Bulletins - Salisbury & District Natural History Society

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The Society’s Bulletin, which is included in the subscription, is sent to all members once a month either by post or by e-mail.  Members can also collect it at the Society’s Indoor Meetings.  We include it here to give a flavour of both the Society’s activities and of our reports on local wildlife.  This is an edition from July 2015 and has been edited to maintain the confidentiality of some habitats and of some members.


July 2015
I have now taken over the role of editor of the Bulletin from Stan Lovett.  The Society is very grateful to Stan for all his work over the years as editor.  I should like to thank Stan for all the help he has given me.  Christine Muggleton
Indoor Meetings
Change of Speaker. Will members kindly note that there will be a change of speaker for the meeting on 17th September.   Mr David Oakley is unable to attend, but Mr Martin Noble, Chairman of the Hampshire Mammal Group and former Chief Keeper for the Forestry Commission, has kindly stepped in to replace him.   The subject of the talk remains as the British Mustelids.
Outdoor Meetings
20th July minibus trip to Tadnoll & Winfrith Heath. There are still 2 places available, £8.00/person. Please get in touch with Sue Griffin if you want to go.  
Sunday 9th
NEW   FOREST.  Cadnam area of   the New Forest for a general interest ramble (with some special plants) of   about 2.5 miles on easy grass tracks and country lanes. No facilities.   Leaders: J and P Notman.
Saturday   15th
MOTHING MORNING 1000-1200 Taking place at   Alderbury.  A chance to see what has   been captured in the moth traps overnight. John Muggleton will be identifying the   moths.
Please bring your own chairs.
Salisbury Greenspace Project  Cathedral Close survey visits are planned to the Close for recording on 14th July (10-12.30), 21st July (14.00-17.00) and 28th July (10.00-12.30), when we will have access to areas not normally accessible to the public.  We will be meeting Richard Wood from the Cathedral on Bishop’s Walk in the Close on 14th. Unfortunately, I cannot be there until about 11am, but Sue Wight should be there with Roger Dudin who is leading the surveys. Please contact me by email if you are interested in any of the visits, as we will need to organise parking and there may be a limit to the number of cars acceptable, so car sharing would be helpful. I will be able to confirm parking arrangements if you contact me.                                                          Anne Appleyard
Outdoor Meetings – other societies
Laverstock Parish Environmental Group (PEG) would like to invite you to join a field meeting looking for grasshoppers and bush crickets on Saturday 18 July .  Meet at The Duck, Duck Lane, Laverstock at 10am.  By bus - Red 6 leaves Stand C  Endless St. 9.35.   Any queries – ring Penny Theobald.  
Trip to Brownsea Island.   The Friends of Bentley Wood have arranged a trip to Brownsea Island on Wednesday, 16th September, 2015.  They still have some vacant seats on the coach, which are now being offered to our members.  The coach departs from Winterslow Village Hall at 08.30 am with a Salisbury pick-up at the London Road Park and Ride site (car parking free) at 08.45 am.  A further possible pick-up point is at the Stag Inn on the A338 at Charlton-All-Saints.    The coach fare will be £18.50 per person, and entry to Brownsea Island is £5.00 per person (National Trust members free).   On the island members may join a group with telescopes for some bird and red squirrel watching, or 'do their own thing'- all very flexible.  Lunch may be taken at the National Trust cafe, or bring a picnic.  Departure from the island will be on the 3.50 pm ferry, with arrival back in Salisbury at about 6.15 pm (Winterslow 6.30 pm).  There will be familiar faces on the coach, as several of our members have already booked.   If you are interested, please ring Sue Walker for more information and to book.
Figsbury Ring Evening Ramble.   Just four members joined leaders John and Pauline Notman for a 6 pm start on 4th June.  The evening was warm and sunny, with a cool breeze, but the many sheltered areas held large numbers of blue butterflies - especially the beautiful Adonis Blues basking in the evening sun.   Dave Lawman showed us a good patch of Star of Bethlehem growing under a bush, safe from the grazing cattle.  The ramble followed the outside ditch for most of the way, returning to the inside of the monument for the last segment, where we saw dozens of Common Blue butterflies settled for the night on grass stems.    The fact that this year's walk was 8 days earlier than last year's, coupled with a cooler spring generally, may have been the reason for the total of plant species to be down by 15 this year.                                                                                                                 John Notman
Cathedral Tower Tour  On 11th June 7 of us went on a tour of the cathedral tower led by Steve Hannath, who in March  guided 15 of us on a geology walk around the Close.  Steve told us about the building of the cathedral, the various materials used and how the cathedral 'floats' on a deep bed of gravel and water.  In the north-west corner of the nave he has arranged a display of the different rocks used in the construction, and this can be seen by anybody visiting the cathedral.   He has also written a booklet called 'The Cathedral Rocks' @ £3.99 available in the Museum Shop.
