Thursday 17 December 2015

The year of the teeny weeny

As we hurtle towards the end of another year, I thought I’d better squeeze in a review of the last 12 months. As regular readers will have gathered, much of my time is spent locally, trying to keep up with (i.e. as best I can, monitor and record) the wildlife across land managed by the Box Moor Trust. I’m not alone in this endeavour. Experts in moths, in butterflies and in bird ringing - to name but a few - also regularly monitor species on the land. Together, as a team of volunteers, we’re simply hoping to be of use in conserving and managing the local wildlife.

So....this year, my main aim was to keep my eyes peeled for new species but also to ensure that there weren’t any obvious or significant losses. I wasn’t able to replicate the level or breadth of coverage that I’d managed in 2014 but it was still a rewarding year. I hope you'll enjoy taking a look back with me. First up, what's new Scooby-Doo?

New species 

(not previously recorded on Trust land & all teeny weeny!)

Little Longhorn moth

Adela (Cauchas) fibulella on Germander Speedwell (8-11mm wingspan). A scarce day-flying micro moth in Hertfordshire. At the beginning of June, inspired by moth expert Ben Sale, I found colonies at the Brickworks & Westbrook Hay

Heath Speedwell &
Wild Strawberries

Heath Speedwell (Veronica officinalis) (far left, next to Germander Speedwell) & Wild Strawberries (Fragaria vesca) (right) were both newly recorded at the Brickworks in June. Both plants are UK Red Listed (near threatened or vulnerable) and although seemingly "common" locally are valuable additions

Small Blue

Small Blue (Cupido minimus) (wingspan 18-27mm). At the beginning of June, I spotted a single butterfly at Dellfield meadow, Westbrook Hay (the first to be recorded on Trust land). This led to the discovery of a small breeding colony nearby and the possibility of attracting this rare Hertfordshire species to Box Moor Trust land. It’s early days but it was one of those rare moments where spotting a single creature led to all sorts of revelations, learning and possibilities.
(see BMT Small Blue Project

Brassy Longhorn moth

Nemophora metallica on Field Scabious (wingspan 15-20mm). A rare day-flying micro moth in Hertfordshire. It was a real delight to come across a small colony at the Brickworks in July

Sticking with the good news, it's on to the welcome returns...

Welcome returns

(from my 2014 records or others' previous records)

Green Hairstreaks

Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi). A rare species in Hertfordshire. The small breeding colony at Roughdown Common remains. I spotted my first adult this year on 20/04/2015

Dingy Skippers

It was a good year for Dingy Skippers (Erynnis tages) at Bovingdon Brickworks. And, it was a privilege to watch a pair come together and mate one sunny day at the start of May. Another rare species in Hertfordshire

Brown Argus

Having found the Brickworks colony at the very end of last season, it was fantastic to be able to confirm in the spring that the species did breed and emerge onsite.
A locally scarce butterfly 

Grass Rivulets

Another rare Hertfordshire moth and, for the second year running, it was recorded at Dellfield meadow, Westbrook Hay. I was glad to manage a half decent photograph this time too!

Lesser Whitethroat

Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) is not an easy species to catch up with locally. It has been recorded on Trust land before but not by me. I was really pleased to come across this singing male at Bovingdon Brickworks at the end of June. It stayed a good few weeks as well

Painted Ladies &
Silver-washed Fritillary

Throughout August more than 20 Painted Lady butterflies came through the Brickworks as well as at least one male Silver-washed Fritillary. It was also great to record a couple of Hummingbird Hawk-moths at the site


The Kingfishers were a constant throughout last year's project and the same was true through 2015. At least 2 pairs attempted to nest along the Bulbourne river and youngsters were evident late summer


 Siskins (Carduelis spinus) have previously been recorded on Trust land but, again, not by me. This year was my first sighting of them locally with numerous singles & small flocks passing through in autumn. By the beginning of December, more than 30 birds were feeding in Alders on Blackbirds Moor. Fantastic stuff!

Not photographed, but the swathe of c150 Bee Orchids (Ophrys apifera) flowered on Bovingdon Reach meadow in June. A very welcome return.

Feet firmly planted in optimism, there were just 3 species to give me cause for concern...


  • During 2014, I heard Cuckoos at Westbrook Hay and Bovingdon Brickworks. During 2015, I heard none
  • During 2014, I found 5-Spot Burnet species at Bovingdon Brickworks. During 2015, I found none
  • During 2014, the Brown Argus were flying right up until the start of September. During 2015, the spring brood was small (perhaps less than a dozen specimens) and I'm not sure if there was a second brood. It'll be interesting to see if this species is present in 2016. I do hope so

The Future

Thinking about the future, there are two very obvious species to note for 2016
  • During 2015, at least 10 individual Little Egrets passed through the Hemel moors, along the Bulbourne, during autumn. At least 3 of these were young birds from the breeding colony in St Albans. It’ll be interesting to see how the River Bulbourne numbers vary throughout 2016, especially post-breeding & during the river restoration works
  • Following the autumn planting of Kidney Vetch at Roughdown Common and Bovingdon Brickworks to attract Small Blues, it’ll be fascinating to see how the project progresses in 2016

Finally, a big thank you to those of you who have encouraged me, shared snippets from your own experiences and/or come alongside with kind or interested comments, either on or offline. It does make all the difference to know that the bits and pieces I put together might actually be enjoyed or be of use or interest. Thank you.

