Nature Diary for March 2011
Saturday 5th Spent the morning with ARC work party on Dunyeats hill removing numerous birch and pine from the heath, sounds drastic but it's a task that has to be done, if left the heath will revert back to woodland. While having a break I got to thinking that it should not be long before the heath starts showing signs of life once again e.g. Wood ants (Formica rufa) warming themselves en-mass on top of their large nests, and then taking the heat collected in their bodies back into the nest where it is released, the common lizard (Lacerta vivipara) sunbathing on a log or on top of some reptile refugea. The slowworm (Anguis fragilis) is usually the first to appear followed weeks later by the rare smooth snake (Coronella austriacca) and sand lizard (Lacerta agilis).
Sunday 6th Feb I watched seven Redwing (Turdus iliacus) foraging along the hedgerow at Plainfield farm looking for worms and snails etc., easily recognisable by their chestnut-red flanks. Come April this colourful thrush will be heading home to Scandinavia with its cousin the fieldfare.
Wednesday 9th This morning being cold and dull I was surprised to hear a Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) in full song, this is early for the chaffinch; they normally start singing late February/early March. This finch was once highly prized for its song, bird catchers of the late nineteenth until the middle half of the twentieth century would come from the east end of London into the countryside armed with bird lime and call birds to capture this charming song bird and put it into a small cage where it would spend the rest of its short life away from the woods and open fields where it belonged. Competitions were held in smoke filled public houses to see who had the best songster. The Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) and Linnet (Carduelis cannabina) were also taken by these rogues by other means, but that's another story.
Thurs 10th In the evening about 9pm I noticed an immature palmate newt (Triturus helveticus) crossing the path a few yards from where I live, I caught it in the beam of my torch by accident so picking it up I placed it in my pond where it quickly swam to the bottom, being damp and mild probably enticed it out of hibernation
Friday 11th I noticed the Hazel (Corylus avellana) trees were looking their best, the male catkins or lambs tails as they are commonly known were open, and dusting me with their bright yellow pollen as I accidentally brushed against them while observing the tiny red female flowers which are easily overlooked. Being situated on or near the tip of a branch, try looking at them using a hand lens the tiny crimson stigmas/styles really are beautiful like a minute sea anemone.
Saturday 12th My wife and I decided to take a short walk to Pocket park to see if frogs had started spawning yet and they had, even a nearby puddle had spawn in it, the temperature being higher than it was this time last year bringing the frogs out of hibernation earlier. Frogs travel some distance from where they had spent the winter which would have been underground or deep in a compost heap or hidden in mud at the bottom of a pond, the latter not being this one as this pond dries up every year and the tadpoles perish. Frogs are terrestrial, feeding on invertebrates, flies spiders caterpillars etc only coming to water to breed. The males are the first to reach the pond where they wait for the females to arrive, and that's when the party begins, males start singing their love song a quiet krook krook, once a female is found the male chases her splashing the water in excitement. Once caught he holds her behind the front legs in a breeding embrace known as amplexus and fertilizes the eggs as they are laid. To us it looks like he is trying to strangle her, go to any pond at night where frogs breed regularly not forgetting to take a torch and experience this wonderful sound. On leaving the pond I noticed early orchids just starting to appear above ground, also last years magpie (Pica pica) nest showing clearly in the bare trees. These large domed structures last for years, unlike the majority of our song birds whose nests have served their purpose and have long gone due to the forces of nature wind and rain. Has anyone noticed the amount of mistletoe (Viscum alba) growing in Broadstone? There is a lot of this semi parasitic plant growing on some large poplar trees near Northbrook road and on a lime tree in York road. It would have been planted there by the mistle thrush in their droppings or by the birds wiping the sticky seeds from their bill onto a branch or twig. I have seen it growing on other trees, but apple seems to be the favourite. My first recollections of this magical plant was in the early 1950s while on our annual holiday in Kent with my parents, they were busy picking hops while I was busy picking apples or cherries, well not exactly picking, scrumping meaning taking without permission is the word we used and was used by many East end school boys. I don't know the origin of the word but you must admit it sums up the crime perfectly. It was while partaking in this very naughty annual ritual that I first encountered this strange looking plant growing, on several old apple trees in one of the orchards. Until then I only ever saw it hanging from the ceiling at Christmas and was used for kissing girls, which to a snotty nosed schoolboy was right out of the question! I wouldn't be surprised if these old orchards where I had spent many happy hours no longer exist, the trees having been grubbed up and replaced by an ugly estate. Even today when I see apples, especially the old varieties e.g. Worcester Pearmain, Beauty of Bath, and Lord Lambourne and smell their delicious aromatic heady fragrance it reminds me of those wonderful orchard days.
Thurs 24th Saw a Brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) in the recreation ground, the first this year a true harbinger of spring, being warm with the sun shining brought him out of hibernation after spending the winter in some ivy or some other evergreen shrub. This beautiful yellow male patrolled the woodland margin weaving in and out of the trees in search of a female.
Sun 27th while sitting at my computer I watched a robin going back and forth with nest material to a large leylandi I have growing in my garden.
Keith Clements - Parks, Nature Reserves & Heathland