Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The view to Oldbury

Here is a mere part of one of the views from the top of Filnore Woods

When the trees have leafed up, the Industrial Estate in the foreground is not so noticeable.  I have labelled a few of the features to help you orientate yourself:
  • Monterey Cypress tree in the Leisure Centre car park
  • Oldbury Church
  • Cedar trees at NGM
  • Tesco
  • Oldbury Power Station
See if you can identify anything else.  Best thing is to get up to the viewpoint yourself, of course.

Sunday, 22 April 2012


Bird cherry is in bloom now.  It's easy to miss the flowers which are mostly at the top of the tree.  This tree is near post 20 on the self-guided trail round Filnore Woods, in the part that we call Cuckoo Pen.

The Wild Cherry or Gean is also in bloom.  The photo below was taken near post 5, where the stream first enters the site from Merry Heaven Farm.

Earlier in March it was another member of the Prunus tribe, Blackthorn, that was showing off its white blossom. The picture below was taken at the entrance to the Tree Nursery Field near post 13 on 10th April.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Bombylius major, a bee fly

This "bee fly" is so called because it looks a bit like a furry bee.  The grubs or larvae feed on the grubs of solitary bees and wasps.  This one died on my window sill.

It's very common and can be seen poking its long schnozzle (sorry, proboscis) into spring flowers. and hovering around with a very loud and high-pitched whine.  The patterns on the leading edge of the wing are very attractive, I think.

You can remember its scientific name, Bombylius major, by thinking of it as a rather bad tempered (bilious) military gentleman (major) bombing around amongst the flowers.
"bomb-bilious-major" . . . .  Bombylius major.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Time for Cowslips

Cowslips, also known as "bunch of keys", are flowers of the fields and meadows rather than woodland.  But as we have plenty of grassland at  Filnore, we have plenty of these pretty flowers.  They seem to be springing up all over: under self-seeded oaks, in the paths we have cleared, on the compacted ground where the pylon repair vehicles drove, and of course amongst the grass.

Come now and see them at Filnore.
These in the photo were near post 5 in the Pylon field.
Post a comment to say where you found cowslips growing. 

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Brimstone and Peacocks

Although it is only April, three butterflies have been seen at Filnore already.  The orange-tip was mentioned in the blogpost of 16th April "Have you heard a cuckoo yet?"  Here are two more:

The yellow Brimstone butterfly, the earliest butterfly of spring, was flying in March.  It lays its eggs on leaves of Buckthorn.  We used to have several bushes but they have been killed off by the shade of bigger trees so it might be a good idea to plant some more next winter.

The Brimstone flutters along in a wandering way but the dark almost black butterflies that I have seen zooming and gliding over the nettles and brambles are Peacock butterflies.  They have four "eye" shapes on the top-side of their wings like the "eyes" on a peacock's tail.  Their caterpillars feed on nettles and the adult butterflies enjoy the nectar in the bramble flowers, so they are well supplied at Filnore

Monday, 16 April 2012

Have you heard a cuckoo yet?

This is the Cuckoo flower.  It's name shows that it flowers in April and May when the cuckoo arrives and begins to sing.  Have you heard a cuckoo yet?  Please post a comment if you have.

Cuckoo flower is also known as Lady's Smock or Milkmaids.  This plant usually prefers damp places.  Here are some growing perkily amongst the dandelions in Pylon Field.

One way to find it in Filnore Woods is to follow an Orange Tip butterfly.  It is the favourite foodplant for the caterpillars so Orange Tips lay their eggs on it.  Mr Orange Tip is easy to recognise but the females are just white, without the orange patch on their wings.  If you see one perched, though, notice the pretty, green mottling under the wings.

A male orange tip near Cuckoo Flower
(photo from www.wildaboutbritain)

Sunday, 15 April 2012


The bluebells in the hedges at Filnore Woods may be the remnants of natural woodland that stood here for hundredsof years.  We hope that they will spread throughout the site.  As you see they are now in flower.  You can find quite a colony of them near post 17 on the Jubilee Way footpath at the bottom of the Cowshed Field, and there are also a few in the Valley Woodland.  See the map below.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Black thorns, white flowers

Blackthorn is in many ways a pesky plant.  It spreads rapidly by means of suckers growing up from the roots and is one of the plants which we have to keep in check at Filnore, or it would block all the paths and cover the grassland.  When we cut it back to clear it, it takes revenge with its vicious thorns.

