Nature Notes by Sue J
Greetings to all! I hope the Festive Season was jolly, and that you’re now ready to enjoy the summer wildlife. By the time you read this, spring flowers should be in full bloom and the trees turning green again. Already the delicate wild daffodils are coming through the crowded wild garlic leaves in the woods, and bluebells are on the way up too. The other day, when we went down, a pair of muntjac deer jumped up and away. I know perfectly well they’ll be back to nip off any rosebuds from my poor old bush in the drive, but I’m resigned to that now, and it’s lovely to see them curled up in the grass, sunning themselves.
Recently a raven honoured us with a brief visit. I heard this harsh call as I walked in the fields, and sure enough, there it was perched at the top of a tree. It continued to call at regular intervals, until I got too close for comfort. Its head turned and, reluctantly it seemed, it flapped away. Such a distinctive croaking cry always makes me think of the Scottish Play – and my attempt at Lady M! (I’m still superstitious, I’m afraid!) The way he looked at me, perhaps he’d heard I wasn’t very good!
A few days later a pair of red kites appeared - another treat. The crows soon gathered to pester. Kites are so agile and acrobatic they easily evaded them, and seemed remarkably unconcerned. Unlike the poor old buzzards, who are always being harassed. But we hope they may get a bit of peace this year. We’ve heard there’s one in fields south of the 272. Maybe it’s one of the youngsters that managed to grow up here in spite of their tormentors? That’s a nice thought! Speaking of tormentors, I’m very sad to report that the peregrine nest site at the quarry in Bedham has been knocked down - as was threatened. If it’s illegal to disturb them during breeding, is it ok to destroy their nest? They’d been using it for several years – seems unfair to me.
Large numbers of toads arrived in the big pond up at Ingrams, and left again after much splashing and cavorting. Frogs have been doing the same, and apparently under one bridge in Midhurst the water has been flying in all directions! Let’s hope for bumper amphibian numbers this year. On my late-night dog walks I’ve rescued several toads, and one frog, all different sizes. So, fingers crossed they flourish.
Lastly – a small domestic drama the other day. A male blackbird settled into the ground-based birdbath. Water was splashing everywhere as he ruffled and preened. A female (his mate?) came down as if to join, and he promptly chased her off. He continued his bath – she approached again – and again – and again. Every time he chased her off, until she finally gave up and flew away. He returned to the water, with a distinctly victorious strut, for a further prolonged dip. (No comment!) !
Our old Jack Russell can’t see much and hears even less, and he doesn’t know it’s only six am when he wakes up. So he barks – and barks – and barks! I get up to let him out and then silence reigns again. This routine means the birds get fed much earlier now he’s moved in. The other morning I’d left the kitchen door open and on returning there was a dark bird flying round the kitchen. I watched it turning and weaving around, without a sound, and touching nothing as it flew. At this point my brain woke up, and I realised it was a bat, almost certainly a pipistrelle. As I watched in amazement it flitted out and into the sitting room. Its flight was beautiful to watch – wafting silently round any obstacles, behind the sofa and chairs, and up into all corners of the room. I sidled over, opened the French windows, and eventually it spiralled out into the morning light. We’ve seen them at dusk, but never at daybreak before. What a wonderful way to start the day! We don’t know where they’re nesting, maybe in a tree not too far away. They’re feeding up now with winter hibernation ahead. We wish them all well.
What a splendid crop of fruit we’ve had this year, especially apples. One of our cookers weighed nearly two pounds in old money – that’s getting on for a kilogram! Thanks to all who took a few out of our tray. I can’t bear to waste any fruits of the earth. A couple of big bags are on their way to some cider makers in Coolham soon, too. And aren’t the acorns splendid – really large and heavy. They’re almost like tiny bombs, landing on the road, especially at night when sounds are magnified. Will conkers be a bit lethal this year too?
We’re planting more wildflower seeds in the field now, and after some serious mowing, we exposed bare soil in places ready for scattering. As the mower was being put away, a movement caught my eye. From a slight hollow in the ground emerged …a substantial toad. The mower had gone over it at least three times, but it’d hunkered down and escaped injury. It’s now tucked away in a safe haven of grass and leaves. Nature’s survival techniques never cease to amaze us! Talking of surviving, the young Newpound kestrel is doing ok so far. The other day he dived and flew off with a vole, just as I drove by.
A hobby has been seen in Bedham, great crested newts are reported up in the quarry, and last week we put up a barn owl box across the lane. One’s been seen around, so fingers crossed it’s occupied soon.
And now, dear readers - Early Seasons Greetings! See you next year.
