Friday, 29 May 2015

It's raining today, but the other day I saw these dandelion clocks up the Welcombe Hills

Like many of the plants that bring colour to the Welcombe Hills, the dandelion (pis en lit as it's also known) is not welcome in our gardens and lawns. In the hills though it grows profusely and along with the buttercups makes the yellow carpet associated with spring. Traditionally, April is the time for gathering the flower heads to make wine and a fine wine it makes too. I've a 2 year old demijohn of the stuff and it's now ready for drinking. The good thing about the dandelion is that there is plenty for everybody including the bees that also love it.

In May the dandelion seeds and we see the familiar dandelion clocks. Because this spring has been so good for growing there seems to be more than ever and they do make a fine display collectively and individually.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

I saw Red Campion in the woods up the Welcombe Hills

One of the good things about frequent and regular walks up the Welcombe Hills is that you tend to notice the gradual changes and especially in spring when there is so much growth. In the woods the bare ground belonged to the emerging celandines and violets. These thrive because they are early to get going before the nettles, burdocks, cow parsley and docks start to show. In the woods this morning the nettles are waist high and starting to flower. The huge leaves of the burdock fight for space and light along with the foliage of the Red Campion. In the picture below are all of these plus bramble and the elder which if left uncurbed will dominate.
 The Red Campion has a lovely flower and brings a welcome splash of colour.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

I saw White Bryony up the Welcombe Hills

It was pleasing to see the emergence of some familiar plants when I was walking the other day. One such is the White Bryony, a perennial climbing plant widespread in the Welcombe Hills. It seems to suddenly appear and when it does grows rapidly using spring-like tendrils to anchor it as it climbs. It's actually a member of the Gourd Family. The flowers are small, as you can see, greenish-yellow and dwarfed by the large leaves. In the autumn it will have red berries.

I came across this one in Clopton Field climbing the fence that divides Clopton and Welcombe sides. You should also find one climbing the fence surrounding the old swimming pool and another regularly appears at the foot of that forlorn ash tree (that refuses to give in despite being hollow and limbless) which is just up from the swimming pool.

By the way, the Black Bryony is an entirely different species being a member of the Yam Family. Also a climbing perennial, it doesn't have tendrils and the leaf is heart-shaped. I'll post some pictures when I come across one.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

I saw these flowers up the Welcombe Hills

With my woodpecker fixation purged by thoughts of honey fungus (now that's a sentence you won't see very often) my walks today up the Welcombe Hills allowed me to enjoy the May blossom.

With apologies to hay fever sufferers, there surely can be no better sight in the hills than the May blossom. The hawthorn can be a pernicious tree: it readily propagates, spreads everywhere and once established, denies light to the ground preventing anything else from growing there. Its thorns are sharp. In the spring and autumn though it redeems itself and I for one will never tire of those pure white blossoms and deep red berries.
The picture on the left is of two hawthorns in Clopton Fields which are likely to have been part of a hedgerow, judging by the bank they stand upon and the ridge and furrow to the fore. The buttercups add a lovely yellow that also covers your shoes as you walk. In the background is a tall lime tree to the left and shorter ash to the right.

The blossoms themselves repay close inspection as the two close ups I took today show. Such is the brilliance of the white when viewed from a distance en masse it is easy to miss the beauty of the individual flower. 

The deep pink anthers (as you'll remember from school biology…) produce the pollen. Click on the images to enlarge them.

Some hawthorn trees have petals tinged with pink. There are a few of these in the Welcombe Hills. If you enter the Clopton Park field from the parking area you'll see one just to your left as you go in. How gorgeous is that?

A couple of observations about trees up the Welcombe Hills

I've been a little bit preoccupied with watching the woodpeckers visiting that nest in the ash tree when going on my walks in the hills. The other morning I stood away from where the nest is and watched the adults go to the surrounding trees to forage for the grubs to be fed into those waiting hungry mouths. In that area there are a number of larch trees and one or two of them appear to be dead being leafless and riddled with holes. The woodpeckers often went to these for food but I couldn't photograph them as they moved energetically around the trunk appearing and disappearing from view.

