Monday, 31 December 2012

Blue tit

These little birds are acrobats.  They frequuently hang upside-down in their search for food. 
What they eat are all sorts of seeds and insects.  Like so many garden birds they originally lived in woodlands so at Filnore they are always around.

Things to look out for are the yellow tummy with a black streak down the middle, the green back, and of course the blue wings, tail and beret. 
The face is also distinctive with white cheeks, a black eye-stripe and a little-hitler moustache. They can be quite fierce.
In shape, they don't seem to have any neck at all, and when they are excited the crest feathers on top of their heads rise a bit and make them look a bit pointy-headed.
They have a variety of chattery calls especially the scolding churr when a predator is about.  As well as Brett Westwood's birdsong recordings (see 'helpful links') there are thirteen recordings on the following website  Enter 'blue tit' in the 'species search' box and you will find videos, photos and sounds.
A pair of blue tits produce more eggs in a clutch than any other British species.  The female sits on the eggs for a couple of weeks, fed by her mate, but once they have hatched, the nestlings are fed by both parent birds, and take about three weeks to reach flying-away age. A pair of blue tits feeding their nestlings can get rid of up to 700 caterpillars in a day.  Whether the baby birds survive depends on weather and predators.  If they hatch before the caterpillars are available they will starve, despite the best efforts of mum and dad.  Jays sometimes pick them off as they emerge from the nest hole, and woodpeckers and squirrels will get them out of the nest if they can.  The biggest predator of both chicks and adults is the sparrowhawk.
If you put out peanuts, which they love, make sure they are in a wire or plastic container so that the adult birds can't get a whole nut and choke their chicks on  it. 

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Welcome Area

When Filnore Woods was first created in 1998, the area just inside the main entrance was just long grass.  We used it for woodland open days and by mowing the grass we created a pleasant welcoming area.  Here are some displays from the 2000 Woodland Open Day

Over the years it has got overwhelmed with brambles.  We have made a few attempts to clear it but thanks to our volunteers we made some real progress on Sunday 11th March this year, 2012.

There was already some grass visible between the brambles but five of us set to with slashers and loppers. .  .  .  .
.  .  .  .  .  and we managed to clear about half the area.  The brambles were 50% dead wood so we burnt as much as we could - great fun a bonfire.
Hopefully the grass will now grow and we can turn it back into a welcome area for open days and other events.  Unfortunately beneath the brambles are a whole lot of stinging nettles peeping through.  More work for the volunteers.

Further volunteer work on 28th March cleared the whole area and this was followed up by huge growth of nettles which re-grew after cutting several times.
It's now been strimmed off again.  Grass is spreading as well as several wild flowering plants.  Maybe next year a meadow?

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Christmas Round Robin

Here is a photo of a robin on the bird table in my garden. It's not Filnore Woods but there are certainly robins there.
Before you see them you can hear their 'tick' 'tick' calls and the tuneful song that they sing all through the winter.  The song is a claim to territory and both males and females, who look identical, sing, posture and even fight to defend their patch of hedgerow, woodland or garden.
They seem quite friendly and will be especially so if you are turning over the soil in your garden to produce the worms and other small creatures that they love to eat.  But to them you are just another blundering animal like a mole or even a wild boar, disturbing the ground and providing a feast.
Another feast which you can provide and which they really enjoy is meal worms.  You don't have to have live ones.  You can buy dried mealworms from the Garden Shop in Thornbury and put them on the ground or on a bird table. 
But try to avoid leaving the tempting morsels in a place where cats can hide nearby.  If a robin sees a cat you can hear it 'ticking' it off.  If the robin doesn't see the cat, you may not hear it sing again.

Happy Christmas to all readers of this blog not only in the UK but also in USA, Canada, Russia, Spain, Australia, Germany, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Italy, Ukraine, Brazil, Sweden, Colombia, Guam and Hungary.  I don't know whether you meant to read this blog but I am honoured that you did.  Hooray for global harmony !    Good luck in 2013 !

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Blackcap and Browncap

Really they are both called blackcaps but the female bird has a brown cap instead of a black one.