Walking out first thing, with yet more seeds and nuts for the waiting birds, among the dry patches of lawn there is the odd silvery cobweb now. Autumn is definitely here. The trees are turning colour, and under some of them there’s already a carpet of brown and yellow leaves.
Very sadly the ash die-back disease that once seemed a distant threat, appears to be taking hold round here. Many saplings in the hedgerows have significant browning of smaller shoots, and some of the bigger trees are showing definite signs of problems. Some experts give us worrying predictions of potential losses, some as much as 95% and others hardly less drastic at 75% or so. Nobody really knows yet, but we could be facing considerable gaps in our woodlands over the next decades I fear. Let’s hope that some immunity can eventually develop. Our ashes would be sorely missed for many reasons. They are not only elegant and graceful trees, they support much varied wildlife, offer grateful shade to livestock, and to us - and ash is a favourite for wood turners and whittlers of all ages, including our grandson. For information and advice try www.woodlandtrust.org.uk
On a lighter note, our resident pheasants are now never far away, and they come eagerly forward to catch the odd seed that misses the feeders. Some of you may remember we had a pheasant of dubious sexual orientation a few years ago. It was a male who gradually transitioned (I think that’s the latest word) and over several months became distinctly female. Well, we may have another one, a descendant perhaps? It’s certainly a mixture of rather odd colours at the moment, with a typically long masculine tail, long feet and bits of red around the eyes. And it is so timid, that any movement in the house makes it dash for cover. Just my luck for a photo! But maybe I’ll clean the windows and try for a picture soon!
Meanwhile I have this one of a tiny yellow spider foraging for lunch amongst some rudbeckias. Poor old flying ant!
The swallows are gone, starlings and spotted woodpeckers have moved on, but all the small birds are still on the feeders. This year we’ve had more greenfinches, and, happily, little sign of the virus they are vulnerable to. We hate to see them miserably sitting on the ground or a feed tray, hunched up and unable to eat. So here’s my monthly nag - please try and keep any feeders clean, with an occasional rinse of animal friendly cleanser. Also, if possible, maybe leave a few piles of leaves and twigs in a corner, to stay undisturbed till spring? If space is limited even one pile is great. Small creatures can then stake out their winter quarters - especially my favourites – the toads! Just think how many slugs they’ll eat if they creep out on a warm night! They are definitely gardeners’ friends – and, to my eyes, gorgeous!
About 20 of us gathered in the Three Crowns on Friday 12 August for a most informative and entertaining talk on bats by Jane Willmott from the Sussex Wildlife Trust. Bats are the only warm blooded mammals in the world that can actually fly. They have elongated and widely separated fingers and also an extra long tail, and the wings spread out across the fingers and right down to that tail. The difference in size between the resting body and when it’s flying is amazing. Tiny ‘mice’ turn into impressive small ‘aeroplanes’, twisting and darting as they chase the insects they feed on. A bat can eat about 2,000 midges on a good night in summer! And Jane had brought a tiny pipistrelle and a larger serotine from a rescue centre for us to see. They seemed unfazed, although we did see the strong thumbs at work as one clambered out of sight into a nest of old towels. Fascinating creatures - let’s hope they recover and get back into the wild.
We took a stroll as dusk fell, clutching bat detectors in our eager hands. These pick up the high frequency calls as echo location helps them hunt. It was so heartening to hear bats calling, right by the pond, close to the village centre. We then went up Harsfold Lane. There was an almost constant stream of chatter, from several different species, coming from the detectors. We stopped at the little bridge, and could then see them too, flitting over the water. A really delightful evening, all courtesy of Jane and our newly-formed wildlife group organised by Mike and Jill. So - many thanks all round!
On the bird front, several interesting reports. Peter saw a young cuckoo flying behind West Dean college! Apparently some do stay as late as September before setting off. There are some big groups of swallows about, and some house martins attracted the attention of a hobby in Plaistow last week. We’ve had a green woodpecker in the garden, a pair of bullfinches, the first for ages, smartly chased off by our resident blackbirds, and several big groups of starlings passing through again, via the feeders!
A friend was walking by a clear chalk stream alongside a small lane behind Cocking village. He came across a marvellous gathering of birds – corn buntings, willow warblers, house sparrows - and greenfinches, one of which hopped into the shallow water for a bath. And as he watched, all the others gradually followed suit - about 20 birds all bathing together. What a delight! Maybe Cocking water has something special to offer? Further on up this lane is the Heyshott Nature reserve – an old quarry that has a host of varied orchids in spring, and many unusual plants and butterflies over the summer months. Definitely a must-see area for 2017!
And finally - Last month I thought some bees were a cowpat – this morning I thought this fungus might be a rare bird’s special nest! Time for new glasses?
