A natural history of the Hedgerows and Gardens in Clewers Lane, Waltham Chase.
Words and pictures by Gordon Larcombe
March was mainly mild, windy and dry– except for one tremendous hailstorm that deposited an inch of hailstones towards the end of the month. This did not deter the birds, insects and wild flowers from their Springtime activities. Blue Tits and House Sparrows settled into the nest boxes and the song of the male Hedge Sparrow (or Dunnock) has been everywhere:
MALE DUNNOCK IN SONG, CLEWERS LANE
The Hedge Sparrow, despite its name, is not related to the House Sparrow. The Hedge Sparrow is a songbird that tends to lead a solitary existence, unlike the House Sparrow, which is not a songbird and which tends to flock. Male and Female Hedge Sparrows are very similar in appearance, whereas Male and Female House Sparrows differ in appearance. If you have a bird table or feeder, the Hedge Sparrow is very often on the ground below, picking up the tiny crumbs that fall. Hedge Sparrows usually nest in hedges or shrubs with a neat, well-made nest of woven grasses, moss and mud. The House Sparrow nests in houses, sheds and nest boxes and its nest is an untidy mess of horsehair, feathers, bits of string and other cast-offs:
MALE HOUSE SPARROW AT NEST BOX, CLEWERS LANE
Blue Tits readily take to nest boxes and compete with Great Tits for prime position:
BLUE TIT IN NESTBOX, CLEWERS LANE
Too large for a nest box, but not to be outdone, this Collared Dove set about collecting twigs for its own nest, high up in the trees:
COLLARED DOVE, CLEWERS LANE
Whereas this Robin was spotted carrying a dead leaf to add the finishing touches to its nest in the hedgerows:
ROBIN WITH LEAF, CLEWERS LANE
Robins are very territorial, particularly at this time of the year and will fight, sometimes to the death, with any other Robin that intrudes into its territory. Before engaging in battle, a Robin will try to scare off an intruder by displaying its red chest to maximum effect. Often this ritual is enough to settle the matter before any damage is done. This snapshot shows two Robins engaged in such activity:
TWO POSTURING ROBINS, CLEWERS LANE
This Goldcrest was spotted early in the month, flitting from plant to plant in search of food. It is the smallest British bird and also the smallest European bird, tinier than a Wren, to which it is not related. Male and female Goldcrests are very similar in appearance except for the fact that the male may have orange feathers in the crest, but it is difficult to see this distinction as the creature is rarely still for a moment.
GOLDCREST, CLEWERS LANE
High up in one of the Ash trees, a Mistle Thrush was spotted:
MISTLE THRUSH, CLEWERS LANE
Whilst in the hedgerow below, its smaller relative, the Song Thrush was feeding on the few remaining Ivy Berries:
SONG THRUSH, CLEWERS LANE
Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells and Brimstone butterflies have all been on the wing this month, particularly on sunny, still days:
SMALL TORTOISESHELL, CLEWERS LANE
The appearance of the insects, including bees and hoverflies, coincides with the arrival of the wild flowers. Dog Violets, Stinking Hellebore and Lesser Celandines are all now in flower:
DOG VIOLET, CLEWERS LANE
The Dog Violet is an insignificant-looking little plant and is often overlooked when not in flower.
STINKING HELLEBORE, CLEWERS LANE
Stinking Hellebore is so called because of the smell that emerges when its leaves or flowers are damaged. The plant is dangerously poisonous and is best left to the Bumble Bees who relish the nectar from the light green coloured flowers. In the middle ages, the plant was sometimes used as an infusion to cure humans of parasitic worms. Unfortunately, as well as killing the worms, it often killed the human host. Its large seeds are often dispersed by snails: the snails eat part of the seed and discard the rest which then sticks to the snail’s slime and is carried to a new site.
LESSER CELANDINE, CLEWERS LANE
The Lesser Celandine, or Pilewort, carpets the verges with a blanket of bright yellow at this time of the year. In the middle ages it was used as an herbal medicine to treat, among other things, Scrofula or King’s evil. The success rate – or otherwise – is not known.