Our first work party today, since November last year, was pulling ragwort out from the Great Meadow. We didn’t pull any last year, due to Covid and cattle have not grazed there this year, as the fencing was destroyed by the floods. So, there is lots to pull! When, it is flowering, the cattle can smell its obnoxious odour and ignore it. It is when it dies off that it becomes poisonous to them. We thought we would see some cinnabar caterpillars feeding on the ragwort, but we only saw one. In August, they leave their host plant and spin a cocoon to hibernate in the soil over winter.  So, this may be the reason we didn’t see any.  The other reason is that their numbers are generally down by 83% in the last 35 years.

An insect we did see in the Great Meadow was the wasp spider.  A first for this meadow. The female is black and yellow and was only seen for the first time on the reserve about 7 years ago. The males are much smaller, as this photo show.

The wildlife survey on Tuesday was on the lower meadow near the Visitor centre, which was flooded for about 2 months at the beginning of the year. It was therefore good news that there is insect life, including a caterpillar which will turn into a speckled wood butterfly.  Butterflies have been late this year and now seem to be all coming out together.  Some, like the Holly Blue, the Brimstone and probably the speckled wood are the second generation of the year. There seem to be plenty of gatekeepers now, as well as meadow brown and the pretty brown argus. This brown argus looks very like the common blue female. Those, however, seem to be in very short supply.

Caterpillar of the Speckled Wood Butterfly- Ann Miles

The celebration of the dragonfly and damselfly hotspot at the weekend was very successful.  It was lovely to see the Visitor Centre Garden buzzing with activity before the morning walk. The weather held and a good variety of dragons and damsels were seen, including migrant hawker and willow emerald. An emerald damselfly has also been seen on a separate occasion.

It is a quiet time of year for the birds. The tern chicks have mainly fledged and on their way south to warmer climes.  Good luck to them. Lapwings have been seen in good numbers on the fields that are being prepared for quarrying. The great crested grebes have a second brood, and you can see the little humbugs being carried around on their backs. By the end of the month, we should be seeing more wildfowl on the reserve.  Or are they going to be late, as a lot of nature appears to be this year? That is nature for you!

It is always good to hear about your sightings on the reserve. Also, if you want to be out in nature and have some spare time, come, and volunteer with us. We have plenty to catch up on!  Contact us on friendsofpaxtonpits@hotmail.com for further information.

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