My objective here is to comment at least monthly on the wildlife of Brandon Wood and more often if something unusual occurs. I would welcome any interesting sightings from the members.
Butterflies continue to appear in low numbers with Speckled Woods, Large and Small Whites the most common. Brimstones are also active. The bench at the ‘cross-roads’ provides a convenient means to sit back and observe Purple Hairstreaks feeding near the top of the oak trees there. They are small butterflies with silvery wings. Hornets have nested again in the hollow tree by the southern path.
The verges of the rides are now being adorned by the bright blue flowers of Devil’s-bit Scabious.
Rain during August has improved the prospects for fungi but apart from attractive clumps of Sulphur Tuft on many Silver Birch logs and Common Rustgill on wood chips there are few gilled toadstools to show yet.
A Sparrowhawk gave a good view with its decapitated prey (probably a woodpigeon) near the farm before it took off still grasping the dead bird.
A successful moth trapping night was held on July 12th with over 1,000 caught, identified and released. However, most were common species. The following day, while packing up, the first Purple Emperor sighting for the wood was made. This follows a national trend.
At this time of year there are many families of young birds foraging in the wood – notably a party of Blackcaps and Wrens between the Ferndale Gate and the Dog Pond. Early one morning we were surprised to see a Red-legged Partridge feeding on our small back lawn.
Meadowsweet dominates Farm Ride making it difficult for other plants to flourish but Common Valerian and Common Toadflax are still surviving. There is an attractive Purple Loosestrife plant and many clumps of Red Bartsia along the main ride.
Gatekeepers, Marbled Whites and at last Peacock butterflies are now flying but it still remains a poor year.
The Chicken in the Woods bracket fungus has appeared again on an oak tree on the southern boundary. Otherwise the dry weather has delayed the toadstool season.
It has been a bumper year for Common Spotted Orchids on the west landfill where Jane and I counted over 700 plants, the previous highest count being 227 in 2013. There were 25 orchids along the main track, a typical number: however, there were very few in Orchid Ride itself. Careful searching will also reveal a handful of Bee Orchids. Up to 2001 Fragrant Agrimony was classified as rare in Warwickshire and only occurred at four sites. There were none in Brandon Wood but in 2009 (possibly 2008) they were first recorded and since then have become prolific. I do not know whether this is a local phenomenon or widespread.
Butterflies continue to be generally scarce with just one or two Red Admirals brightening up the leaves. Ringlets are doing very well; Meadow Browns and Large Skippers are beginning to appear and hopefully will prosper. If you are lucky you may find a Silver-washed Fritillary, a most elegant butterfly, basking on various leaves. Damselflies have also been in low numbers though Banded Demoiselles are holding territory on Dog Pond.
A toadstool that is becoming more common is the Grey Spotted Amanita and a member showed me one near the Green Pond on the early date of 22nd June. The Amanita family contains many of the most poisonous species and although this one is not there are very similar ones that are.
A Hedgehog visited our garden last year from 20th May until 2nd July, the light evenings helping us to see it. This year a Hedgehog has been seen regularly from 12th June and its habits and appearance would indicate that it is the same animal.
Stop Press: At the end of June, three Purple Emperor butterflies were seen in a garden adjacent to the wood!
Every year one is convinced that the undergrowth is taller and denser than previously but I wonder if this is true. The weather this spring has been ideal for growth so one turns to the verges and other locations where summer plants can flourish. Tormentil, a small flower with four yellow petals, and the blue spikes of bugle are common along the main ride and the small blue flowers of Germander Speedwell brighten many a bare patch. A few Common Spotted Orchids have also appeared. Our rare plants have had mixed fortunes. The Smith’s Pepperwort is declining and its surrounding soil needs to be raked. Heath Dog Violet and Heath Milkwort are thriving in the meadow just a few metres from the wood.
Several Green Hairstreak butterflies were seen in the sandpit towards Brandon Hall. This was our first sighting of this species that in Warwickshire usually prefers calcareous soil. Otherwise butterflies have been very scarce.
The pair of Mallard on Green Pond has failed again to raise young. The hot weather has forced many fish in the Dog Pond to come to the surface for oxygen. I am not familiar with fish species but I believe the larger shoals are of Rudd.
The wood is very attractive at this time of year with the spring flowers making the most of their opportunity to bloom and the trees are coming into leaf in various shades of green. It is always hard to believe that Bluebells are an endangered species. These and the other spring plants will soon be giving way to the summer plants which hopefully will include orchids. Butterflies on my reckoning have been below par with only Orange Tips doing well. It should be noted that only the male has the orange tip and the females at a quick glance could be mistaken for other ‘whites’.
The migrant birds are arriving and the warblers are singing well. Many of these songs are similar and it takes patience to identify the owner. To help resolve one tricky pair a Garden Warbler is singing next to a Blackcap in Farm Ride, the latter being far more common in our wood. A Skylark singing over the north field was a welcome sight.
The ponds are gradually drying out as the drought continues but it makes it easier to see the tadpoles, newts and other inhabitants.