We’ve had one or two in trees in the past, but this was a real surprise. I decided to leave them alone and hoped they’d move on to somewhere safer. But they were still there next day, so Peter put me in touch with bee-keeper Raymond. Sadly I missed seeing the mechanics of the removal. Raymond brought down a traditional “skep” – a darkish dome of tight-knit straw which he placed over them. He’s since told me they all went straight up into it. To warm up probably, he said. The skep stayed in place until dusk, when he fastened a board under the skep and took them away in his car. He thought it was one of the easiest collections he’s done. And that it was relatively small – about 5.000 bees. It looked a lot to my ignorant eyes, but a prime swarm can be around 20.000! He also said the queen was most likely to be inexperienced, and that’s why they ended up amongst the grass. The good news is that they’ve settled well, and Raymond plans to unite them with a colony among his hives that has no queen, so forming a new larger colony and saving the queenless bees. Good news all round. Many thanks to Raymond, and I wish our visitors well in their new home.
AND – there are two reports of turtle doves – one in Plaistow and one in Kirdford!
So rarely seen now, extra special news there. We’ve seen a group of swifts on regular meanders with our old dogs. The woodpecker babies, with their dashing red foreheads beginning to fade, are costing us a fortune in peanuts now, and the starlings are still with us. And we have bats again after many years. They are flashing past the windows as the sun slowly fades in the long evenings. They are pipistrelles I think – so quick and agile – delightful to watch.
Meadowsweet is scenting the verges now and Marbled white butterflies have been seen feeding on thistles, with a lot more other butterflies around in the fields this season. As I walked among them I remembered Rosemary Traherne’s delight as we took that same path. She it was who roped me in to these notes, and we wrote together for several years, which was a delight. A lovely lady and a true nature lover. She is much missed.
Firstly, the orchids in the lane have survived the dreaded council mowers. They just missed ‘em – hooray! And what may be a Heath Spotted orchid has mysteriously appeared not far from our old shed out the back. We had some chippings put in the little field years ago when we had ponies, because of the mud. The stones came from Bedham, and there are many similar orchids up there. So has a seed come down and lurked in the ground till now? Nature biding its time and surviving, yet again?
Great news to end. July 15th -Village Hall – Illustrated Talk on Dragonflies. And August 15th - Bat Walk and Talk - both highly recommended!
Good news! The pond
has been cleared at last. Thank you Parish Council! (And thanks, Peter, for
the pic). As you can see there was a huge amount of weed to remove. Ian Baldwyn,
who did the work, says he’s a great fan of village ponds so it’s
all in safe hands. Some of us attempted the same job years ago, got completely
exhausted, and I’m not sure if we did much good really! Ian found about
80 eggs in the duck house. Several years-worth obviously, which is sad, isn’t
it. He plans to return and make a much-needed ramp and provide some nesting
material, so let’s hope for ducklings next year.
Sadly I don’t think there’s any way to make any kind of bog garden area. These give various smaller aquatic creatures a more sustaining environment and a secure escape route when needed. Frogs and toads would especially benefit as well as many invertebrates. But Ian found an encouraging number of these – including smooth newts, 2 species of diving beetles, damsel and dragonfly larva, water boatmen and some tadpoles - this in spite of the presence of about 150 goldfish so all is not lost. He also plans to introduce some more suitable weed species to help rebalance the ecosystem for the longer term.
I’m spoiled for photos this month and received a lovely picture of another creature that’s happy in water (thanks, Mark) It’s a very bold fly taking a chance, basking on this snake’s back! Some years ago, on our small pond, I came across a grass snake with a newt halfway down its throat. With my fondness for amphibians I was sorely tempted to try and pull it out! If it had been a crested newt I may have succumbed. Those temptations have gradually subsided. I’m sure you agree that Nature stays in better balance when we don’t interfere!
Away from the water, there have been reports of peregrines nesting in Bedham again. One is also hunting over Pulborough Brooks. Cuckoos seem a little more abundant this year and even I have heard one now – hooray! We also have a local nightingale who sings as I trundle our ancient Jack Russell out for his late night wander. It is amazing how far their song can travel as they call for a mate. Makes up for all his endless stopping and sniffing! Also at the RSPB – on one morning seven nightingales were heard – all singing their hearts out! How about this gorgeous photo? (yes it’s Peter again!) The reserve must surely be worth a visit just now.
And after all the glorious bluebells, there’s a small cluster of orchids on the road verge here. I do hope I’m here when the dreaded council mowers appear. Will be out there guarding ‘em! Lastly my usual reminder (nag? sorry!) I know you’ll look out for those many birds raising families – oblivious to danger as they dash across the lanes in front of us. So thank you!
