Saturday, 31 March 2012

Dog in the Hedge - flowering now

Many spring flowers are very colourful and beautiful like violets, primroses, cowslips, celandines and the rest.  But this little plant, called Dog's Mercury, is so small and insignificant that you have to get up close to appreciate its modest beauty. 

Because most of the flowers are male flowers it rarely produces seed.  Instead it spreads by underground runners called rhizomes.  This takes quite a while.  And it can't really compete with grass in a field.  So if you see a large area of Dog's Mercury it is likely to be in a hedgerow or a wood, and it is likely that that hedgerow or wood has been there a very long time.  We call plants like this 'Ancient Woodland Indicators'.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Pussy Willow

The yellow pollen on these male pussy willow flowers is fading.  Their job is done and the pollen will have reached the female flowers on female trees.  In summer the fluffy seeds will be spread in the breeze.  Pussy willows are very good colonisers of bare ground and will grow anywhere.  They don't make big, strong trees but their foliage is a food source for lots of insects.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Log-tailed tit nest

A minor disaster occurred during our latest bramble-bashing work party on 28th March.  We came upon the beautifuly constructed nest a of some long-tailed tits.  The whole thing was covered in pale green lichen flakes, woven together with moss and spider silk and suspended in a bramble bush about a metre above ground level.

By the time we saw it it was too late to save.  There were no eggs inside but we felt a bit guilty.  The birds had taken such care to make the nest and they had lined it with thousands of their own feathers.

Inside the nest

This is a good lesson for us:  not to do too much scrub clearance after mid-March.  Apparently Long-tailed Tit nests suffer a lot of predation and only 17% successfully produce new birds.  At least there were no eggs or young birds in the nest we disturbed.

An adult long-taled tit

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Bird survey

Coal tit

Steve Gilliard and Rob Collis have started bird surveys at Filnore Woods.  They take a couple of hours to walk round the site and record which species they see or hear, and how many of each.  If this is done on a monthly basis we shall be able to see how the bird population changes through the year and from year to year.  25 species were observed for the main March survey plus Mistle Thrush, Coal Tit, Raven, Jay and Rook, which were added later, making a total of 30 species.  The numbers were as follows:  

40 Wood Pigeon         
13 Blue Tit*
9 Great Tit*
8 Long-tailed tit*
8 Blackbird*
7 Chaffinch*
7 Chiffchaff*
6 Wren*
5 Magpie
5 Robin*
4 Bullfinch*
4 Dunnock*
4 Greenfinch*
3 Buzzard
3 Herring Gull
2 Carrion Crow
2 Collared Dove*
2 Goldcrest*
2 Goldfinch*
2 Mistle Thrush*
2 Rook
2 Stock Dove
1 Blackcap*
1 Coal Tit*
1 Green Woodpecker
1 Jay
1 Lesser Black-backed Gull
1 Raven
1 Song Thrush*
1 Yellowhammer

*  The birds marked with asterisks can all be heard on 'Brett Westwood's birdsong recordings';  click the link under 'helpful links' on the bottom right of this page.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012


Primroses are a familiar springtime flower.  The seeds are usually spread by ants, who like to feed on them.  Now, some time ago, about ten years, we did some coppicing in the wood that was growing in the valley.  It's mostly Hawthorn and Blackthorn with the odd Elm and Ash tree.  There were a few primroses at the edge so we moved a few into the wood. 

This is slightly contentious as Filnore Woods is intended to be a wild, natural place, not a garden.  On the other hand it could be argued that we were just lending a helping hand to speed up colonisation by the primroses.  Anyway they look very at home there now.  Go and take a look.  We have opened up the path through this patch of woodland.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Cherry Blossom

This cherry blossom, in bloom now, is high up in the trees that were part of a Council Tree Nursery over 15 years ago.  It is not the native wild cherry but a Japanese ornamental.  These trees were originally destined for street planting  or a park somewhere but got left behind along with several London Planes, Tree Cotoneasters, Apples, Labnurnums, Silver Maples, Pride of India Trees, Hornbeams and Roses.

