Monday, 17 June 2013

West Wood LWS survey Blog 1: A slow start (13 June 2013)

It’s June and, not before time, there’s lots in flower. Much of what should have flowered early came late. Some of that still lingers here and there, now joined by splashes of yellow pimpernel, germander speedwell, red campion, buttercups, herb bennet, herb robert, bugle and other June flowers. Delicate pignut will soon be joined by its more substantial cousins – hogweed and angelica are in leaf and looking robust. Leaves are on the trees and the woodland floor is covered in greenery. Insect life doesn’t appear to be faring so well though: today we saw just two common carder and no other bees.

Back in the first week of April when it should have been spring, it seemed an everlasting winter. It promised then that maybe this was not to be the finest of years to be surveying and reviewing this Local Wildlife Site; but it is what it is.

Bare Banks of Leap Mill Burn

Frosted Leaves

Some flower was beginning to show: golden saxifrage here and there beside woodland streams and damp ditches; birch trees dangling catkins; dog’s mercury avoiding showy display; the reliable daisy. There were green leaves, but most was pale brown and dormant. Movement under the ice of a pond suggested some invertebrate presence, impossible to identify. Even the birds were quiet.

Dog's Mercury
In mid-March, the first of these sorties to survey the flora and fauna of West Wood Local Wildlife Site had revealed even fewer signs of spring, but it did give the recorders opportunity to wander through parts of Gibside’s West Wood not often visited and gain some impression of what it might hold.  A sad find was the remains of roe deer buck - hair, some skin, a front leg and collar bone - the left-overs of poachers, tidied-up perhaps by a fox. The buck had been a regular sighting for one of the rangers here, but hadn’t been seen since early January. It is widely reported that the roe deer population nationally has grown too much in recent years and that a cull is much needed. If that is so, then it should be strategically and humanely done, and maybe the poacher thinks so too and acts accordingly, but we cannot be sure without control and management.

Opposite Leaved Golden Saxifrage
After what seemed like months of winter weather, two days in mid-April gave us sunshine and the highest temperatures since September. It was feeling and beginning to look at bit more like spring, but still there were few plants in flower. Clearly it was going to be a while before the season would be back on track.

But by this time, some nest building going on - red kite sitting on a nest used last year, collections of twigs being assembled in trees to be kept an eye on, and buzzards had been seen again at an old nest site. By the second half of April, grey wagtails were nesting under the road bridge by the new car park, undeterred by the construction work going on around them – unlike a pair of dippers who had shared this stretch of Leap Mill Burn in the past but now, it was suspected, were migrating upstream. By mid-May this was confirmed with the finding of a nest with four warm eggs, soon to hatch into promptly ringed chicks.
Yellow Pimpernell


Sadly, red kite activity around their previously used nest site area has ceased. It is possible that they have been driven away by people coming this way, but not many do. Perhaps they have been harassed once too often by crows.

Leap Mill Burn in June

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