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What have you seen?

December 4, 2007 2007 Autumn No Comments

From Tom Snow, Secretary

We would like to better record the flora and fauna of the Copse and who better to ask than you our loyal friends. Surveys are carried out from time to time but it would be great to record what is seen on a daily basis.

In the summer, I took a late evening walk with my wife and dogs and was delighted to encounter a fox in the Copse and two grey partridge in the larger field. On another occasion it was nice to see a slow worm and I know a number of you have seen deer – unfortunately I haven’t! More recently at the pond we have delighted in the moorhens (who raised at least a couple of broods), many mallards and the often to be seen grey wagtail. But what else have you seen? If you would like to help us get a better idea of what is in the Copse please let us have a record of your sightings (date, time, what you saw and your name). You can either e-mail it to me (tomgsnow@btinternet.com) or post a note through my door (Walnut House, 6A Brandy Hole Lane) or that of our education officer Judi Darley ( 2 Bristol Gardens).

We may even try to put sightings (and representative pictures) on the notice boards from time to time to help and encourage other visitors.

Happy hunting!

Quacking and quaking

April 3, 2007 2007 Spring No Comments

Judi Darley wonders whether the mallards will stay and raise a family this year

Everyone loves seeing the ducks on the ponds and two or three have been seen back on Brandy Hole Pond for some weeks now. There is great interest in them and a hope that ducklings will appear again in the spring.

The task group have worked on the southern bank of the pond to ensure that dogs and people can’t get along there very easily so that the ducks can have a chance to nest and breed. Last year a large clutch of ducklings appeared only to disappear within a few days and we didn’t hear what happened to them. Did you see anything that might explain their disappearance?

Did you know that mallards start to pair up in October and November and start to nest in March? The female looks for a site that is well covered in vegetation and builds the nest with leaves and grasses and lines it with down plucked from her breast. Eggs are laid between mid-March and July and a normal clutch is about 12 eggs, laid at one- to two-day intervals.

During the laying period the male has an important role protecting the female and their feeding areas but once the clutch is laid he gradually loses interest and joins up with other males. After breeding the ducks moult and lose all their flight feathers; this phenomenon is called the “eclipse”. The males also lose all their bright body feathers during this time which is why, in mid-summer, it seems that all the drakes have gone. The full colours are regained by October.

Mallards are dabbling ducks and get much of their food from close to the water’s surface. Adults often upend to reach morsels further down but rarely dive for their food, however youngsters of 4-7 weeks can be seen regularly diving for their food. Ducklings rely mainly on invertebrates to start with but eat more plant matter as they grow. Mallards are tolerant of people and are very adaptable which is why they can quickly learn to use food sources provided by people.

Feeding ducks is popular but can cause problems particularly on ponds that aren’t flushed by rivers. A regular supply of extra food can lead to supporting artificially high numbers of ducks and encourage large numbers of unattached males to stay. This can lead to the unattached males forcibly mating with the incubating females which are already weak from egg production and putting their lives at risk.

An increase in the duck population will mean a build-up of droppings in the pond which will favour the growth of algae, leading to a loss of oxygen and aquatic plants and the risk of botulism, a fatal form of food poisoning for them. In addition, extra food that is left by the pond and is not eaten by the ducks can be taken by rats and can inadvertently support and increase the rat population nearby.

Mallards and their nests are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. It is good to know that there is a lot of local interest in the welfare of the ducks that come to live on Brandy Hole Pond. Let’s hope that this season the newly resident pair will be able to nest successfully and see a clutch of new ducklings survive to maturity.

Information adapted from www.rspb.org.uk

The year in the copse, following the 2006 AGM on May 4

April 3, 2007 2007 Spring No Comments

May: Donated hedging planted along bridge abutment (wire fence removed). Volunteer from Workability joined Wednesday work group. Both BHCCG site notice boards remade waterproof . Site walk for Havant Wildlife Trust. Leaflet box post which had been thrown into Brandy Hole Pond replaced with a more substantial metal post.

June: Tagging of all mature trees in the Copse in progress. Location map of all mature trees prepared for survey work . Site walk with Emma Livett, CDC Environment Officer. Request for leasing triangular field to BHCCG via CDC . “You are here” label added to information boards, which unfortunately were deteriorating. Beetle trapping event by Chichester Natural History Society.

July: Site visit by Chichester in Bloom judges. BHCCG talk at St. Wilfrid’s Hall for Chichester Festivities. Guided walk with Society for Chichester Festivities. Vandalised stile E12 repaired. Small seat installed in glade area. Pond dipping platform installed at Cops Pond. Ten ducklings disappeared from Brandy Hole Pond after two days.

August: Butterfly Conservation Society visit to LNR. Moth and bat evening event, Chichester Natural History Societ . CDC replaced damaged Centurion Way dog waste bin. Damaged Brandy Hole Pond platform repaired. Water level in ponds lowest ever. Damaged glade seat remade more substantially. Rotary Club talk.

September: Entrance E7closed off (to be replaced by a hedge). Entrance E8 repaired. Strimming along Brandy Hole Pond bank by CDC. Volunteers joined from Breakdown Support Employment Services and Workability Agency

November: Vandalised traffic sign at access E3 replaced. Pedestrian entrance E10 rebuilt as a stile. Damaged litter bin replaced by CDC at Brandy Hole Pond. Repairs to E1 access stile. Invasive weed and debris removed from ponds.

