October - December Nature Notes

Hips of the Field Rose

Find it difficult to believe that we are now in the final quarter of the year! After such a wet September when we have recorded over 9 inches of rain here in Middlewood, all we can hope for is a dry and sunny October.Looking back at the summer, there were some lovely days but no long and sustained period of warmth.

And as ever, some species did better than others but moths & butterflies were up on last year, I am sure but we will wait for Mary's report on her moth-ing season. The Small Tortoiseshell butterflies missed out on the Big Butterfly Count and yet two weeks later were here in fair numbers. 

The dormice at nest box sites in the Lynher Valley bred early and late but overall, numbers are well up on last year thank goodness. And now we have autumn except that a couple of days ago we saw a rook/crow flying over South Petherwin with a long stick in its beak and in the garden, robins are battling out their new territories with loud song; one was heard singing moderately loudly in our back garden at 10:30pm the other evening; for a split second I thought of a nightingale and then realised I was being silly. 

Events Programme: Details for all our events can be found on the Home page.

The Winter Programme is yet to be planned and our apologies for leaving it so late. If anyone knows of an interesting speaker then please let us know. I was interested in a car-sharing trip up to the Somerset Levels (Ham Wall reserve?) to view the starling murmurations.

The events programme will be up-dated at the beginning of the year after our planning social. 

Other activities:

Our equipment list has been up-dated and a list will be posted on the web-site. Hopefully, there will be time to create a list of books which is a going to be a bit of a task, nice for a cold wet winter's day (sorry, only got halfway)?  

What to Look for in the fourth quarter:

Birds. Most of summer bird migrants (S) have left us, so there will be a marked change in the bird song, but look out for the Winter migrants marked as (W) in the species lists, especially Fieldfare, Redwing, Lapwing, Golden Plover and Starling, probably as the first spells of harsh winter weather set in - birds driven from Britain's northern parts and from Scandinavia come looking for food. Small flocks of Starlings have been seen this first week of October but some warblers may well stay with us. Large flocks of wintering birds, with the exception of Starlings, do not always get as far south and west as Cornwall, so we are very interested to know what YOU find. Do please use the forum to report sightings.

Chiffchaffs have been singing quite loudly throughout September & may well continue. It is fascinating to see groups of starlings building up in numbers as they reach their roosting grounds.

There are also other things to look out for: 

The appearance of Siskins at bird tables
Skylarks can be seen in flocks feeding mainly on tilled fields, as European immigrants join our few resident birds.
In the hedgerows, mixed flocks of small birds, such as
Long-tailed, Blue, Great and Coal Tits, accompanied by the bulkier, but very suave Nuthatch and the diminutive Goldcrest as they forage through the trees for food. Remember to record any presence of a Lesser-Spotted Woodpecker (with photo if possible) as these are now extremely rare in Cornwall. 
Avocets begin to build up on the Lynher and Tamar, south of our survey area.
The over-wintering of Summer Visitors. Despite last winter's cold, more
Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs are staying over winter and should also be recorded. 

If you notice any of the following birds around your parish, make a note for future records.
Yellowhammer, Green Woodpecker, Kingfisher, Dipper, any birds of prey other than Buzzard; Red Kites are being reported but a photo would be brilliant! 

Hygiene is vital if we are to protect birds feeding & drinking at our feeding stations in the garden. Greenfinches seem to be most at risk. The basic advice is to remove stale food, husks & droppings from the feeding area; move the feeding area to another location; disinfect feeders and trays with veterinary disinfectant or a weak (1 part to 10 of water) bleach solution; change water in bird baths daily. We have also removed the trays from the feeders so that birds cannot stand in the food.

Butterflies and Moths. Keep an eye open in October for the giant caterpillars of the Hawk Moths - Elephant, Privet and Convolvulus Hawkmoth. We see them regularly in most of the parishes. Don't be surprised at the size of them - 7cm is not unusual and 'Woolly Bear' caterpillars can be found rapidly crossing paths to look for places to hibernate; these are usually the caterpillars of the Ermine Moths. It is still worth using the moth traps on milder evenings without a moon to record some of the winter moth species.

You are still likely to see several butterflies in this quarter: Wall, Small Copper, Red Admiral and Painted Lady, Large White, Speckled Wood, Comma, Brimstone, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell. The last sightings should be recorded. Ivy flowers are particularly good for butterflies as are rotting apples! 

