Monday, 10 August 2020

A very hot day at Cranford Park but still plenty to see

Heatwave or no heatwave, the butterflies still carry on. You're probably more likely to see butterflies in greater numbers when it's a few degrees cooler but they still have the ultimate purpose in life to find and mate with as many partners as possible. 

Right at the end of my transect today at Cranford Park this stunning Jersey Tiger Moth appeared. There were three in total but only this one settled long enough to get a photo. 


The tally for todays UKBMS transect ….. 
10/08/2020

Large White x 10
Small Copper x 7
Common Blue x 1
Holly Blue x 6
Red Admiral x 1
Speckled Wood x 9
Gatekeeper x 8
Meadow Brown x 29
Small Heath x 11

Small Heath numbers are still going up and that is a great result for Cranford Park where we rarely see the second flush of these tiny little beauties. And the Meadow Brown numbers are up on last week, when I was worried that they were in a steep decline. So generally all round, todays count was very good considering the heat. 

a tatty aged Gatekeeper

a fresh Small Heath

Small Copper

Small Copper

When I left the park I walked back via the woods and paths that lead to Watersplash. In the sheltered grasses at the back of the houses I found a Purple Hairstreak. I can never get a good photo of these fidgety little butterflies but it was still great to see one. I cant even put it on my butterfly count as it was way off my transect route, but I will let my UKBMS Mentor know that these appear to be spreading across the park. They are not that rare, just rarely seen as they spend most of their lives in the oak tree canopies. I have found that I tend to see them at the park when the summer has been particularly warm. The heat causes some trees to prematurely drop their leaves, and I guess that's why butterflies like this come down to the ground. 

a very bad photo of Purple Hairstreak

The girls in the Cattle Paddock don't really mind the heat too much. There's plenty of shade if they want it and a huge water trough that is automatically topped up.


The resident Kestrel family were very active whilst I was walking through the paddock doing the butterfly count. I saw all five (both adults and three juveniles) at one point. 

My first three photos were quite hard to take due to the heat haze that was coming off the meadows ….. 

Spot the Kestrel

Spot the Kestrel

Spot the Kestrel

One young female was content to stay perched on one of the tree guards and she let me get fairly close. I could see she was feeling the heat and often sat with her beak open …...






and I was lucky enough to see all three juveniles on one tree and tree guard, but the only photo I got was just as one went to fly off and sadly the photo didn't come out as focussed as I would like. Normally I would 'bin' a photo as badly blurred as this, but I'll count it as a record shot until I can get a better one …. 


The wildlife pond, river and the ditches surrounding the park were all very quiet. No Mallards, no Kingfisher, no Heron, no Little Egret and no Moorhens or Coots. They will have been sheltering from the heat under the vegetation. But I saw plenty of stickleback and other small fish in the river by the Iron Bridge so the water looks to be fairly healthy. 

In the cooler Cranford Woods, I found two quite distinctive feathers.... 


They are from a Green Woodpecker. Over the years I have come to realise that the Green Woodpeckers really prefer this corner of Cranford Woods, probably because there are a far number of decaying trees there and a healthy population of Ring-Necked Parakeets and Jackdaws. Both species like to nest in old nest holes, and this proves there are plenty to go round. 

It might have been very hot, and I might have resembled a glowing wet tomato after my two hour transect (it was too hot to rush) but I find any visit to Cranford Park is successful in one or another. For a country park that is surrounded by noise and pollution, the wildlife I find there always surprises me. 



Saturday, 1 August 2020

A couple of nice August surprises at Cranford Park

I was at the park on Wednesday but not to do anything 'nature'. A few of us met up to have a toast for David, one of the founder members of the Cranford Park Friends, who sadly recently passed away. We shared our memories of him and the lovely Daphne told us all about how she first met him before the war by grudgingly knitting him a jumper plus many more wonderful stories including how he built their kitchen from scratch adding a bit each week when they could afford to buy more wood. The bespoke kitchen still stands to this day. 
There will be small everlasting memorial to David in the park by the end of this year. 

