In fields neighbouring the meadow, group of around 15 Skylarks and a flock of fifty or so finches – too distant to identify to species, would not have been worthy of comment thirty years ago, but in the early 21st century it is now an unusual sight. Could it be that the new agricultural payment schemes are beginning to have the intended effect? There are certainly more uncultivated headlands present to provide weedy seeds over the winter, so perhaps more and bigger flocks will become as commonplace as they once were.
In the meadow itself, before the brook became deep and brown from the New Year’s storms, a group of about a dozen chub could be discerned in one of the deeper pools, Bullfinches continued their welcome presence and the Fieldfare roost was as vocal as ever.
On a crisp, sunny, late morning, two foxes mating in the middle of a field above the meadow as a third fox passed nearby attracted attention. A fourth fox then cautiously approached the occupied pair but ran off when the passer by, now downwind and catching the wafted pheromones, approached more boldly. This caused the pair to separate and the dog to run off towards me, chased by the intruder, before resting and licking himself; the intruder having turned in pursuit of the vixen.
The regular winter work parties have now finished for the season. Many thanks to James Marchbank and Peter Stafford for their regular help.
There is space for additional benches in the meadow and a dedicated memorial seat would be welcomed. If you would like to remember a loved one in this way please contact the manager via the Parish Council office.
Celandines and the occasional half-hearted dandelion are the first spring flowers showing in the meadow. Accompanying them from above is the full song of skylarks: All through the winter the hint of song has accompanied the small flock in neighbouring fields but now, with a pair of Mallard prospecting for a nesting site and flying noisily around when disturbed, and the song of our resident tits, wrens, chaffinches and greenfinches, there are the signs of spring. A deep, brown, fast flowing brook however reckons otherwise - February fill-dyke a few days late and the brook in these mild, wet conditions is far removed from the shallow, babbling and sun-spangled stream that we all love.
Spring days are the most popular times for visitors to the meadow and it is delightful to see young children enjoying it. I know from personal experience that children, 6-7 years old find the place magical, and that by the age of twelve or so the magic has given over to more "grown-up" matters. It's a great time and place for a picnic and an introduction to the good things in life.
All of the summer visitors are back in territories now. The meadow itself holds approximately two pairs of Turtle Doves, two pairs of Whitethroats, three pairs of Willow Warblers, two pairs of Whitethroats, one pair of Lesser Whitethroats, two pairs of Chiffchaffs and a pair of Blackcaps. That’s just those species that have migrated to Africa and back (or just Spain in the case of the latter two). In addition there are up to twenty more resident species, that breed in most years and I haven’t included the Cuckoo that was present and which may secure a Dunnock as surrogate parent
The early leafing of the trees, which included Ash budding in April, and Oak in full leaf by early May, makes the recognition of bird song imperative as the smaller, skulking species are so difficult to see. The species mentioned above, along with the common garden species are a good starting point for reference.
Butterflies too were present in diversity in early May and included Brimstone, Peacock, Orange-tip and Green-veined White, but the cold nights kept moth numbers down.
An evening’s moth trapping in early June produced 16 species of which 5 were additions to the reserve list. Amongst them were three Elephant Hawk-moths which, in my experience is the commonest of the Hawk-moth species, for I get around twenty a year in my garden trap. However, until I started running a trap regularly I had no idea that they were common, and I would have expected such a large and spectacular species to be found quite often. Their larvae can extend and withdraw their front section in the manner of a proboscis and it is this character that gives the moth its common name.
The open day was a success with fine weather and plenty of visitors to keep the wardens busy. The newly cleared path alongside the brook was described favourably and the Chub were kept busy swimming into the cover of an overhanging bush as visitors passed by. Early in the morning another addition to the reserve list, a Grey Squirrel, was present.
My apologies to Gavin Maxwell, but the brook has been a string of brown water for weeks now. Back in January, there were plans to hack back some of the overhanging willows that were obstructing the channel when the low flows of summer permitted, but the continuing rain in June and early July has frequently seen the brook flattening the lush, summer, bank-side growth of nettle and willow-herb, making work in the stream impossible. Meanwhile the energy of the stream has undertaken its own maintenance programme and re-routed the course as necessary.
Such frequent and torrential rain must have had severe effects on vulnerable wildlife: I find it hard to imagine how Harvest Mice, such tiny and exposed creatures, which rear their young in a ball-shaped nest woven from living grass blades can have survived themselves, let alone have maintained sufficiently warm and dry conditions to rear a litter. But I’ve no doubt there will be Harvest Mice locally next summer.