If you came down our lane at the end of October, you might have walked over a carpet of fine light brown powder. Acorns - I don’t remember seeing so many crushed on the road in all the time we’ve been here! And there was the constant sound of them bouncing off cars, sheds, even people, as they fell. There’s also been a plethora of conkers, all of them beautifully round and shiny. Fruit and nuts everywhere this year –hooray.
Talking of plethoras, (ok - lots! just showing off a bit!) at the moment our house seems full of ladybirds. The sunny weather has brought them out again, wandering over the windows and basking on our pale rendered walls. I’m not sure if they’re all natives, but they are delightful to watch whatever their origin. In the fields, cinnabar hawk moth caterpillars are still munching on the ragwort, and we’ve seen slender blue damsels and Reddish-brown dragonflies over the ponds. A friend came across about 200 martins roosting in Flexham quarry last week. To his surprise they stayed at least two days, so perhaps a good number of insects about. And we’ve got linnets, wagtails and extra chaffinches around now too.
Grebes have done well this year at Burton Mill Ponds and a hobby has been hunting there too. The Ponds are open to anyone and well worth a visit. It’s a very peaceful place for a wander and they serve good tea in the Mill Café! A lesser spotted woodpecker is rumoured to be visible there in early spring, a real treat. They’re about as big as a robin, with the distinctive black, white and red markings of their larger relative. I’d love to see one in the flesh (feather?) as I was mistaken about a garden sighting a few years ago.
Back in July several of us had a fascinating outing to South Pond in Midhurst looking for Moths. Local experts, Penny and Dave Green, were doubtful they’d catch many due to the weather, but we saw a small assortment of moths in their light trap. As it got colder they moved the trap to a nearby garden in hopes of finding a few more. They need not have worried! In the morning there was an amazing variety of moths, lurking on egg trays, or snoozing in the big bowl of the trap. They can recognise and name them after a single glance, really fantastic knowledge. We were treated to all shapes, sizes and colours. An elephant hawk moth – very impressive! And a peppered moth I think - a master of disguise, as Dave showed us by placing it on a tree trunk to see who could spot it! And many more! As they all began to warm up, one by one they flew off. So, a whole new world of creatures opens up. I’ve bought a book about them, and I definitely want another outing!
|Peppered Moth||Hawk Moth|
This is the last
Notes till the Spring, so -
Seasons Greetings and Happy Wildlife Watching!
We’ve had several interesting reports recently.
Many thanks to all who’ve been in touch.
After a horrid journey fraught with traffic jams in late May, I got out of the car and listened to a nightingale which sent me to bed much cheered. We’ve not heard one this end for the village for years. I do hope he found a mate.
The pond in Carters Field has lots of dancing damselflies - and a grass snake was also reported over there. Maybe feeding on those tadpoles. It was described as ‘brownish/not very green’ and about 3 feet long. Lovely creatures! I do like all things slithery or hoppy!
Quite a few over-wintering butterflies are out and about – especially red admirals and peacocks. And down in Bramber a ‘bundle’ of them was found in St Mary’s house, tucked up near a window. Over a few days, as the weather warmed up, it gradually peeled rather like an onion, as the butterflies stirred and separated. They were gently released into the garden. Apparently there was more than one species in the same ‘bundle.’ I wish I’d seen that.
Along the A272 towards Petersfield, about a mile before Cowdray golf course, on the right hand side, there’s a beautiful big field of poppies and what I guess is yellow rattle And a little further on I saw about half a dozen swifts wheeling and diving. They are so acrobatic and graceful – much missed round here.
A single rather forlorn Pipistrelle bat has been around for the last few years, but now there seem to be two again, which is great news. Tawny owls are calling, and there’s a new buzzard nest nearby. Will the crows let them brood this time? Fingers crossed.
Out of the blue last
week I had a report of a bee orchid, right in the village! I was a bit sceptical,
but my informant was firm, so I went to look. First I saw an iris with very
unusual colouring. Rather pompously I assumed they’d made a mistake, so
I took a picture, as you see. Then I went back for another look and found the
It was definitely me who was making the mistake! Couldn’t be much more different, as you can see. (Note to self – wear your glasses!) How long has it been lurking in the soil, I wonder? Will it survive and come again next year? What a treasure, as somebody realised and protected it. Hooray!
Talking of plants surviving, if you are worried about wild flowers disappearing, please visit the Plantlife website - www.plantlife.org.uk and click on Road Verge Campaign 2015 They have a new petition urging all councils to consult the experts re best times for cutting road verges etc. Many wild varieties are struggling. Later cutting would really help them, and our bees and other precious pollinators too.
