BioBlitz 2016 - read about our June weekend of nature!
Our cool and rainy summer, including some severe storms around London just prior to the BioBlitz led to some swampy conditions on the Commons for this year’s Bioblitz event but this did not deter enthusiastic support from visitors and from our volunteer event leaders.
Bats & Moths
Although a little chilly, the rain held off for the start of the first event of the weekend - the Bat Walk and Mothing evening - with over 40 people joining our walk leader, John Tovey of the London Bat Group. The Daubenton’s bats swooping low over the water at Queensmere were a delight to see and as dusk approached, Soprano Pipistrelles were frequently seen and heard, along with possibly a Common Pipistrelle too. Moving on to join Les Hill and the mothing, we were lucky enough to be serenaded by one of our resident Tawny Owls!
The mothing event takes the form of a very bright lamp set up in front of a vertical white sheet on which the moths can rest. A splendid, and large, Lime Hawk-moth was an early arrival and certainly impressed visitors. Given the damp and chill of the late evening, the numbers of moths were unfortunately not as high as they might have been but we did get Large Yellow Underwings, a Blotched Emerald and the wonderfully named Maiden’s Blush amongst others. Rain stopped play at around 11.30pm but Les, and his partner, Angela, ran their moth trap at home that evening and had some additional moths to show us when the trap was opened the next morning. In total, we recorded 10 species in low numbers which again was disappointing but not unexpected given the weather conditions overnight.
Sunday started early with our resident expert, Dave Wills, leading the Bird Walk. Dave’s walks are always popular and visitors were rewarded with seeing and hearing some 30 species. Dave commented “It was a little late in the year for visiting singing warblers, but we did hear a few, such as Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Common Whitethroat and Garden Warbler, as well as many residents singing”. The highlight of the walk was a Red Kite heading north above the Causeway.
Further species were noted during the general nature walks, including moorhens nesting at Hookhamslade, a kestrel over The Plain and, to everyone’s surprise and delight, a skylark rising from The Plain as the afternoon group went to view orchids growing on the edge of the uncut, restricted access zone. Could this possibly be a late nester? Time has shown that unfortunately not, but it gives us hope that they are still showing an interest in the site.
General Nature Walks
Our general walks this year took in wayside habitats at the Hogweed and Nettle patches at the edge of The Plain, on to a small area of Heathland en route to Hookhamslade Pond, returning across The Plain via the edge of the woodland. Unfortunately we had to avoid the woodland itself as the footpaths were too wet to walk along given the rainy weather leading up to the event.
Our volunteer plant recorders, Conservator Dr Ros Taylor and past-Conservator Una Sutcliffe, had been busy on The Plain carrying out a pre-BioBlitz survey. They had recorded 55 species of plants and grasses and, overall, 69 species had been noted for The Plain to-date.
An additional 18 plant species were noted along the walk route and during the walks a further 5 plant species were seen, including Slender Tare (Vicia tetrasperma).
Ros Taylor commented “Really striking this year was the late blooming of many meadow herbs, especially the Yellow Rattle which at the 2015 BioBlitz, was already dying back; this year many plants are still small and have yet to flower, a real testimony to the cooler damper conditions”.
Flooding also meant some plants that were recorded last year are currently missing though they may, of course, be found later in the summer as the area dries out - an example of this is Marsh Cudweed. Vetches too appear more sparse than previously, almost certainly because their growth and flowering has been delayed making them still hard to spot. Happily, the colony of Southern Marsh Orchids (see right) persist amidst ground described as “a marsh” by one wet–footed participant!”
The abundant insect life enthralled participants and this year we were delighted to welcome Sarah Patton to our band of volunteers. Sarah’s knowledge and enthusiasm for anything with six legs was contagious and the children were particularly keen to join Sarah on a bug hunt! They also proved to be the most adept at netting and potting specimens - all of which were of course released after identification. It was delightful to see at least 10 species of butterfly, including Skippers and Small Heaths. It was also encouraging to see a large number of the black caterpillars of the Peacock butterfly feeding on nettles.
We introduced Pond Dipping to this year’s event and that, along with the puddles caused by the wet conditions, yielded some new species to those recorded in previous years, including Greater and Lesser Boatman. The heathland pools and ground around the pond teemed with tadpoles and froglets in various stages of transition, and leeches, bloodworms, toads and freshwater shrimp were also recorded. Dragonflies and damselflies, always a pleasure to see, were numerous, including many Emperors and Broad-bodied Chasers.
Beetles were also abundant and in the background a volunteer from the Natural History Museum was sweeping some additional heathland habitats. His data will dome though to us later after he has confirmed identifications by laboratory inspection of less common specimens - it would be super if we find another rare species as we did last year with the False Click Beetle!
Overall, some 150 species were identified. Chief Executive, Simon Lee, commented “To record so many species in just one day is incredible and we are grateful to all the visitors and volunteers who took time to come along. This event gives us a great opportunity to showcase the importance of this special site and to explain the conservation work we do here”.