We had some great news this week too when it was officially announced that Cranford Country Park has been successful in its bid for National Heritage Lottery funding. There will obviously be more about what this means and what happens next when our brilliant Project Manager, Charmian Baker, is back from a very well earned break. Another very big key part of this bid was the part Bob Barton, the Friends secretary, played in all of this. And of course none of this would have been possible without all the free time our parks great volunteers gave up to conduct surveys, collect signatures and help fund raise and also big thanks to the background work from our contacts at Hillingdon Council. I am so proud to be a part of this and am really looking forward to seeing the new stage for Cranford Park develop. 

I was going to complete the weekly UKBMS transect at Cranford Park yesterday but I'm glad I chose not to as the park was one of the hottest recorded places in the UK with a whooping 37oC. Even if I had made it to the park with both bus routes E6 and 195 on diversion and some bus stops closed, I doubt if I would have made it around the park without melting ! So this afternoon I conducted the weekly count with some good and bad results but in much more manageable weather. 

The tally for todays 115 minute transect is....

01/08/20
Large White x 7
Small White x 1
Small Copper x 7
Holly Blue x 7
Red  Admiral x 3
Peacock x 2
Comma x 2
Speckled Wood x 10
Gatekeeper x 32
Meadow Brown x 11
Small Heath x 2

The bad news is that Meadow Browns numbers are still down. I cannot say for sure that lockdown caused this (as said in previous blogs there was more foot traffic in the park during lockdown) and I would need to see what counts I would get next July and August to do a proper comparison. Weather conditions could also be a factor. 

The good news is we have a second flush of Small Heaths. These little inconspicuous butterflies have two generations so we can see them in both May and August, but I rarely get a count of the second flush at Cranford Park as they don't often reach this stage. I always see them in one certain area within the Cattle Paddock so maybe the cows are doing their bit for this particular species of butterfly ? 

I was asked last Wednesday if there were any good 'butterfly' results at Cranford Park this season and I've got to admit we have had a bumper year for the dainty Small Copper. They have to be in the top three of my favourite butterfly and I have seen loads this season. 

Here come the photos …… 

Peacock on the buddleia by the M4 wall

Red Admiral on the buddleia by the M4 wall

Speckled Wood in Cranford Woods

Gatekeeper on bramble by the Cranford Lane entrance to the park

Holly Blue in the Secret Garden

Small Copper in the Cattle Paddock

Small Copper

Small Copper


Small Copper

Small Copper

Small Heath in the Cattle Paddock

The photo below is a closed wing of a Gatekeeper. The Small Heath above looks very similar but is much smaller and 'lighter' in colour. When a Small Heath flies low amongst the long grasses it's more a yellowy colour whereas the Gatekeeper below is larger and more orange-brown …. 


The white dots within the eye spots normally help with identification too. Gatekeepers generally have two white dots, and Meadow Browns and Small Heaths only have one, but as I proved in last weeks blog post, Meadow Browns sometimes have two white dots. Confused ? So am I !! There's nothing boring about the butterfly world ! 

Meadow Brown - a normal one with one white dot within the eye spot

A size comparison - a very worn Gatekeeper on the left and a Meadow Brown on the right.

In the Secret Gardens herb trough I found this lovely little Mint Moth, also called the Purple and Gold for obvious reasons  … 


Because of the bus diversions and closed bus stops I walked back into Hayes Town via the 'other side' of the woods. When I first used to visit the park many moons ago I always came to the park via the 'other side' and got one of my favourite ever photos from there (a Muntjac being stalked by a cat near the old Crane Pub) but I havent been that way for ages. The river is cleaner that side so I did hope I might see a Kingfisher but to no avail. I could hear a young Sparrowhawk calling but couldn't locate it. But there were plenty of Large White and Speckled Wood butterflies around and these nice Lords and Ladies along the path …. 


I was having a rest on a log when I got the feeling I was being watched …. 


Spot the fox ! It's only a youngster and this was the only (out of focus) photo I managed to get before it disappeared in the scrub. 

As always a really pleasant few hours at the park. Seen but not photographed were one of the juvenile Kestrels on the grassy paths within the meadow, two Red Kites soaring over the Cattle Paddock, two Grey Wagtails on the river by Cranford Lane and a very vocal Common Buzzard very low over Cranford Woods. 









Wednesday, 22 July 2020

The weekly butterfly count and a walk around Cranford Park with friends

I was at the park at lunchtime today to complete the weekly UKBMS butterfly transect and to meet up with a couple of friends for a gentle stroll. 

