We had a rare day out more or less just looking at a site, in this case Swanwick Lakes. It is very useful; to get out and just take a good look from time to time at different times of the year. This gets over much more of the feel of a site than just visiting when we are doing tasks. Swanwick is a very varied reserve, although much of it is a “Brownfield” site, which is to say an abandoned industrial site, in this case old clay pits, it has old woodland and the restored area includes grassland and wetlands.
Incidentally we were doing some tree identification with the Sparsholt placement students. Starting out near the Centre whilst trees were being identified I rolled a few logs and found a great grey slug, a species that tells of the ancient woodland heritage of part of Swanwick Lakes. It is a very big slug, this one was still only half-grown and as the name suggests largely grey with a paler keel along the hind part of the “tail”.
It is somewhat like a few very poorly marked individuals of the much commoner leopard slug, but if you look at the underside, the sole is very distinctive with black sides and a pale centre.
We also saw my first damselfly of the year, unsurprisingly a large red damselfly. Generally though insects are still rather few in number, we did see a few butterflies including peacock, brimstone and orange tip and around a large sallow in bloom a few of the metallic green micro moth Adela cuprella. There are lots of blooms on the trees now but even these seem to be attracting only a few drone-flies. The wild cherry trees are all looking very fine.
Most of the reserve does not have trees of any great age, but there are clues to a much older heritage all about, the slug was one and the various old hedge and wood banks are another. Near the north-east meadow a bank of some age runs through the trees, the trees on the bank show signs of having been coppiced and other plants on the bank include a large clump of butcher’s broom and patches of dog’s mercury.
The old habitat features do not hold all the wildlife interest though, the spoil heaps left from the clay digging and the steep eroding slopes by some of the pits provide valuable bare ground habitat for lost of invertebrates and especially solitary bees and their parasites such as the bee-flies. Where these banks face to the south they can get really warm and so be home to species that only just make it into southern England from the continent. Maintaining these hot south-facing banks unshaded is one of the tasks that will need regular input over the next few years.
As we ate lunch at the Centre we saw 2 sparrowhawk and at least 2 buzzard circling in the clear blue sky. A marsh tit also flew back and forth over our heads several times calling loudly.