Then I remembered that I'd meant to take some pictures of the larch trees so I abandoned woodpecker watch to see if I'd left it too late to see the bright red female cones. Well, there were some and I was pleased not to have missed them completely this year.

There are quite a few larch around the Welcombe Hills. In winter they drop their needles and look lifeless. But in the spring the soft green needles appear followed by the bright red cones that will hold the seeds. The emptied cones from the previous year remain on the tree throughout the winter and the following year.

Turning to walk back home down from the reservoir area towards the Welcombe Hotel I passed a tree that was definitely dead - a Horse-chesnut that has been standing for a number of years in an undignified state of decay. Attempts by  youngsters to set it alight have failed but left it charred and quite spooky. Over the years I've seen a number of mature trees die and eventually fall. More often than not the culprit is honey fungus which, once it appears signals the end for the tree.
It often called the bootlace fungus and in that name is the clue to it's destructiveness. The evidence that his horse-chestnut tree was killed by the honey fungus or one of the other destructive fungi can be found beneath the bark. Remove some and the web of black rhizomorphs can be seen - hence the name bootlace fungus.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Here's my short video of woodpeckers feeding their young

I watched two woodpeckers visit their nest with beaks of food.

The rain eventually eased late this morning so I togged up for another walk up the Welcombe Hills. I've been visiting a particular spot in the woods where every year about this time morel fungi have been showing. None so far and not today. That's the lot of the fungi forager I'm afraid: hope followed by disappointment but always followed by renewed hope.
Never mind. 

On the way back home the sun broke through and passing through the reservoir area I heard the distinctive cheep-cheep of woodpecker chicks. I stopped, got my camera ready and set it to video. I knew from previous years there was a hole used for a nest high in an ash tree. After a few seconds the squeaking got louder and more frenetic signalling the likelihood of food and not one but but both parents in turn fed the chicks inside. Unfortunately Blogger won't upload the video so until I work out why not - here's a still. 

You can find this tree in the reservoir area. Position yourself on the track and with your back to Clopton House, listen for the chicks and you should be lucky. Take some binoculars for a good view. 

Last May I saw this woodpecker and young

I thought I'd sort through the photos I've been taking over the last couple of years. I was surprised to find over 5,000 on my Mac, not all of which it has to be said are really worth keeping. Before digital photography and the low costs of digital storage the lover of wildlife would have to rely on notebook observations or memory to recall past observations. Lacking the discipline to keep a notebook (I've tried) and having a poor memory, digital photos provide a handy alternative as most software will automatically log the date when pictures were taken.

Well, I didn't do any sorting out of the photos because it occurred to me that it would be interesting to see what I had photographed last May and I came across these. They brought back memories of standing beneath trees looking for woodpecker nests. Doing this randomly is a good waste of time and relies on chance. The trick I use it to listen first for the terse 'tchik' of the adult woodpecker signalling its approach to the hole where the nest is. The second sound is the call of the young which sounds like rapid repeating of 'cheep-cheep' the like a rasping or the sawing of wood when the chicks are more mature. Then look. The great spotted woodpecker is not a big bird - perhaps the size of a blackbird - and moves fast. It will often circle the nest and appears to be sensitive to the presence of people and dogs below. This means that if you can't easily locate the hole in the tree you may have to be patient and keep watching and listening.

My patience was rewarded last May when the woodpecker alighted next to the nest hole and shortly after poking its head in to feed the young and flying off again, a chick popped its head out as if to say 'what, no more?'. Click on the images to enlarge them and get a better view.

This was in an ash tree and you'll see many holes in them where nests have been but the chances are that it will be a jackdaw you see coming and going rather than a woodpecker.

My camera isn't very well suited to this type of photography but I'm glad I took these pictures and will be looking out for the woodpecker nests again this month up the Welcombe Hills.

