The morning was cool and peaceful as I was looking out over our valley on today’s Easter sunrise. The strangeness of life in recent weeks has pervaded every part of human life, yet in some curious ways, it seems to have passed by the natural world: Nature has continued on her merry little way.
Our cultivated Spring flowers and flowering shrubs brighten our yards and gardens. The field outside my door is dotted with wild flowers – dandelions and daisies, with cow parsley and lady’s smock popping up along the margin. This year, these wild flowers won’t meet an untimely demise under the the local council’s mowing machines, as that service is one of many that has been suspended for the time being. Grass-cutting will for now only take place for safety reasons, near road junctions.
In the UK, we are now at that point in the year where the early Spring dawn is host to that incredible natural phenomenon, the dawn chorus. This morning, I was enjoying the glorious birdsong music of our neighbourhood bird choristers at 5.30am. If you are not naturally an early riser, it can still be a treat to the ears to listen in on your local feathered choir at some point between mid-April and late May. Whilst dedicated enthusiasts will not be able to join in public woodland events to experience the dawn chorus this year, even in urban areas you can tune in to your local dawn chorus simply by opening your bedroom window or standing at your back door. It is such an amazing sound. I am working on finding a way to share this with you.
For many of us, being able to connect with the natural world on our doorsteps is a huge relief, particularly this year with the very necessary coronavirus lockdowns. Nature really is a natural tonic for our mental health.
I hope you too are able to spend some peaceful moments with Nature. Stay safe in these strange times.
Last weekend was the RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch weekend. About half a million of us spend one hour recording the highest number of each species we see in our gardens. This annual survey is now in its 41st year and provides a citizen science snapshot of the range of species and the levels of populations of the birds visiting our gardens across the UK.
Our Big Garden Bird Watch results were a little on the minimalist side this year. House Sparrow 4; Starling 2; Jackdaw 2.
I was pleased to see House Sparrow topping the BGBW charts as I was submitting my results online afterwards. It was good to see our starlings during our hour’s observation too.
As someone who has been a keen birdwatcher since I was a child, I have to keep reminding myself that both of these species, the house sparrow and the starling, are red-listed these days. That means they are Birds of Conservation Concern here in the UK, where the species population has reduced by 50% in the last 25 years.
‘Our’ house sparrows nest in the roof and we were delighted to see them raise two broods of youngsters during last spring and summer. The starlings nest in a nearby roof but always drop by on winter days to feed in our backyard.
So whilst I didn’t record many birds, of the ones I did see, two species are much rarer than we’d like. Our homes and gardens really do play a significant role in providing nesting sites and food sources for birds and many other creatures.
I’ve spent the morning browsing seed catalogues and seed merchants websites, dreaming again of sunny days and Summer flowers … To be fair, our weather hasn’t been too wintry so far this Winter, though the wind has been rather wild this weekend.
As I’m browsing, I am also thinking about my New Year’s Resolution … to do whatever I can for our beleaguered planet. In choosing the flowers I will grow for Summer 2020, I intend to consciously choose varieties that actively support garden wildlife. I’m looking at nectar-rich blooms to feed our VIPs (Very Important Pollinators) – bees and hoverflies, butterflies and moths. But I am also looking ahead to the end-of-season seedheads that will enrich the diet of birds visiting the garden for food as the Autumn and Winter draw on.
Usually in the vegetable patch I am looking to keep most animals out – especially rabbits.But one animal I would love to encourage into the garden is one of my very favourite creatures, the hedgehog. And I know I am not the only one. Here in the UK there are now a whole lot of hedgehog supporters … over 620,000 of us on Hugh Warwick’s petition to Help save Britain’s hedgehogs with ‘hedgehog highways’!
Hedgehog highways are a very simple idea, but hugely important for hedgehogs. One of the main reasons that hedgehogs have become so scarce in the UK is because we keep fencing off more and more bits of the landscape into smaller and smaller pieces.