Lastly I found this
moth on the wall the other day. Anyone know what it is?
Oh hang on, could it be an Iris Moth…?.
Sad news to start, I’m
afraid. Our dear old pheasant chum, our constant companion, has been
killed on the road. He reigned over our garden with great bravura
for years. As he aged he gradually retreated into the fields. I regularly
followed with food and water, and he survived far longer than we expected.
He’s much missed. The picture shows him earlier this year in
breeding plumage – again! He was ever hopeful.
We are hopeful too that swallows will do well this year. Down at Brinsbury with our RDA group the other day, I was thrilled to see swallows and house martins all around the barns that house the college’s horses, and lots of sparrows too. It was late afternoon and they were feeding on the insects that gather round farm animals. Happy children, ponies and birds – who could ask for more? I’ve not seen a swift yet, but maybe they too will do well this year.
And cow parsley is definitely doing well! The verges are filled with great swathes of it just now. With a slightly heavy heart I’ve had to cut some back so we can see along the road. It’s odd that one variety will suddenly have a bumper year, isn’t it. Cow parsley is very common, yet this year it looks particularly lovely as it dances all along our lane. The fruit trees are bursting with blossom, and the horse chestnuts too, so conkers galore later? Pink campion is covering our wild flower patch, with other flowers budding. I’m also delighted to report good numbers of orchids on road verges, especially up towards Bedham. There are one or two stalwart souls on lookout duty for council machines – usually the drivers will avoid orchids if you ask them nicely.
I’m delighted to report that our Editor had a pair of hedgehogs in his garden at the end of April. These delightful creatures need all the help they can get, so please try and leave a little opening in any fences. They travel considerable distances for food at night and only need a very small gap to help them on their way. This beetle might be a snack for them – found resting on the house wall one morning.
from Selsey the other day, on an impulse I pulled into Pagham Harbour
Nature Reserve and had a wander along the Nature Trail. It’s only
a small area, but within a short time I saw shelducks, plovers, redshanks,
a curlew, three dainty avocets fishing with great vigour, and a little
egret stalking its prey. A perfect, peaceful
Nature Notes - May 2015
“I know what it is, but where
on earth is it?”
It wasn’t far away, but I just could not see it. I looked and looked among the still quite bare branches. A chiffchaff – no mistaking the sound. The call is exactly like its name, repeated over and over, with amazing volume for such a small bird! Eventually when it moved I did manage to locate it – tiny, slender, with creamy underside and greenish-grey back, perched high up in the oak. They are always among the first to return. - heralding summer. And now, in mid April, we’ve heard a distant cuckoo, the first nightingales have been reported, and martins and swallows are back too. Then, on Radio 4 we heard Bill Oddie reporting from Malta that they’d voted, by the tiniest margin, to allow the Spring Shooting season to continue. It seems exhausted migrant birds, large or small, are still fair game over the Mediterranean islands. It is really sport? Like me, he finds that hard to believe.
On a happier note, the barn owl near the allotments is regularly seen hunting, so maybe chicks will be feeding soon. Tawny owls are calling at Adversane, and swallows have returned to a favourite site there. The peregrines are doing well at Flexham and our buzzards are loving this spell of warm weather, drifting high up on the thermals, away from the pesky crows. We’ve also had a report of a sparrowhawk lingering on a bird bath at Old Pond Cottage, emptying the garden of its small birds. It’s a bit of a ‘sparrow sanctuary’, so there was much relief when next morning found them all flitting about and chattering as usual, and even joined by a pair of robins. They also reported a lack of frogspawn this year in spite of frog activity.
I’ve seen a few tadpoles at Ingrams – (or should that be toad poles?...Sorry, couldn’t resist) so that’s good news. Sadly none of our adopted spawn seems to have survived – not even some I rescued from a dried-up ditch while litter-picking. Let’s hope something had a nice meal out of it.
Lastly, A quote from our local bird
“I had the rare privilege on Saturday whilst at a family picnic in Rake near Petersfield, to hear, but unfortunately not see, a pair of Goshawks. I guess the female was incubating for she was calling to the male to bring lunch! There was no mistaking the sound of the pair - when we lived in Germany we had Goshawks in the garden!”
A privilege indeed. We glimpsed one in Devon once – sitting bolt upright on a telegraph pole. As we reversed the car it looked down at us with great disdain, and effortlessly departed! Goshawks are about 24in tall, with a barred chest and smart white eyestripe. They’re brilliant agile hunters, and even just sitting on a pole, an extremely impressive sight.
The expert is of course Mr Edmonds! Hope you see them next time, Peter!