From The Patch

At the door of autumn – patch walk, 25th August

This is a long overdue write up that I kept on meaning to post! Better late than never…

Its a sunny morning, when the clouds allow and there’s a lovely breeze blowing. For the first time since June I need to wear more than a t shirt. Feels like a little victory.

The streets are quiet, the birds still largely absent. In the copse the crow is king, stomping around imperiously. On into the park and its quiet, really quiet for a Saturday. Not long now until children will relinquish it and hidden creatures will show themselves again.

I walk through the formal garden, enjoying the last of the lavender and head down to the black spruce tree. Still no sign of squirrels, its been 3 weeks now since the last time I fed one by hand.

There’s plenty of evidence that they’re about though, in the shape of cones nibbled to the core. They’re clearly finding food.

Also finding food are the ever-present magpies, woodpigeons and jackdaws.

Jackdaws are keeping to their usual patch and I wander off in their direction, but I don’t make it any further than a multi-stemmed holly tree as a new squirrel is seeking to make my acquaintance! The female squirrel is notable for having four flashes of red on her legs, so I’m going to have to call her Redsocks. She’s eyeing me up before disappearing into the canopy, but a couple of nuts on the ground soon tempt her down. She’s utterly unconcerned that I’m there and still seems unconcerned when a passing dog comes to investigate what I’m up to.

Another squirrel has gathered a bunch of leaves and holly berries and is hightailing it across the grass. Planning to relax at home, perhaps.

Now a robin has come to investigate too, looks like its all happening under the holly tree today.

Things are happening on the tree too, it looks like its going to be a bumper year for holly berries this year, which probably explains the 2 blackbirds I’ve just spotted lurking about. Probably time for me to move on and let everyone eat in peace.

I head out to the quiet corner of the park, to see how the crops of sweet chestnut and beech nuts are doing. Rather small, but they’re both on very large and old trees, so its not surprising. They’re as far from trees grown for crop as you can imagine. The same is true of the other sweet chestnut trees in the park, though the horse chestnuts are already dropping conkers. The hunt for fungi is still yielding nothing. Much more rain is required before they’ll emerge this year I suspect.

Moving back to the black spruce, another squirrel approaches me. Hang on, its Redsocks again! She checks one nut I throw and discards it, but then takes the next and hurries off to bury it. That gives me time to make it to the tree and by the time she comes looking for me again I’m in the right place to teach her the drill. She’s quick as a flash in carefully taking a nut from my hands and then off to bury it.

She’s got smarts, this squirrel, not only fake burying on the way out but on the way back too. Its not enough to outwit a magpie on one poorly placed hiding spot though. As soon as her back was turned it was swooping down to take advantage.

Magpie marks the spot where the nut was buried, you lose this time, Redsocks.

Most nuts she buries, some nuts she eats, until its time for me to head home through the trees, feeling like I’ve made a new friend.

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Making a bee-lion for the park, patch walk 16th August

Alongside the park sits a Victorian building, brimming with the confidence of the age it was made in. A civic building, adorned with cast iron statues that declare self belief.

The bees don’t care about Victorian self belief. They care that the mouth of this lion offers an ideal location for a hive and something in me wants to wildly applaud them for this choice, for making a monument to human folly into something much more real and important. These honeybees are busy indeed as they cover the nearby flowers that remain, unnoticed by almost all. How glorious.

Its glorious getting back into the park too, on a rare quiet morning. The summer club has claimed the park most days so far and really that’s as it should be. Public parks should be used for public uses, lest cash-strapped councils start viewing them as “land resources”. Its undeniable, however, that 50+ excited children playing games don’t always make for the best nature viewing conditions and so I’ve left them to enjoy their summer and spent time elsewhere, knowing that come September that I’ll be back.

Yet on this day they weren’t there.

Waiting to cross into the park and a little drama is unfolding overhead as a pair of speckled wood butterflies do battle. Swirling, tumbling, parting and coming back together until one flees to the safety of the ivy.

Victor or loser? I don’t know, but I feel like I win every time I get to see one of these interactions, staring open mouthed at the side of the road as busy people go thundering past.

Woodpigeons are wandering, magpies are chattering. From hidden perches robins are singing again. There is change in the air.

No squirrels appear at the black spruce tree, they’re all at the other end of the park today, it seems.

One cheeky fellow responds instantly to the shake of the bag of nuts and quickly jumps on to the nuts I throw down, unconcerned that I’m right there. Eats a couple, then its off to bury more.

Sloes are ripening, rowans are heavy with berries. Blue tits and robins call from the overgrown and wild area. By the old bowling green the jackdaws are stamping around, all confidence and power.