Otherwise they are grey, and I find them hard to see in the bushes, though some people are lucky enough to see them when they come to bird tables. 
The way I observe them is by their song.  In spring and summer the male sings tunefully, rather like a squeaky blackbird who has lost his music score.  The song is similar but has no shape, it just flutes along for a bit.  Listen to it on Brett Westwood's birdsong website.  There is a link on the right of the blog screen.
The blackcaps that breed here in summer seem to move out in September but then we get blackcaps from Germany and East Europe for the winter.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Winter Window Spider

These images are not strictly Filnore Woods photos, but this wonderful little spider, who spins her webs all through the winter, is probably present somewhere there.  I snapped her spinning on my window at home. 
The name is Zygiella X-notata but I call it the window spider, because it often builds a web on the corner of a window frame.  I have in fact seen one of these in the woods, attached to the wing mirror of my truck

Only the females survive the cold weather and they are the only orb-web spiders that spin right through the winter.  They really do seem to like window frames. 
 Here are a couple of professional photos.
You can see that Zygiella leaves a segment of her web clear, without any spiral threads.  Across this gap she stretches her signal line to pick up the vibrations of any insect that lands on the web.  Zygiella then trots out of her hiding place in the corner of the window frame and zaps the fly.
This close up shows the 'folium' on the back, a mark shaped like an oak leaf, which many spiders have.  Zygiella's folium is dark round the edges with a silvery centre.  Notice the little rings on her legs too.  These are called annulations and the different patterns can help you distinguish one species from another.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Ash die-back

I have received a number of enquiries about ash die-back (Chalara fraxinea) the disease which has been so much in the news.  Ash leaves often turn black in frost or very cold weather and this looked remarkably like the symptoms of the disease.
As far as I know there is no confirmed occurrence of the disease in this area.  It will be hard to recognise now that the leaves are off the ash trees and there is no danger of it spreading until the spores are released in mid summer - July and August.  So for now there is nothing to be done by the general public.
However I thought this video from the Forestry Commission might be of interest.  It shows how to recognise the disease.
There is another rather re-assuring video by Markus Eichhorn of Nottingham Science.  Maybe it's not all bad. 
The fungus overwinters on the woodland floor in the fallen leafstalks of infected trees, which it turns black.  So sweeping up the leaves and burning them can slow the spread of the disease. But really it seems to me that we can do little about it.  Once the 90% of affected trees (if we are anything like Denmark) have gone, then hopefully the 10% of resistant trees will start to re-colonise the woods.  Meanwhile the landscape will adapt.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Step building

On Wednesday last, seven of us were engaged on improving access near the footbridge at Filnore Woods.  Some of us were putting steps into the slippery slope, using coppiced hazel poles and hazel stakes to secure them.  Very local produce. 

We also attempted to imptove the path near the stream, with stones washed downstream by the recent spate of water from the wet weather.

A satisfying morning for the team of Alan, Sam, Guy, Steve, Allan and Brett. 

We shall continue the steps up the slope when we see how the first five perform.  The aim is to make it easier for human pedestrians and to reduce erosion of the soil on the slope.

Thursday, 29 November 2012


As promised, here is the first bird post about one of our commonest british birds, the blackbird.  Although it is often seen in gardens, it's probably because it thinks our gardens are woodlands. 

John Sheppard, Sulgrave Village website
 Only the male is black and he has a bright yellow bill and a yellow ring round his eye.  The female is better camouflaged for sitting secretly on the eggs in the nest.  You can see that blackbirds are in the thrush family.
from the RSPB website
Blackbirds eat worms, grubs and insects and also berries and fallen apples in autumn and winter.  They are successful because they are so adaptable.

The song is very fluty and attractive.  Brett Westwood (see link on right) says their contralto song is at its best on mild spring evenings. 

At sunset on summer evenings, and even now in November,  you can hear several birds with their contact call "pik", repeated at intervals.  I was hearing them in Filnore Woods this week.  The more alarmed they get, the faster the "piks" come.  And when they are really upset there is an accelerating machine gun shriek "pik-pik-pi-pi-pi-pi-pi-PI-PI-pi-pi".

