It is important that everyone realise how important our local lanes and hedgerows are for the wildlife that depends upon them for survival. How much pleasure our lanes can bring to people if they have the time to take a closer look.
The latest month’s diary entry:
A WILDLIFE DIARY OF CLEWERS LANE, WALTHAM CHASE
To the casual observer, Clewers Lane is just an unremarkable, narrow Hampshire country lane, about three hundred metres in length from its junction with Winchester Road in the east, to its junction with Clewers Hill in the west. To the north it is separated from the grassland of Jhansi farm by an ancient, ditched hedgerow which contains many woody species such as oak, ash, hawthorn, sallow, blackthorn, wild rose and bull ace. Throughout the year the verges are filled with bright yellow celandines, umbellifers and other wild flowers. Four metres across the lane, to the south, it is bounded by more hedgerow, grass verges and the front gardens of half a dozen residential properties.
The lane is enjoyed by many people : Riders exercise their horses from the nearby stables , and dog walkers too are a familiar sight as they set off to exercise their dogs in all weathers and at all times, clad in their bright, luminescent attire. Packs of brightly clad recreational cyclists are another regular feature of the weekends in the lane as they pedal their machines around the highways and byways of Hampshire, perhaps dreaming of becoming the next Olympic champion. And then there are the many schoolchildren, with their satchels, creeping like the snail to and from their schools. In the autumn, pie bakers and wine makers gather the low lying blackberries and bullaces and sloes
But the lane and its habitats are enjoyed by more than just people, the hedgerow and farmland have their own special natural history which unfolds as the seasons progress, and it begins in springtime:
SPRINGTIME VERGE, CLEWERS LANE
SPRING: In early spring, the verges along Clewers Lane are awash with the bright yellow colour of the celandines as they open and close with the sun. Above them, in the Jhansi farm hedgerow, the blackthorn is flowering with its delicate white blossom before handing over to the hawthorn when it starts to flower in May. Throughout the day, the delicate song of the usually shy and retiring male dunnock fills the air as it sits on the highest tips of the hedgerow and declares its territory .He is not alone, all the birds of the hedgerow are in fine voice – the tiny wren with its surprisingly loud voice suddenly burst into song from somewhere in the hedgerow, whilst the goldfinches and chaffinches and greenfinches declare their presence from more obvious singing spots. The blue tits, coal tits and great tits can be seen searching through the emerging leaves of the hawthorn and the blackthorn trees, looking for the grubs which emerge at this time of year and on which they feed their young. Male house sparrows can be seen performing their clownish displays in front of the females of the species, before pairing up to nest in the roofs of nearby homes. In exchange for the free accommodation, the house sparrow will clear the greenfly from your garden faster than any other bird. Watch them on the rose bushes.
HOUSE SPARROW, CLEWERS LANE
From time to time, flocks of a dozen or so long tailed tits, trailed by the odd blue tit or two travel along the hedgerow, looking for insects, all the time keeping in touch with their high pitched chatter. The hard to spot nuthatch, which always climbs down the tree trunks, renders his invisibility ineffective by having such a loud bell-like call, which attracts the attention of all.
LONG TAILED TIT, CLEWERS LANE
On a sunny spring day, the starling, perching on one of his favourite twigs, shines like burnished metal as he goes through his full repertoire of sounds and whistles:
COMMON STARLING, CLEWERS LANE
As the spring progresses and the clocks are turned forward, we look forward to the five o clock alarm calls from the male blackbirds and song thrushes that live in the hedgerows. Their songs are beautiful, but not always appreciated at that time of day!
Other creatures start to stir, the grey squirrels use the overhead electricity cables as their personal freeway and their gymnastic ability is a delight to behold, particularly when the wind is up. Looking down, you may be lucky enough to spot a frog or a common toad as it crosses Clewers Lane from South to North, through Jhansi farm, en route to their breeding sites. Those hedgehogs who have survived the winter hibernation can also be seen and heard as they snuffle about the hedgerow looking for the slugs and snails and other food.
HEDGEHOG, CLEWERS LANE
SUMMER: Gradually the season moves from spring to early summer and the wildlife of the lane moves with it. Adult birds are spending less of their time singing and displaying and more time in the search for food with which to raise their young. Residents with bird tables will notice an increase in the number of visitors. Even the male blackbirds no longer have the time to spend harassing the local song thrushes. Suddenly, young animals are everywhere: – song thrush fledglings leave the nest early, before they can fly and can be seen running for cover as soon as they leave the nest.