The ‘hedgehog highways’ petition has been seeking to bring housing developers onboard to make sure that new housing is hedgehog-friendly. Of course, it is not only new housing that needs to be hedgehog-connected. The more of our gardens that are connected, the better for hedgehogs. Our hedgehogs only need a 13 cm hole in the bottom of a fence or garden wall that allows hedgehogs to move freely between gardens so they can find food or find a mate. (That’s about the size of a CD … if you remember those 😉 )
If you’d like to join the growing band of hedgehog supporters, doing your little bit for hedgehogs, you might like to take a stroll down Hedgehog Street to find more about Britain’s favourite animal. There’s an interactive map too, where you can log sightings of hedgehogs (now also available as a phone app, which is very handy).
Whether it’s bees, butterflies, birds, hedgehogs, or any of the other creatures with which we share our gardens, I’ll be looking to incorporate ideas on gardening for wildlife and there are plenty of ways of “Giving Nature a Home” over on the RSPB’s website too.
Last Monday I posed a little plant quiz here on Oak Trees Studio … the plants were mainly flowering woodland plants that had not yet quite flowered. A few of my keen-eyed readers have had some fun puzzling over the photos and trying to work out “What I’m going to be when I grow up”. Everyone correctly identified some of them and came close on others. Here are the plants in their more usual flowering glory, complete with their names.
Mystery wildflower No.1
This one was definitely going to be a member of the thistle family, but which one?
Marsh ThistleCirsium palustra
We see lots of these tall and rather slender thistles growing in our damp woodlands.
Mystery wildflower No.2
The best clue I could find was its muddy habitat – this one likes its feet wet. I love its Latin name! I always think it should be a Roald Dahl character.
Here’s a closer shot of those beautiful blue – but rather shy – flowers …
We find lots of Brooklime growing on one of our favourite woodland paths – we call it “the muddy path”!
Mystery flower No.3
This strong-growing umbellifer with its large hairy leaves grows ubiquitously in our area, along roadsides and woodland rides. Perhaps it is not quite so common in other parts of the country, though it evidently reminded some people of other members of the umbellifer family.
Mystery flower No.4
This delicate woodland flower is almost bursting into flower in our woodlands now. It is a plant with two common names – it probably depends where you live as to which name you know it by. One quiz entrant named it as Wood Avens and that’s its main name in my wildflower ID book so there we are. It’s delicate bright yellow 5-petalled flowers don’t last long and soon turn into hooked reddish seedheads.
Wood Avens (or as I know it, Herb Bennet) Geum urbanum
[and would you believe it! I can’t find any photos of it just at the moment! photo will follow! … fortunately they are almost flowering now! :)]
UPDATE: 15th June 2015 ~ After our woodland wander this weekend – here are the photos I promised🙂
Mystery flower No.5
This was the easy one that everyone spotted. The trifoliate leaves and those fluffy pinkish buds were a give-away, weren’t they?
Red CloverTrifolium pratense
… and here’s a closer view of this Summer meadow stalwart.
Mystery flower No.6
This flower has those small and shiny, spoon-shaped leaves with serrated edges on quite solid, straight stems. Its flowers form as dimpled buttons then burst open with sunny radiance in late Spring and early Summer. Many people will have a version of this flower growing in their gardens.
Oxeye DaisyLeucanthemum vulgare
We find Oxeye Daisies growing along some of our old railway paths but they are equally at home along our woodland rides too. I love their sunny flowers.
… and finally – what was that mystery seedling?
At this time of year, the large seed leaves of these tiny seedlings are just beginning to be overshadowed by the first true leaves of this popular forest friend. The woodland floor is dotted with these curious seedlings as they form a mini-forest of their own among the feet of their super-sized parents.
… and here are our beechwoods in their cool luxurious Summer greens.
At the end of last week’s quiz post I mentioned how the Beech seedling’s over-sized seed leaves reminded me of an umbrella and how the leaves of the parent tree can make a useful umbrella when caught in a sharp Summer downpour. Here are our younger boys in their Beech tree ‘rain shelter’ when we were caught out in one such Summer rain storm a few years ago.
Thank you to everyone who took part in my little plant quiz and for all your comments. It’s been fun finding the photos of the plants in flower … even though Wood Avens seem to have slipped through our usual enthusiastic level of photography of woodland wildflowers! Ah well, another trip to the woods is going to be needed to remedy that soon 😀
Do you live in the UK? Can you spare an hour to watch the birds in your garden next weekend? 24-25 Jan 2015 is the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch.
