A Moth yet to be described

Privet hawk moth - my garden June 2009

Hernhill is a great place for wildlife!  An impressive range of birds, insects, mammals and reptiles can be found thanks to the quality of two main types of habitat that surround the village.  The first of these, Blean Woods SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), close to the Eastern edge of the village, is a large area of ancient woodland that is home to nightingales, nightjars and heath fritillary butterflies; all rare and rather special.  The other habitat, the orchards, are especially valuable because of the quality of their hedgerows which are particularly varied in terms of maturity and species, such as plum, Italian alder and a range of poplars.  Here are some of the things you can see throughout the year…
One of the most obvious and impressive aspects of spring is the dawn chorus, and in the village the choir includes song thrush, blackbird, dunnock, wren, greenfinch and starling.  The most prominent of these, the song thrush, has a loud, clear repetitive song that can be heard throughout the day and no two birds sound the same.  If you wander round the orchards you might come across species you are less familiar with.  Spotted flycatcher, something of a rarity these days, is a small brown bird that makes darting forays for flying insects from a favoured perch (thus the name) and can sometimes be seen near the Church Hill entrance to Mt Ephraim.  Lesser whitethroat, small, grey and skulking, is usually located by it’s song; a soft, quiet warble followed by a loud chortle.  Both these species are African migrants, along with the house martins that are often seen flying over the houses.  These smart black and white birds are a cause of concern to conservationists due to a recent decline in numbers.
Lesser-spotted woodpecker

Lesser-spotted woodpecker


If you wander into the wood you may be lucky to spot a lesser-spotted woodpecker.  They look a bit like the black and white woodpecker we see in our gardens (the greater spotted woodpecker), but much smaller and much rarer.  If you follow the path from the top of the hill along Crockham Road into the wood, listen out for their loud, repeated call or look for the nest hole part way up a tree trunk. 
The spring event I look forward to  most in the village is the emergence of Stag Beetles.  The larvae live in old rotting wood and, because the countryside is much tidier these days, stag beetles are less common.  They can still be present in large numbers in Hernhill however and, because they are Britain’s largest insect, this is an impressive sight!  The males have huge jaws; so large in fact that they are only any good for fighting with other males, much like deer going antler-to-antler.  Females have smaller, functional jaws that can give a nasty nip.  T’was ever thus.
Migrant Hawker

Migrant Hawker

As the breeding season for birds slows down, other elements come to the fore.  Butterflies and dragonflies provide most of the natural history interest in the summer months.  Other than Heath Fritillaries, which are very rare and you need to journey deep in the wood to see, butterflies are nothing special around Hernhill.  Dragonflies are more visible.  Most prominent is the Migrant Hawker.  This long, thin, blue dragonfly is often present in large numbers, hawking up and down the lanes in search of smaller insects.  They are the main food of a rather dashing falcon called the Hobby.  These migrants from Africa are amongst the most agile of all birds of prey and catch and eat dragonflies, swifts and swallows on the wing.
The orchards are great for birds in winter.  Thousands of fieldfares, redwings, brambling, chaffinch and siskin feed on fallen fruit underneath the orchard trees and seeds in the hedgerows.  Most of these birds have come from further North.  Fieldfares and redwings in particular are the Scandinavian version of our blackbirds and song thrushes.  Large flocks of thrushes flying among the orchards in winter will be these birds, and I see more around Hernhill than any where else in Kent.
If you look up at almost any time of day in winter you will see a constant passage of Black-headed gulls, especially towards dusk.  They are commuting between feeding sites inland, perhaps a rubbish dump or field full of worms, and their roost site on the Swale Estuary.  They will spend the night bobbing up and down on the water in the dark.
Other nearby sites
One of the good things about Hernhill is that it is ideally situated for visiting other wildlife sites in Kent.  I would recommend the following…
Stodmarsh – reedbed and grazing marsh with hobbies, bitterns, frogs and dragonflies.  A small group of Konik ponies is used to maintain the habitat in good condition.  Also a nice pub with an eccentric landlord, The Red Lion, nearby.
Blean Woods – ancient woodland with nightjars, nightingale and Heath Fritillary butterflies.  There is an RSPB car park in Rough Common.
Denge Wood – between Canterbury and Faversham, this is one of the few places to find the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary butterfly and has an impressive display of Lady Orchids in May.
Lydden Down – in July and August, in a good year, as impressive a wildlife spectacle as you will find in the UK.  Downland butterflies, such as Adonis Blue and Silver-spotted Skipper can look like confetti.  On a clear day you can see France from here.
Oare Marshes – lots of water birds at most times of year, but particularly in winter.  Seals can be seen on the sandbars.  Can be combined with a trip to the Shipwrights Arms or, if you’re feeling flush, The Three Mariners.

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