A natural history of the Hedgerows and Gardens in Clewers Lane, Waltham Chase.
Words and pictures by Gordon Larcombe
May has seen sunny days interspersed with showers sufficient to keep the plant life flourishing and supporting the insect life that depends upon it. Our second brood of Blackbirds have hatched and the parents are busy feeding the new generation. This is just as well because, earlier in the month, one of the fledglings from the first brood was taken by a Sparrowhawk. In the two snapshots below, the Sparrowhawk can first be seen in a characteristic pose of ‘covering’ its dead prey after the strike, and in the second, it preparing to fly off with its prey with which to feed its own young. To those of us who like small songbirds this may be distressing, but it is part of the natural process and similar to the Blackbird’s own predation on worms and caterpillars:
SPARROWHAWK COVERING ITS PREY, CLEWERS LANE
SPARROWHAWK ABOUT TO TAKE OFF WITH ITS PREY, CLEWERS LANE
One bright sunny day, just after noon, I was surprised to see an adult Fox strolling past my front door and I just about managed to get off a ( poor) snapshot through the window glass:
FOX AT NOON, CLEWERS LANE
Local Starlings are visiting gardens in the search for insects such as Leatherjackets with which to feed their young. This snapshot shows the attractive markings of the bird’s plumage. Many of our Starlings are visitors who spend the winters in Europe. Starlings are listed as an ‘at risk’ species, due to declines in populations:
STARLING, CLEWERS LANE
Another endangered species is the House Sparrow. There is a small colony in Clewers Lane and this picture is of a male who is on sentry duty outside one of the nest sites:
HOUSE SPARROW, CLEWERS LANE
As flowers appear, so Butterflies take to the wing. This is a picture of the Holly Blue, so called because it is blue and it lays its eggs in the flower buds of the Holly – in Spring. The new generation that emerges will take to the wing in August/September and lay its eggs in the buds of Ivy. In turn, this generation will overwinter and emerge in the Spring to lay in Holly, and the cycle repeats itself:
HOLLY BLUE, CLEWERS LANE
By contrast, the Orange Tip buttefly only has one generation each year. The butterfly overwinters as a chrysalis and emerged in the Spring to lay its eggs on plant called Garlic Mustard or Jack-by-the-Hedge. This metre-tall plant is often regarded as a weed of the verges but it is very important for the Orange Tip. Its eggs will hatch and the larvae will feed on the seed pods of the plant where they are very well disguised and are also protected by the flavour of garlic which they consume. The smell of garlic can be appreciated by squeezing a leaf of the plant:
JACK-BY-THE-HEDGE, CLEWERS LANE
Strong-flying Red Admiral butterflies are out and about. This one was snapped on a Lilac head:
RED ADMIRAL, CLEWERS LANE
The small wild flower called Lady’s Smock or Cuckoo Flower has done well on the verges this year. I counted over thirty in just a few metres. They do like damp ground and their succes this year may reflect our wet winter and early spring:
LADY’S SMOCK, CLEWERS LANE
Another Plant which is just appearing is Lords and Ladies which has bright red poisonous berries later in the year. This snap of the plants at an immature stage shows the creamy green spathes (papery hoods) each of which contains a small brown spadex which attracts the insects that subsequently fertilise them:
LORDS AND LADIES, CLEWERS LANE
NOTE: The original aim of these monthly Natural History diaries was to raise awareness of the wildlife living in or around Clewers Lane throughout the year. After four years, I feel that we have given good coverage to most of the indigenous wildlife to such an extent that not only have we achieved this aim, but that the content of the diaries is becoming repetitive. Consequently this will be the final diary in the project.
I would like to thank Martin for his contribution in hosting and publishing these diaries on his Waltham Chase website and I would also like to thank those of you who have read the diaries – If you have enjoyed reading them as much as I have enjoyed creating them, then that is a bonus.