A natural history of the Hedgerows and Gardens in Clewers Lane, Waltham Chase.
Words and pictures by Gordon Larcombe
After the snowfalls early in the month, Springtime has finally arrived with several bright, sunny days. The air is filled with birdsong, and male blackbirds can be seen scampering round the place charging aggressively at rivals who dare to enter a territory that has already been spoken for; and one or two early insects have emerged from their winter hibernation.
The brief snows gave a nice opportunity to take some Christmas card snaps of the birds in the hedgerow:
MALE BULLFINCH IN THE SNOW, CLEWERS LANE
MALE HOUSE SPARROW IN THE SNOW, CLEWERS LANE
Most days, a Song Thrush has been singing very loudly from one of the Ash Trees in the lane. They are solitary birds and they sing to define their territory in order to attract a mate. The Redwing is a very similar bird in appearance, and it usually arrives in flocks, in winter, from the colder Northern climes. Unlike the Song Thrush, it is a sociable bird and so its behaviour is such that it tends not to sing – instead it twitters to keep in touch with other members of the flock. The simplest way of distinguishing the birds is therefore through their song. If that fails, then the Redwing has a distinctive red patch under each wing which can be easily seen when in flight. Here are snapshots of both birds, both taken on the same day in the same tree; the Song Thrush at Dawn, and the Redwing at dusk (sorry the picture is a bit dull due to low light)
SONG THRUSH, CLEWERS LANE
REDWING, CLEWERS LANE
Our colony of House Sparrows is ahead of the game in the race to procreate. This pair has already selected their nesting site in the roof space of a house and they are beginning to remove last year’s nest material to make way for the new (They love horse hair!):
PAIR OF HOUSE SPARROWS, CLEWERS LANE
Great Tits and Robins have also been very vocal:
GREAT TIT, CLEWERS LANE
ROBIN, CLEWERS LANE
Whilst the smaller birds are nest building and drawing attention to themselves with their song, Magpies and Jays, who predate on eggs, nestlings and fledglings, just sit and watch the goings on, possibly committing to memory the whereabouts of future food supplies:
JAY, CLEWERS LANE
One or two insects have emerged from hibernation. On one sunny day I spotted two Red Admirals dancing around each other. One was kind enough to settle and I was able to take this snap:
RED ADMIRAL, CLEWERS LANE
Red Admirals hibernate in sheds and hedges (when their wings are folded together they look like a dead leaf). Some survive and emerge in early spring – sometimes the worse for wear. This one has a damaged left wing and its red colouring has faded to an orangey-red. Most Red Admirals come from the continent in early summer and it is these who lay the eggs which produce the late summer display of shiny new butterflies. The eggs are most often laid on Stinging Nettles and if you have a corner of the garden that can be left untended and weedy, this can help.
The mildish winter has helped the lichen survive and flourish. This growth, which is about the size of a tennis ball, looks pristine:
LICHEN, CLEWERS LANE
The Red Dead Nettle plants are flowering a couple of weeks ahead of schedule and will be a source of nectar for the early insects. In olden times, the plant was used by Humans as well: it was boiled and eaten as a pot-herb, and it was used as a medicinal herb to treat scrofula – a form of tuberculosis. The plant does not sting:
RED DEAD NETTLE, CLEWERS LANE
And finally, for this month, here is a snapshot of a House Sparrow ‘reading’ a Planning Application notice for a residential development in Clewers Lane. The bird is on the red list of endangered species and I couldn’t help wondering whether it should be better represented in the matter: