Friday, 27 September 2013

Shedding light, not setting light to the shed

A day's work at Filnore Woods, in preparation for the new toolshed.  Here are Steve, Guy, Allan, Stella, Brian and Alan with a smoky bonfire behind them.

We had been clearing away brambles and two small trees to make way for the delivery of our shipping container.  This is to be a toolshed for the Friends of Filnore Woods.  We have just had our South Gloucestershire Environment Grant approved and this will allow us to buy the shed and have the track improved to prevent swamp conditions in winter.
Something that intrigues me is why we have so many readers from other countries.  Last week for example the top ten countries visiting our blog were USA (2469 hits), France (655), Germany (201), Poland (168), UK (only 140), Indonesia (124), Spain (116), Russia (95), Thailand (52), Taiwan (22).  We also have visits from China, Lithuania, Latvia, Brazil, Uzbekistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Are you visiting regularly or do you just happen on the blog by chance and move on quickly? 
If you can make the comment thingy work
perhaps you could tell me
or email

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Batting in the dark

Last night we had about 25 people on our Bat Walk at Filnore Woods and with the help of about 20 hand-held bat detectors we heard FIVE different species of bat.  That's two more species than last year.
We had help from Jim of Avon Bat Group, who had a very sophisticated bat detector that could pick up echo location calls from a wide variety of bats, whereas our simpler detectors had to be tuned to the right frequency for each species.
Pipistrelle  - Europe's smallest bats.  (photo from wikipedia)
We heard Common Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle, Serotine, Noctule and Myotis bats.   The Myotis bats are a group of several species that sound very similar, so you would have to catch one to be sure of the species.  But of course it is illegal to handle bats unless you have been thoroughly trained and certified as a bat handler.  Don't laugh!  There are so many ways you can damage bats and their habitats that they need the protection of wildlife law.
Noctule bat.  They come out early and fly high. (photo from Birds2Blog)
Laura from the Avon Bat Group gave us a fascinating talk before we set off in the dark to see and hear the bats.  Many thanks to her, to Jim and to Chris from South Gloucestershire's Open Spaces Team for running this event as part of the South Glos Discover Festival, which goes on until November 1st.  Check the website for further events at
Serotine Bat.  (photo Henry Stanier of Bedfordshire Bat Group)

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Daddy Long Legs

September is the traditional time for Daddy Longlegs or Crane Flies  (Tipula oleracea).  They mostly live in grassland, which includes domestic lawns, but they are also attracted to light so you may find them in your house on warm evenings when the windows are open.  They get stuck in the top corners of tents too if you are camping at this time of year.

The reason they like grassland is that that is where they lay their eggs.  The females have a pointed end to their bodies so that they can place the eggs underground where the grass roots are.  This pointy bit is called an ovipositor which means "egg-placer".

The male bodies have a square end so you can easily tell Daddy Longlegs and Mummy Longlegs apart.

The larvae that hatch from these eggs are called leatherjackets and look a bit like greyish caterpillars.  They can cause damage to lawns by eating the roots.  They also help to recycle decaying matter in the ground, chomping away underground through autumn, winter and spring. 

Then out they pop in September again for two weeks of adult activity - mating, egg-laying and aerial dancing.  They may eat a bit of nectar but most just live off their accumulated fat and fade away.  It's a bit sad really.  Nobody likes them much, except hungry birds and spiders - and their mates of course
Photo: UK Wildlife
One especially interesting feature visible on a Crane Fly is the pair of halteres.  These are two strange little drumstick shaped organs just behind the wings.  Most insects have four wings but flies have only two.  That is what the name of their order Diptera (flies) means:  'two-wings.'  So instead of a second pair of wings, flies have these halteres.  It is thought that they are modified hind-wings, which perhaps help with balance.  In Crane Flies they are particularly easy to see.

To avoid confusion, especially for our readers in USA and Canada, the name Daddy Longlegs is also sometimes applied to Harvestmen  (Opiliones), which are a very spindly-legged group related to spiders. 

And it is also sometimes used for the Cobweb Spider (Pholcus phalangioides and its relatives), especially in Australia, apparently. 