The off-white flowers appear on the dark twigs before any leaves.  (Compare the earlier, larger, whiter flowers and green twigs of Myrobalan Plum featured on my blog post of 26th March.)

Despite its peskiness, at this time of year, when every blackthorn bush is covered in blossom, it has its moment of glory

Map below shows where the view was taken

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Respect for your Elders

Elder is not a popular plant.  Many people regard it as a weed, because it is so successful.  The leaves have a distinctive smell, which some people dislike.  I quite like it, though;  it's a sort of "green" smell. 

I also admire it because it is one of the first, if not the first to green up in the spring.  Weeping willows and hawthorns are also early leafers, and horse chestnuts and bird cherries follow on soon after. But some elders already have their leaves open and working in March. 

I'm also looking forward to the big creamy umbels of flowers and the dark purple berries to follow.  It's a great food plant for many small creatures.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Easter Bunny

It's dificult to see mammals in the wild.  For one thing a lot of them operate mostly at night.  They are also shy and can detect people with their ears and noses long before we detect them with our eyes.  What you have to look for is signs of mammals and as it's Easter Sunday today, what could be more appropriate than rabbits as a subject.

Not Easter egss, I'm afraid, but the next best thing.  Rabbits do a lot of damage to farmers' crops and to newly planted trees, but they also keep the grass short which allows other wild flowers to thrive. 

This little pile of goodies was on top of an old ant hill near post 8 on our self-guided trail.  Rabbits often choose a particular spot and revisit it to deposit more droppings.  This is known as a latrine.  See the map below for the location of post 8.  Beyond this post, volunteers have re-opened the path which leads through the valley woodland, by cutting back a lot of blackthorn.  The path is still a bit rough so be careful if you explore this part of Filnore Woods

See below

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Fox in a Tree

I peered into the hollow in this ancient ash tree near the stream crossing.  At first it was too gloomy to see anything, but then as the eyes got accustomed to the darkness, the red-brown fur on the remains of a fox could be seen.

With mammals in the wild, it is rare that you actually see them. You see rabbit droppings, signs of squirrels feeding, bark damage by deer.  The thrill of actually seeing a wild animal is all the more exciting for being rare.

It's a mystery though.  Was the fox tossed in there by some secret hunter with a shotgun?  Did it become ill and sensing the end was near, crawl into a quiet place to die?  Did the tree swallow it up as Old Man Willow nearly did to the hobbits in Lord of the Rings?  
We may never know!

A flash photo shows up the red fur of a fox

Location of this ancient ash pollarded tree shown below

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Violets and Fritillary Butterflies

Photographed last week in Filnore Woods, these violets were blooming along the recently re-opened path through the Valley Woodland, between posts 8 and 11.  Although beautiful close to, they are easily overlooked. 

Violets are an important food plant for caterpillars of five of the Fritillary species of butterfly,  Most fritillaries are in decline, largely due to the decline in coppicing, but the Silver-washed Fritillary is doing well.  I have seen them gliding through glades in Lower Woods near Wickwar.  They are orange with black markings and quite dramatic in flight.  Perhaps if we encourage the violets with a bit more coppicing to let light into the woodland, we shall attract some of these impressive butterflies to our community woodland.  Experts are divided on whether they migrate to new woodlands or not.

This photograph of a silver-washed fritillary in Hatfield Forest,
from the Cambridge and Essex branch of Butterfly Conservation website

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Incriminating Evidence

"Aha!  Fresh, young horse chestnut leaves and bud scales on the ground in the old tree nursery at Filnore!   Who could have nibbled off such a thing?"

"What me?"

"Yes you, grey squirrel."

Horse chestnut shoots are the grey squirrels' asparagus.  Often they nibble halfway through the new shoots and leave them dangling at the end of the twig, or bite the young leaves and shoots right off.

You often see grey squirrels at Filnore but they move so quickly it's hard to photograph them.  This photo is therefore not one of mine.