Thursday, 31 January 2013

Butterflies in the wet

If you go to the BBC website homepage and click 'Nature' under the 'Explore' heading down on the right, you come to a load of interesting stuff.  Scrolling down a week ago I came to an article headlined 'Some butterflies enjoy wet 2012.'  This recounted that the lush growth of grass in last year's wet summer favoured butterflies whose caterpillars eat grass.

This includes gatekeepers

meadow browns

marbled whites

and ringlets

On the other hand most butterflies did badly in the wet, notably the common blue, down in number by more than half.  In fact lots of insects sufffered in the wet weather because moulds, viruses, bacteria and fungal diseases prosper in damp conditions. 
Who cares?
Well we all should. 
I like insects and spiders, but even if you don't, they are an essential part of the web of life.  No caterpillars at nesting time means blue tits' and great tits' babies starve.  No tawny mining bees at apple blossom time and who will pollinate the flowers and start the fruit growing?  If ladybird and lacewing populations plummet, aphid pests have nobody feeding on them and so no check on their numbers.

Photographs are from the excellent  See also and

Sunday, 27 January 2013


Another bird from our bird survey

Yesterday there was a crow on the fat-ball feeder in my garden! We often get magpies and occasionally jackdaws but this crow was clearly desperate for something to eat.

Crow (rspb)

The crow or 'corvid' family includes Crows, Rooks, Jackdaws, Jays, Magpies and Ravens.  The Crow is the most frequent visitor to Filnore Woods out of these, as you can see on the bird survey results posted on 26/11/2012.  But all six species have been recorded there.

Rooks 'caw' conversationally but crows shout their harsh 'Caaar, caaar, caar' three or four times together.  If you see a crow perched somewhere when calling, he or she makes a bow with each 'Caaar'.  Their larger, more solitary cousin the raven makes a thoughtful and deeper 'Cronk' as it flies past.

Crow calling
Crows are all black and rather tidier than the less sinister but more disreputable looking rooks who have dirty white faces and shaggy trousers.
Rook (rspb)

Crows are very intelligent birds as are all the corvids and can be taught to do things. That is why they feature in so many films such as Hitchcock's "The Birds".  If you have ten minutes to spare there's an interesting TEDtalk on YouTube called 'The amazing intelligence of crows'.

The full name is Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) because they will feed on dead animals or carrion and help to tidy up the place.  We need such carrion feeeders - nature's dustmen or garbage collectors.  (I get more American readers of this blog than British, strangely.)  I often see crows pecking at roadkill.  They are omnivores though and will scoff down whatever they can find - insects, baby birds, seeds, berries, worms and even newborn lambs.  They are successful as a species because they are so opportunistic - like dandelions!

Monday, 21 January 2013

Lovely, dark and deep

I stopped by the woods on a snowy evening.
Two ashen sentinels guarded the entrance

The path led through the trees

to a slope of implacable snow, dotted with criss-crossing tracks of birds and deer and foxes - you can tell by the smell in the air.

Like the trees, the snow and ice are indifferent to our presence.  They don't care if we are there; they don't care if we're not.

But what is this?  I am not alone. 

Someone with big boots has been here

And these parallel tracks?  What sort of animal?

Aha!  A small person and his dad run ahead while mum pulls the sledge.

Oh yes, of course.  Filnore Woods Community Woodland is for families as well as would-be poets!

Friday, 18 January 2013

Feeding birds

I didn't make it to Filnore Woods today but saw some birds out of my window.  Unfortunately I don't have a very powerful lens on my camera but here is the laburnum tree on our patio with two seed dispensers, a doughnut-shaped peanut holder and a fat ball holder.

The great tits and blue tits can hang on upside down but other birds like robins and chaffinches like to perch in the middle of the doughnut.  Blackbirds and dunnocks prefer to hop about on the ground picking up the bits that drop. 
Right in the middle of the photo above there is a little bird pecking at a fat ball.  If I crop the picture . . . . . . . . . 

 . . . . . . .  you can see it's a blackcap.
We also have a bird table, which is nearer the window so only the bolder birds like robins and blackbirds have so far visited it.

Notice that we also followed advice from Chris Packham on 'Winterwatch' and included a dish of water.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Winter gnats

On a mild winter's day you may see a cloud of these winter gnats dancing up and down under a tree or near an outside light. It's the males dancing to attract females.
 a dead one from Wild Yorkshire website
Winter gnats are around all the year but you notice them most in winter because (a) few other invertebrates are around and (b) that's when the courting dance, the swarming if you like, takes place.

The eggs are laid on damp rotting material so the larvae do a good job clearing up rubbish.

Brian Valentine
They look like mosquitoes but winter gnats do not bite and are quite harmless.  If you catch one you can be sure it is a winter gnat (Trichocera sp.) if it has the very short, curved vein on the inner side of the wing, near where it joins on to the thorax.  You can just see it in the picture below near the drumstick-like halteres.

Jason G on
 I salute them for being some of the few insects to dare to come out in winter. A sign of hope that life is still pulsating even in the depths of winter. 

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Signs of spring

I took a walk on Sunday to see what's happening in Filnore Woods.  At first glance there's not much to show that the place is still alive.

But climbing the sloping path between posts two and three I saw hazel catkins waiting to open on one side of the path

While on the other side of the path, where they get more sun, the catkins were already open.

On the woodland floor near post nine in the Valley Woodland one of the first plants to appear was producing fresh green leaves.  This is the Wild Arum or Cuckoo Pint or Lords and Ladies or Jack in the Pulpit or Parson in the Pulpit or Parson's Pintle.  All these I have heard people use but wikipedia also gives Devils and Angels, Cows and Bulls, Adam and Eve, Bobbins, Naked Boys, Starch-Root and Wake Robin.

Cuckoo pint

And nearby there were lots of primrose plants  - more than ever before.  We should have a good show this year.


Near post 17 in the hedge between the old tree plantation and the cowshed field, bluebells are already poking their green fingers out of the leaf litter.


Every year I feel cheered during the wet, grey and gloomy weather of January, to see signs of spring so early. 

Sunday, 6 January 2013


The male bullfinch is a very fine-looking fellow with his black cap pulled right down over his eyes and his rosy pink chest.

The female has the same patterning but no rosy front. 
She's a sort of monochrome version.

When they take off with a fast, undulating flight, you may notice the white wing stripes and rump against the black tail and wing feathers.

I have seen bullfinches round the Thornbury leisure centre car park sitting in bushes and trees, pecking the buds, especially on hawthorn.  They can be a real menace in orchards as they destroy some of the blossom.  As you will see from the bird survey figures posted on 26th November, bullfinches are active in Filnore Woods.
They have a quiet call "few few"  or maybe it's
"phew phew".  As with many birds, it's the call that tells you they are there and then you can start to look for them.