A natural history of the Hedgerows and Gardens in Clewers Lane, Waltham Chase.
Words and pictures by Gordon Larcombe
MALE BULLFINCH, CLEWERS LANE
Following a spell of relatively mild weather, the past month has been all about the birdsong filling the air along the Clewers Lane hedgerow. However, the resident small flock of bullfinches don’t make much noise – the males just make a quiet, mid-range ‘pea pea’ sound from time to time. Unlike the other finches, they seem to be a generally unexcitable creature, sitting on a twig and contemplating the world for quite some time. The males have a beautiful cherry red chest which marks them out from the females who have a dull brown underside. The birds are protected species now due to the rapid decline in their population.
A flock of two dozen or so goldfinches can be seen and heard chattering to each other, and noisy groups of starlings gather in small flocks in the hedgerow and produce a mixture of sounds, from a squeaky cackle to the whistling sound which is used in cartoon films to accompany something falling from a cliff! But all of this is background noise to accompany the solo stars of the show: The robin, the dunnock and the song thrush.
Like the robin, the dunnock is a solitary singer. The male selects the highest point on a hedge or tree and sings his thin, delicate song for a minute or two before moving on to another perch in his patch. The robin starts well before dawn and can be heard as early as five a.m. The dunnock, however, waits until it is light before he begins to sing.
The star performer in the hedgerow is the song thrush. He starts before dawn and makes his way along the lane with his very loud, very beautiful song, repeating each phrase at least once.
MALE DUNNOCK, CLEWERS LANE SONG THRUSH, CLEWERS LANE, JUST AFTER DAWN
PARTY OF STARLINGS, CLEWERS LANE:
A pair of mistle thrushes is again busy in the lane (there is an old nest in one of the trees). These birds are larger than the song thrush and do not have such a tuneful song. They have an alarm call which sounds like a faint magpie-cackle and this is often the first indication that they are around. Other large birds have already paired up. A pair of jays is using the hedgerow in Clewers Lane as a green corridor, and great spotted woodpeckers have been seen checking for nest sites in the Clewers Lane trees.
The house sparrow flocks seem to gather together just before dusk and can be heard chattering away in the hedgerow before roosting. During the day the males perch over their preferred future nest site and make a token effort to chirp to attract females. As the spring arrives, they will spend all day long in competitive chirping. During a cold spell, the long tailed tits and the nuthatches leave the security of the hedgerow to make visits to the feeder. The nuthatch in its preferred position of upside-down:
LONG TAILED TIT, CLEWERS LANE
NUTHATCH, CLEWERS LANE
With few leaves on the hedgerow, now is the time to see the birds; but there is also activity on the verges where the new growth of cow parsley, dog violet and lesser celandine is starting to appear and reminds us that spring is not far away:
LESSER CELANDINES, CLEWERS LANE
COW PARSLEY, CLEWERS LANE
The early mild weather has encouraged some of the mammals to be a little more active than would be expected at this time of the year. The autumn juvenile hedgehog has been seen around and has eaten the cat food left out for it, and this tiny wood mouse was seen dashing about on the pavement, just after dawn, gathering seeds from the ash tree:
WOODMOUSE, CLEWERS LANE