Nature Diary for December 2009
I have recently been hearing a Buzzard "mewing" that wonderful wild sound it makes when soaring high in the sky each time I heard it I would search the sky but could never see one, so I decided I would investigate further. The next time I heard it I followed the sound and it lead to some pine trees not far from where I live, I looked into the trees closely still hearing the mewing but I could not see a buzzard anywhere but what did catch my eye was a Jay. Now this bird is very shy and will usually fly away when disturbed but he just kept jumping from branch to branch imitating the buzzard's cry, I know that the jay is a great mimic. It was 1961/62 I met naturalist Fred Speakman at his field centre at High Beech in Epping Forest, he kept a Jay named Jimmy at the centre that learnt all manner of sounds, but to witness one mimicking a buzzard is a first for me, but I have just found out they will sometimes do this when an owl is roosting nearby. Perhaps it found the tawny owl that I have been hearing every night. The jay (Garrulus glandarius) is a member of the crow family and along with the magpie are nest robbers taking eggs and fledglings and because of this are persecuted by game keepers but in all my years observing these birds it is only the magpie and the carrion crow I have witnessed taking eggs from song birds nests. The jay also loves acorns, I have often seen him collecting them then burying them in the ground for future use then forgetting where he put them. If ever you are out for a ramble and you see seedling oaks growing some distance from the nearest oak tree and wondered how they got there they were probably planted by our colourful friend the Jay. You may be lucky enough one day to witness a Jay (Anting) that's laying in a wood ants nest with wings spread out letting the ants clean his feathers of parasites, now that's a sight worth seeing.
Dec 10th with just the wind for company, I decided to walk Dunyeats Hill, most of the paths had become small streams constantly running until it reached the boundary of Delph Wood and there it became a river. I noticed that the new fencing that I mentioned in my October notes was now finished, gates will be provided so walkers (including those with dogs) will not be prevented from following their usual routes. The presence of cattle on Dunyeats Hill should not therefore affect their enjoyment of the site. Grazing is being introduced in order to help restore this rare habitat back to ideal conditions. The cattle will be on the heath sometime in the New Year.
Dec 13th while walking the recreation ground it's surprising the nests you can see now that the deciduous trees have lost their leaves, I found many Wood pigeon, Blackbird Song thrush, Hedge sparrow, Magpie and Carrion crow nests that I must have walked past a hundred times not realising that I was within a few feet of them. You have probably seen Silver birch trees that are covered in nests, and on close examination find that they are not nests at all for there is no hollow or chamber as a nest would have, they are in fact galls commonly known as witches brooms, they are caused by a fungus (Taphrina betulina). It was once believed they were caused by a mite (Eriophyes rudis)being carried there by birds or the wind but that is not to say that there are no mites taking advantage of these large growths.
If when you are out walking this winter and you think there is not much colour now that most trees have lost their leaves and all the wild flowers are dead and gone you would be wrong, try looking for mosses, lichens and liverworts, some may be small but they really are worth searching for. The mosses and liverworts, there are nineteen different species to be found in the recreation ground in various shades of green and red and lichens ranging from grey to yellow, these can be found growing on tree trunks, fallen branches, brick walls and roof tiles and on peaty soils you must find the tiny (Cladonias) like miniature egg cups terminating in conspicuous red hymenial discs, they really are beautiful. Next time you are out for a walk in the recreation ground or on the heath take the time to look, they have been around a long time, their ancient ancestors probably date back to the Devonian period about 350-400 million years ago.
I would like to wish all the people who take the time to read my Nature Diary each month a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
I will keep you up to date on any new and interesting sightings in my January 2010 notes
Keith Clements - Parks, Nature Reserves & Heathland