A natural history of the Hedgerows and Gardens in Clewers Lane, Waltham Chase.
Words , sound and pictures by Gordon Larcombe
After the recent spell of snow in late January, the birdsong has returned to the lane. For those of you with a Windows computer, I have included below a short sample of the dawn chorus in Clewers Lane. It was recorded at seven a.m. on a dark Sunday in early February. I left my little pocket camera running on video to see what it could pick up. Despite the fact that the sound is a bit hissy, it gives a good idea of how the dawn chorus sounds in the lane at this time of the year. You can hear a robin and a song thrush and a dunnock as the main participants, with occasional notes from a wood pigeon. The local male blackbirds are notable absentees – they were engaged in physical territorial fights with one another. You can listen to the recording here: . Remember to turn up the volume on your computer. The recording is about three minutes long and will play in the background whilst you read the rest of the document.
With the snow on the ground, food became difficult to find and many birds started to conquer their fear and dine out at the bird feeders. This picture of starlings shows how interesting their markings are – they are definitely not just another dull brown bird:
COMMON STARLING, CLEWERS LANE
The leaves have fallen from the deciduous trees and bushes and the light can now get to the lichens so that they flourish. They are also more visible. Lichens are unique in that they are not one life form, but two living in cooperation – Alga and Fungus. The alga provides the chlorophyll which produces food through sunlight. The snow was quite damaging to some of the more delicate forms but here is a photograph taken before the snow descended:
LICHEN, CLEWERS LANE
As usual when the weather is adverse, the bird life finds survival quite a challenge. This song thrush decided to dig out a fallen apple from the snow and make a meal of it. The blackbirds don’t take kindly to song thrushes invading their ‘patch’ and are usually quick to chase off an interloper. Surprisingly, this didn’t happen and the thrush was left to itself. Maybe the blackbirds were too preoccupied with their own welfare to bother wasting energy on a thrush. Who knows?:
SONG THRUSH, CLEWERS LANE
Even the local robins seemed to ignore one another whilst the snow was on the ground. They also turned a blind eye to the dunnocks in the garden. Normally they see them off as soon as they spot them. The robins were even inadvertently helping to support the dunnocks by taking to the peanut and fat holders with their sharp beaks whilst the dunnocks were on the ground underneath,
pecking up the crumbs with their finer beaks. This robin fluffed itself out in an attempt to keep warm:
ROBIN, CLEWERS LANE
Goldfinches have been busy forming small flocks and chattering away to themselves in the hedgerow. As seed eaters, it is particularly difficult for these brightly coloured birds at this time of year. If you want an excuse for leaving your flower beds unkempt and a bit weedy over winter, then they will provide you with one. They will eat thistle seeds, teasels and seeds of most annual plants – as will other finches. Here is a picture of the goldfinches in the hedgerow. This next picture doesn’t let you appreciate their colourful plumage, but it does demonstrate how they flock:
GOLDFINCH FLOCK, CLEWERS LANE
Whilst on the subject of flocks of birds in Clewers Lane, my neighbour reports that she counted a flock of twenty four Waxwings in one of the Ash trees in the hedgerow alongside Jhansi farm!
We can usually rely on January to bring us miserable weather that makes us long for the summer, but there is an upside to January if you are an early-ish riser. Look for the often spectacular colours on show in the dawn sky – to the east and south east, a little after seven o’clock. The display only lasts for ten minutes, so if you are a late riser or are otherwise occupied at that time of day, here is a taste of what you have missed:
Dawn view to the southeast from Clewers Lane, January 2013
Just when you thought that spring would never arrive, a glance at the verges along Clewers Lane will remind you that it is not far away. The celandines began to open their flowers on the first sunny day after the snow had melted away. Soon the verge will be covered with their bright yellow flowers, and the air will be buzzing as the early insects seek the nectar.
LESSER CELANDINE, 30 JANUARY, CLEWERS LANE