Wednesday, May 04, 2022

May 2022

1 May 2022.  I normally take a walk every day ranging through field, wood, lanes and footpaths within about half a kilometre of home (TQ782188).  I always take the camera and usually find something to photograph.  Here I thought I might try a sort of daily picture diary.



Germander speedwell (below) in flower is now quite abundant.  The name 'germander' comes from ancient Greek, via Old French and Old English, and means 'oak leaved'.  The leaves were thought to resemble those of oak bu, as you can see in the picture, it is not a very good fit.



The distinctive croziers of soft shield fern (below) are now unrolling.  There are two plants on Jessmond's boundary, one in the north east corner of our garden,  I also know of one in Killingan Wood and there is a good colony along the south west part of Killingan Stream.



2 May 2022

Saturday, April 30, 2022

April 2022

 April this year has been very dry (the forecasters say we have only had about one third of the expected amount) and some of the plants locally have been showing signs of stress due to lack of water.  Insects have been scarce, though I have seen the usual spring butterfly species: red admiral, brimstone, large white, orange tip, peacock, speckled wood and comma (below).


Some other interesting insects included a female tawny mining bee, Andrena fulva, here pictured on the spurge known as 'Mrs Robb's bonnet', Euphorbia amygdaloides ssp. robbiae. I like the way she has planted her feet neatly on the edge of the flower.






Wednesday, March 09, 2022

March 2022

1 March 2022 It has been a generally rather cold and drab start to the month with the mood not being helped by Russia's war on Ukraine.  I am lucky in having a small area of wood, lane and field to enjoy away from the news.  In his speech to the Commons on 8th March Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said his people would fight in the fields, the forests and on the riversides perhaps indicating how important these places are as emblematic of a home country. However, when the wind comes from the north, rattling the bare branches in Killingan Wood, it is difficult not to be saddened by the plight of those distant people in much deeper cold who have no home left to go back to.

9 March 2022  A gratefully warm day at last.  There was enough afternoon sunshine to warm my back. On my walk my spirits were lifted by the patches of sunny celandine flowers along the verges of the lane.  In the woods the white anemone flowers are a landscape feature and some of them have pink reverses to the petals and occasionally they are wholly pink. 

I found several rosettes of heavily spotted early-purple orchid leaves and the Euphorbia robbiae (Mrs Robb's bonnet spurge) is at its best in the patch by Churchland Lane.  New leaves are greening many of the trees like this hornbeam.

The garden in brightening up rapidly with several camellias now in flower as well as the Pieris 'Firecrest' at the end of the garden.  In my Square Metre Mark 2 I found a small plant of bristly ox-tongue.  This is, I think, the first time I have noticed this species in the garden and I wondered where it might have come from.  The camellia below is the white semi-double 'Yuki-botan'.

15 March 2022  At last the weather feels more spring than winter and today I saw the first brimstone butterfly on the wing - a male.  That flake of intense citrus yellow searching the garden air, looking for bluebells and buckthorn is like a flag from a starter  - spring cannot be stopped now.  In the garden it found our only plant of the grape hyacinth Muscari armeniacum.

Yesterday I found a large patch pf spring snowflake on the wood bank at the end of Churchland Lane.  A surprise as I have been past the spot a thousand times without noticing it.  

Later I ventured into Churchland Fields where the gorse is at its best and photographed a grey willow that stands alone.  One seldom sees a free-standing tree of this species as they are normally muddled up with the scrub vegetation in regenerating secondary woodland.


20 - 31 March 2022.  The spring progresses and there are many dandelions out along the verges.  On one I saw a small sallow mining bee, Andrena praecox, the first solitary bee of the year but sadly they seem to be less common than usual. 


By 23 March the first black bryony shoots were snaking upwards, horse chestnut buds were breaking and I found an extensive colony of common dog-violet, Viola riviniana, in the north east corner of Churchland Fields. 


The warm, sunny weather continued until 30th March.  On 26th I saw my first greater stitchwort flower in Churchland Lane and the first bluebells in Killingan Wood.  On 31 March we had hail and snow showers and there was an overnight frost, one of the sharpest in the generally mild darker months.  In April we learnt that March had been the sunniest on record in parts of the north and Scotland.



