Posts Tagged "horse chestnut"

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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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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Patch walk, 16th June 2018

The rain has stopped, but its still cloudy and cool in the stiff breeze that’s blowing. Its fresh and changeable and interesting. Blackbird feeding on the grass verge is unconcerned as I pass by, walking up the road. Privet is starting to flower, joining the riot of summer on the back lane.

The copse has had a resident blackbird for months. Pulling worms from the same small area of grass. Its all the territory he has needed, but I’ve not been paying attention. I’ve been walking past his little area at the entrance to the copse and not been noticing his absence. While I’ve not been paying attention, he’s been busy; he flies past me with a beak full of food, disappearing into a bush where the copse meets the road.

He emerges soon after and he’s clocked me, standing there watching and reflecting on how foolish I was to make declarations like nesting in the copse was over for this year. Nature will always find a way to surprise. He perches up, calling in the direction of the bush, not an alarm call but a silence call. There’s so much evidence that there’s a nest there, but I can’t risk going to look and eventually he cracks and reverts to the classic alarm call, flying off in the opposite direction. Its textbook diversion. I’ll be keeping an eye on this bush from a safe distance.

With him gone I can see that the horse chestnut he was perched in has had an eruption of bracket fungi.

Of what type it is I am completely unsure. I’m fascinated by the world of fungi, but have very limited identification knowledge. Its a spectacular looking arrangement nonetheless.

The park is quiet for a Saturday, the rain putting off the fair-weather folk. Robin is calling before I even reach their territory, clicking and fussing in the trees and then diving down to the mealworms.

I don’t hang around there too long today, just long enough to check that all is well and to leave them food. I’m so fond of these particular robins and right now its all good news from them. I don’t want to risk anything there.

Round at the black spruce and there are squirrels. Lots and lots of squirrels. They’re on the tree, they’re foraging on the ground and they’re very happy to see me. Once I start handing out nuts its a steady stream of little faces appearing on the stump and in the V of the branches.

 

Braveheart and Buddy are to the fore, they’re well practiced at this drill, but there are more squirrels than that today. I count 5 of them taking from me today, some for the very first time. They mostly behave themselves, only a little bit of chasing going on. They’re all hungry I suspect so they manage to keep themselves apart from each other, perching in different parts of the tree to eat. Eventually they start running off to bury nuts but thankfully this is at the same time as I’m running out of nuts. They’ve eaten everything I’ve brought with me!

The robin from the yew trees has been flying to and fro while I’ve been standing there, landing nearby to catch my eye. With the nuts all gone he finally gets his reward for persistence and flies straight down to eat the suet nibbles I dropped in the usual spot below the laurel bush. Its been a great walk, lots to see, but time to head home.

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Patch walk, 9th June 2018

Its cloudy and cooler than I was expecting. Feels cooler than the forecast said, which is all good by me. Just plodding along today. I have time to spend and you can miss so much when you move quickly.

The back lane feels full of life today. Where flowering bushes are overhanging garden walls and fences they are busy with bees. Honeybee, Garden Bumblebee and Tree Bumblebee all spotted.

Tiny flowers on this one particular bush, so the the bees are constantly on the move. This makes photographing them something of a lottery! The garden bumblebees already have leg baskets that are filling with pollen, its heartening to see.

The brambles are starting to flower by the hedge that runs the entire length of the lane. Summer ploughing ever on onwards. At the bottom of the lane, 4 long-tailed tits fly across the lane in front of me, from garden to garden. The first long-tailed tits I’ve seen for months. New birds out exploring the world with their parents? That’s a happy thought.

Chaffinch is singing in the copse and that’s the only good news from there today. The woodpigeon nest is empty again today, with no sign of them. Is it another failed nest in the copse this year? It could well be. The possibility of predation by the sparrowhawk in the park over the road can’t be ruled out. The nest wasn’t in a particularly hidden position.

I can hear the sparrowhawk calling as soon as I enter the park. The collection of feathers is still there at the bottom of the horse chestnut, but so are lots of droppings. This might not be a plucking post, this might be a sparrowhawk nest! I can’t see anything from the ground, the leaf cover is too dense, but I’ll try to work out a way to see from higher ground.

Head over to the robin spot and the resident robin is quickly on to mealworms, but not just taking the one and going – they’re filling their beak up with the lot! Hang on, now there’s 2 of them and they’re both hoovering up all the mealworms I’m putting down. Then they’re both flying off to the same rough area of the park. It has to be a nest. Is this what happened to winter and spring’s highly unusual arrangement of 3 robins in the same very small area? Did 2 of them finally pair up and breed?

