Summer watch on the Stockland Turbaries
We are now in high summer and, despite a dreary start to June, the ground is remarkably dry. The seven Exmoor ponies have just moved to the southern enclosure of Bucehayes Common having done an excellent job of grazing to the north of the cottage. Here, cross-leaved heath, with its mauve-pink bell-shaped flowers, is dominant among western gorse. Damp spots have the yellow-flowered and softly hairy leaves of marsh St. John’s wort studded occasionally by the pale mauve flowered lesser skullcap and pale butterwort, underlain by leaves of marsh pennywort.
Among butterflies that have for some weeks been confined to the grass-feeding meadow browns and ringlets are now joined by a few, fast-flying but travel-worn painted ladies, immigrants from mainland Europe and North Africa. But, within the last few days, I have spotted newly emerged gatekeepers, commas and, the finest of all, silver-washed fritillaries. On Bucehayes, I have just seen a golden-ringed dragonfly and several keeled skimmers, the males of which have narrow, powder-blue abdomens.
Some of the Dartmoor ponies have also moved, so that there are now eight on the main block of Quantock Common. Here, the pond is now covered in duckweed and surrounded by a tonsure of watercress. The bank supports some reedmace and bur-reed, both now in fruit, Tiny blue damselflies are, I think, azure damselflies, together with large red damselflies. In early summer, I counted 80 flowering spikes of early marsh orchid on the turbary at Quantock, making it the second strongest population in the Blackdown Hills, indicating that our management of the mire habitat remains appropriate.
Blue tits and great tits were again the most numerous occupants of nest boxes but Geoff Pearce reports a coal tit bred in a box on a pine tree at Quantock. There were a total of 14 nuthatch nests across all our turbaries: 49 fledglings were ringed from Quantock and Horner Hill. Among his kestrel boxes, Geoff found five eggs from which four young have hatched on Bucehayes; his box on Horner is full of hornets. tawny owl numbers are down from 2018: just three boxes have been used this year from which three adults and seven young have been ringed. Bullfinches have bred at Quantock and three babies have been ringed but the number of swallows, house martins and spotted flycatchers are down this season, presumably attributable to cold weather at a critical period. Dippers continue to breed on each of the three rivers in Stockland parish, two nests on each of the Yarty, Corry Brook and Umborne Brook.