Its a curious thing, confidence, I can’t help but reflect as I start to head home. Those who placed statues of lions had it and this jackdaw seems to have it in equal measure. There’s likely a lesson in there somewhere, but I’m far too happy to have been back on the patch today to work out what it is.

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Playing in the traffic, patch walk 28th July

What a stupendous change to be walking in. Sunshine and clouds, but so much cooler in the wonderful wind that’s blowing. This is the sort of weather that I want to walk in.

There’s excitement practically from stepping out of the door as the cause of all the late night gull calling recently is uncovered. There’s a juvenile black backed gull in the road and he’s really in the road.

On evidence so far, junior is none too bright as he doesn’t seem to be aware that cars are going to hurt. He’s learned enough to move away from me, but not from moving cars. He’s far too busy constantly mewling for food to pay attention to things like moving cars. What really gets the juvenile moving, however, is a sudden mobbing from a pair of herring gulls. Black backed parents are having none of that though, swooping down from on high and sending the herring gulls packing. Cue much argumentative-sounding calling from the adults and from the juvenile? No prizes for guessing more food calls.

Kids, eh?

Juvenile finally gets some attention from a parent, sending him into full on begging mode and leaving even less brain cells for awareness, which is particularly dangerous as they’re now at a road junction and are literally stopping traffic.

Cars are going past just inches from juvenile – the parent bird having seen the sense of finding a safe perch – but still juvenile mews incessantly.

What’s that? Fast moving metal thing might hurt? I want food!

He strays into the road and then I intervene, hurrying the bird across the road and into a safer spot while the parent birds complain loudly. Gulls, there’s no pleasing them.

Its no point mewling at me, buddy, I’ve got no food for you. Now stay out of the traffic!

I’m so busy thinking about that encounter that I don’t really wake up again until I’m in the copse. It looks so beautiful in the sunlight and shade, with the wind making the leaves sing, but that’s the only noise out of it now. The birdsong days are long past.

In the park I can’t resist a trip around the formal garden just for the scent of the lavender planted there, before heading for the wilder fringes. At the black spruce, Braveheart the squirrel is happy to see me and the bag of nuts. Its just him today, so he’s not in a rush, taking the time to enjoy each nut. After about 5 or 6 nuts he disappears and so do I, off on a wander.

Plodding slowly around the edges of the park where there’s some more stands of nettles. Investigate, but the only creature I see is this splendidly well camouflaged creature:

I have no idea what it is, entymology never was a strong point of mine, but I do smile to see such excellent camouflage.

I loop back around to the black spruce, but there’s no squirrels there now so I head out of the park through the trees. Along the bottom road the wind and the heatwave have worked together and I’m crunching leaves underfoot at almost every step. In July. Leaf crunching in July. What an unusual year this is, I reflect, before hoping that it stays unusual and doesn’t become the new usual.

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Robin-by-the-hedge, patch walk 21st July

Its afternoon, but still not warm yet. The clouds and a steady breeze are seeing to that as it cuts through the muggy feeling. Busier and noisier on a Saturday afternoon though, people and traffic together making a volume that the fauna of high summer cannot penetrate. The clouds and the breeze are enough together to wipe the butterflies from the air also, so it makes for a fairly quiet start to the walk until I reach the park.

Its certainly not busy in the park though there are more signs of life here as a robin scolds me with “Tic, tac, toe!” before arrowing into the cover of a formal hedge. Other hidden birds are still leaving plenty of evidence that they’re around, in the shape of their moulted feathers. Interesting things to collect.

There’s signs of life over in the nettle patch too, on closer investigation. Plenty of part-munched leaves, though I can’t see anyone doing the munching right now. Given the number of blue tits resident in the park that’s probably not much of a surprise.

Round at the hedge another “Tic, tac, toe!” call tells me that I’ve been remembered and spotted. Its robin-by-the-hedge of course. His parental duties done for the year, he’s flying solo once more.

He’s a canny fellow, this robin, he won’t come down until I’ve thrown at least 2 handfuls of nibbles. He wants paying if he’s going to perform and perform he does, running through his repertoire of christmas card model poses.

The scots pines dotted through the park are witness to just how dry its been. Last year they were dropping damp and fully closed cones. This year there are dry and opened cones on the ground. The squirrels are doubtless happy about that, as the well-nibbled cones alongside the newest cones on the ground shows. So much of watching wildlife at this time of year seems to be about just finding the evidence that they’ve been there.

One squirrel is definitely happy round at the black spruce tree. Its the polite squirrel, the oh-so-careful and deliberate squirrel who very slowly makes his way over to where I’m waiting, pausing regularly and looking over at me as if to say “I’m terribly sorry to bother you, but do you perhaps have a nut for me?” He runs through this pause pantomime a few times before he’s finally at my feet, where he awaits another invitation to come up into the tree and collect a nut.