Most grasshoppers prefer short grass where the sun can warm up the soil, giving the right conditions for egg development. The lush grass of the meadow supports only one species, the Lesser Marsh Grasshopper, which tolerates these conditions and was first found in Nottinghamshire just a few years ago. Also present are Slender Groundhoppers, which look like tiny grasshoppers but have the pronotum (the shield on the thorax) extending to the tip of the abdomen. No bush-crickets have yet been found
What I think is Male Fern, the first ever fern recorded from the meadow, has emerged from the area cleared of bramble last winter to create the waterside path; the semi-shade is obviously to its liking. There were dozens of Greater Burnet Saxifrage plants in flower – far more than usual I think, but no sign of Creeping Jenny which normally flowers along the dwindling margins of Penny Pond, and which this year has remained full to the brim.
Only last month I mentioned that no Bush-crickets had been recorded from the meadow. Well, that was soon rectified as on 26th August I found a late-instar, female Long-winged Conehead. This was new, not only to the reserve, but to Nottinghamshire! The rather dull name is a translation of the latinised scientific name – Conocephalus. Until about ten years ago the species was restricted to a localised area of southern England but it suddenly expanded its range and has been expanding northwards, making Leicestershire in 2005 and Derbyshire in 2006.
Bush-crickets resemble grasshoppers but most seem more delicate and have incredibly long, wavy antennae. Recently, another related species also made it to Notts – Roesel’s Bush-cricket was found near Ratcliffe in 2006. Until then, the only species found in Notts were Oak and Speckled Bush-crickets, the former of which has occurred in my garden since at least 1999 and was the one I was most expecting from the Meadow.
Another addition during August was Essex Skipper. This is very similar to Small Skipper, which is on the reserve list but has not been recorded by me. A few years ago I would have just assumed that it was Small Skipper, but Essex too has been extending its range and a close look at the tips of the antennae confirmed the id.
I forgot to post last month’s article which was about bush-crickets, mainly. However this gives the opportunity to continue the theme without boring readers too much. In August I mentioned that no Bush-crickets had been recorded from the meadow. Well, that was rectified as on 26th August I found a late-instar, female Long-winged Conehead. This was new, not only to the reserve, but to Nottinghamshire! The rather dull name is a translation of the latinised scientific name – Conocephalus. Until about ten years ago the species was restricted to a localised area of southern England.
The males “sing” by rubbing their wings together and the sound is loudest at 40kHz which is too far into the ultrasonic for my ageing ears to detect, but bat detectors make them easy to find and I eventually located six males and added Common Pipistrelle to the reserve in the process. Another addition during August was Essex Skipper. This is very similar to Small Skipper, which is on the reserve list but has not been recorded by me. A few years ago I would have just assumed that it was Small Skipper, but Essex too has been extending its range and a close look at the tips of the antennae confirmed the id.
Even on the most bitterly cold winter days, the tussocky meadow near Kings holds myriads of spiders and the like, which are revealed when the tufts of grass are pulled back and the vole runs are exposed. This microhabitat has its own microclimate to match and a liberal layer of snow has no effect on this – in fact it benefits these shy creatures by providing additional insulation from the cold winds and a seal from their aerial predators. Shrews are insectivores and need a good supply of spiders but the other mammals there are rodents which are herbivorous – with the exception of harvest mice. These climb about amongst the tall grasses during the summer months and build their ball-shaped breeding nest well above the ground, but in winter they resort to the shelter and security of the ground and build much smaler winter nests underground in the vole and mole tunnels. Harvest Mice supplement their diet of seeds and berries with the occasional piece of meat – in the form of a spider or grub.
Although called Keyworth Meadow, the nature reserve had been managed as a pasture for many years before acquisition by the parish council. Since then the open area has been mown and, subject to available labour, the grass has been raked-up, dried and burned; the intention being to reduce the nutrients and encourage flowering plants at the expense of the vigorous grasses. In practice, the mown grass has in many years been left through lack of manpower and adverse weather conditions. Therefore the management group believes grazing should be re-introduced and once funding for stock-proof fencing has been found, it is proposed to allow, Mr Davill’s hardy cattle to graze the “meadow” between October and March – this should help small mammals and invertebrates, by removing the sudden wholesale cut, and plants, by controlling the invasive meadowsweet and creating more structural mosaics. If you have any views on these proposals, please let me know – email: email@example.com or phone 0115 9144896.
A single Brambling amongst a large flock of Chaffinches and a drake Teal flushed from the brook, were the November highlights.