Michael Walter's latest update:

It is shaping up to be a slightly odd heath fritillary season.  Last year our “rare” butterfly was really abundant at a host of sites right across the reserve;  this season, by contrast, it looks as though there may only be two hot spots.  Most striking has been the crash at last year’s biggest colony, quite close to the car park, where my peak count was 302.  Numbers across the reserve are still building up, but so far my best count at this fairly small patch is just two!  Such a dramatic decline is hardly to be wondered at, given the virtual disappearance of the caterpillars’ food plant, cow-wheat.  Until this year the plot has been covered with great carpets of this yellow flower, but so far I’ve only located one small patch of cow-wheat, and that was in heavy shade that is shunned by these fussy insects.  So, with nothing to sink their teeth into, the tiny caterpillars that overwintered in the leaf litter will have starved.  With such a large population of adults in 2021, huge numbers of eggs will have been laid, leading to enormous armies of caterpillars, which would certainly have made inroads to the foodstock, but they still wouldn’t have grazed it out of existence.  It is just unfortunate that I didn’t check the area earlier in the spring to see how the caterpillars were faring.


Another sad decline this year is that of the spotted flycatcher.  Always the last of our regular migrants to arrive in mid-May, its rather feeble, tuneless “song” makes it quite hard to pick out amongst the assorted chirpings of young blue tits and robins that are already out of their nests.  In the good old days of the early 1990s I was able to track down up to 18 males on my monitored plot, but at the turn of the century numbers crashed, with just two or three territories pinpointed some years, and with no real sign of a resurgence twenty years later.  There are a few elsewhere on the reserve, including one on the access track to the car park, but this is the first time I’ve failed to find a single one on my monitored area.


One morning in late May, puddles on the track close to a Scots pine were delicately rimmed with primrose.  This was pollen stripped from the pine’s catkins in heavy overnight rain, and was a reminder of how profligate wind-fertilised plants are with their pollen, although if you are a hay fever sufferer you won’t really need reminding.


I haven’t done the calculation, but many of the species on the reserve plant list are not true woodland plants but aliens of one sort or another, bearing testimony to the fact that, despite its size, nowhere in the wood is that far from houses and, more to the point, gardens.  This was brought home to me very recently when, following a regular route to monitor breeding birds, I came across three species I hadn’t noticed before.  First there was the Welsh poppy growing on soil brought into the wood three years ago;  then there was the small Norway spruce, evidently a Christmas cast-off;  and close by was a cotoneaster, that may have grown from a seed in a bird’s dropping.


Following the success of last year’s strawberry cream tea, the RSPB Canterbury Local Group is hosting another one on Saturday 9th July from 3 to 5pm.  It will be held in the group leader’s lovely big garden in Canterbury, and costs just £7.  There will also be a raffle, plus cake and plant stalls. If you would like to book a place, please email michaelwalter434@gmail.com or phone 01227 462491, so that I can send you details of where it is and how to pay in advance.


Michael Walter