 



Sunday, February 06, 2022

February 2022

 9 February 2022. Although the daytime temperature has been hovering between 9 and 12 degrees, I managed today to do some useful work in the garden.  Quite suddenly snowdrops have appeared on the far side of our lane and there are several lesser periwinkle flowers by the pond.  I pottered about in the Square Metre, propping up the Cotoneaster franchetii and pruning hazels, oak, holly and hornbeam into more manageable shapes.  On the holly I though I had spotted a leaf mine of Phytomyza illicis but it is very small and I will have to wait a bit to be certain.  



Rather less conspicuous are the tiny green flowers on new shoots of dog's mercury now appearing in Killingan Wood.


As well as dog's mercury the new bluebell shoots are starting to green the leafy woodland carpet, though the two plants grow in different places in the wood for reasons I cannot fathom.


Despite the early signs of spring there are still the remains of autumn and winter.  Some beech trees have not lost their dead brown leaves but this only seems to be the case with young trees and those that are used in hedging.  Leaves are long gone from the larger beech trees.


The evergreen shrub Euonymus japonicus or Japanese spindle tree is much used for hedging along our lane and in gardens, but it fruits poorly or not at all.  However, I found a fine crop of fruit in a south facing hedge in a nearby garden.  Most of the fruit are now just an outer capsule, but the inner seeds covered with a bright orange pulpy aril can be seem in some.  In our native spindle tree this aril is "richer in nutriment than the pulp of any native fruit" (Snow, B & D. Birds and Berries). The seed inside the aril is toxic. Robins are said to be very fond of the arils and I imagine the fruit of the Japanese species has similar qualities.  Originally from Japan, it was introduced to Britain in 1804.  Trees and Shrubs Online says "It is a handsome and cheerful evergreen much used in south coast watering-places for hedges, where the sea air seems to suit it."


People look out eagerly for the first spring flowers and I also enjoy the earliest leaves like those on the elder below.


Honeysuckle leaves also start growing in winter and have now reached a noticeable size.


Next door the 'tommies', or elfin crocuses, Crocus tommasinianus are outting on their annual display and there are hundreds of flowers in a small front garden.  Also the plant has started to seed itself outside the curtilage of the garden plot.  Where will this stop?


12 February 2022  The first spring flower, a rather battered lesser celandine, came out in our lane today.  The stalk bisecting the picture is a bracken stem and the black marks on it are, as far as I can determine, the common microfungus Rhopographus filicinus.


16 February 2022  The wind has risen and the temperature had risen too, reaching about 12 degrees C.  It was wet underfoot and slippery in places as the mud returned.  There were coffee-coloured puddles in the lane and deeper pools of cloudy water in the various pits in the wood.  Here the bluebell leaves are now making a continuous green ground cover  Leaves of wood anemones are also appearing often close to the base of trees where, perhaps, there is a slightly gentler microclimate.  One or two are showing flower buds head down in the centre of the frond like small eggs.


On the western verge beside the lane I counted four celandine flowers rather outshone by a growth of bright orange jelly fungus (Tremella mesenterica  see below) on a small fallen branch. Where the vegetation has been cleared back to the hedge, leaving a wide strip with rich looking soil there are no flowers yet but there are rich green carpets of young goosegrass and dozens of very healthy looking tufts of cuckoopint (Arum maculatum) leaves now reaching some 10 or 15cm above the ground.


18 February 2022 The storm Eustace, pronounced one of the worst storms in three decades, travelled from the West Country to London and the South East.  The MET Office issued a red warning (the highest danger) from 10am to 3pm.  At 10.25am the electricity went off for a while and we were left with just the sound of the gusting wind though, at the beginning of the 'red' period it seemed little worse than many winter gales of the past.  Later there was some thin guttering sunlight between gusts that bent our garden trees but did not topple any.   I was worried about the tall birch tree in the Square Metre, now 18 years old, and I watched as the trunk slalomed in the wind like an ice dancer.  It survived undamaged. 

