Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Black snakes and Orange Tips

Days like today are the days I work for, the days I spend the dark hours of midwinter dreaming about.  Warm sun, greenery popping out on every tree and bush, colours twinkling in your vision from passing butterflies, new flowers and busy birds.  From my office I can always see the Pied Wagtail pair wagging their long tails as they peck among the shop plant display and the kestrels patrolling the stable yard as they decide where to make start their nest building.

I found my first tick yesterday happily suckling on my leg – luckily it was had not had much of a chance to drink its fill of my blood and I swiftly dispatched it with a pair of tweezers.

'I wandered lonely as a cloud'...sea of Daffodils at Mottisfont.

Blackthorn in flower on the Dun

This is the time of year we take a bit of a stock check.  The winter cutting season has ended and we roll up our sleeves and look towards the work that summer brings.  We have several projects that are on for the coming months including the restoration work on the river bank at Stockbridge Marsh – watch this space. 

Last week myself and Ryan led the volunteers in an epic couple of work days on Stockbridge Down and Marsh during which we got a huge amount done.  Monday saw the entire sheep flock get treated with Crovect (a spray on treatment to help prevent blowfly attack).  Wiltshire Horns are supposedly less prone to fly strike due to their short fleeces, but having had two late attacks in November last year I am taking no chances, and am starting the treatment from now onwards.  Luckily we didn’t have to rugby tackle and turn the sheep for this – it is just a spray from a nozzle gun down their back and across their buttocks and its job done.

We also used the tractor and strop to pull out a rotten gatepost and replace it and the gate with shiny new ones, repaired and restored a damaged carpark barrier, replaced some of the broken wooden hurdles that encircle the Bronze Age Barrows and do some other gate and carpark maintenance ready for the summer season. 

Then on Thursday we had the volunteers down on Stockbridge Marsh at the Southern gate which has always suffered badly from poaching in winter – being a peat marsh it will always be wet but in winter this far corner becomes a total quagmire into which only the hardiest of welly wearers will try and reach the gate.  We spent the day constructing a boardwalk which Ryan designed and the volunteers processed the timber for.  It is made using our own Larch off the estate and this is left untreated to prevent any toxins leaching into the peaty soil.  Being peat it tends to preserve the wood quite well so the new boardwalk should last for a good while yet.  The boggy ground around it should now dry out without the footfall pressure of people squelching through it and this will enable the grass and flora to grow again in this corner – next time you are walking the Test way, which runs right past it, take a turn through the gate and onto the Marsh without getting your feet muddy.
Muddy and well used already - new boardwalk over the Grimpen Mire

 Today, April Fool’s day, also marks another big turning point in our working calendar – it’s the official start of butterfly surveying season!  Across our sites we have a broad range of habitats and we have various surveys that are conducted including bats, reptiles, butterflies, birds, inverts, dormice, bio surveys…the list goes on.  Having this information allows us to monitor the impact of the work we do and ensure that it is having positive results, not detrimental ones.   
Our butterfly transects cover three sites across our Mottisfont wooded estate and we have another one on Stockbridge Down.  We are also setting up new butterfly transects across our New Forest sites too, so all in all, we are in for a busy butterfly summer providing we get the weather.  My survey today brought out all the usual candidates that overwinter as adults – brimstone, peacock, tortoiseshell – and my first Orange Tip!  This species overwinters as a chrysalis and emerges on warm April days – the male is unmistakable with its bright orange wing tips – and a sure sign that winter has turned its back.  The females can often be mistaken for small whites as they have black tipped wings (like small whites) but they do share with the male, the striking underside colouring of its wing – a beautiful green marbled effect on the underneath of its lower wing marks it out from small or green veined whites.

 The warm weather has also brought the adders out in force for Matt’s adder project which I mentioned in my previous post.  He has caught some stunning specimens including a whopping female of 67cm in length and 125g in weight – a fair old chunker.  He has also found bootlace adders (last year’s young) having just swallowed a common lizard and consequently not able to move very much!
Bootlace adder stuffed full of lizard - we all know that feeling of having overeaten!

I have spent a couple of days helping him and was absolutely over the moon to spot and catch my first melanistic – black – adder!  Right up until the moment I caught it I was in two minds as to whether it was a black adder or a dog turd (they look amazingly similar when curled up) but then I saw those gleaming red eyes that signified that this was not faecal matter.  He turned out to be male so I named him Edmund (the only choice for a male Black adder surely…)
Edmund Blackadder
Adders like to bask on moss - this one had found a nice mossy cushion this log.

Matt has also caught another black adder on the site – a female – so there is obviously a small population of melanistic adders in the area.  It would be romantic to think the two black adders will partner up and mate but I don’t think they are too bothered about colour matching.  However the males have started their pre mating sloughing of their skin and mate guarding (where they find a female and ‘guard’ her against other males) showing that the mating season is almost upon them.  The photo below is a fantastic shot of this – Matt saw this group of male adders all basking and guarding a mossy basking site that he had previously found a female in – and judging by the presence of all these males she was obviously still there hiding under the moss!
 Fingers crossed we get lucky and witness the males doing their competitive ‘dance of the adders’ - it’s only a matter of time now…

How many adders can you spot?  Males hanging outside the ladies dressing room...

No comments:

Post a Comment