Thursday, 15 November 2018

Another Year

My years these days are very much built around seasonal activities. Once again I have reached the end of two seasons and begun another. First to end was the butterfly transect walks which ended in September. Having completed two a week since the beginning of April my weekly routine changes quite a lot. No longer do I have to consider the temperature, wind and sunshine each day in order to decide if a walk is going to be possible. There are rules for walking which are designed to provide the best conditions in which to count butterflies. This year was a good one with regard to butterfly walks as, throughout the walking season, I was able to complete a walk on every week. No blanks. 

The season was also good as we had the long dry spell during the summer which meant conditions were, for the most part, good for butterflies. In fact, on my two transect walks, I recorded a number of species not previously seen or not seen on those particular walks for many years. The White Letter Hairstreak, Argos Brown and White Admiral being a few. Also a good increase in Small Coppers. Generally there was a big increase in recorded numbers on the previous year. Although Small Tortoishells were down in numbers. In Dorset the good news is that numbers across the whole county were up just over fifty percent on recorded numbers for 2017. One interesting feature of this year's observations, which I came across during the hot dry spell, was the fact that all normal sources of water had dried up and consequently I observed large numbers of butterflies taking to the bottom of ditches. This was clearly an attempt to get at any moisture which might remain and by no means normal behaviour.

The next season to end for me was the dormouse survey season which runs from March through to the end of October. My involvement in these surveys has been to join teams on three surveys each month, two in Somerset and another just over the border into Wiltshire. One of the Somerset survey areas being right at the north of the county near Cheddar in the wonderfully named Goblin Coombe. Dormouse surveys involve checking nest boxes placed on trees and the number of boxes varies from fifty up to around eighty. Each box is opened and if a dormouse is found to be present it is weighed and its sex recorded and all data is then sent to The People Trust For Endangered Species. This year has been a productive one for dormouse numbers although the long dry summer did appear to keep the dormice out of the boxes for a couple of months. Quite simply, we concluded, it was just too hot and dry for comfort in a small wooden box. Normally, it appears, quite moist conditions within the boxes favours dormouse occupation of the boxes when not breeding. In fact on two occasions I found sleeping dormice in boxes which contained nesting material which was almost soggy. However, when we got into the breeding season in August / October we found good numbers of dormice. In fact on both of those months at Goblin Coombe we recorded dormouse numbers in the twenties. The additional good news was the fact that all mice weighed were sufficiently fat to ensure they would survive their hibernation through the winter months. This tells us that their food supply during the summer had been good enabling body weight to be achieved.

The other good news, well at least as far as I am concerned, is the fact that I have now got my own Dormouse survey licence. This has taken two years to achieve but now means I am able to conduct surveys on my own and to help train other people who want a licence.

So October brought the end of the recording season but it also heralded the beginning of the beating season and I now find myself attending a number of local shoots each week. In fact most weeks I am out beating four times. This year I was invited to beat on a mid-Dorset shoot which has down land with high hills and deep valleys. the views are quite simply stunning and since, so far,the weather has been kind to us it has been a delight. Not only that, it keeps this old man pretty fit. 

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