The last newsletter was posted in March before the lockdown, so there’s a bit of catching up to do on the wildlife front. Stover’s residents had the Park pretty much to themselves during the end of March and early April while we all stayed away, and they enjoyed the lack of human disturbance at the start of the nesting season. The Country Park is now making up for it and is very busy, especially at weekends. Whilst we’re appreciating and valuing the wildlife on our doorsteps more than ever, please be considerate as the ducks especially have got used to resting on the paths !
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 are 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 sand martins were recorded on 18th March with the first house martins on 29th April. There has been a noticeable absence of swallows over the lake at Stover. This is probably due to the strong easterly winds over the continent during March which blew many migrants off their routes and out over the sea where huge numbers became disorientated and perished. The first swift was recorded on 7th May with the first nightjar on the 14th. A total of six nightjars were seen on the 29th. Keep an eye out for spotted flycatchers which arrive from central Africa in May. They can be seen sitting on a perch from which they watch for flying insects, periodically darting out to catch them. A lone male pied flycatcher arrived on 12th May and has been singing for a mate. There haven’t been any records of pied flycatchers at Stover since the late 1990’s when one male would arrive every year singing beautifully but would consistently fail to find a mate. Pied flycatchers breed at Yarner Wood higher up the Bovey valley, so presumably the male will head in that direction if a mate doesn’t appear soon. The first chiffchaff was heard on 14th March (many overwinter so this may not have been the first migrant song), with the first willow warbler on 4th April. A whitethroat was recorded on 21st May with crossbill being spotted during the first half of May.
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. Tawny owl young hatched out April. The first song thrush chicks fledged on 23rd April. 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.
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 which hatched out in April are now nearly fully grown. Eight tiny mandarin ducklings hatched out on 28th May. The swan’s first nest failed as the eggs were lost to predation. The pair spent April building a second nest and the pen swan laid another batch of eggs. After many weeks of patient incubating the cygnets are due any day now. Canada geese frequented the lake during April but were periodically chased by the cob swan so didn’t stay to breed. Coots and moorhens have been sitting with broods hatching in April and May. There were two sightings of common sandpiper in May. Their long bills are used for probing in the mud beside water for worms, insects and frogs. The few remaining tufted duck were last seen on 12th April before making their journey back to Russia for the summer; the majority had left in March. Likewise, the cormorants left the lake to head for the coast to breed in April. A single great-crested grebe was spotted on 13th April, with two being seen from mid-May onwards. They have been displaying on the lake and have started to nest build. A little egret was sighted in the northern marsh on 21st April. Black-headed gulls left the lake by the middle of March and were replaced by huge numbers of herring gulls, with another high count mid-May. Snipe counts in the marsh tailed off mid-April when the birds left for the moors to breed.
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. There were several sightings of adults during May when the Park was quieter. 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. A stoat was spotted on 9th April.
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. Grass snakes and adders were recorded basking in the sun during last month. 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 now in full 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 hot sunny weather. On the butterfly front the first pearl-bordered fritillary and common blue were seen on 13th May, with the first meadow brown and clouded yellow on 28th May. Prior to this the first brimstone was on the wing on 16th March, white admiral on 4th April, small tortoiseshell on 10th April with the first orange-tip two days later. May was a fantastic month overall for butterflies with the settled hot sunny weather. This encouraged many of our later summer butterflies to appear early such as the meadow browns and common blues. 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 also did well with April and May’s settled weather. The first large red damselfly was seen on 10th April, common blue and beautiful demoiselle on the 22nd, downy emerald and broad-bodied chaser on the 24th, with the first four-spotted chaser on the 25th. The first hairy dragonfly was spotted on 12th May. The first azure, blue-tailed and red-eyed damselflies were recorded on 18th May, along with emperor and black-tailed skimmer.
The visitor centre and toilets are presently closed whilst provisions are made to accommodate social distancing; your patience is much appreciated.