A placid bee swarm

Last week we were just checking on the chicks, when Ian spotted a swarm of bees clustering around the base of one of the young apple trees. Oh no! We were hoping they wouldn’t swarm this year, and this one was going to be difficult to collect as it was so low. If you read the books, they say ‘collect a swarm by cutting the branch it’s hanging from and letting it fall into a cardboard box’. Not this one – and we really didn’t have time to deal with it.

But by chance Ian’s bee mentor, from nearby Hollocombe, had rung the day before about going through his own hives. We called him back and he offered to collect ours. Here’s a short video of the process. Rashid doesn’t feel the stings badly anymore, and prefers to work without gloves. And he doesn’t even bother with a veil until he starts disturbing the bees.

So if you think of bee swarms pursuing cartoon characters who have to leap into the nearest pond, have a look at this video and then think again!

When bees swarm they fill up with honey to fuel them in their search for a new home. This makes them remarkably placid. And anyway, they’re busy doing their own thing and not out to sting passers by. If you see a swarm don’t panic! If you know a local bee keeper call them and they will probably collect. Otherwise, the bees will sort themselves out sooner or later – the scouts are looking for a suitable home, and once they find one they’ll tell the others and the swarm will move off.

Orchids in flower again

Heath Spotted Orchids, Popehouse Moor, Devon June 2012The orchids are in flower on Popehouse Moor again, lots of heath spotted orchids and a smattering of southern marsh orchids. The cows are in to graze again too, but this year there are not many of them and there is a much bigger area for them to graze, thanks to scrub clearing and fencing (supported by the government’s Higher Level Environmental Stewardship scheme). So we hope the end result will be lighter and more extensive grazing over a longer period, maybe even spreading wild flower seeds between Popehouse Moor and Lower Newland Moor (where the turbine is).

Buttercup spring

Yellow flag iris, Wheatland Farm, Devon 2012The fields are golden with buttercups this spring – even the lodge field which hasn’t had so many in recent years. Yes, they’re creeping buttercups, and yes, they’re a bit of a weed, but they are spectacular (and do give way to other flowers). Spring is the season for yellow – the flag irises are out in the pond too.

The cows return again

This week the cows returned – at least the first 3 young bullocks that will graze the wind turbine field (Lower Newland Moor) and the nature reserve (Popehouse Moor). These guys haven’t been out of the yard before, and were fairly frisky. But the ground was still too wet to drive the tractor and trailer across the lodge field, so they had to be driven across ‘by hand’. Good thing there were plenty of young legs to keep up with them! This was 7 May – just for the records.

And when they go back to Higher Punchardon Farm at the end of the season they’ll probably be herded the same way. Hopefully they’ll have settled down a little by then!

Reprieve from rain

We’ve had rain for several days now, and only the odd sunny interval, so today was a treat. And the insects were making the most of it too. I think they’re low on reserves after so much rain, and sometimes less likely to take flight, hence the chance to take a close up of this female orange tip butterfly on lady’s smock without out it fluttering away.
And I hardly ever get a picture of the deer, so here’s a more blurry but still notable pic!
Fallow deer at Wheatland Farm eco lodges, Devon

More nests and escaping hens

Sadly the dunnocks didn’t make it. No clues as to what happened but one morning no nest and no birds. What a shame. Still, there are other successes. This is probably a dormouse hibernation nest in a sedge at Plovers Barrow, the thatched cottage at the end of the drive that we’re managing this year. And it looks like it’s already been vacated – you can just see an exit hole. I didn’t prod and poke though as despite todays sunshine there’s bad weather on the way and the dormouse might still be having a lie-in.

Back on our own doorstep there’s a downy brown robin chick flying around the barn, still being fed, a wren has built a beautiful nest in the side of a bale of hay in the old hen house, and I think another wren has walled up an old swallow nest above my freezer and has moved in. It’s too high for me to photograph though.
Entrance to a wren's nest woven into a bale of hay
And of course the chickens are getting into full swing in unexpected places. They’ve taken to laying in some straw in one of Ian’s trailers.
Hens eggs laid in the back of the trailer

Nestlings and flowers

Amazing what a week does. Spring flowers are dotting Popehouse Moor now, with woodsorrel and carpets of primroses beneath the trees at the far end of the nature reserve and cuckoo flower on the grassland. And best of all, I’ve spotted a dunnock’s nest with young in the garden. They’ve nested in the sedge again, and I missed the beautiful blue eggs this year, but I’m looking forward to watching these youngsters hope around the place. I just hope they make it – they’re pretty low to the ground. I’ll have to put Muttley on guard against neighbourhood cats!

