Tuesday, 29 April 2014

It's bluebell time at Filnore

There has been a steady increase in bluebells over the 16 years that Filnore Woods has existed and they are in bloom now, so hasten thither to see them.

These are near post 17.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Later arrivals at the Dawn Chorus

So according to wikipedia the most frequent order in which birds start singing in the morning is
Tawny Owl
Warblers - Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Garden Warbler and Willow Warbler
Song thrush

But of course the birds don't always stick to the rules.

This post deals with the last three on this list, though you might also expect to hear wood pigeons, collared doves, rooks, crows, jays, woodpeckers, great tits and blue tits if you join us for our DAWN CHORUS WALK on Sunday 27th April at Flnore Woods.   Or you might just hear the rythm of the falling rain, though it looks as if it will be dry up to 7.00 am when we shall all be home eating our breakfasts. 

The Greenfinch has four or five different verses to choose from.  Sometimes he will sing the same verse over and over or mix them up in no particular order.


The most distinctive is the 'wheeze' or  'fizzz', a sort of raspberry coming in to land.
Then there is  a metallic 'ching ching ching'
And lots off giggling trills at three or four different speeds

The Dunnock has a fairly loud, gossipy  song.  It rattles along in a fussy but very jolly way.

The Goldfinch song is a very musical tinkling affair.   For the past few years there has been one singing regularly on a television aerial near my house in Thornbury High Street.  Although the song is not usually loud, it manages to compete with the traffic. 

They used to be caught and kept in cages to entertain with their pleasing song, - which was really a sort of cry for help.    Sad.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

And now: The Warblers

Following hon, ladies and gentlemen, from blackbirds, robins, wrens, chaffinches hand song thrushes we now proudly present, in the Dawn Chorus, - THE WARBLERS.

This family of little insect-eating birds includes 14 species that breed in the British Isles.

The ones we are most likely to hear at our DAWN CHORUS WALK ON SUNDAY 27th APRIL (weather permitting) are the blackcap, the chiffchaff and the garden warbler.  

The Chiffchaff is one of the easiest to identify and remember. It repeatedly says its name, "chiff chaff, chiff, chaff, chiff, chiff, chaff." But sometimes it puts in an extra chiff or chaff or even the occasional chuff.

The Blackcap has a loud fluty song like a blackbird without the form and rhythm.  It just burbles along with no introduction and finishes without a finale.


The Garden Warbler is a bit similar but is a contralto to the blackcap's soprano, and not quite so pure. The warbles are a bit more scratchy and hurried.
Apparently the blackcap and garden warbler songs are so similar that the two species respect each other's territories.  Here's a short video to help you sort them out.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Who's next in the Dawn Chorus

Apparently the next most common bird call after the blackbird, robin and wren is the tawny owl.  I don't think we are likely to hear one of those at Filnore on 27th April but we may hear a pheasant shouting and we shall certainly hear chaffinches.

The Collins Bird Guide, the one with the black cover, describes the chaffinch song like this:
"highly characteristic, rather constant in delivery and tirelessly repeated, a bright, loud, almost rattling verse introduced by 3-4 rapidly repeated sharp notes which turn into a similar series of lower notes, the whole terminating in a lively flourish, zitt-zitt-zitt-zitt-sett-sett-sett-chatt-chitteriidia."
I think of it as tumbling downstairs and jumping up at the end, and Rob says its a bit like a cricketer coming up to bowl and finally delivering the ball.
As well as songs, which can be to attract a mate or to establish a territory, birds have contact calls, alarm calls and other chirps and squeaks.  The chaffinch has a very distinctive "pink pink" call which is the colour of the cock bird's breast, so highly appropriate and easy to remember.
The next singer is the song thrush.  Now this species has been in decline for some years but I have heard more than one singing while I have been working in the coppice coupe, so Filnore must be providing a good habitat.
This is another one with a distinctive voice.  Although the parts of the song are very varied, the song thrush sings each part three or more times as if it is practicing for a concert.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

First birds in the dawn chorus

The blackbirds start up really early in the morning.  They have a fluty musical song except for a little sneeze at the end.

 Next to wake are the robins. Theirs is a quieter song but also very tunefu.  It is more varied than the blackbird and more delicate.  Sometimes they sing at night, encouraged by street lights to think the sun is rising.
 The wren's song is far from delicate.  Although it is almost our smallest bird, its song is loud and perky.  There are usually about four or five verses to the song following quickly one after the other.  The last but one verse is nearly always a churring sound.
Remember: Dawn Chorus Walk, Sunday 27th April, 5.00 am at the field gate

Friday, 18 April 2014

Dandelions - I just love 'em

A thousand splendid suns beneath your feet.
(with apologies to Khaled Hosseini but I don't expect he reads this blog)

Wayfaring tree

Tucked in amongst the other trees on the edge of the wood in the pylon field is another flowering tree.  This is the Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana).  Despite its name it is barely a tree and is not included in many tree identification books.
The flowers are the typical white pompoms of a viburnum and the leaves are very wrinkly and covered with white fur on the under-side.  The species name 'lantana' means 'woolly'. 

Some of the flowers are still in bud so expect to see more in the next weeks.  Notice how the stems always divide in two.

