Wild, Weird and Wonderful

Since my last blog, things have been very busy at Greenhillock so I have had to rely on our keen-eyed guests to report interesting wildlife finds. Well, they haven’t disappointed!
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Willow Warbler (www.arkive.org)

We have had two further sightings (with photos) of the baby Hedgehogs among the camping pitches, both in the late evening. Lots of people have commented on the large numbers of Willow Warblers in the hedgerows, their presence announced by the insistent, repetitive call of the fluffy yellowish-green fledglings. 
Our pond dippers have been finding increasing numbers of immature Newts and both Frogs and Common Toads have been seen feeding in the meadows. Amphibian find of the month, however, has to be a  splendid male Common Newt spotted by the Parfitt Family on their camping pitch in the South Paddock. Although they spend half of their year out of the water, we rarely see these lovely creatures, less still get to photograph them, so this is a real treat. Thanks guys.
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Handsome male Common Newt in camping pitches (Credit: Parfitt Family)

The purple flowers of the late-flowering Knapweed are attracting lots of bumblebees (at least five types have been identified) and butterflies – we currently have Peacock, Small White, Red Admiral, Ringlet and Small Tortoiseshell. Bug hunting has become more popular than ever and young guests have been finding an interesting range of mini-beasts. Without doubt, the best insect find this week is of two Great Wood Wasps. These huge insects are rarely spotted and are quite harmless, despite their fearsome Hornet-like appearance. What looks like a deadly sting at the rear of their abdomen is actually an egg-laying tube (ovipositor). Well done to the guests who remained calm enough to bring them to me for identification!
 
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Great Wood Wasp (nearly two inches long!)

My sole contribution is that of an early morning Snipe at the Wildlife Pond. I can also report the safe hatching of a new family of Swallows in the roof of my tractor shed. The parents are kept very busy catching increasing amounts of insect food over the North Paddock.
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Summer Sights and Sounds

Last weekend, one of our camping guests spotted (and photographed) not one, but two, baby hedgehogs in the South Paddock meadow! This is great news as it proves that we have at least one resident breeding pair.

Apart from that, things have been a bit quiet on the wildlife front at Greenhillock. The unsettled weather has kept down bee numbers although we have seen at least three different sorts of bumblebee in recent days, including one huge Garden Bumblebee using its long tongue to extract nectar from Honeysuckle flowers. Butterfly numbers are also quite low although the emerging purple Common Knapweed flowers are attracting Small Tortoiseshell, Small White and Ringlet, among others.

The Wildlife Pond is now buzzing with life and most of our enthusiastic pond dippers are finding Common Newts, Leeches, water insects and larvae of all kinds. Sadly so far this year, Dragonflies and Damselflies have been conspicuous by their absence.

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Greenhillock Guide Beth helps pond-dippers identify what they have found

Many of the hedge nesting birds have produced a second brood. Blackbirds and Song Thrushes can be seen at dawn and dusk feeding young in the meadows and the nest box on the Field Kitchen has noisy young Tree Sparrows about to fledge. Groups of Swallows and House Martins swoop low over the tents on their feeding flights. Goldfinches are singing musically among the trees and there are still lots of Warblers to be seen and heard – the one-note call of the Willow Warbler is most noticeable in the Den Zone. Best on the bird front this week has been a guest reporting hearing an early-morning Snipe calling. These birds are becoming quite rare in the area so this is very good news.

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An adult Snipe visiting the Home Paddock

As Summer moves on, Greenhillock wildlife is changing but there is always something interesting to see and hear.

Reassuring Rattles

Hearing an unusual rattle can be a worrying thing. As I write, the wind is making a more welcome rattling sound as it shakes the dry, paper bag-like, seed-pods of our Yellow Rattle flowers (clue’s in the name!), before they burst and scatter to produce next Spring’s attractive yellow flowers.

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Yellow Rattle seed-pod next to an unusual white Heath Spotted Orchid

There are lots of other seeding flowers and grasses in the meadows (including all but a few of the late flowering wild Orchids), being dispersed by insects, birds, wind and rain to ensure that we all have something to enjoy next year. The large white seed-heads of the Cow Parsley along the pitch edges are alive with mini-bugs waiting to be discovered by our enthusiastic young bug hunters.

Meanwhile, the next wave of flowers have appeared to feed the butterflies and bees and we have lovely stands of bluish-lilac Field Scabious, Red Clover and purple Common Knapweed taking us on into late Summer. This natural succession is essential to the breeding cycle of many birds, insects and animals and is the main rationale for creating species-rich habitats such as our meadows.

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Insects love the open flower-heads of the Field Scabious

On my late night round this week, I was delighted to find a baby Hedgehog on one of the North Paddock paths, feeding on the small slugs that emerge from the damp grass at night. We have released two lots of adults in the past but, apart from occasional sightings of their droppings full of beetle shells, they have disappeared from view. Obviously, nature has been at work without our knowing it.

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Baby Hedgehog (Derbyshire Wildlife Trust)

Another example of the secret wildlife of Greenhillock!