Monday, 26 November 2012

Bird survey results

Here you can see an alphabetical list of birds observed in or above Filnore Woods. 
Many thanks to Rob Collis for conducting surveys and compiling this list.
You can see that some birds are always with us such as Blackbirds, Blue Tits, Crows, Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Wood Pigeons, 
Blue tit
while others have been seen or heard only once, for example Yellowhammer, Spotted Flycatcher, Heron and Coal Tit. 
By surveying each month we can see when birds come and go.  Fieldfares and Redwings are only with us in the winter while Willow Warblers and Whitethroats are summer birds. 
Whitethroat singing
Over the years we will be able to see if numbers are going up or down.
 A feature on each of these 44 birds will follow on the blog in coming months.
Bird photos are not taken by me.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Commemorative lime trees

In 2002 three small-leaved limes (Tilia cordata) were planted at the top of the pylon field near what is now post 3. 

Jerry watches anxiously while Allan hammers in a tree stake.  Sandi Shallcross with a spade, stands ready to plant
They were to commemorate:
(1) the 750th anniversary of Thornbury's Town Charter, granted by King Henry III in 1252
(2) the 50th anniversary of the current Queen's accession to the throne
and (3) the life of the Queen mother who had died that year.

The trees have suffered a few setbacks from competing vegetation, munching insects and even attacks by sharp-toothed dogs.  Nevertheless they have survived and are now revealed again since their enveloping blanket of brambles has been cut back

This is the central one of the three.  It looks a bit more impressive with its leaves on so I'll post another picture next summer.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Autumn sunshine

November can be beautifully sunny and on the Sunday before last, our work party was blessed with such a day.

Nine volunteers turned up and did clearing work by the comemmorative limes (more in my next posting), at the viewpoint, and at the old ruined cowshed.

Although it was sunny, the brambles were still
a bit too wet to burn.  This is a task waiting for a future work party

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Autumn colour mystery

In the misty moisty days of November, there is still a lot of colour in the wild.  This is a patch of blackthorn. The yellow leaves contrast strikingly with the rusty brown oak leaves and the silhouettes of the trees behind.
But here's a strange thing:  in the misty photo above, the blackthorn on the right has yellow leaves, while on the left the leaves are green with a tinge of brown.  The same plant but completely different colours.  And so too with the brambles.
Some of them are bronzy red while others are still green and growing.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Flowers in November

November starts off with glorious autumn colour but wet days can feel a bit gloomy in this month.  Birds are quiet, except for corvids, insects are mostly in their winter quarters or dead from the cold, and the plants are looking a little tired.

But fortunately, even now, there are wild flowers to enjoy.  This week I found a late ragwort still providing pollen for any surviving insects.

White dead nettles still in flower

And good old hogweed which seems to be in flower all through the year.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Winter thrushes - grey and orange

If you see a flock of thrushes eating rowan berries or fallen apples, look out for grey headed fieldfares, and redwings with a rusty orange flash of colour under their wings.

Both species of birds spend summer in northern Europe - Scandinavia and Russia, but when winter comes they move south and are quite common in Britain. 
Fieldfares are quite big for thrushes with very spotty fronts and a rusty tinge on their chests. They look rather smart with their grey heads and rumps, black tails and brown backs.

Redwings are smaller, shyer and a bit more homely with streaky spots on their tums and white stripes above and below their eyes. 

When they fly off, the rusty orange under their wings is surprisingly bright and is what gives them their name, whereas the fieldfare has white 'armpits'.

Redwing                                       Fieldfare

Friday, 26 October 2012

The Cowshed

We call the middle section of Filnore Woods the Cowshed Field because there used to be an old cowshed at the foot of the slope.  Nowadays the site of the cowshed is overgrown with brambles.
But things are changing.  We have started work on removing the brambles, which are in plentiful supply at Filnore.  When this has been achieved we may be able to use the foundations of the old cowshed as a base for something interesting: a barbecue site? an oak-framed barn?  a concert hall?  Any other suggestions?  Think adventurously and send a comment. 
Can you make out Guy, Brett, Dave and Steve cutting brambles and piling them up?