Photos from various sources.  I'm afraid I can't remember where but thank you.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Tracking mammals

Although most people prefer mammals to bugs, trees and flowers, it is much harder to see them as they are good at hiding and often only move around much at night.  I have seen foxes, squirrels and rabbits at Filnore Woods on occasion.  But if you are really interested in furry wild animals you have to look out for things like plant damage, feeding remains or droppings.

So here we have some hazel nut husks, with most of the nuts removed by a squirrel.

And this pile of feathers suggests that a fox had a pigeon for lunch

While this fine piece of sculpture, containing both beetle wing cases and berries must be the product of an omnivore like a badger.

If you really want to study mammals you have to learn the different fragrances of their various poos.  Get on down there!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Hazel nuts

If you want to beat the squirrels, pick and eat your hazel nuts now.
Squirrels like them before they are fully ripe.  They just leave the husks.
If you're lucky you may find they missed a few.

Inside the nut is the creamy white kernel - delicious with a pinch of salt.

Meanwhile on the hazel bushes, next spring's lambstail catkins are alreay beginning to form.

Friday, 6 September 2013


In a previous post I mentioned the berries on Dogwood, which are still green and unripe, but we have several other ripening red berries to enjoy already at Filnore Woods.
The orange berries of Rowan are already ripe and being gobbled by blackbirds and thrushes.

It's also known as 'mountain ash' because the leaves are a bit like ash leaves, but it is in fact no relation of the true ash.
And here are the blackberries ripening up.  They're a bit sour as yet but birds and mice have already started fattening themselves up on these juicy fruit, and numerous insects also feast on them.  We have plenty, so help yourself when you are up there.

Slightly less familiar are the scarlet berries of Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus).  The leaves look like maple leaves but the plant never becomes a tree.  It sends up multiple stems from the base so it's a shrub.
Birds like these berries as well but they are not good for humans.

Next is the Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana) also a shrub, with wrinkled, downy leaves.  The berries which are red now will only be ripe when they are black.
And currently starring on the woodland floor, these spikes of red, poisonous berries are Wild Arum.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Oak galls

Last year we had a load of oak apples at Filnore, which are a type of gall.
Taken May 2012
But in 2013 I haven't seen any.

 On the other hand we have a lot of Knopper Galls this year, forming on some of the acorns. 



They are the result of an attack by a tiny little gall wasp Andricus quercuscalicisThe insects that emerge from these in spring will be only females.  
photo by Paisley Natural history society
They then fly off to find a Turkey Oak tree and lay their eggs on the catkins causing small conical galls to grow.  From these galls, in May or June, emerge a bisexual generation - males and females.  It is their grubs that cause the knopper galls on common oak.  Round and round it goes.

Spangle galls on oak leaves also produce female gall wasps only.  This time called Neuroterus quercusbaccarum.  The galls fall to earth in the autumn with the leaves and in spring the female gall wasps emerge and fly to lay eggs in oak buds.  The resulting currant galls give rise to a male and female generation.  After mating, the females lay their eggs, in summer, on the leaves of the oak and new spangle galls are created.  
All the photographs of spangle and knopper galls were taken in the western corner of Filnore Woods, near post 2 (which is actually a number 2 painted on a cherry tree).  You can see that some of the oak leaves are covered in galls, though it doesn't seem to do the trees any harm.  It's a bit like spots and pimples on us.
So a good year for spangle galls and knopper galls if not for oak apples.

Monday, 2 September 2013


In June the dogwood bush (Cornus sanguinea) produced its white sprays of flowers.   
The clue for recognition is the parallel veins on the leaves.
There is another test for dogwoods too.  Take a leaf and fold it across the middle at right angles to the main vein until it almost cracks in half. 
Then pull it gently apart. The latex in the veins is liquid but immediately solidifies when it is exposed to the air. This produces tiny cobweb-like threads between the top and bottom halves of the leaf.
I did this on a green-stemmed dogwood, Cornus stolonifera, in my garden but it applies to all of the Cornus genus.
In parts of Filnore Woods you can see the green, unripe berries amongst the dogwood leaves now in early September.  Eventually they will turn black.
But where it is drier and sunnier, the leaves on some of the dogwood bushes are turning red already.
Autumn is not here yet but the first signs are appearing.
The origin of the name dogwood may be a corruption of 'dagwood' as the clean straight twigs were used to make dags or skewers.