Surveying for reptiles, butterflies and dragonflies

The final day of 30dayswild and the last full day of our National Trust Working Holiday. Today the plan was to survey for reptiles, butterflies and dragonflies. Earlier in the week the Ranger we were working with had laid reptile tins in two areas of Clumber Park, in the hope of attracting reptiles to the warm tins. The first job for the morning was to check the tins to see if any reptiles were lurking underneath. We headed for Thoresby Borders, a quiet area of heathland along the edge of Clumber Park. Water droplets glittered across the grass, a field of mirrors shivering atop the grass stems. Clouds of moths rose from the ground, pale confetti fluttering all about us. Pale sunlight filtered through the trees, a refreshing change after days of rain. Cattle graze this area, and appeared to have been having fun with the reptile tins, many of which had been moved, or tossed over. Grasshoppers leapt from stem to stem as we moved between the tins. Meadow ants had begun building nests under the tins, but of reptiles there was no sign. 

Reptile tins had also been laid on the bank next to the weir, the day was warming and we were hopeful that reptiles may have been attracted to the tins, but we were out of luck. Despite this, it was beautiful down by the water. A sedge warbler trilled, reed bunting darted between the stems, soldier beetles explored ragwort flower umbrellas, a warty toad hid under one of the tins and two teradactyl like grey herons swooped overhead. We wandered back over the weir, our attention caught by a mother duck and her almost grown ducklings in the water, swimming near the top of the weir, before taking the plunge and surfing down, a joyful act to witness. Plums grew on a pathside tree, a snack of sweet wild food.

Volunteers at Clumber Park walk a butterfly transect every week during the season, recording the number and type of butterflies seen for Butterfly Conservation, part of a nation wide recording scheme. This week, we were helping. The first lepidoptera to be seen was not a butterfly, however, but this beautiful, fluffy, yellow tail moth, roosting on a tree.

We walked the transect, shouting out the butterflies seen as we walked, meadow brown, ringlet, gatekeeper, and, a new one for me, a small heath. A yellowhammer sang in the trees, trailing off cheeeeeeese, at the end of each burst of song. Jays dived alongside us, alighting on the fence. Nursery spider webs were adorned with water, jewelled purses hidden among the gorse.

In total we saw the following butterflies, a most enjoyable way to spend an hour or so.

1 large skipper 

49 meadow brown

6 small Heath

64 ringlet 

The afternoon was spent taking part in one final survey. This time we were recording damselflies and dragonflies for the British Dragonfly Society along the causeway. The weather was beginning to close in again, reducing the numbers of odonata, but many damselflies were still in flight, dashing and darting above the surface of the water, settling on reeds. Heart shaped entanglements, damselflies mating, the female ovipositing into the water. Many species so similar to each other as to need careful examination, the ranger showing us how to gently pick a damselfly off a leaf, holding its wings, so that careful study, comparing against the field guide, is possible.

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As we gazed across, trying to keep track, counting the moving shapes, a much larger flash of blue streamed over the pool, a kingfisher! An electrifying sight, impossibly blue, utterly beautiful.

Other water birds caught our attention. Coots with fluffy black and orange, tiny offspring, looking little like their sleek monochrome parents. Pipping loudly, begging their parents for food. Swans were also displaying their offspring, still fluffy and grey, but older than the coots, distracting us from the task at hand with their endearing looks.

As we came to the end of the survey path, the heavens opened, raindrops covering the surface of the water with an intersecting pattern of spreading rings, bouncing against the warm ground, air alive with petrichor. The end of our surveying signalled by the downpour. 30dayswild had a few more wild moments to come, a magical evening awaited… one final blog post to come!

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