillar and emerge from the chrysalis towards the end of this period.
Moth numbers will increase in late spring for those with mothtraps ~ do ask your parish co-ordinator if you would like to borrow one. Many moths have been photographed by our recorders so use the web site library to help with ID. We have now linked to the Cornwall Moth Group so hope that at least some of our records will serve to fill in the gaps on the Cornwall map. Details will follow about the National Moth Nights which occur over the midsummer period. 

We have one scarcer Damselfly in our area, especially in the parishes bounded by the Tamar. This is the White Legged Damselfly and ERCCIS would be very grateful for any new records; please record on Special Event form. It is quite distinct of you can get close enough to see the white legs, especially the enlarged hind legs on the males but for more information visit the Dragonfly Society web site (good for other species).

Mammals. This is the key period for most mammals as they will be feeding their young born earlier in the year and the juveniles will now be out foraging with their parents ~ listen out for strange noises at night especially from foxes and badgers! There was little danger of hibernating animals waking up in the cold weather but both hedgehogs & dormice will be active again in April and feeding ready to breed in May and June. The Brown Hare is still a key mammal to look out for. Please make one special event record for all mammal species seen this quarter to help to support a mammal atlas for Cornwall. Look for distribution maps on the Cornwall Mammal Group website.  

Bats. There have been reports again this year of Bats flying in most of the first months of the year despite the cold. As it gets milder, insects will begin to fly, and to a bat that means food. If another cold snap comes along they will go back into hibernation. But at this time of year they will begin to move away from their cold hibernation sites into surroundings where they can take advantage of any milder weather. A bit of drizzle will probably not deter them, provided they can find a bit of shelter, under trees or in the lee of houses or hedges, etc. Always worth keeping an eye open for flying bats now the evenings are lighter.

In June,the females gather in their breeding roosts before they give birth, to maintain an active body temperature (as distinct from torpor) in order to keep their foetuses growing in the later stages of pregnancy. By cuddling together they save energy and maintain their higher metabolic rate.

Roost Sizes vary; the biggest Pipistrelle colony we know in Cornwall is 400, but average colonies are between 50-100 bats; Lesser Horseshoes can have between 30-60. Ask to borrow one of our bat detectors if you would like to learn more about the bats in your area.

Amphibians& Reptiles. Keep an eye on any frog or toad spawn you find and follow its progress. Toad spawn was being laid in late March last year and newts should be about and active. The Adder, Common Lizard and Slow-worm will soon appear after hibernation but as spring is so late this year, look out for them on sunny banks during April & May. Use the forum to report any sightings.

Plants. Although we have not been able to enter records yet from the Common Plants Booklet, we are keen for members to continue to record the top 80 or so species listed. New booklets extending the study to a further 100 or so plants are ready so contact Brian, Tessa or Jen B, if you want to take part in any of the plant projects. One useful tip is to study a group or genus of plants and learn to recognise the differences. 
This year, the Botanical Cornwall Group are organising several recording trips aropund our area which will be advertised on the home page.
Butterbur (right) is just appearing at the end of March. Butterbur in flower, AprilIt appears as just the flower head with little or no leaf  so do not confuse with Winter Heliotrope. Already, Dog Violets, Greater Stitchwort and Barren Strawberry are in flower. Soft-shield fern usually survives the winter well and is more prominent than later when other ferns start to grow (this is the one with thumbs on the pinnules, close to the stem and the pinnules generally are quite spiky).

Late spring & early summer sees a peak in flowers with many species flowering at this time. Don't forget to look for the flowers on trees which are up high and usually out of sight; they are often fragrant and provide valuable early nectar for bees. Others are wind pollinated.

Gardening for wildlife. Many of our gardens can provide a large variety of flowering plants in a relatively small area. If you choose flowers that are rich in nectar (avoid double flowers, as they are usually sterile), you will attract a great variety of insects that you can observe and record at close quarters. Keep a 'nettle corner' for caterpillars to feed on. Many culinary herbs are good bee & butterfly plants. And don't forget the moths~ Honeysuckle, Fuchsias, Sweet Tobacco (Nicotiana), Sweet Rocket (Hesperis) and many flowers belonging to the Pink family are night scented.    



For updates on Wildlife in Cornwall from other organisations, look at the following:

Cornwall Wildlife Trust - latest Wildlife news, What's on, Ask a question from the Wildlife Information Service

BBC Cornwall Nature - with features, images, video and A-Z of Wildlife

Wildlife Extra, Cornwall - useful links to latest wildlife news in our county, with maps

Botanical Cornwall Group - details of their programme of events for the summer