Then he’s off at the same pace to bury it before repeating the process. Its so funny and charming to watch and I’m glad he’s getting his chance to shine without his 2 much more forceful friends being around. It turns out not to be much of a chance in the end though, as a large dog comes loping into the scene, intent on squirrel hunting. Sounds like a good time to go home.

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Finding blooms, patch walk 19th July

The only birds singing now are goldfinches and so I’m particularly glad for their cheery tunes as I step out of the door. Get distracted by a little weeding and then head on up the road. There’s a shiny, iridescent black feather at the top of the road, likely magpie, perhaps crow. Either way, into the collecting pouch it goes.

By the top of the road the theme of the walk is set, small white butterflies are everywhere, they’ve really come into their pomp right now. They’re industrious creatures, never really staying still, which makes them more than a bit tricky to photograph. There’s even more of them exploring the hedgerow on the back lane, dancing up and down like a small child on a visit to Disneyland.

The copse is full of butterflies today too, though here the speckled wood butterflies are holding their own against the small white army. Its a perfect habitat for them as they hug the sunniest spots that are just like woodland edges. Pairs of them dance together in pools of light. Singles flit between grass and leaves. Just for a moment its like a perfect patch of summer woodland.

On into the park and its largely quiet. The small birds are once again absent from the robin spot, but there are friendly dogs and I’ve reason to be grateful that I always bring dog treats with me in amongst the wild animals food! Its not long before that bag is empty. No sign of small birds and no sign of squirrels either but there are plenty more feathers for me to collect and lots of cones beneath the scots pine trees too.

The wild area is filled with brambles, which have completely taken over whole patches. They’re fruiting well, but not enough sun to be ripe yet. Soon they’ll be popular with all sorts of creatures. Already popular are the thriving clumps of ragwort, flowering beautifully and covered in insects, just like I was told they would be.

Its the random things you find in the wild area that I enjoy finding most, like a bed of spearmint just besides the path, just waiting to be brushed against and let fragrant and delicious smells loose.

I take a cutting of spearmint and a bit of ragwort too. Well, you never know if they might be persuaded to grow. Spearmint has a shot, ragwort is almost certainly wishful thinking.

Delighted to see that the stand of nettles has been left and the butterflies are making the most of it, especially our old friends the speckled wood. Long may park keeping decisions like this continue.

Disturbed from my nettle reverie by a cawing commotion I look up to see what all the fuss is about. Its a rare park raid by a troupe of gulls! Normally denizens of the nearby playing fields, these Herring Gulls are on a bin raid and making quite a bit of noise about it too, right until a black backed gull arrives and establishes itself as the king of the castle – or the top of the bin at least.

Its a scene that plays out in towns everywhere, but it is no less welcome a sight for that, especially when they’re the only birds I’ve seen all walk. That’ll have to suffice until the next time, its time to head home.

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The memory of squirrels – Patch walk, 17th July

Yesterday’s rain was so welcome, not least for its cooling effects. Everything was nicely aligned for a patch walk. Felt good to be filling the food bag up again, grabbing the camera and going.

Quiet seems to be the order of the day, that quiet of high summer. I only heard the first sound from birds when encountering the sparrow colony at the top of the road. Always a welcome sound! Yet on the main road all is quiet and only a handful of sparrows are showing on the back lane. The copse, so rich in the sounds of life only a few weeks ago, now stands completely silent. Traffic is the only sound I can hear in there now. That and the crunch of leaves underfoot, the heatwave having forced the early exits of some leaves this year. I can’t resist crunching leaves!

Into the park and the quiet continues. Apart from the noisy altercations of quarreling magpies and the ambitious amorousness of a woodpigeon no bird is making a sound. Not even those I get fleeting glimpses of, like wren, dunnock and robin.

The horse chestnuts have been very busy though, growing this year’s crop of conkers so quickly that I suspect that if I stood long enough in quiet I could perhaps hear them growing. For those who favour things that grow, summer really is a boom time. For those (like me) who favour things that move, summer really can be the quietest time.

Still very much on the move though are the squirrels, who clearly haven’t forgotten about me during my absence from the patch. They’re fair sprinting over to the the spruce tree where I feed them as soon as they see me.

The three usual suspects are all there, all eager to take nuts.

A very happy 20 minutes of watching and feeding follows, as all 3 squirrels vacillate between burying the nuts…

….or deciding they can’t wait and eating them instead!

This tree is also one of the best places to pick up natural found objects and today I’m collecting cones and feathers for a pocket hitchhikers post, a new side project inspired by the artwork of Raspberry Thief. On the way home I add the first fully ripened blackberries I’ve found this year to my foraging pouch, from the same little patch of ground that helped me rescue a downed bumble bee just a few weeks ago.

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