The butterfly count was nice and healthy, although I was expecting a higher Meadow Brown count, but I did get a rather nice extra surprise in the form of a battered Purple Hairstreak. Thank you to Nathalie Mahieu for pointing it out. My first one this year and only my fourth one ever. 

So todays tally is as follows....

22/07/20 - 90 minute transect
Essex Skipper x 2 (id confirmed by photos)
Large White x 16
Small White x 5
Small Copper x 11
Holly Blue x 5
Red Admiral x 2
Small Tortoiseshell x 1
Peacock x 1
Speckled Wood x 10
Gatekeeper x 38
Meadow Brown x 9
Purple Hairstreak x 1

I would have expected the Meadow Brown count to be in double figures but I didn't see many at all during todays transect. They tend to be seen more in 'section 5' of my transect route, which starts by the bench at the edge of the scrub corner and goes through the meadow, through the Cattle Paddock and finishes at the gate at the Cranford Lane end of the park. I know during Lockdown this area was very popular with visitors and many, especially the new visitors to the park, did not always stick to the grass pathways. The new cattle didn't arrive until early June. There were a lot of picnics and barbeques in that area during Lockdown, and I'm wondering if the extra foot traffic has affected the Meadow Brown numbers this year. Only by comparing last years figures to next years figures, can I be absolutely certain. 

The Small Coppers however, seem to be having a bumper year at Cranford Park and a lot of the ones I saw today were very fresh and new. 

The Purple Hairstreak was found, with thanks to Nathalie, in 'section 1' of my route which includes several buddlia just before the Orchard. Purple Hairstreaks usually colonise high up in oaks, and don't often come down low enough to get photos of. They are not rare, just not commonly seen. The individual we saw today looked 'old' but it's more likely that it has had a near miss by a bird meaning it looks a bit ragged and is missing most of it's purple scales. 

Here are my photos from today …. 

Peacock

Essex Skipper

Essex Skipper

Meadow Brown

Small Copper

Small Copper

Small Copper

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper

Speckled Wood
Purple Hairstreak - a very battered and 'old looking' individual but still great to see
We also spotted a Six-spot Burnet, a day flying moth … 


 and some Cinnabar moth caterpillars …. 


As to be expected in mid summer the river is looking particularly 'lush' at the moment. The two photos below are views from both the bridges …. 

View from the stone bridge towards the metal bridge

view from the metal bridge towards the stone bridge

Also spotted on this lovely warm day were this Migrant Hawker and Common Darter ...



And in the Secret Garden we found this beauty. The largest British hoverfly, the Volucella zonaria, the 'hornet mimic' … 


The honeybees that have a hive within one of the bricked up arches in the courtyard, were very active today. I haven't seen them this 'busy' so far this year....


During my transect I saw two Kestrels on the grass paths within the Cattle Paddock, but when we went back later we could only see one and he/she didn't want to hang around and be photographed. I also flushed a Skylark by the model aircraft landing strip, and saw a Red Kite over the old oaks. There were lots of Goldfinches calling, and we heard a couple of Green Woodpeckers. 

The girls in the Cattle Paddock were as curious as ever …. 


We done a bit of litter picking in the Cattle Paddock. Sadly these were full 'dog poo bags'. I appreciate the dog walkers that pick up after their pooches but please take the poop to a bin ! Don't bag it up and leave it, especially within the paddock where the curious cows will try to eat them … bag it and bin it !!! 

The only disappointing sight today was all the non-native Himalayan Balsam along the River Crane. This is an annually growing plant that originates from Asia. More about this attractive but invasive plant can be found on this link. One plant can produce 800 seeds and many are spread along rivers, which is why we try to remove any riverbank plants before they set seed. Due to Covid and the Lockdown, we didn't get to do an annual 'Balsam Bashing' day this year, and I did spot a few plants that had spread further from the river bank than in previous years. 

Himalayan Balsam seen from the stone bridge along the river bank

Himalayan Balsam flower head 
As well as enjoying a few hours stroll with my good friends Sheila and Nathalie, we also found Ron, Lin, Gary, Martyn, Daphne and Sandra outside the Information Centre, and bumped into Nikki Bates walking Lyns dogs along one of the paths by the side of the meadow. It's always good to have a catch up and chat, and share some banter. Lovely to see everyone, especially Daphne after the sad loss of her David recently. 

Beautiful weather and great company. A good all round day