Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Buttercup bravery

I was walking round Filnore Woods today, checking there were no fallen trees and picking up litter, when I came upon this brave little buttercup, blooming unseasonably.  April to August is the usual flowering time according to my wild flower books.  Thought I would like to share it with you.
Pity it's not in focus

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Oak and Ash tree children

I took these photos of acorns and ash keys hanging on the trees at Filnore Woods on 7th October.  Many of the acorns will have ripened and dropped to the ground already, and tonight's gales will probably dislodge the rest
Imagine if every acorn grew into an oak tree.  It's an example of over-production.  It only needs one acorn to become a tree every 300 years or so to keep the oak population steady.
Ash keys are ripening too, in huge numbers.

 Ash keys will grow easily on bare ground but acorns usually need to be pushed into the ground to germinate.  Jays hide caches of acorns in grassland and this is the main way that oaks spread.

In the picture below you can see three young, jay-planted oak trees in the Cowshed Field


Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Chiswick Flyover

image courtesy of RSPB, copyright of Mike Read

 One bird call I am hearing again is the 'Chiswick Flyover.' It's really the pied wagtail but I heard it referred to as the Chiswick Flyover some years ago by the late John Tully of the British Trust for Ornithology. This is because you see it pecking around on the ground, then it sees you and calls "chizzick" before it flies over your head and up on to a rooftop.
As you might guess from its name, it is black and white - a bit paler in winter - and has a long tail which it wags up and down much of the time.

I don't think we have recorded any pied wagtails in Filnore Woods but I have seen and heard them outside my house in Thornbury High Street, both on the pavement and on the roof ridges.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

In Your Neighbourhood Awards

Thornbury in Bloom recently had an awards evening and to my surprise we got two awards.  There was a special award for Filnore Woods itself. 
Here I am receiving the cup and the certificate from the Mayor of Thornbury
And here I am receiving the second certificate on behalf of the Friends of Filnore Woods from Guy, who is not only Deputy Mayor and Chair of Thornbury in Bloom, but also a member of the Friends.   
As you can see we were awarded a Level 4 certificate.
The levels are 1. Establishing, 2. Improving, 3. Developing, 4. Thriving, 5. Outstanding.

So we are thriving but as yet not outstanding.
Following their very short tour of the site, the judges said:
‘Filnore Woods, although in its early days, has the potential to become a fantastic resource to provide habitats for wildlife and for learning – it will be interesting to see its development next year even though because of its location it may not become part of the tour. It was well covered in the presentation.’
Suggestions from the judges included:
  • planning for the costs and risks relating to the potential risk of council support being withdrawn
  • looking into the use of corporate volunteers
  • more community events and
  • finding a greener way than bonfires of disposing of arisings from pruning etc  

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Autumn birdsong

In summer the birds tend to quieten down a bit after the busy singing season in spring.  Now that Autumn has arrived a few of them are to be heard again.  Robins, who paired up to defend their territiories when bringing up a family, have now split up and what used to be a happily married couple has become a pair of fierce rivals for feeding territory.  The benefit for us is that they are both singing again - this is how they proclaim their right to a particular area of peckable real estate.
I have also heard a lot of bluetit chatter,
some chaffinch 'pink pink' calls 
 and even a chiffchaff

 Chiffchafs used to all fly south to escape the cold but in recent years many of them stay in Britain for the winter.

All these birds can be heard now in Filnore Woods

Thanks to various sources for the photos


Monday, 14 October 2013


The berries are further on now, ready to be eaten and spread by birds.
Guelder Rose
Rose hips
The blackberries have shrivelled up, the leaves are turning, it's a bit colder. 
Could this be autumn?

Friday, 11 October 2013

Metellina segmentata, the Autumn Spider

This very common little spider , also known as Meta segmentata, has been much in evidence this year.  As Autumn Spiders they reach maturity in late summer to late autumn so you may still be able to see some.  It's a bit harder to photograph them.

photo - pavouci
They weave their webs on any available bit of vegetation.  The web is an orb web, the typical 'wheel-with-spokes' kind of thing.  But Metellina's speciality is to leave a small hole in the middle, and she usually sits astride this hole. 

from Spiders of Britain and Northern Europe by Michael J. Roberts
I say "she" because it's usually a female in the web.  The male, more intent on mating than feeding, waits at the side of the female's web until the object of his attention has caught a fly.  Then he can safely mate without being eaten.  She's the fatter one in the photo below.  Maybe she's had a few tasty mates already.
Photo: ednieuw

Metellina is identifiable by two triangles on her (or his) back in front of the 'folium', that oak-leaf-shaped pattern that so many spiders have.
Photo: bug guide    

Usually, in my experience. she perches in the web with her underside showing.  You can recognise Metellina by a dark brown strip, lined on each side with white, which runs down the underside of the abdomen.

Photo: the squirrel basket
Happy Autumn to all our readers !

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Ivy flowers

You are familiar with the five-pointed leaves of ivy when it is scrambling across the woodland floor or climbing trees.  But when it gets high up on a wall or a tree, the leaves grow just one point, not five.  It looks like a different plant.  These are the flowering stems of ivy.

First the little drumstick buds
Then the sepals curl back to reveal the stamens, like even tinier drumsticks, and the conical stigma in the middle.  Have a look through a hand lens.
Ivy blooms at this time of year, when so many other plants are producing berries, and keeps its berries into the spring when conversely many plants are in flower.  So it is a great nectar source for lots of flying insects who have a last chance to feast and party before the cold days of autumn put an end to their little lives.
My insect photography is not so great but I did manage to capture a couple of hoverflies visiting the ivy.  The other flies and the wasps were too wary and buzzed off when I got close.
This one is Eristalis tenax, the Drone Fly.  See some more about it on my post for  7th June 2012.
And here is another common hoverfly, Syrphus ribesii, with the yellow "moustache stripes" on its abdomen.
When the flowers are over the black berries will develop to feed birds and mice in the winter and spring.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Garden Spider

They are more often to be found on bushes in woods and heathland than in gardens but as they are big and common we often see them in gardens - as well as in Filnore Woods.  At this time of year they are at their biggest, and frequently sit boldly in the middle of their webs, so are easily spotted.
As well as 'Garden Spider', Araneus diadematus is known as the 'Cross Spider', not for its bad temper but because of the cross pattern on the back.  The background colour varies from dark brown to ginger.

If you see one now it is probably a female.  The males stop feeding when they are mature (physically if not mentally!) and spend their whole time looking for females to mate with.  On finding a likely lass, the male attaches a "courting thread" to the females web and strums it with spines on his leg.  This brings the female to the edge of the web.  Although courtship can last up to an hour, the act of mating lasts only 10 to 20 seconds and can end with the female making a meal of her boyfriend, although this apparently is more likely to happen with "senile males, whose biologically useful days are at an end." (info from The Country Life Guide to SPIDERS of Britain and Northern Europe by Dick Jones)
The female Araneus places her eggs in a silken sac and stays with them to protect them from parasites until the autumn frosts kill her.

The spiderlings hatch in spring and so mother and children sadly never meet, as in the charming children's book Charlotte's Web by E. B. White.  On the other hand if she did meet them she might devour them so we mustn't get too sentimental.

Images by Nick's Spiders, Bug Blog and European Arachnology websites - thanks