SONG THRUSH FLEDGLING, CLEWERS LANE
Many fledglings find their way from the hedgerow into the front gardens along the lane. The parents know where they are and will continue to feed them if they are left alone.
FLEDGLING NUTHATCH, CLEWERS LANE
In the verges, the new leaves of the cow parsley, jack by the hedge and cuckoo pint are clearly visible, unlike the dog violets and primroses that remain hidden to the casual eye. The warmer weather accelerates the fresh growth of the stinging nettles, the butterfly’s friend – and on sunny spring days, holly blue and speckled wood butterflies can be spotted darting about the hedgerow and gardens of Clewers Lane, looking for nectar.
HOLLY BLUE BUTTERFLY, CLEWERS LANE
In early summer the much of the wildlife becomes preoccupied with food – both in searching for it, and avoiding becoming a meal for another predator. The young of the house sparrow are fledging from their nests in the roofs along Clewers Lane. They are noisy and overconfident and soon attract the attention of the Sparrow hawk, on the lookout for a meal for its own young. The Sparrow Hawk will quietly observe its potential lunch and then suddenly pounce on its unsuspecting prey at great speed, often from the cover of a hedgerow.
SPARROW HAWK, CLEWERS LANE
Another predator which will take fledglings and injured birds is the kestrel. It is our only genuine hovering bird (hence its alternative name of windhover) and in early summer it can be seen hovering over the farmland at Jhansi Farm or patrolling the hedgerow on the lookout for fledglings, beetles or small mammals. When its characteristic outline appears in the sky, the singing suddenly stops and the knowing birds sit quietly out of sight in the hedgerow until the danger passes.
FEMALE KESTREL, CLEWERS LANE
As the grasses grow in the field at Jhansi Farm, a male skylark can be seen and heard singing his beautiful repertoire as he rises from the ground in display and flies ever higher until he becomes no more than a speck, before he disappears from sight, only to return to earth and repeat the process a short while later. Woodpeckers can be heard in the vicinity, and in the gardens of Clewers Lane, pairs of green woodpeckers and also great spotted woodpeckers are seen. There are many ant nests in Clewers Lane, both red and black, and green woodpeckers in particular will visit lawns and fields to feed on them.
With the breeding season over, the local reptiles and amphibians use the summer as their leisure time, soaking up the sun and fattening themselves up. Slow worms can be spotted on the verges, sunning themselves – but they are shy creatures and certainly not slow, so you will need to be sharp eyed to spot one. Slow worms are legless lizards about a foot or two in length, and just like a lizard, they can detach their tails if caught by a predator. Toads and frogs like to keep damp, and will seek out the ditch in the hedgerow and other shady places.
COMMON TOAD, CLEWERS LANE COMMON FROG, CLEWERS LANE
The wild roses are flowering in the hedgerow now and so is the bramble. Together with the other nectar rich wild flowers in the hedgerow and verges such as purple toadflax there is plenty of food and shelter for the butterflies and other insects which are synonymous with warm summers, and there is no shortage of them Clewers Lane. Native brimstones, orange tips, meadow browns and ringlets are joined by painted ladies which come over from the continent. In July the skippers and small tortoiseshells appear and then in August the ‘Aristocrat’ butterflies – red admirals, peacocks and commas can be seen flitting along the hedgerow looking for nectar rich plants and suitable places to lay their eggs, such as stinging nettles. .
On summer evenings, just after desk, the hedgerows and gardens and fields along Clewers Lane come alive with bats as they emerge from their daytime roosts to hunt for food. Their aerial displays are amazing as they swoop on unfortunate crane flies and moths with unerring accuracy, never colliding with each other or with objects. If curtains in a room are left opened, and an electric light is on, then insects will be attracted to the light and the bats will follow right up to the window glass, giving a close up view to the occupants of the room.
AUTUMN: The insects have a raw deal, for not only are they night time meals for bats , but as the late summer turns to early autumn they now become daytime meals for the spiders that are beginning to fatten up in earnest. Their webs appear in profusion throughout the hedgerows and verges on the border of Jhansi Farm and Clewers Lane. On misty mornings they are easily spotted – the dew turns them into jewel-like creations of finest filigree as they sparkle in the morning sun. And then there are the dragonflies that can be seen patrolling the hedgerow of Clewers Lane on the lookout for food, they are mainly hawkers and emperor dragonflies and will eat almost any insect which they catch on the wing, but hoverflies seem to be their favourites.