The climb up the steep spiral staircases was well worth the effort.  When we finally reached the top of the tower, we were rewarded with the sight on the screen of a peregrine chick moving about in the nest box. The other chicks had either gone walkabout on the parapet or had fledged.   Outside were magnificent views of the city and surrounding countryside, and we were treated  to a fly past by a parent peregrine and a flight display by swifts.     Penny Theobald
Botanical excursions in June have ranged from Somerset to Hampshire and West Sussex, as well as to various parts of our own county. Early in the month there was a trip led by the county plant recorder for North Somerset, to Priddy Mineries near Wells, the site of former lead mining and smelting with very diverse habitats from very dry to very wet and from acid to calcareous. The flora of the site proved equally diverse.  Heaps of lead-mine spoil were sparsely vegetated with Sea Campion (Silene uniflora), Thyme (Thymus polytrichus), Spring Sandwort (Minuartia verna). Some plants seen are found mainly on soils naturally or artificially contaminated with lead or zinc. Some areas of wet habitat were dominated by the very large tussocks of Greater Tussock-sedge (Carex paniculata), distinctive even to those who find sedges difficult. Our leader described one such mire as ‘The Valley of the Gonks’. Our lunch spot was among the remains of old buildings, furnaces and flues with a wonderful collection of ferns including the delicate Brittle Bladder-fern (Cystopteris fragilis), a plant of limestone habitats sometimes found where there is limestone mortar. Rustyback (Asplenium ceterach), Maidenhair Spleenwort (A. trichomanes), Wall-rue (A.ruta-muraria), Black Spleenwort (A. adiantum-nigrum), Hart’s-tongue (A. scolopendrium) and Polypody (Polypodium sp) were also present.
Returning to more familiar territory, I helped PW lead a wildflower walk in the north of Bentley Wood for the Friends of Bentley Wood, a group with many members in common with SDNHS. We covered much of the same ground that we walked on during our society visit, but being later in the season many of the typical woodland flowers had finished flowering. We found the Herb-paris (Paris quadrifolia) seen on our society visit, but it was a shadow of its former self, with most leaves yellowing as its black berries ripened.
Further afield again, I ventured into an area new to me in West Sussex with the Wiltshire Botanical Society on a residential trip. Highlights included Kingley Vale National Nature Reserve, well-known for its magnificent ancient yews, although Great Yews woodland in Wiltshire also has some splendid specimens and is much closer to home! A visit to Pagham Harbour followed.  Here the rare vegetated shingle habitat supported Sea-kale (Crambe maritima) and Yellow-horned Poppy (Glaucium flavum). A sandy area behind where we parked yielded a strange mix of plants, including the non-native Greater Quaking-grass (Briza maxima), Hare’s-tail (Lagurus ovatus) and Tree Lupin (Lupinus arboreus), all well-naturalised. I have had the attractive Hare’s-tail grass come up in the garden from wild bird seed. There was also the largest population of the Adder’s-tongue fern (Ophioglossum vulgatum) that I have ever seen. In the days of sympathetic magic, the latter was apparently used a cure for snake bite.
A recent visit to Martin Down yielded lots of Dwarf Sedge (Carex humilis) along Bokerley Dyke. This sedge is very distinctive once you know it, with its yellow-green wiry tufts. Field Fleawort (Tephroseris integrifolia) that I discussed in last month’s Bulletin was going over, but still recognisable and Bastard Toadflax (Thesium humifusum) was locally abundant in the short turf of the dyke. Fragrant (Gymnadenia conopsea) and Common Spotted Orchids were in full bloom. The damp neutral grassland meadows of Wiltshire Wildlfie Trust’s reserve at Clattinger Farm, in the north of the county, are providing a wonderful show at the moment.  There is a sea of Common Spotted Orchid, Meadow Thistle (Cirsium dissectum), Ox-eye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) and Great Burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis) amongst many other plants. Most of us will be familiar with the Burnet’s smaller cousin, the Salad Burnet (Poterium sanguisorba), in chalk grassland. I was there for a field workshop on grasses, sedges and rushes, but it was hard not to be distracted!
Finally, this month I was asked by PT and SW to identify a Broomrape (Orobanche), growing on the riverbank in Salisbury and apparently on ivy. Unfortunately, by the time I saw it, it was well past its best and there were some sow thistles nearby that could have been the host. There is an Ivy Broomrape (O. hederae), but this has not been found in the county for many years, so I would need to be certain of the identification to put it down as this; the broomrapes can be very variable and will sometimes need very detailed examination and measurements. The jury is still out on this and we will have to hope for another flower spike in good condition. I will always do my best to sort out queries and encourage members to send them, but cannot offer any guarantees!
