BMT 2014

The 12 most universally interesting or ecologically significant wildlife encounters from my 2014 project ("exploring all that was wild and alive on the Box Moor Trust estate" in Hemel Hempstead and Bovingdon, Hertfordshire, UK). In chronological order…

Kingfisher Family

Nearly 3 months into the project, at the end of March, I discovered a courting pair along the Bulbourne river and located their nest site. I left them to it but was thrilled when I found in September that at least 3 young (two males and a female) had successfully fledged and were regularly feeding along the river. The family have been a constant throughout the project and I will continue to monitor their progress through 2015.

Cuckoos

I was photographing the Bluebells in Hay Wood, in April, when I heard my first Cuckoo of the Spring burst into song. A little bit of Africa had arrived in Hemel Hempstead. Another male took up territory in the woods at Bovingdon Brickworks. They are special birds and it’s almost impossible to resist turning your ear to their arresting, hollow and penetrating song. 

Green Hairstreak & Dingy Skipper

At Roughdown Common, in April, one of the Trust's dedicated butterfly monitors found a small colony (3) of this rare Hertfordshire species. It really was exciting to head out and find my very first Green Hairstreak butterfly right on my doorstep. Over at the Brickworks, a small colony of Dingy Skipper butterflies were also wonderful to discover.

Grass Rivulet

At Dellfield meadow, in May, I was dying for a cuppa and this rare Hertfordshire moth was the last find of the day. Awful photograph but enough to lead to an ID and the hope that others might be found in the area.

Bee Orchids

On Bovingdon Reach meadow, in June, the memory of finding what was likely 150-200+ Bee Orchids will remain with me for ever, I think. There was barely a cloud in the sky and it was the most perfect summer’s day. And then, there they were...1, 2, 3 spikes...and so it went on. Having only ever known of single figure (1-5 spikes), hard-found specimens, I quite literally could not believe my eyes. It seemed almost miraculous!

Damselflies

On the River Bulbourne, late June, I had no idea I would come across five species of Damselfly with a sixth breeding at the Gadespring Cress Beds. It is testament to the ongoing restoration and management of the river, which, even in the 12 months I’ve been visiting it, has been developed and improved.


Grey Wagtail Breeding

By Station Moor, in July,
I found the nest site and the newly fledged family of Grey Wagtails.
This species is resident all year round but it was delightful to find them breeding locally.


Barn Owls

The last week of July, heading out to photograph the sunset and I came upon a magnificent Barn Owl. And later, it wasn't only the one Barn Owl, it was a pair! To say, I felt like I was dreaming is an understatement. If this had been the only significant find all year, it would have been worth every second spent on the project. 

Painted Lady & Silver-washed Fritillary

At the Brickworks, in August, I came upon the first Silver-washed Fritillary and the first migrant Painted Lady butterflies recorded at the site. I am chomping at the bit to find out this year if in fact Silver-washed Fritillary are regular visitors to an area of the Brickworks which is well stocked with mature Buddleja bushes.

Brown Argus Colony

At the Brickworks, late August, I had great fun trying to assess this newly discovered colony. Compared to 2013 records, this was the largest colony (14) recorded in Hertfordshire, outside of Aldbury Nowers. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens this summer!

Stonechat

Bovingdon Reach meadow, early October, a migrant Stonechat spent a day catching insects here before moving on. It’s the closest record I know of to the town centre.

Harvest Mouse jaw bone

November, after hours and hours spent dissecting Barn Owl pellets and identifying teeny weeny delicate bones, it was great to find something significant: the lower jaw bone of a Harvest Mouse. This is an increasingly rare species and although not conclusive, it gives us good reason to keep searching for evidence of its existence on Trust land.

If someone had told me at the start of Project 2014 that I’d be treated to up to five different Kingfishers along the Bulbourne; Cuckoos calling through woodlands; Green Hairstreaks and Dingy Skippers; know the thrill of finding a rare moth (Grass Rivulet) and a colony of scarce butterflies (Brown Argus); chance upon a carpet of Bee Orchids; watch Damselflies dancing and Grey Wagtails raising young; come across 26 species of butterfly; have Barn Owls flying over my head; spend a sunny afternoon with a migrant Stonechat, and retrieve a Barn Owl pellet that contained a Harvest Mouse jaw bone, I would have laughed in absolute disbelief! What a year, and all within walking distance of Hemel Hempstead town centre or the village green of Bovingdon! It just goes to show that you don’t need to seek wilderness and solitude for something special from the natural world to cross your path.

For more on the year with Box Moor Trust wildlife, see Boxmoor, naturally...

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