Listening to the BBC Radio 4 programme last Sunday, ‘Ash to Ash’ (available on catch-up) reminded me how devastating Ash die-back is going to be to the British countryside and ecology. Ash is the third most common tree in Britain, and valuable to at least 1,000 species, many of them specific to Ash trees. Its’ sparser foliage and early leaf-loss also enables light to penetrate woodland, enhancing wild flower species. The tough, shock absorbent wood has been here since the ice-age, with myriad uses, from Roman chariots to tool handles, hockey sticks to furniture construction. Ash can live for 400 years, or longer when coppiced, and yet it is dying over many parts of the country already and the only hope known to date is that some individual trees may
be resistant. Open Country suggested we should be planting similarly ecologically-rich trees now, as the disease has so far proved unstoppable. The arrival and speed of Ash die-back is also a reminder that many species are likely to be threatened by the increasing globalisation of plant diseases. Conditions: Grey, drizzly days. Temperature: Max 14 Min 8C.
Wigeon: here is another easy to identify duck, larger than the Teal I featured recently and, unless you live in Scotland and the North of England where they breed, more likely to be spotted over winter on wetlands and coastal areas, like these at Spurn. Our populations are boosted by over-wintering influxes from Iceland, Scandinavia and Russia. A dabbling duck, feeding in large and often mixed groups in shallow water, on eel grass and pond plants, often eating up the weed disturbed by larger water-birds, they will also graze in groups on grassland. If you are trying to identify them, the male is the most easily distinguished, and Wigeon show a lot more white- on their bellies and the males on their wings when in flight-
Male Wigeon, landing
than when on water. Conditions: A grey day after a gorgeous sunny day at Spurn yesterday. Temperature: Max 8 Min 5C.
The Curlew calling is one of the most evocative sounds and this one’s call was echoing across the Humber Estuary yesterday, in fading light. With their long, decurved bills these, the largest of our wading birds, are unmistakable but sadly becoming rarer. Curlew are now on the red/ endangered list. They overwinter mostly on estuaries and coast’s like this eastern one, to feed deep in the mud and
Curlew, Humber Estuary
Curlew, Humber Estuary
sand, on shellfish, shrimp, worms and other invertebrates. Their name may derive from the old French ‘corliu’, ‘messenger’ (related to courier- to run). Conditions: Quite a dramatic time to be on the far eastern coast of England, with 50 mph winds and showers, hopefully bringing more of our winter migrants to land. Temperature: Max 6 Min 6C.
Crab Apples are great small trees for the wildlife garden, with beautiful blossom in spring, feeding Bees and other insects, often good leaf-colour in autumn, and long-lasting fruits that can provide food for birds well into winter. Crab Apples can be kept pruned to shape and size if you have limited space, too. However, different varieties work better for birds, and the very prolific Golden Hornet here in our garden, very seldom attracts birds, probably because the fruits are smaller and harder than other varieties. Grey Squirrels will eat them, as they were today. John Downie and others Crab Apple varieties work better for birds. Conditions: Grey, dry and mild. Temperature: Max 10 Min 3c.
Grey Squirrel, Crab Apples
Grey Squirrel, Crab Apple
Grey Squirrels, Crab Apple
Lovely Mistle Thrushes, larger than Song Thrushes and standing more upright, with blotchier chests, greyer-brown backs. and longer tails, have been eating the berries from our Rowan Joseph Rock, as they do most years.(The BTO do a good comparison of Missile and Song Thrush if the differences confuse you). They are named after their habit of eating Mistletoe berries, though they will eat Holly, Yew and Rowan and you may know they are in your garden or park from their distinctive, rattling call, at any time of year. Mistle Thrushes are one of the species which ‘resource-guard’, where they will aggressively defend a source of berries from all-comers.Studies show that birds which do this have
Mistle Thrush, Rowan, Joseph Rock
Mistle Thrush, Rowan, Joseph Rock
Mistle Thrush, eating berries, Joseph Rock Rowan
than those who don’t ‘resource-guard’. Conditions: Mild, still and sunny. Temperature: Max 12 Min 7C.
While the drought caused a “false fall” for some of our trees which therefore lost their leaves early, the summer sun, extending into late autumn has led many trees to hold onto their leaves longer than usual, as has the relative lack of high winds and rain. Leaf senescence (leaf-drop), results from a complex set of relationships between climate, genes and chemicals, but whenever it happens, it is a result of the deciduous plant or tree redirecting its nutrients and chemicals away from leaves, from the tree-tops initially, shutting down fluids and corking over the leaf-ends so they fall. The autumn colours on some plants are a result of chlorophyll being broken down, the green fading and revealing the carotenoids and flavonoids, which glow red, orange, yellow etc. This year our garden colours, seen here,
Cotinus Golden Spirit, usually this far north it remains yellow in autumn but not this year
Fallen leaves of Rowan Joseph Rock
Rowan Joesph Rock and Cotinus Grace, and the Oak still full of leaf
are enhanced by the sugars built up from so much sunshine this summer and autumn. Conditions: Mild and cloudy. Temperature: Max 13 Min 5C.
There is nothing more beautiful visiting out garden, year round but resplendent in their new plumage right now, than male Bullfinches. Apparently, we are in the lucky 10% of people who have these normally shy birds coming to our garden feeders. Having declined by 36% since 1967, these stocky finches need all the help they can get and they come, characteristically for Bullfinches, in their loose family flocks, most of the year, to feed on our RSPB feeder-mix. We have three males and two females at present, one, as you can see, still just coming out of it’s moult. They used to be caged and astonishingly, some people played a special flute to them in an attempt to get them copy the tunes. Their soft, low whistle is beautiful enough for me. Conditions: Milder and greyer spell. Still very little rain.Temperature: Max 12 Min 7C.
Male Bullfinches, one just finishing moulting
Rowan Berries– this has certainly been an atypical year in many ways. We have never kept the berries on our native Rowan this late in the year. Probably due to the proliferation of fruits and berries in the wild, the Blackbirds have only just started eating them, as the cooler weather comes in. The yellow berries on our Rowan ‘Joseph Rock’ are varying in colour from nearly white to rosy red- again, a first since it was planted about 15 years ago, and probably due to extra sugars from this year’s excessive dry heat. The stunning autumn colours of the Joseph Rock leaves are, however, beginning to glow as usual. Conditions: Cool, drizzle clearing to sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 9 Min 2C.
Male Blackbird eating Joseph Rock Rowan berries
Blackbird on Joseph Rock Rowan
Female Blackbird eating native Rowan berries