The reserve bursts into life at this time of year, with the migrant birds returning and filling the air with their songs and the wildflowers starting to show their colours. One plant has its only confirmed site in the county at Prees Heath, Heath Dog-violet, Viola canina. This plant has paler blue flowers than the Common Dog-violet and its leaves are more pointed. The good news is that it is spreading on the reserve and can now be seen in a number of places. Another unusual plant which has been seen in good numbers this spring in the grassland is Moonwort, Botrychium lunaria,which is actually a fern. It grows to about three inches tall and the leaves are shaped like half-moons - it was once believed to be a cure for snake bite.
Moomwort (Stephen Lewis}
Chiffchaffs are the first migrant birds to arrive, followed by Willow Warblers. Their distinctive songs can be heard throughout the summer, the first a two-toned rocking rhythm and the latter a descending scale weakly petering out. Common Whitethroats have also arrived. Wheatears have also been seen on the reserve as they make their way further north. Other resident species are making their voices heard on the reserve, such as Skylarks and Yellowhammers. Eight Stonechats were seen on the Hangars field in May, and it was hoped that they might breed, but they seem to have dispersed. To protect all ground-nesting birds it is important that all dogs are kept on short leads as directed by the signs on the reserve.
|Wheatear (Stephen Lewis)||Yellowhammer (Stephen Lewis)|
Each year the beginning of April marks the start of the butterfly transect on the reserve. Every week until the end of September I or another volunteer walk a set route recording all the butterfly species two and a half metres either side and five metres in front. The counts are sent online to Butterfly Conservation headquarters in Dorset and form part of a huge dataset that informs everyone – ecologists, the UK Government, the public – how our British butterflies are faring. On the reserve numbers were low during a relatively cold and cloudy April and early May, but have picked up in the recent warmer weather. A few Silver-studded Blue caterpillars have been seen, attended by ants, although not on the transect. Brimstone eggs and a Brimstone caterpillar have also been spotted on Alder Buckthorn.
Brimstone Egg (Janet Vernon)
Butterflies may be the most visible insects on the reserve but they are by no means the only ones. Lowland heath is particularly good for a huge range of invertebrates - many hundreds of insects and spiders. Two that have been seen recently are the Blue Shield Bug and the Tiger Cranefly, neither of them particularly rare but no less remarkable for that.
Blue Shield Bug (Lucy Lewis)
Tiger Cranefly (Gavin Woodman)
Contractors have been on site controlling the ragwort and docks with herbicide in the large area to the east of the runway, and will also be working there during the summer to control birch saplings. This is very necessary work as part of the ongoing restoration of the site.
Stephen Lewis, Volunteer Warden