Nesting Material from Tree Sparrow Box at Sun Rising

The Snug Bedding of Tree Sparrows

One of our winter tasks at a nature reserve is checking the bird nestboxes.  Like many winter jobs that take more skill than energy, it’s one of cold fingers and noses, but with rewarding moments.

Some nestboxes may have patches of rotten wood or other damage – this may be caused by poor drainage (especially in poorly designed or badly made boxes), or because the box is quite old.  Now and then there is evidence of woodpeckers or other creatures tapping holes.  Where possible, these are carefully mended, ensuring anyone who takes up residence in the coming year can keep their clutch safe and sound.

The joy of the task comes when a box is found to be full of nesting material – mosses, dried grasses, wool, fur and feathers.  It can be such a very snug, thick wedge of material, all so carefully collected, it is a shame to empty it out.  We must do so, nonetheless, to minimise disease, the likelihood of parasites, and other problems in the old bedding.  The birds will find fresh new material and make their nests cosy again soon enough.

Nesting Material from Tree Sparrow Box at Sun Rising

Nesting Material from Tree Sparrow Box at Sun Rising

This year, 4 of our 6 tree sparrow boxes were found with good nesting material inside, confirming our observation that the boxes were being used by nesting pairs.  The other 2 boxes were damaged and have now been fixed.  If all 6 boxes are used this year, we’ll invest in some more, hoping to increase our population of this little bird. With a conservation status still at RED, it is estimated that its numbers reduced by 93% between 1970 and 2008.  Our little community is a vital part of its revival.

Note the white to beige pheasant feathers in the nesting material in the photograph. You can also see grey feathers, from a wood pigeon or stock dove. It could be that a fox killed onsite at just the right time, when the tree sparrows were collecting for the box.  There are long semiplume and soft down feathers here, ideal for keeping the nest warm and secure.

View from the Main Gate at Sun Rising, 12 December 2017

Snow

For a moment I wondered what to call this post, but there is nothing more needed: snow.  We have snow.

View from the Main Gate at Sun Rising, 12 December 2017

View from the Main Gate at Sun Rising, 12 December 2017

Not many have made it, or will make it to Sun Rising when the snow is this thick, so we thought we’d show you what it looks like.  You’ll see a few lines of footprints, but there are far more nonhuman tracks – crows, pigeons, pheasants, deer, hare and others.  The birdfeeders have remained topped up, although it’s taken some work to unlock them to do so, and the smaller birds are filling themselves with seed to keep themselves together.

Yesterday morning it was a foot in places, 6 – 8″ covering everywhere.  That meant the little tree plaque posts were almost hidden, the tracks and paths completely obscured.  Thankfully, we have had no funerals these past few days, but for the first time in a good few years we had to cancel a day of tree planting – we are so sorry to the six families who couldn’t make it last Sunday.

With rain due, and the temperature rising, the snow is melting, and we doubt it will last more than a day or so more.  However, if you do come over, please be aware that little pockets of resilient ice may remain – watch your step.

 

Rich Building the Hibernaculum

Hibernaculum

What a wonderful word: hibernaculum.  A hibernaculum is basically a winter residence, or somewhere where a creature can find shelter to hibernate, and at Sun Rising the creatures we are looking to help in this respect are the newts …

Which is why our new hibernaculum has been built by the pond.  Rich, Tim and David put it together using old bricks, essentially heaped in a pile, leaving nooks and crannies big enough for the little creatures to creep in and feel safe enough to snooze all winter.  The heap is covered in turf, to keep it warm and further protected.

Here’s the pile of bricks …

Rich Building the Hibernaculum

Rich Building the Hibernaculum

and the completed residence …

Tim with the Completed Hibernaculum

Tim with the Completed Hibernaculum

Although you are welcome to find it, please don’t investigate too closely.  When the little creatures have found their way in, they certainly don’t want to be disturbed.

The Wildlife Pond - before work began

Pond Work

What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon in late November than up to your waist in muddy water?  Volunteers Tim and Richard, alongside Sun Rising manager David, were working on the wildlife pond last Sunday, in gloves and waders, and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying it.  Here’s the pond before the work began,  and then with Rich and Tim in the cold muddy water.