                                                                                                                                          Anne Appleyard
As there was no report for May I will start with some first butterfly sightings from GM for that month.  These were the Grizzled Skipper, Green Hairstreak and Pearl-bordered Fritillary all in Grovely Wood on the 9th May, the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary at Ansty on the 11th May, the Small Blue at Fovant Down on the 15th May, the Painted Lady and Small Heath both at Sutton Down on the 21st May and the Adonis Blue on Buxberry Hill on the 23rd May.  JN recorded Small Heath, Marsh Fritillary, Common Blue, Small Blue Grizzled Skipper, Dingy Skipper, Brimstone Orange Tip and Green-veined White butterflies during a walk at Martin Down on the 21st May.  At the end of May JN saw more than 50 male Adonis Blues during a visit to Figsbury Ring but no females.   Back to the start of the month, on the 1st May I found a “nest” of Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars on nettles near the Hunt Kennels in Wilton which seems to me to be a rather early record.  Moving on to June, GM’s first sightings of the year were of the Dark Green Fritillary and Marbled White at Grovely Wood on the 16th June, the Silver-studded Blue at Landford Bog on the 21st June, and at Grovely Wood the Small Skipper on the 23rd June, the White Admiral on the 27th June and the Silver-washed Fritillary on the 29th June.  JN saw a Speckled Wood in Bentley Wood on the 14th June.  I saw my first Meadow Brown of the year in my Wilton garden on the 21st June and on the 30th June a Large Skipper flew into our kitchen from the garden.  This was a new species for the garden and brings our garden butterfly list up to twenty species.  PT saw a single Painted Lady in her Laverstock garden in mid-June and at about the same time AA saw one in Porton.
ER saw a female Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly in her Wilton garden on the 2nd May but I had to wait until the 9th May to see one in our garden which is next door to hers.  ER then saw a mating pair in flight in her garden on the 28th May.  AA saw four Downy Emerald Dragonflies patrolling the pond in the Draining Field at Bentley Wood on the 30th May and one by the lake in Nightwood on the 7th June.  This year, until mid-June, I had hardly run my garden moth trap as the nights seemed cold.  Speaking to other moth-trappers I learnt that, so far, 2015 has been a poor year for moths.   Certainly during the second half of June the average nightly catch in my moth trap was about half that for the same period last year and the number of species per night was reduced by about one third.  So it was with some trepidation that on the 19th June I set up two moth traps in SG’s garden at Idmiston for the Society’s Mothing Morning the following day.  I needn’t have worried as a total of fifty-six species were recorded from the traps.  The Privet, Poplar, Eyed and Small Elephant Hawk-moths drew a lot of attention and especially when they opened their wings to show off their warning coloration.  Even the smaller moths with their amazing variety of colours, shapes and strange Victorian names were much appreciated.  Once more, thanks are due to Sue for her hospitality and to her sister and my wife for helping with the refreshments.  
Remaining with the moths, GB reported seeing a Scarlet Tiger Moth in her garden in Salisbury on the 20th June.  This colourful moth, which flies by both night and day, is a local speciality and AA recorded a bumper crop of them in her Porton garden the following week.  The same week AA saw a Humming-bird Hawk-moth in her garden and previously PT had seen one in her Laverstock garden in mid-June.  AA remarks that Mullein moth caterpillars are eating a Verbascum plant in her garden.  A couple of years ago I planted Verbascum in our garden in the hope of attracting the Mullein moth caterpillars and this year I have five caterpillars happily munching the flowers.  It is amazing how a large white, yellow and black caterpillar blends in so well with the flowering spikes.  Perhaps I should try planting some comfrey to attract the Scarlet Tigers.  
Overnight on the 17th June I found a single specimen of the Lesser Stag beetle (Dorcus parallelopipedus) in my garden.  The Lesser Stag is about a third of the size of the well-known Stag beetle (Lucanus cervus)  and its males lack the extraordinary “horns” of the male  Stag beetle.  The male and female Lesser Stag are more or less identical and are very similar in shape, if not size, to the female Stag beetle.  This closeness of appearance can lead to confusion between the species and especially as under-sized specimens of the Stag beetle can be found.  Whereas the Lesser Stag is widespread in South Wiltshire there is only a handful of accepted records of the Stag beetle from our area.  The adults of both species are found at this time of the year.                                                                                                                                                                                                                    John Muggleton

I spent the first couple of days of June in the Somerset Levels with the intention of photographing dragonflies. It was a trip booked back in January, and the weather during my stay would not have been out of place in that month, so dragonflies were out of the question. I did, however, see some birds, including Bittern, Garganey, Bullfinch, Blackcap, Whitethroat and Marsh Harrier.
