A natural history of the Hedgerows and Gardens in Clewers Lane, Waltham Chase.
Words and pictures by Gordon Larcombe
The rain this month continued on from October and was even more unrelenting; so much so that there was very little opportunity to photograph the wildlife. However, there were two or three bright days and so it was possible to catch a few snapshots without resorting to an underwater camera! Late in the month this small group of Siskins was pottering about in the trees and hedgerow. These birds are small finches and will come to feed on nuts and seeds in the winter months. For comparison, they are a few centimetres smaller than a house sparrow but larger than a blue tit, and have a delicate tinkling song. The egg-yolk yellow chest plumage sported by the males is very striking when seen in the bright winter sunshine:
SISKINS, CLEWERS LANE
The Bullfinches are pairing up and can be heard calling to one another in the hedgerow. Despite the disappearance of the hedgerow leaves and the bright plumage of the male bullfinches, it is surprisingly difficult to pinpoint exactly where the call is coming from. The male has plumage that is rather like a pink visi-vest and when the birds break cover onto the sunny twigs at the tips of the trees, they become highly visible:
BULLFINCH PAIR, CLEWERS LANE
Small mobs of Starlings have been gathering on the trees, chattering and squabbling noisily. The birds collect in groups for safety, based on the assumption that many pairs of eyes are better than one. The effectiveness of this strategy was demonstrated on a damp, murky morning as I took this next snapshot: immediately after I pressed the button the birds took off – at once and at speed. As I looked round, I spotted a Sparrowhawk flying up Clewers Lane a few feet from the ground. Clearly the birds had seen it much earlier than I and had taken swift evasive action.
STARLINGS, CLEWERS LANE
The local House Sparrows are similar in lifestyle to the Starlings: they chatter and squabble and jostle for position in small groups during the day and disappear on cold nights into their favourite roosts for the night (usually buildings). House Sparrows have seen a large decline in their recorded numbers and are now regarded as an at-risk species. I have yet to find a better natural predator of the greenfly on my roses so, whatever the cause(s) for their decline; I hope the House Sparrow can turn it around.
HOUSE SPARROWS, CLEWERS LANE
Speaking of Greenfly, Ladybirds are rather keen on eating them too. Both the Beetle and the Larvae do a good job for the gardener. At this time of year, Ladybirds are about to go into hibernation (often in large clusters). These couple of snapshots are probably the last to be taken of the beetles this year – unless we have a remarkably warm run up to Christmas. Unfortunately, both these ladybirds are examples of the invasive foreign ladybird: The Harlequin ladybird, which is perceived to be a threat to our native ladybirds. The Harlequin is quite large and has a voracious appetite which causes it to consume so much of the local greenfly and similar that there is not enough left over to sustain our native ladybirds. The bug is an import from North America. There are websites for reporting any sightings and this information is used to help the experts to assess the size of the risk.
The bugs can be very varied in appearance, as you can see from the two snaps below:
HARLEQUIN LADYBIRD, CLEWERS LANE
HARLEQUIN LADYBIRD, CLEWERS LANE
Throughout the month the Tawny Owls have been very vocal after dark with their tu wit tu woo calls. During the day,the local Jays have been quarrelling noisily in the Ash Trees with the Magpies: these are their turf wars, as both species predate on similar prey. This snapshot of a Jay at rest was taken on a dismal morning:
JAY, CLEWERS LANE
Also noisily announcing its presence is the colourful little Nuthatch. It seems to be too small for the loudness of its call, which it repeats continuously as it bobs about the branches, never remaining still:
NUTHATCH, CLEWERS LANE
Another colourful creature is the Goldfinch and small flocks of them, with their tinkling song, have started to appear in the hedgerow and trees:
GOLDFINCHES, CLEWERS LANE
Finally, this is a snapshot of the wild privet shrub which grows in the lane about halfway up:
WILD PRIVET, CLEWERS LANE
In the Middle Ages Wild Privet formed part of the herbalist’s toolkit, and was recommended as a treatment for wounds and stomach upsets. However, the black berries are poisonous to humans and these days the only users of the plant are Thrushes, who relish the berries and help to propagate the plant by voiding the seeds.