The Wildlife Pond - before work began

The Wildlife Pond – before work began

Rich and Tim Clearing the Wildlife Pond

Rich and Tim – clearing the pond

If a wildlife pond were left to its own cycles, it wouldn’t take long before the vegetation would take over, leaving no open water at all.  In nature, such ponds come and go, but at the nature reserve we want to maintain the pond and its habitat.  In order to do so, it is necessary to clear some of the bulrushes, bur-reed and broad-leaved pondweed each year.  This is done in late autumn, when the water is cold and many creatures have started their hibernation.

The harvested vegetation is left on the pond bank for a week or so, allowing any little pond creatures that were inadvertently removed at the same time to slide and wriggle their way back into the water.  These include newts, dragonfly larva, tiny shrimps and water beetles.  The vegetation will then be taken to the compost heap.  Here’s a photo of the pond cleared for the year.

The Wildlife Pond -  after the work was done

The Wildlife Pond – after the work was done

Thanks so much to Tim and Rich for their hard work!  Until next year …

December Moth, photographed at Sun Rising Natural Burial Ground and Nature Reserve, 14 November 2017

Winter Moths

What might be called a ‘weather window’ happened upon us earlier this week: the wind paused and the temperatures rose, offering a perfect opportunity for two events at Sun Rising.

The first was a last minute moth survey, and being later in the year than we’ve managed before, it was an exciting chance for our friendly mothers (moth-ers) to find moths not recorded at Sun Rising before.

In the event 19 species were recorded, most of these being new for the site.  They included the December Moth – isn’t it a beautiful creature, with its black fur and golden markings?

December Moth, photographed at Sun Rising Natural Burial Ground and Nature Reserve, 14 November 2017

December Moth, photographed at Sun Rising Natural Burial Ground and Nature Reserve, 14 November 2017

A late common darter dragonfly was also found, roosting near the pond.

The other event was that we were able to complete the sowing of Michael’s Meadow, the new area of wildflower meadow between the roundhouse and the pond.  It’s up to nature now …

Planting up the Butterfly Bank

The Butterfly Bank

On Sunday, 5 November, a sturdy dozen volunteers helped us weed and plant up the butterfly bank.  It was a beautiful day, with periods of golden sunshine but a chilly sharp wind, and a huge amount was achieved.  Thank you so much to all our volunteers, those with muscles, those with gardening skill, those with resilience and those with cake!

It’s a challenging project: the bank is windswept and can be dry, and over the few years of its development we’ve tried a number of approaches.  Our aim is to populate it with plants useful to a few key butterflies, especially the small blue which is struggling to survive.  It was just the western third of the bank that was our focus on Sunday.  Clearing the grass, thistles, and a few dandelions, we planted out dozens of little pots of kidney vetch, birdsfoot trefoil, rock rose and cinquefoils, most of them grown from seed.  We then laid out some stones along the bank (although many more are needed) – specifically for the butterflies to bask in the sun and show off their incredible beauty.

Planting up the Butterfly Bank

Planting up the Butterfly Bank

Thanks to the volunteers who also helped plant more daffodils, prepare the hedge bank for seeding, and build and burn the brush in a beautiful bonfire.

Michael's Meadow Ploughed and Harrowed

Creating Wildflower Meadow

Here at Sun Rising the development of a new area of wildflower meadow is now underway.  This new area will add another acre and a half of wildflower meadow to the nature reserve, making an enormous contribution towards the ecological importance of the site.

At the moment, the area has been ploughed and harrowed, and we’re waiting for some perfect damp still days in which to sow the seed.  That’s a long and painstaking job to be done by hand.  Then all we can do is wait …

Michael's Meadow Ploughed and Harrowed

Michael’s Meadow Ploughed and Harrowed

We’re using a special seed mix, customised specifically for Sun Rising, which means this area will have a slightly different feel from the wildflower areas that area already established.  However, it could take a few years to get there: the seeds that will germinate first will be the arable weeds that have been sitting quietly in the soil waiting for a chance to come through, the charlock, fool’s parsley, fat hen, thistles, willowherb and the like.  Once it settles down, though, this view from the pond, looking up towards Sun Rising Hill, will be absolutely glorious!