Upon my return, I went to Swineham Gravel Pits, near Wareham, to see a White-winged Black Tern.  This vagrant from Eastern Europe was an adult bird, stunningly beautiful in black and white, and it showed well. Afterwards, I walked in the Wareham Forest where I saw Tree Pipit, Yellowhammer and Dartford Warbler.
My feeders in the garden have been busy recently after many months when garden birds were scarce. Mainly House Sparrows, but also Robin, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Great and Blue Tits. It is difficult to be sure how many of each species are seen in our gardens; a Blue Tit, for example, appearing regularly, may not be the same bird. Each bird travels a fair distance each day and takes advantage of a variety of food opportunities, so the bird on the feeders may be several different individuals.
A Hudsonian Whimbrel was discovered at Pagham Harbour early in the month, so I went to see it. It is the Canadian equivalent of our Whimbrel and differs by having a dark back, longer bill, warmer plumage tones and a bolder head pattern. It showed well, fortunately, with three Whimbrel for comparison. It is amazing that such a rare bird, only about the ninth record for the country, should be found only weeks after the Hudsonian Godwit at Meare Heath on the Somerset Levels. The Godwit was the third record for Britain and also originated in North America.
Mid-month, I spent some time on Salisbury Plain. The intention was to record Quail and I managed to hear one singing (they spend their time in long grass and are almost impossible to see!). I also saw Red Kite, Yellowhammer, Corn Bunting, Whinchat and Tree Pipit.
A day in the sunshine at a well-known New Forest raptor viewpoint produced sightings of Woodlark, Hobby, Goshawk, Peregrine and, eventually, Honey Buzzard.
The raptor theme continued today with a day spent in the grounds of Salisbury Cathedral with the RSPB showing members of the public the Peregrines which have, for the second year running, nested on the building. Four eggs were laid and all hatched. Hopefully all have fledged, although only three youngsters have been seen together at any one time, so we cannot be sure. It is amazing what can be seen if you look upwards  for much of the day; we also saw a Buzzard, a Sparrowhawk and two Red Kites. Let`s hope the Peregrines continue to thrive.                                                                                                                                                                                               John Pitman
Two hedgehogs often appear in our garden before dark on these long light evenings.  Even when I don't see them, I can hear them on calm evenings scuffling about in the thick vegetation, and  the leaves move as they pass by.  The snuffling of their courtship ritual can be heard too.  The female is usually the noisy one while the male circles her, and she may give him a butt every now and again.  I read about some research into hedgehog behaviour, and it said that only a very small percentage of courtship rituals actually lead to mating.  I can only hope that the ones in our garden have a successful outcome eventually.   AA  has also seen two hedgehogs in her Porton garden, but RN told me that she had seen two dead hedgehogs on Clarendon Road in Alderbury, so we do need some replacements.
I haven't  seen many bats this year so far – I think it has been too cool and windy a lot of the time - so do let me know if you see any.  Look out for them in town as well as the countryside  There is an electricity post in the field behind our house in Laverstock where noctule bats regularly roost in the summer.  There are at least four holes in the post, originally made by a great spotted woodpecker.  Now a green woodpecker spends the night in one of the lower holes, and a noctule comes out of the top hole at dusk.      
After the hay fields have been mown, any new molehills show up well, but it is always a bit distressing when the field is cut and the raptors and gulls gather to catch any small creatures trying to get away.
While I was walking along the Avon near the coach park with SW, she spotted a large water vole, and we both had a good view of it before it disappeared.  She told me that when she returned from a few days away from her Laverstock home near the Bourne, she found a dead shrew in a bucket.  It had a black back and white underside – a water shrew!
On our Society's field outing to Winterbourne Down, SG spotted a hare which ran off, but some of us were able to see its dark tipped ears above the flowery meadow before it disappeared completely.  A dead leveret was also found nearby.
Adder specialist Jon Austen has recently seen a smooth snake in the New Forest where none had  been seen for ten years.  He was able to identify this positively from the photo he took ( a smooth snake can be confused with an adder).  I have not seen any reptiles in June and am hoping we will see some on the Society's trip to Winfrith Heath.
AA saw two grass snakes from a hide at Blashford Lakes -  one was very near the hide and the other nearer the water. One looked as if it was about to slough its skin, as its eyes looked cloudy and its skin lacked  the clear markings of the other one. These are our longest native snakes. The other two types are the adder and the smooth snake, which are about the same length, but the adder has a wider head.  The slow-worm is a legless lizard.
ML phoned to say that although she did not see any frog-spawn in her garden pond in Ridgeway Road, she did see some tadpoles, and was delighted when recently she saw lots of tiny frogs.                                                                                                                                                                                                     Penny Theobald
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