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Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Wed 3rd Sept 2014 - Golden Hill Fort, Freshwater.

Carrie's Photographs.

Sue's Photographs.

It's the "Limestone Cowboys"..!

An Elephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar (found in the car park).

Although the weather was warm and summer like, this week's tasking had a certain autumnal feel about it. With summer drawing to a close, it is time to start on those pre-winter prep jobs and this week it involved repairing paths with limestone chippings, cutting back the summer growth and clearing out the ditches. Our friendly rangers had pre-dumped three piles of chippings all ready to be wheelbarrowed to the areas needing attention so it was "Shovel, Shove and Tip" for around half the team. A smaller group set about the clogged ditches with the mattocks and shovels with the remainder  using the loppers and saws to trim back anything overhanging the paths. Busy...busy....busy....!
With the school holidays finished and most GGmers back from their annual vacations, we had a very good turnout for this popular venue.
Next week's session is out at West Wight again, this time at Fort Vic. Please don't forget to bring along items for the BBQ that will be held after the work is done.

Carrie's Nature Lesson.

This week’s find was the very pretty flower of the Common Kanpweed (Centaurea Nigra).  It is also known as hardheads or black knapweed, and is one of our toughest meadow plants.  An excellent source of good quality nectar, it is a real favourite of our pollinating insects as well as bees, butterflies and beetles, while the seeds provide food for many birds.  It can be identified by its slightly spherical black or brown flower head complete with its lovely purple, pink or, more rarely, white blooms.  It is found throughout the UK in meadows and other grassland habitats, as well as roadsides where wildlife is allowed to thrive, flowering from June to September.

Carrie's Nature Natter.

September sees the season turning into Autumn, and lately the mornings have definitely taken on an autumnal feel.  Mists cover low steep sided valleys, and spiders webs laden with pearly droplets can look spectacular.  Many of our plants die back to their underground roots, while deciduous trees are losing their leaves in order to protect them from winter frosts and scarce water supplies.  Animals start to put on weight for their winter hibernation, insect numbers enter a steep decline and summer breeding birds fly off to overwinter in Africa where food supplies are plentiful.

Horse chestnut trees are yielding up their seeds in the form of conkers, which fall to the ground contained in their spiky cases, while other trees such as ash, beech and sweet chestnut are also changing their colours to yellow and orange.  The hedgerows are plentiful with the ripening berries of hawthorn haws and shiny red rose hips, while sloes, blackberries and elderberries are a dark midnight black.  Acorns fall to the ground, and their seeds are spread far from the parent tree as they are collected by jays and grey squirrels, who hide them away underground as food for the forthcoming winter.  Some of these are never found again, and grow into new oak trees which bear their own fruit.

On sunny days on riverbanks and in areas of wetland, a highlight of early September are the large dragonflies.  They hunt for insects while moving with great speed and agility, darting this way and that and defending territories.  The beautiful darter dragonfly, the red common sympetrum is not so restless, while the huge hawker type dragonflies, such as the common aeshna, are always on the move and more wary.

Birds have now ceased moulting, and are dressed in their winter plumage. Family groups are often still together, and certainly in our garden we have seen families of chaffinches, greenfinches, blue and great tits, while starling numbers are the highest we have seen for some years.  Many small birds such as chiffchaffs and tits often move through the countryside helping each other to find food.  There are still many insects to be found, and by travelling together prey is disturbed from its hiding place and anything missed by one bird, will be found by another.

Many butterflies are still on the wing, but can sometimes look a bit ragged around the edges, as this is their last month as adults.  The browns and skipper species that feed on grass are still in flight, whilst caterpillars can be found in hedgerows, field edges and grasslands.  The male gatekeeper sets up its territory along hedges, where nectar bearing plants such as mint, wood sage, bramble and marjoram are very attractive. Wall butterflies can also be found basking in the sun on rocks and stones, actually flying ahead along a path settling then flying again, which makes its seem you are chasing it along.

Many thanks to Carrie and Sue for their contributions this week - Wow....what a bumper bundle of a blog for you all to read!

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