As the storm drifted away in the mid-afternoon and the danger level fell to amber, I wandered down the garden tottering slightly in the remaining buffets of wind.  A few hellebores were out as were primroses and the Tenby and February Gold daffodils.  Despite the stormy weather, much seemed to have advanced in the last few days. 

Helleborus orientalis



Apart from a scatter of small branches and twigs the garden had suffered little appreciable damage.  In the Square Metre the dead ash maiden had broken and fallen right across the square, where I will leave it.  The tree appeared originally at the western edge of M3 and grew for perhaps 8 or 10 years before succumbing to what I thought might be ash die back disease.  It remained upright, propped by the lower branches of the medlar, until today.  Its continued transformation as dead wood will give me much to think about.


At about 8.15pm the electricity went off again and stayed off through the night of the 19th and the following day until a quarter past midnight on the 20th.  I slept in my clothes like a large pink worm in a cocoon of layers of clothes.  It was dark and cold, but boredom was the worst problem as we had no radio and the light was too dim to read by.

The 20th February was still very windy but, apart from a morning interruption of the mains water supply, life had returned to normal and the news switched back to the Russian threat to the Ukraine, the future of Prince Andrew and the Queen's infection by the Covid virus.  Around midday I battled my way through what has now been named storm Franklin to the entrance to Killingan Wood where a large branch of oak had fallen.  A huge chunk of the Maryland poplar had blown off into a garden but there was little damage in the part of the Killingan Wood I explored apart from some fallen small birch trees. Later I discovered a large oak that had blown down in Churchland Wood revealing in its broken trunk a large quantity of rich red and brown rot.


I struggled home with the wind roaring like a train in savage bursts through the trees and over the hedge.  The weather forecast suggests little change before the end of this month, but in the calm between the storms I found this marmalade hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus) enjoying an early lesser celandine.  The larvae feed on aphids and the adults have been said to be the only fly known to be able to crush pollen grains for food.

This verse from a poem by Robert Frost seems appropriate:

But the flower leaned aside
And thought of nought to say
 And morning found the breeze
A hundred miles away.
 

24 February 2022  Around 4 o'clock in the morning I woke to hear on the radio that the invasion of Ukraine by Russia had started.  Huge commentary all day on the media highlighting how this might lead to a different world with currently unknown characteristics.  My almost daily walks to Killingan Wood or Churchland Wood acted as some sort of antidote to the alarming news from the east, but I am too old now to be greatly worried, though I feel for those who are, or will be, adversely affected.

Little Oaks has some very early flowering daffodils and I discovered a surviving Iris reticulata in a tub.  Normally they do not seem to survive outdoors in British conditions.  There were also some Cyclamen coum flowering in a shady spot underneath some fir trees.



28 February 2022  One of my granddaughter's 18th birthday: sadly it looks like troubled times ahead and I hope her generation will be able to construct a more peaceful world.

Watching the development of the conflict in Ukraine, especially seeing the pre-school refugee children, brings back many memories of a similar period of my own life.  I was born in 1938 in Chingford on the north eastern outskirts of London, so World War II started when I was one and a half and went on until I was seven.  I remember most of the things we are seeing on TV now.  The German bombs that nearly demolished our house, the barrage balloons and fighter aircraft overhead, the food rationing and immense journeys with my mother on slow, overcrowded trains.  My father disappeared into the army and I did not see him again until the war was over.  Only in later life did I appreciate the stress my mother must have been under contemplating the possibility of invasion, with a small child and a husband in harm's way in some unknown overseas place.

People today say how children are being traumatised.  Apart from the fact that nobody seemed to use that word in those days, I don't think I was unduly affected largely because I had scarcely known anything other than wartime conditions.  I felt okay so long as I was close to my mum. Air raid sirens do, however, tend to wake me up with a start and I have memories of having to go and sit in crowded underground shelters in the middle of the night with frightened people.  Since the Ukraine war started my concentration has been poor and I think some deeply buried memories of those early years of my life have arisen in a subconscious but disturbing way.  In 1939 we had six years of war ahead without husband or father and more years of subsequent austerity. It wasn't really until the 1960s came along that the clouds seemed to lift and what fun that was. In the war my mother used to like a tune called We'll gather lilacs by Ivor Novello.  I hated it, but now I understand: 
We'll gather lilacs in the spring again 
    And walk together down an English lane 
       Until our hearts have learned to sing again
When you come home once more. 

www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvC8gz-cq88







Thursday, January 06, 2022

January, 2022

31 January 2022  The end of a cold, dry month though with few frosts, all of them light.  The lack of any significant rain for many days is, I think, affecting wildlife locally.  Hazel catkins seem slower to expand, I have seen no celandine flowers, fallen leaves remain on the woodland floor like a fluffy, dry eiderdown.  Still, there have been plenty of things to see and record.