Before I can even think about going and investigating further, Buddy the squirrel turns up and he’s making it very clear he wants a nut. He pops up into a yew tree when I tell him but now I’m in a dilemma. I can’t go looking for the nest and and risk Buddy following me and discovering where the nest is, for the safety of the birds. I need something that will temporarily make the squirrels want to be elsewhere in the park…and here it comes in the shape of Bonniedog. No squirrel in its right mind wants to be anywhere near her. She’s a lovely-natured dog, unless you’re a squirrel. Its textbook.

With the squirrels safely elsewhere I can can stalk the robins, looking for the nest. It has to be done carefully, patiently, at a distance. Binoculars required, don’t disturb the birds or the nest site. Move slowly, move deliberately, watch where you’re putting your feet. After about 20 minutes I’ve identified which particular bush they’re nesting in. That’s enough for today, really don’t want to go closer and risk disturbing.

Look at my watch, I’ve spent an hour just feeding and watching robins. So, I head onwards, ending up at the black spruce where Buddy escaped to and Braveheart has joined him there.

“Wherever you go, I shall stalk you for nuts!”

Evidence quickly confirms that they’re both pretty darn hungry. Its not surprising, this is a rough time for squirrels, with all of last years stocks exhausted and not much new food emerged yet. Summer can be a real winter for squirrels.

Keeping them separate by feeding them at different points on the tree I give them their first nuts and they do their utmost to plough through the rest of the bag of nuts.

“Gimme, gimme, gimme!”

I’m there for ages, until they both satiated and starting to run off and bury nuts. Feels like its about time for my lunch now too, so its time to head home from a very enjoyable patch walk.

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Patch walk, 8th June 2018

Its a cloudy morning and with the temperature rising its already feeling quite close and humid as I step out of the door. Hmm, herring gulls are calling loudly, that’s a little unusual at this time of the year. Part way up the road the reason for all the noisy kerfuffle is revealed. 3 herring gulls are mobbing a buzzard. Its all happening at close quarters, the buzzard trying to flare its claws at its tormentors but constantly giving ground to them. By the time I’ve reached the top of the road and have an uninterrupted view things are changing again. Another buzzard floats effortlessly into the melee. The gulls don’t seem to like this change of odds and swiftly change direction, unwilling to take on 2 buzzards at once.

On the back lane, goldfinch and robin are singing while dunnock and sparrow are foraging where the road surface meets the old hedge. The only singing in the copse today is from woodpigeons. The great tit nest is still devoid of activity, the woodpigeon is off its nest and there’s no activity at the nuthatch nest hole. I suspect I’ve missed my chance to see the nuthatches fledging, they were so close a couple of days ago.

In the park and below one of the huge horse chestnut trees there’s a collection of feathers. Downy feathers, all white and grey.

Handiwork of the sparrowhawk I’ve been hearing so often recently? Seems like there are too many of them to be from the impact of just one kill. Perhaps the sparrowhawk’s favourite plucking post is right above in the horse chestnut? Its definitely worth keeping an eye on.

At the robin spot the resident robin is around, albeit a little reluctantly today as the area is currently overrun with with very active squirrels. She does come down to collect mealworms, but she’s not hanging about, smashing and grabbing, back into cover. Just how fast is she on these forays from the bushes? Faster than the zoom on my camera, I don’t manage to get a shot today.

With appointments to get to later I don’t have as much time on the patch today, so head straight to the black spruce tree and the squirrels…who aren’t there and aren’t appearing quickly from elsewhere in the park when I rattle the bag of nuts either. Still, it gives me time to collect. I do have a bit of a habit of collecting what catches my eye from what flora and fauna have left behind. Right now, with birds starting to moult, there’s plenty of feathers to collect. Crow and woodpigeon feathers are easy to identify, but the last one (all shown above) is new to me. Could it be a buzzard feather? I think it is.

Its too beautiful to leave behind either way, this one is going on display at home.

There’s also the first spruce cones of the season on the ground, not fully grown of course, but the shapes and patterns are fascinating and these are still sticky with sap.

Eventually, after going on a little wander while rattling my bag of nuts, Braveheart squirrel appears and is looking either extremely eager, extremely curious, or both together!

“Focus? Schmocus! I want to do an extreme close up!”

Its not just Braveheart who turns up today though, there’s also the polite squirrel as well as a new one who’s not come to the tree before. He squats down, both paws crossed across his chest, trying to look innocent. Trying, but the missing section of one of his ears suggests he knows how to look after himself. He gets up to the tree stump and has a good look at me, but doesn’t take a nut yet. His approach is to try and chase Braveheart for his nut instead, so the squirrels are all spinning around the trunk like fireworks.

With the sun over the yard arm and appointments imminent its time to head home.

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