Butterfly species differ in how they survive the winter - as eggs (Hairstreaks), caterpillars (Small Copper, Common Blue, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Silver-washed Fritillary, Speckled Wood and Wall), pupae (Holly Blue, Specked Wood) or adult butterflies (Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Comma, Brimstone) and these are the first butterflies to look for in the New Year. A warm day may encourage them to emerge briefly, even in December or January.

Other insects: Bees will continue to fly and many insects such as Hoverflies will feed off the flowers of Ivy. New queen Wasps & Hornets will be feeding up before hibernating. And look out for the orb spiders which can reach quite a size in late autumn &Garden Orb Spider can be easily found when their amazing webs are covered by dew in the early morning. 

Amphibians. Frogs, Toads and Newts return usually before the end of the year to breed.  Frogs can often be heard croaking in ponds very early even in this quarter, so listen out for them at night and take a note when you first see Spawn. Watch your ponds at night with a torch to see Newts coming to the surface to breathe.

Mammals. December is the mating time for Red Foxes (Vulpes vulpes). Listen out for their calls after dusk - the male makes a short loud bark hoping to hear the eerie scream of the female. If you get the chance to see either of them, notice the winter coat, which is darker and thicker in the winter months.

The European Mole (Talpa europaea) remains active throughout the winter. This time of year, the diet is almost exclusively earth worms. Look out for the tell-tale signs of activity on your winter walks. You will see distinct groups of mole hills in open fields. I wondered if these were family groups, but in fact Males and Females occupy different burrow systems.

Torpid DormouseThe Common Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) will be hibernating from early November (last year into early December) and will be feeding up on autumn seeds, fruits and nuts and leaving empty hazel nuts shells, with distinctive holes (dormice open hazel nuts in a unique way) on the ground under the canopy. These give us valuable records of where dormice are feeding so please collect up in envelopes marked with the date & location and pass on to your parish coordinator. Even if other mammals have opened them, these will give records for the Cornwall mammal Atlas project. More details and links on the Dormouse pages or ask us for a pack. 

Bats usually hibernate from December through to late March - April after a sleepy period (torpor) in November, but they can be seen flying from time to time, even in this quarter and often in broad daylight. Please record on your Special Events Form whenever you see bats flying.

Plants. If you have a booklet of the most common plants, then keep recording the species and which tetrads they are in. There are a few things other to look out for:

  • Berries are a good pointer to both plants and shrubs. Look out for Guelder Rose, Black Bryony and Lords and Ladies.
  • Fungi reach a peak so enjoy those that you are confident to eat, while getting to know a few more that you see on your patch. Wood Cauliflower fungus
  • Trees fruit in the autumn and then drop their leaves. Look out for leaf fall of Ash (October) Beech and Horse Chestnut (late October), Oak and Sycamore (November)

Wildlife Gardening: Please remember to leave at least some seedheads for the birds this winter; covered in frost & spider webs, these can look quite decorative! And leave some areas for winter shelter~ hedgehogs will hibernate in heaps of twigs and garden rubbish so always check carefully before making a bonfire; it is best to re-build and use dry material anyway. Dormice, Toads and other small animals will make their winter nests under leaves in quiet corners of the garden so take care when you 'tidy up' and check before inserting your fork... Autumn leaves compost down well within a year to make some lovely humus which should be weed free; use wire or twig enclosure to contain the heap and turn it once in the spring. 

Please continue to record both the common species on the checklist and also the more unusual via the Special Event form and your own Nature Notes on the website.

We can offer training to allow recorders to enter their own data onto the website; please ask your Parish Coordinator about this.

And those of you with broadband access, please contribute to the Discussion Forum or add comments especially if an opinion or some advice is sought. In the interest of security, you do need to login to do this (as you do on most websites) but if you have forgotten your login/password, please request another.

And your committee would very much welcome ideas for events for next year! There will be an up-dated Outline Programme for 2015 by late December on the Event Planning page (Launceston Area Overview>Activities>Event Planning) 

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

Cornwall Wildlife Trust - latest Wildlife news, ERCCIS for issues related to recording species in Cornwall;
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

Cornwall Mammal Group - information about the atlas, information sheets and maps, events,