In autumn the berries are at first red and then ripen to black.
My 'Observer's Book of Trees and Shrubs of the British Isles', which I was given for Christmas in 1953, has the following to say about the various names: 
'The local names of this shrub include Mealy-tree, Whipcrop, Cotton-tree, Cottoner, Coven tree, Lithe-wort, Lithy-tree, Twist-wood or White-wood. 
Mealy-tree, Cotton-tree, Cottoner and White-wood all have obvious reference to the appearance of the young shoots and leaves, due to the presence of the white hairs with which they are covered. 
Lithe-wort, Lithy-tree, also Twist-wood and Whipcrop, indicate the supple and elastic character of the branches, which are often used instead of Withy to bind up a bundle of sticks or vegetables, or to make a loop for a gate fastener. 
On the Continent the shoots, when only a year old, are used in basket weaving, and, when a year or two older, serve for pipe-stems'
Wikipedia also mentions Hoar Withy as a name.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Dawn Chorus Walk 27th April

At this time of year the birds start singing while it's still dark, to establish and retain their territories.  Once the sun is up they have to stop singing and get busy looking for food so dawn is the best time to hear the chorus of tweets, twitters, chirps and trills.
Join us at 5.00 am on Sunday 27th April for a walk through Filnore Woods and a chance to learn more about the feathered songsters. Meet by the gate on the far side of Thornbury Leisure Centre car park. Feel virtuous by getting up early.
Between now and then I'll post some info about the birds we are likely to hear.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

I bought the scythes !

Took a trip down to Dorset to buy three scythes from Simon Fairlie at The Scythe Shop last summer.  Simon gave me some instruction and a bit of a demo.  He is a jolly mix of gruffness and joviality.  His book "Managing Grass in Britain with the Scythe" is the most interesting, thorough and useful I have read on the subject, whether you are making hay or promoting wild flowers.   
As well as the blades with covers and snaths (handles), the Friends of Filnore Woods now own 3 allen keys, three files, three wooden wedges, 6 sharpening stones, three steel sheaths for the stones, two sanding blocks and a peening jig.  If you want to know more about the peening jig look at Neil Dudman's video on YouTube: "How we use a peening jig".  Very thorough.

Scythes are clearly very fashionable.  Bunny Guiness of Gardeners' world fame had an article on the subject last July in the Sunday Telegraph.
 If you want to read the article, here it is.  I'm afraid it didn't upload very well.

And Monty Don was using one on "Gardener's World" recently.  It's so trendy!
And here is 'Scythe Workshop: How to Mow with a Scythe' by Botan Anderson.  Watch this video and the secret will be yours.
We are hoping to make our first cut tomorrow!

Friday, 11 April 2014

Spring flowers

Buds are popping so quickly that I have to show you a whole lot of different flowers in one post or they'll be gone.
First the Blackthorn is in flower all over the place.  It's a Prunus species, related to plum and cherry.
And on the increase at Filnore, we have the English Bluebell.

Then this strange sheath or hoodie is the flower of the Wild Arum ( or Lords and Ladies or Cuckoo Pint or Jack-in-the-pulpit and various other rude names).  The flowers attract tiny flies which pollinate them by briefly getting trapped inside.
This is Honesty, which may be a garden escape.

And having its springtime flush of flowers the humble, invasive but beautiful Dandelion.

If you cast your eyes upwards you may see the short-lived flower sprays of the Bird Cherry.

Lady's Smock or Cuckoo Flower is growing profusely in the skateboard/allotment field.

Spring is springing!
First four photos on this post are by Simon Harding

Thursday, 10 April 2014


Our coppicing of the hazel this year has produce about 120 x 8' bean poles.   These are for sale at £3 for a bundle of ten poles.  We also have 5' hedging stakes @ £2 for 5, and various other bundles of plant stakes at £1 for a bundle of ten.

They will be on sale on Wednesday 13th and Sunday 23rd and at the Filnore Allotments plant swap from 2 pm on 27th April.  (This is also the date of our Dawn Chorus Walk  at 5.00 am)

If there are any poles and sakes left, they will be available at Daggs Allotments from 28th April.

This link should get you to a video of  Toby Buckland telling you all about hazel bean poles.


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Mysterious creations

As well as a few dead tents and a plastic sheet bivouac, we occasionally find traces of attempted fire making. I'm sure I was better at this when I was a youngster.
This character cut off a sizeable piece of a living birch tree and seemed puzzled that it would not ignite.

If any of the phantom backwoodsmen see this blog, please be careful not to hack living wood off of trees and please don't light fires where they could damage tree roots.
The creative structure below is made entirely of fallen branches.  No harm to the living wood.  If it was for a shelter, the creator must be very small.

A rather splendid den has been built by some younger users of Filnore Woods.  Its in the palletian style, though a bit lacking in finish.  Perhaps they will be making it a little more rustic.  There are a few dead sticks on the top already.

This one near post 16 is in the early stages.
In another place, we even had a pentagram with candles.  Maybe a quiet wiccan celebration of the recent vernal equinox.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Signs of Spring - blackthorn in flower

If you have to trim hedges or clear scrub where blackthorn is present, you soon take against the plant with its vicious thorns.
But the sloes in autumn and the beautiful white blossom in spring put blackthorn back in favour.
This blossom on the steps above the footbridge at Filnore Woods is in a sheltered position but soon all the blackthorn will be garnished with little white flowers.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Signs of Spring an early cowslip

More a flower of grassland than woodland, the cowslip is also known as St Peter's bunch of keys.
We usually have quite a few at Filnore and this is the first one I have seen this year.  It was near post 5 in the pylon field.