Gold Spot Moth recorded at Sun Rising Moth Night 2017

Stars, Bats and Gold Spots

On Sunday last we held a moth night here at Sun Rising and what a beautiful event it turned out to be.  There are regular surveys of moths at the site, run by local enthusiast Alan Prior, but only once a year do we open these up to the public.  Around 25 attending the event, some staying until the early hours of the morning.

The sky wasn’t ideal for moths – not quite enough cloud to bring them down to the light boxes – but that meant it was a glorious night for star gazing.  With barely a whisper of wind, and the temperature staying in the mid teens, there were bats flying – we estimated up to 40 individual pipistrelles in one area.  A barn owl was out hunting, and I heard a tawny owl in the distance.  Hares and rabbits were seen too.

Gold Spot Moth recorded at Sun Rising Moth Night 2017

Gold Spot Moth recorded at Sun Rising Moth Night 2017

As for the moths, some 1259 were counted in the light traps, of some 78 different species.  Along with Alan, we had the comprehensive knowledge of Scott Hackett, John Finlay and Peter Smith on hand, and those attending were given the chance to learn a huge amount about these little seen – and seldom appreciated – beautiful creatures.  A big thank you to all who made it such a great event.

 

Common Blue in the Seeding Wildflower Meadow

Precious Seeds

There comes a point each year when the wildflower meadow begins to look tatty.  Only a few weeks ago, it was a rich burst of pinks, purples and lilacs, with splashes of yellow, but now the majority of the flowers have gone to seed.  The question arises, as it does each year: when shall we cut it?

Common Blue in the Seeding Wildflower Meadow

Common Blue in the Seeding Wildflower Meadow

To my eyes it is still extraordinarily beautiful: every flat round seedhead of oxeye daisy is full of new life, every little ball of knapweed seed, every spike of plantain, every pod of vetchling and trefoil, every plume of meadow foxtail.  There are pockets full of little round bedstraw and quaking grass seedheads.  There are tufts of thistledown and fat fingers of yellow rattle.  While some of these will find space to add to the wildflower meadow itself, many will be shaken off over the grassland, extending the beauty next year.

Amidst the soft creams and countless hues of rich to dusty brown, there are still the occasional flowers: pale lilac field scabious and yellow meadow vetchling, the last of the knapweeds and cranesbills.  And more wonderfully still, it is humming with life.  There are carder bees and bumblebees, grasshoppers and crickets, voles and shrews, and – when the sun breaks through the clouds – countless butterflies, dragonflies and day-flying moths.

The common blues and gatekeepers are the most common butterflies, fluttering amidst the seedheads.  You will also spot six spot burnet moths resting on the last knapweed flowers.  With such beauty amidst the seeds, we can’t possibly mow yet.

Common Blue on Meadow Vetchling

Common Blue on Meadow Vetchling

English Bluebells

English Bluebells

The bluebells are now starting to flower here at Sun Rising, a sure sign that summer is a hop, skip and a jump away.  With the first of the hawthorn blossom, the bird cherries in flower, the air is filled their sweet warm scent.

English Bluebells

English Bluebells

Bluebells are, of course, also problematic.  The English bluebell, above, is a deep purple-blue, the bell flowers tending to fall to one side giving the stems their iconic droop.  They also have that wonderful fragrance.  At Sun Rising, most of the bluebells are English.

However, the majority in our gardens are now Spanish bluebells: these can be larger, the splay of the bells being wider, the colour more of a pale lilac, the stems standing up straight, the leaves thicker and broader.  They are also invasive.  They not only take over a good deal of ground, but they hybridise with the English bluebell, gradually wiping it out.  The real frustration is that most bluebell bulbs sold now are either Spanish or hybrids (labelled as English) …

Needless to say, at Sun Rising we are doing our best to keep to English bluebells, which means over the past week and the weeks to come, we will be removing any bluebells that turn out to be Spanish.  We’ve noted the graves that we’ve removed them from, and in October will plant some native English ones instead.

Our plea is, please, do not plant bluebell bulbs unless you are positive they are English – you may have to wait a few years for them to flower, and then it will be disappointing if they then need to be removed.  At our Planting Day in October, we will have plenty of English bluebell bulbs to share, which of course will be available to those who can’t make the day itself.   If you have any queries, let us know!