Saturday, 31 October 2015

Mellow yellow

Just couldn't resist snapping this young aspen in its autumn plumage.

And the cherry near post 2 has also laid a startlingly yellow carpet of leaves.

Actually it's not strictly 'post' 2;  the number is painted on the cherry tree.

While I was snapping, the breeze released a fresh fall of leaves.  Unfortunately my camera was not fast enough to freeze them clearly in mid-flight but that's what the yellow blobs are in this last photo. 

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Rosebay fluff

Before the rain hits them the seed heads of Rosebay Willowherb are like cotton bolls.

I got these pics last week near post 13 when it was still dry.  
This week they are rather more bedraggled.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Gate crashers

Somebody drove into the field gate, bent it and broke off the gate post with the padlock still attached.

It's not meant to open inwards but when it opens outwards it is right up in the air.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Galloping brambles

Brambles are a good habitat giving shelter, food and homes to many creatures.  Insects enjoy the pollen and nectar, the fruit are delicious and nourishing and several species of small bird, such as whitethroats, blackcaps, wrens and long-tailed tits use bramble patches as nesting sites.  

Whitethroat (now holidaying in Africa)

So we are glad to have them at Filnore Woods BUT . . . 

.  .  .   they do spread very readily.  Obviously one way is by seed.  The birds and animals that eat them don't digest the seeds, which pass right through them and are planted with a neat supply of fertiliser.  

Woodmouse (Photo:  Gary Cox)

The other way is by self-layering.  At this time of year they send out arching stems which eventually reach the ground. 

Once grounded they grow roots and start a new plant. 

This happens thousands of times every year at Filnore so we have to check them; otherwise we would have wall to wall brambles and no grassland at all.

Friday, 23 October 2015


The Aspen is a tall, trembly member of the poplar genus.  The long leaf stalks, laterally flattened, cause the leaves to quiver in the slightest breeze.  In pagan mythology it was thought to be a magic or faerie tree and was treated with great respect.  But with the advent of christianity, it was considered to be quivering from shame.  Some traditions said it failed to show respect to Jesus, and others that it was the tree the cross was made from for Jesus's crucifixion.

In autumn the leaves turn a buttery yellow.  In the photo above its foliage contrasts with the red of a dogwood on the edge of the woodland near post 3.

The leaves are almost round with a scalloped edge, but on young plants and root suckers the leaves have more of a point.

The aspen was one of the earliest trees to colonise Britain after the ice age because its seeds are spread and  pollinated by the wind and do not need insects.  It also spreads by suckers, so where you have one aspen you will soon have a grove of them.  

In winter their tall, straight trunks are almost as silvery as birch trees.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Pied wagtail or 'The Chiswick Flyover'

Years ago I learnt from John Tully of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to call the Pied Wagtail the 'Chiswick Flyover'.  For the uninitiated the Chiswick Flyover, opened in 1964, is part of the M4 in West London.

The reason for calling this little bird by that name is because when you come across it it calls 'chizzik' and flies over your head and away.  It's a good recognition feature.

Although they are fairly common in the UK, at this time of year we get a lot more of these from  the colder north and east of Europe.

You're more likely to see them on the pavement where they can run fast and catch the insects they feed on, but this week Rob, our bird recorder, saw several at Filnore.

Apart from the running and the 'chizzik' call, you will notice the long tail which it wags up and down when it stands still, like any other self-respecting wagtail.

Ladies and Gentlemen:  The Chiswick Flyover

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Great oaks from little acorns

David Everett wrote back in the eighteenth century:

Large streams from little fountains flow,
Tall oaks from little acorns grow

This was from a 'school declamation' to be delivered by a seven year-old boy, but the truth about acorns is still quoted today.  (the full text of the School Declamation is posted below.)

Up near post 4 in the top meadow above the new plantation, there are hosts of tiny oak trees beginning to grow, planted there by jays, in all probability.

We had hoped to keep this area as a wild flower meadow but if we don't mow it soon we shall have a woodland instead.  Not only oaks but ash, dogwood, hawthorn and blackthorn trees are all trying to establish themselves. 

It is Filnore Woods but we want to retain a varied mosaic of  habitats 
and flower-rich grassland is an important one.

    Lines Written for a School Declamation

    (to be spoken by Ephraim H. Farrar, aged seven, New Ipswich, New Hampshire.)

      YOU'D scarce expect one of my age
      To speak in public on the stage,
      And if I chance to fall below
      Demosthenes or Cicero,
      Don't view me with a critic's eye,
      But pass my imperfections by.
      Large streams from little fountains flow,
      Tall oaks from little acorns grow;
      And though now I am small and young,
      Of judgment weak and feeble tongue,
      Yet all great, learned men, like me
      Once learned to read their ABC.
      But why may not Columbia's soil
      Rear men as great as Britain's Isle,
      Exceed what Greece and Rome have done
      Or any land beneath the sun?
      Mayn't Massachusetts boast as great
      As any other sister state?
      Or where's the town, go far or near,
      That does not find a rival here?
      Or where's the boy but three feet high
      Who's made improvement more than I?
      These thoughts inspire my youthful mind
      To be the greatest of mankind:
      Great, not like C├Žsar, stained with blood,
      But only great as I am good.

      David Everett

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Knoppers on acorns

  Prolific years for oak and beech trees when they produce lots of seed are known as good mast years.  It doesn't seem to be a great year for acorns.

Some of them have been taken over by the larvae of gall wasps Andricus quercuscalicis, which cause the tree to produce these knopper galls. 

The galls turn brown and fall to the ground, and in spring a female gall wasp emerges and flies to a Turkey Oak tree (it must be Turkey Oak) where she lays eggs on the catkins.  These eggs produce both male and female gall wasps, which mate.  Then the females lay their eggs on a Common Oak, where the acorns are forming, and the cycle starts all over again.

This species first arrived in Britain in the 1960s and the population surged in 1979, so that there were alarmist reports that our oak trees would never produce acorns again.  So don't always believe what the papers say.  

You ought to take what I say with a pinch of salt too.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The Hay Wain

Our hay wain is a tad different from the one John Constable painted in 1821.

We needed four piled truckloads of hay or rather, recently cut grass, to clear the material mown from the path up the hill,  under the pylon lines.

It's not quite bowling green standard but at least walkers can get through.  

This year our volunteers, including the guys from Essilor, have kept all the paths open better than last year.  Next year we can hopefully not only keep the paths clear but also mow some of the other areas of long grass.. If we don't it will gradually become scrub and then woodland, and we'll lose the flowers and insects associated with grassland.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Fruits are not always juicy

We tend to think of 'fruits' as sweet, juicy things that we or the birds can eat, like the blackberries next to the rose hips in the picture above.  Or the haws on the hawthorn. 

Other autumn fruits are the guelder rose berries . . . 

.  .  .  or the fruits of the spindle tree, pink on the outside and orange in the middle

But botanically speaking ash keys are fruits as well 
as are all nuts and acorns.

Even if they are not shiny and colourful I enjoy the variety of shapes which plants use to carry their seeds - the next generation.



Greater Plantains