Sunday 13 December 2015

Mud, murk & mystery solved

Sparkling oak leaf at the Brickworks

Bovingdon (BMT): The weekend doesn’t seem to have incorporated a great deal of daylight. Darkness, yes. Drizzle, yes. Rain, yes. And, at the Brickworks, mud. Lots and lots of mud. I also have a sore throat, which of course adds to the general sense of gloom. However, in spite of all that, I thoroughly enjoyed my muddy wander this morning.

Views in the murk and mud at Bovingdon Brickworks this morning

As I walked through the mudow (that’s mud/meadow) (top left "view"), a Song Thrush was singing in the trees to my right. A crystal clear, full-bodied melody of flutes and whistles, projected far and wide. It was better than sunshine. Up ahead of me, I spotted another 5 Song Thrushes together in a bush and, behind me, 2 more. There were at least 10 around the site. A flock of 40+ Goldfinches were feeding on thistle seeds, along with Chaffinches and a mix of Tits. Last week, I’d counted at least 20 Blackbirds within the scrub and, easily, 5 Green Woodpeckers. 3 Jays gave me glimpses of white rumps and a couple of Fieldfare swapped one tree for another. Towards the end of my squelching, I chanced upon a Robin quietly singing his pretty sub-song. It was as though he was testing the air to see if anyone was listening. Delicate yet sure and another ray of sunshine.

The main reason for my visit today was to retrieve the trail camera, which had been out overnight. I modified the set up slightly by a) moving the camera much closer to the burrow entrance and b) reducing the glare of the red LEDs with some sheer red fabric taped over the top. As before, I aimed the lens into the distance, again to reduce glare, and I put out a few peanuts and sunflower hearts to entice little creatures to do more than dash, dart and streak across screen. The results weren’t bad.

I’ve put together 60 seconds worth from the 120+, 14 second clips that were captured. All occurred between 21:00 and 00:00 yesterday.

So, the mystery homemaker is definitely a mouse and we have at least 2 living in this burrow. They’re likely Wood Mice (Apodemus sylvaticus) but I think only daytime footage would clinch it (fur colour). I confess, I had hoped for Bank Voles but, even so, it’s been useful to get some experience with the trail camera and learn more about the habits of Wood Mice.

Thursday 10 December 2015

Snapshots from the cycle of life

Hemel & Bovingdon (BMT): I thought you’d all be pleased to hear that a) no-one has nicked the chicken wire off the Kidney Vetch and b) the Kidney Vetch has not yet been eaten by slugs or rabbits. So far, so good.

Out on Blackbirds Moor this week, a Mistle Thrush has started singing. According to garden-birds, they’re the first of the Thrushes to begin singing in the lead up to spring, getting started in December. The Blackbird follows and then the Song Thrush. I really do love how nature seems to approach winter with outright optimism: buds are already formed, birds are starting to sing and the year’s end is still 3 weeks away. It’s as if nature shouts “spring is coming!” from the moment it ends until the moment it arrives.

Wednesday bucked the trend and was actually sunny. Blue sky, heart-lifting sunny. Earlier in the week, the Siskin flock by the canal had increased to more than 30 birds and I hoped that I might be able to get some photographs or better video footage. I achieved neither. Either the birds were obscured by cones, catkins or other inconsiderate portions of tree. Or, the light was so harsh and awkward that only bits of bird were visible whilst the rest was lost in pitch black shadow. This photographic farce was mercifully curtailed by the flock only staying about 10 minutes out of the hour or more I was there. By mid-morning, it was time to do something else.

At the Brickworks, two curious burrows have appeared. Each is located on the side of a bank of earth, with a circular entrance 40-45mm diameter (see above). Something has obviously dug extensively, piling up soil like larva in front of the holes. Yesterday, I set up a camera trap to run overnight, hoping to solve the mystery.

Early this morning, I was greeted by the resident Kestrel (top photo) and the trap had been triggered. Only 2 clips were of any use. A couple of more knowledgable friends suggest the small mammal might be a Wood Mouse. Having encountered youngsters on site back in July, we know they're present. Better footage would certainly help, so, if I can achieve that ahead of Christmas, I will. With a bit of luck, the beady-eyed Kestrel won't have eaten them all before I can identify them!

Saturday 5 December 2015

If you build it, he will come

Hemel & Bovingdon (BMT): I’m fairly certain that the Box Moor Trust didn’t hear whisperings in the cornfield à la Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams. There is no predestined certainty here but the passionate hope is that by creating a habitat suitable for the rare Small Blue butterfly, it might just wander on over to Trust land and find a safe haven.

Yesterday morning, 4 of us pulled on our wellies and got properly muddy planting Kidney Vetch at Bovingdon Brickworks. This was the second morning of furious autumn industry. At the end of November, more than half a dozen enthusiastic helpers (from trustees, staff and volunteers) had planted some 350 Kidney Vetch (KV) seedling plugs and sown KV seeds at Roughdown Common. Across both locations, the plants need to survive rabbits, slugs, frost and anything else that might get thrown at them this winter. Then, in the spring, they need to bed in, germinate and reproduce. If the plants and seeds manage all this then they might, just might, attract Small Blues to the sites. Forget a field of dreams, a vigorous patch of Kidney Vetch would do nicely!

For the complete Small Blue story, check out the “BMT Small Blue Project” tab above. If hope and the sheer longing to see rare and scarce wildlife recover were enough, we’d be guaranteed success. As it is, we’ll have to wait and see...