December: Installation of seven bird boxes produced by the Wrenford Centre. Damaged info panel at Willow Pond replaced by spare panel. Buckthorn alder whips planted with Chichester Natural History Society. Need for roadside hedging replacements assessed with Crumblies. CDC urged to replace stolen Brandy Hole Lane road sign.

January 2007: Work on providing additional footpath on eastern part on Brandy Hole Lane cancelled indefinitely by WSCC. E7 access permanently closed with banked soil and hedging planted.

February: Ducks’ nesting area at Brandy Hole Pond protected. Dangerous hides removed. Brandy Hole hedging replaced as required by Crumblies. Stakes cut for Chichester Tree Wardens project. Patches of invasive brambles strimmed. Woodcrete nesting boxes secured to numbered trees.

View to Willow Pond

This view southwards through the Copse to Willow Pond was created by the Crumblies when they opened up one of several glades – which are providing valuable new habitat for insects and plants.

Listen to the evening songs

October 2, 2006 2006 Autumn No Comments

One of the pleasant things to do at this time of the year is to walk in the copse on a warm sunny evening to listen to the sounds around you. The bird calls are delightful.

We have been intrigued by the disappearing ducks. A while back a dozen or so ducklings appeared overnight on Willow Pond, stayed for one or two nights, then walked to Brandy Hole Pond, only to disappear completely the next day. Where did they go to? Perhaps they knew that the pond would dry up. The water level in all our ponds is determined by the water table, which is now at the lowest we have ever seen it. We will shortly need to remove most of the fish from Brandy Hole Pond by netting.

Unfortunately we still suffer from occasional vandalism. The dog bin on the Centurion Way crossing was broken off and had to be replaced. The platform at Brandy Hole Pond was badly damaged and had to be repaired, and the nearby leaflet box post which was pulled up and thrown into the pond has been replaced with a metal post.

The three entrances at the parking area need some attention. The northerly one has collapsed and we have taken the opportunity to close it off and continue the hedge along the roadside, which is kept in such good condition by the “Crumblies”.

The Wednesday working group have been active throughout the year on pond and woodland maintenance. A dipping platform has been built at Cops Pond, following our very successful pond dipping event. Repair and maintenance of paths steps and entrances will continue, and management of the glades to encourage butterflies.

In response to demand we intend to add more discreetly placed seats for the benefit of visitors as we have done in the glade area.

The CDC has been asked to install “cycle path” signs each end of the path linking Centurion Way with the Lane.

We understand that at long last the WSCC has finally conceded to our request for a safe pedestrian access to the Copse from Summersdale and proposes to start work to complete the footpath along Brandy Hole Lane in October. Unfortunately we have not been able to persuade WSCC that a 30mph speed limit is necessary along the parking area. So care is still needed when visiting the Copse and alighting from cars.

Jim Ayling, Task Leader

Goldcrest to heron – the Copse is home to 35 species of birds

The birds are perhaps the most obvious natural inhabitants of Brandy Hole – apart from the trees, of course. So far 35 different bird species have been identified in the Copse, and any walk there will bring you into contact with some of them. The most easily recognised are familiar garden birds – blackbird, dunnock, robin and wren.

Song thrushes and mistle thrushes are seen regularly. Blue tits, great tits and long-tailed tits can be heard calling amongst the trees. The rarer willow tit can sometimes be seen in the Copse along Brandy Hole Lane and has nested there. The tiny goldcrest may mix with the tits, and can be seen occasionally where there are pine trees.

The noisiest birds in the Copse must be the rooks, in early spring, and the woodpeckers. Great spotted woodpeckers and green woodpeckers, easily recognised by their “yaffle” call, are common. The sparrow-sized lesser spotted woodpecker is much rarer and has not been recorded from the Copse. However, it may be worth looking for it in the tree-tops early in the year before the trees are in leaf. Of the corvids, rooks, crows, jays and magpies are regulars.

Greenfinches and chaffinches are common, but the goldfinch favours the edges of the Copse were its main food, small seeds, can be found. The soft, sibilant whistle of the bullfinch can be heard very occasionally in the trees around Willow Pond. See the striking male bullfinch with his black head, white rump, grey back and rose-red breast, and the much drabber female is sure to be nearby.

Sit quietly on the seat behind the oak at Willow Pond for a while, and you may be lucky enough to see a tree creeper. A quiet little bird, it has a brown back, white underside, and a distinctive downward-curved beak. It runs up the trunk of a tree, probing in the bark for the tiny insects and spiders on which it feeds. The much brighter, brasher nuthatch is also present.

Raptors seen in or around the Copse include sparrowhawks which can often hunt smaller birds over Willow and Cops Ponds. Kestrels, easily identified by their ability to hover on the wind, hunt for small mammals in the fields around, and buzzards, which scavenge for food, occur increasingly in the Triangle. Although Chichester’s most famous avian inhabitants, the Cathedral peregrines, may occasionally be seen from the Copse, they do not hunt there.

Finally, the ponds are used by many birds for drinking, but true water-birds are limited to mallards and the occasional moorhen on Cops Pond. However, if you visit Willow Pond very early in the morning you may be lucky enough to see a heron. Just as they take fish from garden ponds so they will take fish and frogs from Willow Pond – especially when the water level is low.

Occasionally also, a grey wagtail will be seen on the mud surrounding the ponds. It has the distinctive tail-flicking habit of the wagtails and is identified by its grey back and yellow underside.

Mike Perry

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