We have several mahonias in the garden and these provide nectar rich flowers from November to February inclusive.  One of the most magnificent is Mahonia x media 'Buckland' which flowers right through December and January.


Rather more modest but still an attractive plant is Mahonia japonica which flowers here from late January through March.  It often attracts bumble and honey bees and blue tits raid the flowers for nectar, or I assume this is what they are finding.


The hedges along the eastern side of Churchland Lane contain an extraordinary variety of plants and I am gradually trying to put a name to all of them, natives and non-natives alike.


The pale green mid-section of the hedge above and bordering Cherry Croft is Pittosporum tenuifolium, a New Zealand endemic but widely planted, particularly as a hedging shrub.  The darker green on the right is English ivy and, on the left, Euonymus japonica.


Another stretch of hedge a bit farther along shows how low cut, or young, beech and hornbeam retain their dead leaves in winter.  The warmer brown examples on the left are of beech and the greyer ones on the right of hornbeam.  

The self-sown cotoneaster behind our shed is still bearing a fine crop of berries (see below).  I think it is C. simonsii, the Himalayan cotoneaster.  'Himalayan' seems to vbe a bit of a misnomer as the native home of the species is the Khasi (or Khasia) Hills between Bhutan and Bangladesh in Assam, India.  The fruit are reputed to have a nasty taste which is said to be the cause of their remaining so long.  However, I am not at all certain the the taste buds of birds operate in the same way as ours.  My granddaughter and I sampled the brries and, while they were somewhat tasteless, they could not be described as unpleasant.


In a wander down the lane towards Saul-Hunt's I discovered a fine clump Italian lords-and-ladies, gigaro chiaro, Arum neglectum ssp. neglectumThere are several places up the lane to the north and I expect this one has spread down from there.  I wrote much more about arums in this blog on 2 December 2017


A bit further south I found a small, self-sown bay tree (Laurus nobilis)a species not common in the wild.  The leaves resemble laurustinus, which grows not far away, but the smell of the bay gives it away


In my survey of the hedges along Churchland Lane, I have had another go at the various 'false cypresses'.  On the east side of the lane along the boundary of Jesmond is a very solid length of  Leyland cypress, Cupressus × leylandii.  I found some small, empty cones on this which almost certainly indicates that this is the Leighton Green clone, C. x leylandii is a hybrid between the Nootka cypress (Cupressus nootkatensis) and the Monterey cypress (C. macrocarpa).  The name 'Leighton' is from Leighton Hall in Powys where the first Leyland cypress was raised.


I end this January's account with a photo of the seeds of old man's beard poised to provide splendid material for the soon to be constructed local bird's nests.




21 January 2022  While the earth, covered in dead autumn leaves, waits for the green sprinkles of spring, the leaves of stinking irises (or gladdons), Iris foetidissima, make lovely sunshot fans.  This is a plant that continues to increase locally.


Another plant that comes into its own in winter is a large variegated Persian ivy, Hedera colchica Dentata Variegata.  Here it has climbs high up an oak tree in our garden and makes a good winter shelter for small birds and, no doubt, various insects.

If I walk around the footpath that passes to the south of Saul-Hunt's paddock I often see their free range chickens, brown feathered bundles like animals in a child's farmyard.  Although we often don't treat them very well, they are endearing  creatures as they walk jerkily across their patch looking for seeds and insects.


A little further on there is long overlap board fence.  The local badgers can't be bothered to go round this and have dug a hole under it.  Such animal runs are known as 'smeuses'.


In winter natural patterns become more obvious as there is not so much to see.  I liked this debarked branch (below) with snake-like markings, perhaps trails of insects that lived under the bark when the branch was alive or recently fallen.