The annual Big Garden Bird Watch is the world’s largest wildlife survey, organised by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds here in the UK. The survey provides a really useful snapshot of the birds we are currently seeing in our gardens. Now in its 36th year, the data from the Big Garden Bird Watch builds up with all of our results each year. Hundreds of thousands of us across the country will spend an hour of our choice over the weekend watching the birds in our gardens. Around half a million of us counted 7 million birds last year! It is so easy to take part, many of us drink tea and eat biscuits at the same time 🙂
To do the survey, all we need to do is record how many of each bird species we see in the garden at any one time. You can record the birds you see directly onto the RSPB website.
Most of us will see our common UK garden birds – but if you aren’t too sure about identifying the birds you see, there’s help at hand on the RSPB website. Here on the What to look out for page you’ll see the birds that most often visit gardens, along with information on the kind of food they prefer and whether they’re the acrobatic type that hang on bird feeders or if they’re more likely to be seen down on the ground. There’s also the Bird Guide that can help you out with any less-common species.
Bird populations are a good indicator of wider wildlife health in our countryside, so as a keen nature watcher I always like to take part in this survey. If you can spare an hour this weekend to help find out how our feathered friends and other wildlife are faring, please visit the RSPB’s website here and register to take part.
Our 10 jackdaws were the only entrants from us for last year’s Big Garden Bird Watch. After we’ve done our survey this weekend I’ll let you know which birds we see this time. If you do take part in the survey, it would be good to see your results too.
Bark is brown and leaves are green … aren’t they?
Well … sometimes … sort-of … it depends! Take a look – what do you think?
If you’re in the temperate latitudes of the northern hemisphere like me, you too have most probably been enjoying the glorious colours of Autumn. In Autumn, we say the leaves on our deciduous trees and shrubs ‘turn colour’. There’s another odd idea! Of course, the leaves always have a colour but we mean the leaves have turned from their Summer shade of green to their Autumn tints of reds, oranges, yellows and browns.
We’ve had a very mild Autumn here in the UK with a good amount of sunshine. This means we have had plenty of opportunity to enjoy the woods at this beautiful time of year. The sunlit leaves glow in their Autumn colours. Their year’s work done, the breeze releases them one by one and they drift earthwards to join the deepening carpet upon the woodland paths. Who does not love to trail through the Autumn leaves! It is one of the joys of the season! This leafy carpet does provide another service too. Its warm blanket creates a welcome habitat for many small creatures looking for a cosy place to spend the Winter.
Tree bark fascinates me. Its touchable textures vary hugely from tree to tree, from smooth undulations to deep ravines. On a recent woodland walk I spotted these examples of bark. We often see this luminous green lichen on the trees in our woods. When it rains, this lichen really glows against the dark, wet bark.
We don’t have many Atlas Cedars in our woods – only the one, I think, and it is part of an interesting tree trail of labelled species. The Atlas Cedar is one of the trees I like to look out for along the trail. The texture and varying shades of brown of the bark give the Atlas Cedar its own unique mosaic.
I couldn’t write about tree bark without including my very favourite tree, the English Oak. This particular Oak tree is near the entrance to our woods, so we pass by it very often. The Oak bark is a myriad of different colours. Oaks support an amazing array of other animal and plant life. The mosses and lichens create so many shades of green on the deeply textured bark. The late afternoon sun also lent a purple cast to the remaining ‘brown’ patches of the bark.
Were the leaves green and was the bark brown? I did find some green leaves on my walk, but I also found yellows, reds, orange and brown. Some of the bark was brown, though not all one shade of brown, of course. But some of it was blue, purple and so many shades of green. So, yes. Sometimes. Sort-of. It depends. 🙂
Imagine – you’re waiting here alone. Darkness will fall soon. Suddenly you begin to hear galloping hooves approaching through the mist. Your heart leaps, but you’re also trembling. You know soon you will be escaping from the lurking dangers of the night …
Imagine – you’re sitting on the sunny riverbank on this warm Summer’s day. Shafts of sunlight stream through the tree boughs that overhang the slow-moving river. Your eyes are mesmerised by the river’s kaleidoscope of gentle swirling green reflections as you drift into your sun-warmed dream …