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.