20 January 2022  A sequence of frosty nights and sunny days has slowed the onset of pre-spring.  In the lane new tufts of nettles are showing and it will soon be time for nettle soup, zuppa di ortiche.


A few bluebell leaves poke through the ground ahead of the main flush and I wonder if they sare hybrids with Spanish bluebells or have some other genetic quirk.


In Killingan Wood I found what looks like a bush of Highclere holly, Ilex x altaclerensis.(see below). Some of the leaves look like the cultivar Cameliifolia as illustrated in Johnson & More, Collins Tree Guide, but in online picture the leaves of Cameliifolia are spineless, or almost spineless.  The Killingan Wood bush may be a hybrid between our native holly, I. aquifolium, and one of the Highclere cultivars of which there sre probably many in local gardens.


17 January 2022  Cold nights but sunny and cool days.  A badger has been digging for worms in the newly exposed stretch of verge alongside Churchland Lane


Birds are warming up for the breeding season.  The robin above was in full song in a hazel bush (with developing catkins in the background), a tawny owl was hooting in Churchland Wood and a great spotted woodpecker drumming in the trees along the stream on the western side of Churchland Fields.

The hazel catkins in the picture above mostly are closed, though higher up the bush they are starting to open (see below), while on the opposite side of the lane, in another bush, they are fully open.

14 January 2022  

A sharp frost overnight whitened the grass in Churchland Fields and covered creeping buttercup leaves in my second Square Metre with Ice crystals like a scattering of sugar.

I noted two leaf mines in a frosted bramble leaf halfway down the garden.  I am pretty sure these have been made by the larvae of the tiny moth Stigmella aurella (there are some similar species that mine bramble leaves).  The larvae and pupae can survive frosts and, if occupied mines are brought indoors and kept in a jam jar, the moths like sooty, black sparklets will emerge often quite quickly.


I had a moment of delight when I found a single dandelion in full flower despite the hard weather.  As Wordsworth wrote:

To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.



13 January 2022  I often wonder why some red berries are consumed by the birds much faster than others.  Those of rowans or hawthorns are stripped very quickly, for example, but black bryony and holly berries often stay in place well into the new year and there is a small bush in our lane of a rose cultivar covered in hips this mid-January (below).

One of my favourite books Birds and Berries by Barbara and David Snow (T & A D Poyser, 1988) says that black bryony berries are eaten, usually after they have been on the vine for some time, by blackbirds and thrushes, though robins will occasionally tackle them though they are rather too large to swallow in one go.


Black bryony berries (below) are toxic to humans but perhaps simply rather unpalatable to birds.  The problems with humans and, presumably with other mammals, is that the berries (and root tubers) are full of calcium oxalate that forms tiny needle-sharp crystals that can penetrate skin and cell walls causing irritation which can be dangerous internally.


Two hollies in particular have caught my eye this autumn and winter .  One was an example, probably of garden origin, with an exceptionally rich crop of berries hanging over a fence in Broad Oak Brede (below).  


The other is a young plant on the fringe of my Square Metre project where it has been bird-sown from the overhanging medlar tree (see below).  It looks like a form of Highclere holly, Ilex x altaclerensis,  Judging by the shape and texture of the leaves and the prickles it is probably a hybrid between a garden form of Highclere holly and our native species, what is known as introgressive hybridisation.  The I. x altaclerensis of horticulture is a hybrid between Ilex perado (probably from Madeira) and our native species.  It is widely planted in gardens usually as a variegated clone with almost or completely spineless leaves. 


10 January 2022   


A lot of my 'ramblings' are now confined to Churchland Lane (above), the unadopted road to my house.  It is a cul-d-sac 833 metres long and it rises from 60 to 75 metres to the north of the East Sussex village of Sedlescombe.  There are good views to the west as far as the forest ridges to the north and south of Battle.  The horizon in picture below shows the highest part of Dallington Forest some 8km (5 miles) to the west of the lane with Sedlescombe parish church in the foreground.


I also like the view, also to the west, across Churchland Fields to the bright buildings with their mix of evergreen and deciduous trees on Sandrock Hill.  They often catch the afternoon sun.