One final thought about standing underneath trees looking up for nests. When we first came to the area I'd been standing underneath a tree for some time trying to see where the sound of the woodpecker was coming from. My unusual behaviour aroused the curiosity of a man with a red setter. 'What are you doing?' he asked. 'Looking for a woodpecker nest', I replied. Ian and I have been good friends ever since.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

I saw spring in full bloom up the Welcombe Hills

The Horse-chestnut trees along the bridle path that runs from Clopton Tower to Clopton House are now in full bloom. There is evidence of these running all the way down to the farm beyond Clopton House. The Horse-chestnuts alternate with Lime trees and between them create a stunning walkway at this time of year that is visible from the top of Blue Cap Road.

There are both Red and White flowered Horse-chestnuts. The white is the more common arriving here in the late 16th C spreading from the Balkans. The red flowered Horse-chestnut is a hybrid of the Balkan variety and Red Buckeye. Other than the colour of the flowers the red tends to be the smaller of the two and the red bears a smooth conker shell - the white flowered  a spiky shell.

Another flower that has appeared in Clopton Fields and is a common meadow flower is the curiously named Black Medick. It's a member of the Pea family and the 'black' refers to the seed pods of that colour. Another distinguishing feature of the Black Medick is a tiny point to each of the leaves. Each flower head is made up of many small flowers (10-50). 

I do like the showy Horse-chestnuts but the smaller, prostrate flowers of the field are worth seeking out though the naked eye won't do them justice.

Monday, 11 May 2015

I saw this female Orange Tip butterfly this morning

I posted a picture of the male Orange Tip butterfly a few weeks ago showing its distinctive colouring. I've also posted pictures of this butterfly's eggs. In contrast the female of this species is white with black tips on her wings and looks not very different from the other white butterflies that we see. 

What distinguishes her from these other whites is her underside which has the mottled green and white she shares with the male. I saw two of these on the edge of Rowley Fields this morning. One settled briefly on Cow Parsley in the sun and basked long enough for me to get this.

As with all my pics this one will enlarge if you click on it and the resolution should be good enough to see some of her details.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

I enjoyed this view of the Tower from Rowley Fields

The weather has been typical for May making going for a walk up the Welcombe Hills needing some big decisions…do I wear a fleece, t-shirt or a coat? Maybe take all three as you never know what weather that sometimes fierce wind will bring in. Rough winds after all do shake the darling buds of May.

I was struck by this view as I was on my way with the dogs towards the Tower House, thinking that if we were going to walk up the hills would the bridle path towards Clopton House or the track towards the reservoir provide most shelter.  The dark dramatic clouds in the distance, the grey stone of the Tower House and the bright yellow of the buttercups in the foreground looked to be worth capturing.

I can't remember which way we went in the end. I was well-togged up but probably got soaked anyway. 

Saturday, 9 May 2015

I saw this Small Tortoiseshell butterfly

What a beautiful day to go walking up the Welcombe Hills. Three walks with the dogs today and enjoyed photographing spring flowers and this wonderful Small Tortoiseshell butterfly in Rowley Fields. It was sunning itself on the grass and in anticipation of it flying off I snapped it from about 2m away. It didn't seem to want to move and I managed to use the macro setting and get up very close. What a wonderful butterfly. It's one of our common ones.

Also in Rowley Fields I noticed two common flowers: the Cut-Leaved Cranesbill and the Common Vetch. The former is one of the Geranium Family , the latter, the Pea Family. You can easily see the characteristics they share with our cultivated varieties.
Both have very small flowers and small is often beautiful and the more so the closer you need to look.

Cut-leaved Cranesbill

Common Vetch

Thursday, 7 May 2015

I enjoyed the view of the fields up the Welcombe Hills today

The sunlight, warmth and rain has turned Rowley Fields from a patch of grass into a beautiful meadow. The Meadow Foxtail grass has dominated of late and their heads stand tall but the Cow Parsley with its tiny white flowers reach higher. Beneath, the yellow of the first dandelions are turning into the familiar seed heads, catching the wind that will carry them away. Buttercups are pushing through and the purple and white of the clover are showing and today I noticed the Common Vetch starting to flower.

These were always more than dog walking fields. Over the coming weeks the height will increase and we'll begin to see the Meadow Browns, Marbled Whites and other butterflies that thrive here.