Blackthorn in blossom

Blackthorn in blossom on Popehouse Moor, Wheatland Farm, Devon
What a glorious spring it is being – even after the forecast said the sunshine would break. And now blackthorn is in full flower – my favourite spring blossom. Tiny, delicate, understated but there first, before the leaves break through on this prickly shrub. The insects love it, and it only flowers on old wood – a good reason not to cut your hedges every year. Hedges trimmed annually have something like 50 times less blackthorn blossom, and why would you miss this spring glory?

Signs of spring

In March you have to look for the details – the trees are still bare but the birds are singing. Our favourite robin has a beak full of fluff – I wonder where the nest is? In the garden the primroses are out, but in the wood they are still in bud. And those are the ones I always think of as the ‘real’ ones. Willow is putting out catkins though, and of course gorse is in flower.

Goldfinches on the teasel heads

goldfinch feeding on teasels, Wheatland Farm eco lodges, Devon

Vindicated! Untidyness by the office window has benefited the goldfinches – which are busy stripping the seeds from dead teasel heads. This picture was snapped through the fairly grimy glass, and I’m surprised it came out as well as it has. They are such beautiful little birds, cheering up winter days.

Snowdrops and a woodmouse

February snowdrops at Wheatland Farm eco lodges, DevonThe snow drops are out – and so was this wood mouse down in the nature reserve. Well, the truth is I disturbed it from a nest box that I was clearing out for the coming spring. But with temperatures rising I don’t think it will suffer much of an eviction. Spring really feels like it’s making a move now – the light feels stronger and the birds are louder.

Winter wildlife work

Winter is when we do a lot of our land management work. Since entering the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme last June we’ve got an even longer ‘to do’ list!

One of the tasks is more ‘scrub bashing’ on Popehouse Moor Site of Special Scientific Interest. We need to push back invading willow and bramble so as not to lose the precious culm grassland. Here’s a shot of the western end of the reserve where scrub bashing, and eventually hedge laying, will lessen the barrier between Popehouse Moor and Lower Newland Moor (where the turbine is), hopefully helping us manage them so their wildlife converges. We’ve got 3 winters of this work to do…

We’ve also been adding some new fencing to make it easier to keep the cows out of sensitive woodland in the summer.

Many many thanks to our volunteers from the WWOOF network (world wide opportunities on organic farms). Ayaka, Marion and Ben all braved near knee-high mud and worked hard chopping, carrying and burning.

Come back and see it when it greens up in the summer!

Frogspawn and a first primrose

Frogspawn in the ponds at Wheatland Farm, January 2012There’s frogspawn in 2 of our ponds! I hope it doesn’t turn seriously cold now. I’ve already seen the first primrose flowering in the hedge banks of our local lanes. That’s months too early really – overall so far it has been a mild winter. But today there was a dusting of snow. In previous years the kids have been off school because of bad weather even in February, so there’s no knowing yet.

Spreading the word on wildlife

I’m not that happy chatting – I’d rather write. But I got asked to do a few minutes on BBC radio Devon (Sat 19 March, Good Morning Devon) on the Get Wild About Devon scheme. And of course I couldn’t say no… What was it all about? The scheme provided an experienced naturalist who walks round the property with you, pointing out wildlife you can highlight to your guests. That information got put into a map and PDF file for web/print out so you can give it to guests and use it in your marketing. We’ll be putting ours in our accommodation and on our website. The idea is to help businesses see the economic potential in their local wildlife (and hopefully so to cherish it).

… so I had to get up quietly and hope the kids didn’t come storming downstairs in the middle. It went fine I think (no, I haven’t played it back online) but I don’t think we really empowered people to do much as a result. The scheme was a pilot and seems likely to remain so, given current financial contraints, unless another grant can be found. But there’s nothing to stop people doing it for themselves. Try your county wildlife trust for advice, your local Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG), a naturalist group sourced through your county wildlife recorder (again – ask your county wildlife trust). Or if you’re in Devon just look up the list of participants on Visit Devon, find the business nearest you, and give them a ring. I’m sure they’d be happy to tell you more about what worked for them and how you could make something similar work for you.

Meanwhile, here’s a picture of our wildlife today – a dunnock’s nest in pendulous sedge spotted when the bird exploded out nearly from under my pruning shears. She was back within a few minutes. We’ll be keeing an eye on the nest and trying to minimise disturbance.

Conservation grazing on Popehouse Moor SSSI

Here’s a brief video explaining how (and why) we graze our Popehouse Moor Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)…

It’s on our nature blog too, where more people will probably see it, but just for completeness here it is…