8 January 2022  Cold, hard rain all day and all night.  I didn't venture forth.  Instead I took this picture, blurred with rain, through the French windows out into the patch of garden I spend much of each day contemplating.  


I wondered where the birds I usually see were sheltering.  The commonest species (I don't have bird feeders) are blackbirds, hedge sparrows, wrens, robins, thrushes, wood pigeons and magpies.  All the finches, except that occasional goldfinches and bullfinches, have disappeared and, of course, there are buzzards and things flying overhead that I cannot see. Indeed when the windows are covered with raindrops and my glasses are dirty I cannot see very much at all. It's cold indoors too.

6 January 2022  A sharp overnight frost leaving a white sheen over the lawn and silvered fallen leaves on the wooden ramp outside my window.

The terminal leaves of the spurge Euphorbia amygdaloides ssp. robbiae (Mrs Robb's bonnet) start to expand, in their bent over way, at this time of the year like narrow hop cones and contrasting with the old, darker green foliage.  In a few weeks they will have grown into flower heads. This is one of the earliest signs that things are starting to move towards spring.


5 January 2022  A sunny, mild morning.  In the hedge on the eastern side of the lane I found a single plant of Berberis darwinii.  Though not very obvious, I was surprised at the number of times I must have walked past it without noticing it.

We have a very active thrush, perhaps a pair, in the garden that looks as though they will soon be starting to build a nest.

3 January 2022  A change of walking route took me right to the end of Churchland Lane (nearly half a kilometre from home). A few metres up Hurst Lane, in the front garden of Tresco, I stopped to look at the fragile blossoms on the winter flowering cherry, Prunus x subhirtella 'Autumnalis Rosea'.


This cherry is a very long-lived species and there are some massive and very old specimens in Japan where it originated. There is, for example, an 1800 to 2000 year old  tree called the Jindai Zakura in the grounds of the  Jissō-ji temple in the community of Hokuto in Yamanashi prefecture. Some stones of this were taken into space by NASA and circled the earth for 8 months.  One of those which germinated produced flowers with six petals instead of five.

New Year’s Day, 1 January 2022

Must get more done this year.

On the western side of Churchland Lane there is a 30 metre stretch of verge that has been cleared right back to the hedge. This has left a 2 metre wide stretch of somewhat disturbed, dark and rich looking soil with a variety of low growing plants and the saw-shattered stumps of young trees and shrubs. A distinctive feature on New Year’s Day was the many shiny green tufts of emerging Arum maculatum, cuckoopint, leaves perhaps a hint that this newly uncovered section of this verge will reveal much of interest in coming months.

In the garden the pink, single camellia (Camellia × williamsii 'J.C. Williams') always the first, has started flowering. My late wife used to refer to this as "her camellia", though there were many more varieties in the garden. I assume it was because she could see it from the kitchen window.  The wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox, là méi) in the flowerbed where the old shed used to stand is in full flower and casting its powerful scent on the air on milder days.  This year it has perhaps the best display I have seen but the blossoms turn to a dowdy speckled yellow if there is much frost (so far this winter we have had only one or two nights of light frost and today the temperature reached 14°C, very high for the time of year).


Wintersweet is found wild in China where it is also widely grown, both for its winter scent and various medicinal properties.  The flowers can be sprinkled into tea.

Killingan Wood was calm and damp, a silent army of grey trunked hornbeam trees, with a carpet of decaying fallen leaves braided by muddy tracks.

On my walk I saw very few insects. Over most of my life warm winter days like this have seen numerous small swarms of many insect species that are adapted to flying only in the winter months. But they seem to have gone. This will affect birds and spiders as well as the many small creatures that must have fed on their fallen bodies and earlier stages. The consequences for biodiversity are unknown.

Many writers reflect on the decline of the cuckoo, or the pearl bordered fritillary, but this morning I would like to pay homage to an absent friend: Gymnometriocnemus brumalis a winter flying, non-biting midge.

Maybe, if we have a cold spell, there will be a belated emergence, but I hope 2022 will not be the year when we have to say goodbye to this small winter flying insect.