As the leaves on the trees in the hedgerow begin to change colour, the humans begin to feed from the hedgerow larder – blackberries, sloes and bullaces are gathered for human consumption from the accessible branches. The fruit on the upper branches is left for the birds and squirrels and the windfalls are left for the hedgehogs and other small mammals. At this time of the year, wasps and hornets and butterflies also feed up on the fruit, and they particularly like fruit which is overripe and sugary. This fruit often ferments slightly and the insects become intoxicated. The hornet is a large member of the wasp family and is easily distinguished by its size and its colour – it is brown and yellow rather than the black and yellow of the traditional wasp. Although the size and noise of the hornet seems to strike fear in people, it is in fact much less aggressive than the wasp and is a species in decline.
HORNET ON A PEAR, CLEWERS LANE
COMMA BUTTERFLY ON BRAMBLE, CLEWERS LANE
Everywhere along the lane, the seeds are setting. This brings the seed eaters such as goldfinches and greenfinches into view. Not only do they enjoy the hedgerow plants but they also visit gardens. Greenfinches seem to love the seeds of hardy geraniums whilst the goldfinches seem to prefer the ‘fluffy’ seeds of thistle-like plants. The jays are beginning to collect acorns now and bury them for consumption when food is scarce in winter. A pair was observed repeatedly collecting acorns from the oak in the hedgerow and burying them in the fields and lawns of Clewers Lane. This habit of the jay is reputed to be creative force behind the spread of the oak forests in England. Although squirrels also bury acorns, they bite the end off the seed before doing so and this prevents it from germinating. Bullfinches in their bright pink livery can be seen searching for honeysuckle berries in the hedgerow. They don’t eat the fleshy part of the berry, just the seed – which they seem to love.
If you look closely at the hedgerow, you might spot the strange looking bright green bush cricket as it searches for a place to hibernate. Although they appear alien, they move slowly and are harmless to humans.
In late autumn, as the last of the leaves fall away from the deciduous trees in the hedgerow, the mornings begin to be frosty, and those creatures which hibernate begin to disappear from view as they try to survive the last of the four seasons.
Winter is a difficult time for the wildlife in of Clewers Lane and Jhansi farm. The name of the game is the survival of the fittest, and some creatures will not survive. The very hard winters of recent years have brought extra hardship to some of the resident wildlife, but have presented opportunities to others, particularly visitors. The waxwing and the thrush-like fieldfare are usually present further north than Hampshire, but when the winter is harsh as in recent years, they follow the snow south and can be seen in Clewers Lane, feeding on the fruit, particularly the rosehips available in the hedgerow.
WAXWING, CLEWERS LANE
In the cold days of January, loud flapping can be heard coming from the ivy which clambers through the hedgerow and up the trees. It is the wood pigeons feeding on the ivy berries, trying desperately to keep their balance as the thin branches collapse under the weight of the bird. Blackbird and thrush also join in the ivy feast as there is very little else to be had in the way of fruit at this time of year – ivy is a vital plant for both birds and insects.
Dawn breaks with the occasional singing of the male robin, blackbird or song thrush. With fewer leaves in the trees and hedgerow, the tiny goldcrest can be heard and seen more easily and, in the winter sunshine, the crest of the male really does glow like gold.
GOLDCREST, CLEWERS LANE
Small flocks of long tailed tits can be seen patrolling the hedgerow looking for the few insects that are available at this time of the year. The flock seems to arrive at the same time each day. During the day the occasional greenfinch sits at the top of a twig and sings his various songs, but most of the songbirds are silent as they spend their time searching for food. At dusk groups of house sparrows and starlings chatter in the hedgerow before moving off to their night time roosts, and on still, cold nights , at around midnight , the ‘tu whit’ & ‘hoo hoo’ of tawny owls can be heard nearby.
As January becomes February and the snowdrops begin to open, there are signs that spring is just around the corner. On a sunny day, the occasional brimstone or peacock butterfly may emerge from its hibernation and bask in the thin sunlight. The grey squirrels start to run along the overhead electricity cables again. In the grassy verges, the pale green shoots of the cow parsley and cuckoo pint just begin to emerge. And here and there dog violets are in bud as the cycle begins anew.
DOG VIOLET, CLEWERS LANE
The December update on Clewers Lane wildlife (with a Christmas robin ), can be found here: http://wp.me/p24mzp-K1