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Nature Notes - July - August 2018

The honey-buzzard is a migratory bird which is very similar in appearance to the common buzzard (which are numerous in the parish). Being in the right place at the right time, Rag, whilst driving out towards Market Drayton in early August, caught site of a buzzard –like bird on the ground in a grassed field. Something in the birds appearance made him stop the car, reverse and get a closer look. The identification features that split the two species were clear, especially when the bird took to flight. The upper-tail was three barred and the head small and similar in profile to a cuckoo. There was also a thick black trailing edge to the wing edges (secondary feathers) that were also narrow where they met the body. Having seen them before Rag was confident this was a honey-buzzard – a raptor that is a rare migrant but that does show up in the county. A fantastic sighting – their name links to the fact that they feed on insects and their larvae, with wasps also being a favoured food source.

Our resident red kite (or is it two now?) continues to be seen by many of us at all sides of the parish. It very often flies in low and gives quite a display. It has been seen being mobbed by buzzards and corvids.

Sally and Roger P continue to see some excellent species in and around their wildlife friendly pond. They have watched an impressive emperor dragonfly emerge from its skin (which I have since learnt is called a exuvia). Roger has a splendid photo of the dragonfly drying its wings next to the skin cast. The dragonfly then flew around the garden feeding on insects and butterflies. Roger and Sally maintain their pond for wildlife and it contains several species of pond weed that hosts much pond life. Last year a female emperor dragonfly would have laid eggs in this pond weed and from these eggs a nymph would have hatched and then lived in the pond – feeding and moulting – and then this year when conditions were right it would have found some vegetation to climb up once it had become accustomed to air. It then emerged slowly from the exuvia. This is quite a life cycle and just shows how important a wildlife pond in the garden, of any size, can be.

Judith and Jeff H have had a new sighting in their garden. Whilst tending to the geraniums on 3rd August a large hovering insect was disturbed – a day-flying hummingbird hawk-moth. This is a visitor from continental Europe during the summer. They mimic the hummingbird so are a delight to watch. Keep your eye out for them, at rest you may not notice them but in flight they have orange-brown hind wings and a chequered body. Have you seen one this year?

Ron and Cynthia L at Betton spent an hour watching their summer resident swallows feed four of their second brood in the garden. Ron reports that he soon identified the feeding patterns of the parents and how they worked as a team to ensure no juvenile was left hungry. Once appetites had been sated the parents set about teaching the inexperienced youngsters how to fly. Ron and Cynthia are very fortunate to have swallows return year after to year to the same spot in an outbuilding.

Graham and Alastair N had some late wren fledglings active in the garden on 11th August This is good to hear as wrens suffer a decline in numbers during harsh winters so need to build up their numbers in the summer.

Richard J has reported mammals from his garden in late July. He was brave enough to catch two moles by hand – this was by chance as he came across them (a few hours apart) burrowing along the surface. From their size it appears they were young who had moved from the paternal territory and into their own. They were not harmed. A week later Sue J spotted a weasel (no dark tip to the tail unlike a stoat) crossing the drive in broad daylight. Richard and Sue have never seen a weasel where they live – it didn’t stay long but was great to watch I am sure (they can be viscous little things and will often have a blood stained face).

Anton L over at Betton was pleased to see the jays return to his feeders and has had a pair most days throughout August as well as frequent visits from a hedgehog. Anton has also positioned one of Alastair’s tawny owl boxes on his land with the hope of encouraging a pair in early spring (they are an early breeder as are more effective hunters for mice when they grass is short).

Tom S sent me an unusual photo of around one hundred small black caterpillars in a mass on a communal web (which they spin) on a patch of nettles from a hedgerow past Chapel Lane. These were of the peacock butterfly which feed on the nettles on which female peacocks lay their eggs. Quite a sight. On butterflies – Curly reported some common blue in the village and I have seen comma, peacock and tortoiseshell but only one red admiral – it landed on a chrysanthemum at the cricket club on 25th August.

I have had a report from Paul B that four barn owl chicks are doing well and have been ringed in the parish. This is very positive news. Barn owls continue to be seen at most ends of the parish and I saw one flying late on 24th August out towards Bearstone, its wings flashed white in the headlights. We are fortunate to have a network of wide and tall hedgerows in the area – not only is this great habitat for the owls source of prey but also ensures the birds have to fly ‘up and over’ hedges therefore avoiding any oncoming traffic.

Finally, an interesting report from Graham on Forge Lane. For many years Graham has used bee-hive style wasp traps among the trees in his orchard. These have been particularly effective as the wasps enter via a hole at the bottom and become trapped. Graham has never seen a wasp escape until now when he watched a wasp fly down and out! This is highly unusual as they tend to fall down but not fly down. Graham is hoping this is not a regular occurrence of course!

Thanks for all your conversations and correspondence.

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