In between the rain showers I looked towards Clopton Tower and snapped this pic. Beautiful. Could have been a building site…

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

I saw these Dryad's Saddle up the Welcombe Hills today

There's a common misconception that fungi are only about in the autumn. Well, the bit we call the 'mushroom' or 'fungus' - i.e. the fruiting body - is more common at that time of year. The actual organism is of course alive and well all year round and there are many that show themselves at times other than autumn.

One such is the lovely Dryad's Saddle or to use it's scientific name  polyporus squamosus (scaly polypore). If you want a detailed account of this fungus best go to Mushroom Expert the best site around.

This one was found in the woods opposite the Welcombe Hotel growing on dead ash.

On the topic of spring fungi, the tasty St George's mushroom didn't appear in it's usual location this year. Not to worry, it's been growing in my garden ever since I brought some home a few years ago. Yum yum.

Monday, 4 May 2015

I saw Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars up the Welcombe today

Stingers don't appear to be much use for anything apart from causing pain and discomfort at the slightest touch by bare flesh or through any flimsy garment. Do dock leaves really soothe the painful nettle rash? Believe what you will, children across the generations have been urged to rub the rash with dock leaves and probably still do. Does it really work? The Natural History Museum thought so, but others aren't so sure. The sceptics say the nettle sting is an acid (methanoic or formic) which would take an alkali to neutralise it. Dock contains oxalic acid so can't possibly neutralise it. 

What is for certain is that Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Comma butterflies love stingers!

I've posted pics from last year already showing dozens of spiny Peacock larvae over nettles in Rowley Fields. Yesterday morning I was on the lookout for earlier signs of the butterflies' activities by checking nettles for curled-up leaves, see below.

Many will think these leaves are unfurling or even dying back. They actually contain a little secret. The Small Tortoiseshell butterfly lays dense mounds of green eggs on the underside of topmost nettle leaves. When they hatch the caterpillars (larvae) spin a web which protects them. The silk strands contract as they dry pulling  the sides of the leaf together providing added protection.

Carefully opening one up the larva can be seen. This one was on the leaf feeding and dashed back into its web as soon as it felt in danger. It's immature (hence green)  but will soon turn black as it grows and those black dots will form the spines. The other black dots on the nettle leaf are poo. The holes in the leaf show where it has been nibbling.

Nettles are good then and now we know what they are for. These ones were just inside Blue Cap Covert behind the benches in the upper Rowley Field.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

I saw a Speckled Wood butterfly up the Welcombe Hills today

I saw this Speckled Wood butterfly today on nettles by the orchard in Clopton Fields. It's common enough and often seen near the hedgerows and woods.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

I saw Germander Speedwell up the Welcombe Hills

Germander Speedwell - 'bird's eye' or 'cat's eye' - is a common native plant from the veronica family and can be found is most habitats including hedgerows. According to Wildlife Trusts :

Considered a good luck charm for travellers, the bright blue flowers of Germander Speedwell are meant to 'speed' you on your way. This reputation may well have come about because of its habit of forming large clumps in hedgerows, roadside verges and grassy lanes

It's a pretty little flower you'll agree. The pic should enlarge for you to see the fine hairs that characterise it and the detail of the darker blue lines on the petals.

You'll have to look closely to find these but they will be flowering for the next few months.

I saw all this Hawthorn Blossom

If the Blackthorn blossom signals the end of winter, then the Hawthorn blossom marks the start of spring. These last few days it's been starting to show and very soon the hedgerows will be white. Look out from the rise down towards the Welcombe Hotel and beyond to the monument in the coming weeks and see the transformation.

This is a great time of year and already the buttercups, dandelions, dead nettles and other spring flowering plants are colouring the landscape. I'll be taking pics and posting these up. 

I saw this Chicken of the Woods up the Welcombe Hills today

This is a good find.Chicken of the Woods (also known as Sulphur Polypore) is juicy and edible when young but tough and brittle when old. It must be cooked before eating.
This one was found just behind the benches at the top of Rowley Fields in Blue Cap Covert.