Wildlife Notes for Great Ovens Heath by John Wright - June

June

On 2nd June I went on the Reptile Walk on Great Ovens Heath led by Stuart of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, and what a fascinating morning it proved to be. We had close-up views of several smooth snakes and learnt a lot about the natural history of our six native reptiles, all of which occur on this heath. As it was so warm, it became progressively more difficult to see some of the species but, nevertheless, we had plenty of time for close views and photos of a young adder close to the path.

Smooth Snake

Smooth Snake

Photograph: John Wright

Young Adder

Young Adder

Photograph: John Wright

After the reptile walk, I decided to check out the ponds on the heath and once into the sand quarry was surprised to flush a pair of nightjars in broad daylight. Moving on to the vegetated quarry there were several dragonflies patrolling, including a male emperor dragonfly. This impressive blue, green and black flying machine has the largest wingspan of any British dragonfly.

Male Emperor Dragonfly

Male Emperor Dragonfly

Photograph: John Wright

By the 7th June recent rain meant that it was too cool for dragonflies to be on the wing. Nevertheless, the rain was badly needed and my total of flowering plants on Great Ovens for the year passed the 100 species mark, with a few bright yellow spikes of bog asphodel brightening up a damp area of the heath. Although many of the threadlike stems of the parasitic dodder had shrivelled and died in the recent drought, one plant in a favoured area had survived and was now starting to produce small spheres of pink flowers.

Bog Asphodel

Bog Asphodel

Photograph: John Wright

Dodder

Dodder

Photograph: John Wright

On the gorse, just north of the sand quarry, a family of linnets was very vocal and I noticed that several dartford warblers were calling and singing from gorse bushes on each side of the W-E track towards the northern end of the reserve.

Male Linnet

Male Linnet

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

One or two green hairstreak butterflies were still on the wing and silver-studded blue butterflies were quite widely distributed along the firebreak next to the B3075 on the 7th and also two days later, when the temperature was higher. On the same day, a female emperor dragonfly was landing on the surface of the vegetated pond and inserting individual eggs into the stems of submerged plants and a common damselfly was recorded on the sand quarry pond.

 On the 13th June, after heavy rain throughout the previous day, it was encouraging to count over twenty silver-studded blues distributed along the firebreak. The males are somewhat smaller than common blue butterflies and have dark margins to the blue colouration on the upper wings. The‘silver studs’ are on the underside of the hind wing (see picture in May). 

Silver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blue

Photograph: John Wright

The next day the weather was more settled and apart from a kestrel hovering over the heath, there were at least five species of damsel and dragonflies at the sand quarry and vegetated ponds.

Kestrel

Kestrel

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

My next visit was well into the second half of the month and started bright and sunny. I had another fleeting glimpse of a roe deer in the sand quarry before my attention was drawn to the sound of a male grasshopper ‘singing’. I eventually took a photo and identified it as a common green grasshopper (despite the limited amount of green), the earliest species to mature in summer. The males produce their song by rubbing minute pegs on the inside of the femur against a raised vein on the wing.

Common Green Grasshopper

Common Green Grasshopper

Photograph: John Wright

Soon afterwards the sun went in, but I could see that many plants were starting to flower, thanks to the rain. Grassses including bristle bent and purple moor grass were flowering, as were slender St John’s Wort and Marsh St John’s Wort (the latter in the vegetated pond). Both dartford warblers and stonechats were obvious as I walked along the W-E track towards the north end of the reserve and finally, as the sun reappeared briefly, a red admiral butterfly settled on the bramble flowers. Most of them migrate to Britain from the Mediterranean region each spring and summer, before staying to breed.

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

Photograph: John Wright