The rhododendron is pretty spectacular at this time of year along with the yellow azaelias which flower along the lake path. The flag iris is turning the marsh from green to gold. Summer flowers are at their best this month. Heath and common spotted orchids will soon be out in profusion along with bugle, tormentil, red campion, foxgloves, honeysuckle and ragged robin.
June is the month when thousands of tits fledge countrywide. The bushes and trees around the Park are full of young tits, nuthatches and wrens which will stay in their family groups. Swallow and house martin young hatch this month and the first of the young sand martins on the River Teign are due to fledge from their colonial burrows. Some of the older birds will manage to go on to rear a further two broods. The first swift was recorded on 29th May with the first nightjar on the 18th. Keep an eye out for spotted flycatchers which arrive from central Africa in May – the first arrived on the 21st. They can be seen sitting on a perch from which they watch for flying insects, periodically darting out to catch them. The great-spotted woodpeckers have been filling Stover with the sound of their drumming. The young have now hatched out and can be heard calling to the adults. Song thrush chicks and chiffchaff chicks fledged on 14th May. Regular sightings of bullfinch occurred during last month. Two stock dove have been seen regularly in the Park this Spring. They are slightly smaller than wood pigeons, lacking their white neck and wing markings. Stock Doves are shy birds and usually are not found where humans habituate. Hobbies were seen feeding over the lake and marsh during the latter half of last month. They spend the winter in Africa, arriving in Britain in late April and May to breed.
Fewer wildfowl will be on the wing this month because now is the time that they replace all their old flight feathers. For most breeding ducks, geese and swans this moult happens when they are rearing their flightless chicks. Some ducks, coots and moorhens are still sitting on eggs. Several broods of ducklings can be seen on the lake – the first broods are now nearly fully grown. Two mandarin ducklings hatched on 31st May. The swans’ eggs hatched on 30th May last year so it shouldn’t be much longer and the female continues to incubate. A brood of three moorhen chicks hatched out on 26th May. Three common sandpipers were spotted on the 4th. Their long bills are used for probing in the mud beside water for worms, insects and frogs.
The lake water has been unusually clear and there have been very few sightings of young roach and rudd. We can only conclude that the fish deaths which took place last May as a result of the very high water temperatures with levels of dissolved oxygen low in places due to the hot dry weather, were a lot more widespread than we originally thought. However, the insect activity over the lake has been noticeably greater with mayflies seen regularly. With less fish the dragonfly nymphs and other insect young have more of a chance of surviving to adulthood.
Bats are active at this time of year and can be seen on most evenings skimming over the lake feeding on moths and midges. They will give birth to their single young this month. Young hedgehogs are born in early June with badger and fox cubs starting to wander further afield. Roe deer young are born this month and lie hidden in the undergrowth. The summer months (May to August) is the peak time for the birth of otter cubs and the females are kept busy caring for their young families.
Keep an eye out for the young frogs and toads which will begin to leave the ponds and ditches in June. Newts will also be returning to land to feed after they have bred. They spend much of the day amongst the damp vegetation and under logs and stones. The red-eared terrapin was seen frequently throughout May on the log on the island. It is illegal to release terrapins into the wild as they eat ducklings, dragonfly nymphs and other native fauna.
The elder trees are just starting to flower – the flowers provide landing pads for hoverflies, wasps and beetles. Stag beetles are just one of the many types of beetle that emerge in June. Keep an eye out for glow-worms which will light up at dusk in rough grass. They tend to prefer areas where there are plenty of small snails, as this is what their larvae feed on.
Many butterflies and dragonflies are now on the wing enjoying the sunny weather. On the butterfly front the first pearl-bordered fritillary and purple hairstreak were seen on 5th May. Numbers are very low however and were absent from Stover during 2016 and 17; they are declining nationally. May was a good month overall for butterflies with spells of hot sunny weather. A holly blue was recorded on 14th May. Brimstones were busy laying eggs on the alder buckthorn at the end of last month. Speckled woods should now be onto their second generation of the year.
The dragonflies are getting more noticeable. Joining the large red damselflies, the only species seen in April, are common blue, azure, and blue-tailed damselflies; and hairy, broad-bodied chaser, and four-spotted chaser.
The reedbeds are nearly completed with the reeds planted in the water and surrounding ground landscaped. Although it still looks bare, by the end of the summer it should have greened up. Already a heron and several ducks have found their way to the ponds and it should be excellent for dragonflies as the summer progresses.