THE NATURAL HISTORY OF A HAMPSHIRE LANE
GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WILDLIFE SPOTTED IN CLEWERS LANE, WALTHAM CHASE DURING 2014.
Highlights taken from “A Natural history of the Hedgerows and Gardens in Clewers Lane, Waltham Chase” in 2014.
Words and pictures by Gordon Larcombe
In common with much of 2014,
January was a very wet month. The lack of foliage in the hedgerow meant that it was quite easy to see the brightly coloured birds as they searched for food or marked out their territorial boundaries.
Long Tailed Tits, Great Tits and Blue Tits were all busy in the hedgerow seeking out food and nesting materials, and small groups of local Bullfinches were often to be seen. Visiting Redwings and Waxwings were enticed by the Ivy berries and the hips of the Dog Rose. Those birds with less striking colours were noticeable by their sounds: a resident group of House Sparrows spend the daylight hours in constant chatter, and at this time of the year Dunnocks are singing to mark out their territories:
BLUE TIT, CLEWERS LANE
MALE BULLFINCHES, CLEWERS LANE
February continued with the very wet, very windy weather interspersed with some cold, still nights and icy mornings and just a few days of bright sunshine that produced some interesting skies:
FEBRUARY SUNSET, CLEWERS LANE
Spotting and photographing the birds during the rainy weather was difficult. However, at this time of the year it is fairly easy to detect their presence of some birds from their song. The sound of the appropriately named song thrush has been the dominant sound in the lane from dawn onwards, whatever the weather:
SONGTHRUSH, CLEWERS LANE
Sunshine and showers were the order of the day for March and the air was filled with the sounds of birdsong and the buzzing of early insects. On almost every day, the Great Spotted Woodpecker male could be heard drumming out his territorial message on the local oak trees. House Sparrows were busy building nests in the houses along Clewers Lane:
MALE HOUSE SPARROW WITH NEST MATERIAL, CLEWERS LANE
Meanwhile, at ground level, the verges were coming alive with the bright yellow blossom of the Lesser Celandine:
LESSER CELANDINES, CLEWERS LANE
In April, the hedgerow and verges were filled with flowers and bird song. The Bullace flowers appeared early in the month, to be replaced a little later by the hawthorn blossom:
BULLACE BLOSSOM, CLEWERS LANE
Two of our most colourful birds were seen and heard in the hedgerow:
MALE CHAFFINCH, CLEWERS LANE
MALE BULLFINCH, CLEWERS LANE
May saw the arrival of insects a plenty. This male Orange-tip butterfly was out in the sun, feeding on a Forget-Me-Not flower. The female of the species does not have the orange tips and, from above, looks like a small white butterfly.
MALE ORANGE TIP BUTTERFLY, CLEWERS LANE
This Hornet was spotted in the sunshine chewing on wood in order to pulp it for use as nest material:
HORNET, CLEWERS LANE
The Mistle Thrushes were seen gathering nest materials. The bird is much larger than the Song Thrush and is easy to distinguish from its smaller relative. It is also called the Stormcock as a consequence of its supposed habit of singing loudly from the trees after a storm has passed by
MISTLE THRUSH, CLEWERS LANE
In June, colour was the order of the day for the wildlife in Clewers Lane. This Green Woodpecker was sighted searching for ants on a garden lawn – and leaving lots of tell-tale little holes in the turf:
GREEN WOODPECKER, CLEWERS LANE
Also putting in an appearance in the June Sunshine was this large and beautiful yellow-coloured Darter (a kind of Dragonfly) which goes by the splendid name of Broad-Bodied Lubellula. This is a female of the species and is about 6 cms nose to tail:
BROAD BODIED LUBELLULA, CLEWERS LANE
On a much smaller scale, but equally as colourful, this Ruby Tailed Wasp seems like a tiny, animated piece of jewellery – ruby, sapphire and emerald as it scurries over a wall in the bright June sunshine looking for nests of masonry bees. The wasp lays its eggs in the bee’s nest and when the eggs hatch, the wasp larvae feed on the bee larvae. Pretty but deadly! :
RUBY TAILED WASP, CLEWERS LANE
July was very warm and the butterflies came out in number. The year seems to have been a good one for the Marbled White, a medium sized black and white butterfly. This is actually a black butterfly with white markings rather than a white butterfly with black markings:
MARBLED WHITE, CLEWERS LANE.
Striking as the butterflies are, I think that none approaches the beauty of some of the Damsel Flies and Dragon Flies that are on the wing in high summer. This particular creature is appropriately known as The Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx Virgo) and its colour has to be seen to be believed, the camera does not do it justice. It is about five centimetres from nose to tail and, when on the wing in sunshine, it sparkles like sapphires and emeralds:
BEAUTIFUL DEMOISELLE, CLEWERS LANE
The Great Spotted Woodpeckers fledged in June and this picture shows one of the fledglings waiting quietly in the lane whilst the nearby parent was searching for insects with which to feed it:
FLEDGLING GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER, CLEWERS LANE
The hedgerow in Clewers Lane borders the field which once was Jhansi Farmland and is a rich source of food and shelter for wildlife. Approximately one fifty metres in length starting from the entrance to Horton Barns up to the western end of the field, it possesses thirteen different species of woody plant or tree: Elder, Oak, Holly, Ash, Wild Privet, Willow, Hawthorn, Dog Rose, Bullace, Blackthorn, Hazel and Yew. The sheer number of woody species indicates that the hedgerow is indeed very old. Include the many large Ivy and Bramble plants and it can be seen that the hedge is a year round larder for birds, insects and small mammals. By August, some of the fruits have ripened:
BULLACE FRUITS, CLEWERS LANE
August was extremely wet and it was no surprise to see froglets out and about on the verge:
YOUNG COMMON FROG, CLEWERS LANE
By September, those animals that are summer visitors have begun their journeys back to their native lands, which is often Africa. The Chiffchaff is such a creature and, in the goat willow trees, a small group of the birds were spotted heading in a southerly direction:
CHIFFCHAFF, CLEWERS LANE
In the warm, dry September Painted Lady butterflies at last put in an appearance. These insects also travel here from North Africa and sometimes arrive in huge numbers:
PAINTED LADY, CLEWERS LANE
October continued with the warm weather which had characterised September. However, unlike September, it was very wet. Summer-visiting creatures continued to stop over on their return journeys. Grey Wagtails were observed heading in a southerly direction:
GREY WAGTAIL, CLEWERS LANE
Although it appears to be mainly yellow in colour, the Grey Wagtail is so called after the colour of the feathers on its back, and it is usually found near running water where it hunts for winged insects.
This snapshot of a wood mouse was taken as it emerged from a hedge of blackberries that it was searching early one morning:
WOODMOUSE, CLEWERS LANE
The Wood mouse differs in appearance from the House Mouse in that it has white fur underneath and larger ears. The Yellow Necked Wood mouse also has a yellow band of fur under its throat area.
In late November 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 slightly 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
Small mobs of Starlings began 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.
STARLINGS, CLEWERS LANE
In December, as the year came to a close, small flocks of Redwings began to appear in the hedgerow and trees on the lookout for berries and other fruit to sustain them through the winter. Redwings are our smallest thrush and their arrival is usually a sure indicator of imminent cold weather, and so it proved to be as temperatures plummeted over Christmas:
REDWING FLOCKS, CLEWERS LANE