You can walk through this part of the former tree nursery but you can also see the cherry blossom from the viewpoint at the top of the hill.

Myrobalan plum

The flowers of the Myrobalan Plum (Prunus cerasifera) are often mistaken for Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), but it flowers about a month earlier.  The flowers are a purer white than Blackthorn and they appear on the green twigs just as the leaves are opening.  Blackthorn twigs are darker - purply black - and the side shoots often end in sharp spines.  Another sure way to tell Blackthorn from Myrobalan (also called Cherry Plum) is to taste the fruits in autumn.  Cherry Plums are sweet but the Sloes on Blackthorn are sour enough to make your face crumple.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Lesser Celandine

On a sunny day at this time of year these little golden stars from the buttercup family are a cheery sight. They are the first common flowers to really get going in spring and they are everywhere - near far, wherever you are.  In fact in my garden I find them a very invasive weed.  But the flowers win me over every spring. 

Their name Celandine sounds a little bit like Celine Dion, so here she is. 
Sorry, I can't be serious all the time!

Saturday, 24 March 2012


Walking up the steep path to the viewpoint yesterday, I saw what I thought were some early dandelions.  But a closer look showed me that they were more like yellow daisies with a flat circle of disc florets in the middle.  And the stems wer not smooth tubes like a dandelion's but covered in little scale leaves.  These are the flowers of cotsfoot.  They close up in dull weather and at night, so I was glad of the sunny weather which had revealed them to me.

The leaves come after the flowers have gone to seed, which has given rise to the name 'son-before-father,' and they are shaped a bit like a horse's footprint, which is where the name 'coltsfoot' comes from.  The scientific name 'Tussilago farfara' is in part from the Latin word for cough 'tussis', like the French word 'tousser'.  This is because the leaves used to be smoked as a cure for asthma.  The picture of coltsfoot leaves below, was not taken at Filnore Woods

Monday, 19 March 2012

Fast and slow

This photo was taken by one of our volunteers, Derek Hore, but although it was in Thornbury it wasn't at Filnore.  Hopefully we have some there somewhere.  Slow worms, for that's what it is, are related to lizards more closely than snakes.  For one thing they have eyelids to blink with and their skeletons and scales are quite different from snakes'.

They eat a lot of slugs and worms and are in turn eaten by toads and frogs.  They are also killed by domestic cats.  To encourage one to come and eat the slugs in your garden, provide a piece of slate, tin or roofing felt flat on the ground and one may creep underneath for shelter.

Derek also took this picture of the slow worm's face.

You can see two short video clips of slow worms on the BBC page
(There is an underscore between Anguis and fragilis)

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Ash Trees with Ivy Cloaks

Three ash trees in the hedgerow between the Pylon Field and the Nursery Field at Filnore Woods.  They are wearing cloaks of ivy.  Ivy isn't a parasite on trees and it is a very good habitat, giving shelter and food for roosting birds, hungry rodents and a host of insects and spiders. One of our prettiest butterflies, the Holly Blue is dependent on it as a food plant for its caterpillars in summer. (see pic below)

Ivy does not usually strangle trees like Honeysuckle or weigh down the branches like old Man's Beard.  It can add to the weight and wind resistance of branches, however, and this can lead to wind damage of the trees.  It may also stop light getting to the tree and so prevent new shoots from growing. 

In the picture, the tree on the left is still managing to outgrow the ivy but only just.  Perhaps it is time to sever the ivy at the base.  As the ivy dies more light will get to the tree and it will be less likely to lose branches from the sheer weight of the ivy foliage.

A holly blue butterfly

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Hazel nuts start here

Back on 22nd December I posted a picture on this blog of the lambstail catkins waiting to flower.  They are the male flowers of the hazel.  Well now the sunny weather of March is here, they have expanded and are casting their pollen on the wind.  Only one grain is needed for each female hazel flower to be fertilised.  From this union grow the hazel nuts of autumn.

The female hazel flower is a tiny red star, small but beautifully formed,  on a bud on a little fruiting spur.  The photo below with my rucksack as a background, hardly does it justice.