Grass Snake– this very healthy looking adult Grass Snake, our largest native snake species and the only one to lay eggs, was doing what they tend to do in June- hunting newts in ponds, while newts are active at this time of year. Later they will hunt more in the damp grasslands they favour, searching for Frogs, Toads, mice etc. I was lucky to watch this one in Sussex this week, hunting Great Crested Newts- stealthily swimming through the pondweed, checking for scents with its forked tongue. Conditions: Sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 21 Min 15C.
The Yellow Water-lily is one of our native species, but less common than the white. The Yellow has considerably larger leaves, and the flower stands well out of the water, while its flask-shaped seed-pod, which gives it its common name ‘Brandy Flask’ or in past times ‘Can Dock’ (‘can’ in those days meaning a pottery vessel to hold liquids), contains air-bladders, allowing it to float off to colonise new waterways, before the air-pockets collapse and the seeds sink to germinate in the mud- bottome. In medieval France doctors warned patients that it was ‘the destroyer of pleasure and the poison of love’! Conditions: windy and cloudy, following showers. Temperature: Max 16 Min 14c.
Wood Sorrel- the first of the season for me, a favourite plant of damp woods, like Coed Lletywalter where we walked this morning. Its bright green trefoil leaves open in bright light and the white flowers have beautiful mauve veins. Out from around Easter, giving it its common name ‘Alleluia’,( among other common names, including Laverocks) the bruised, fresh leaves were once applied to cuts and bruises but I always loved, as a child, eating them as I played in our local woods. The oxalic acid, tasting like lemon juice, quenched my thirst. I read that Native Americans used it the same way! Conditions: Sun before high cloud. Temperature: Max 11 Min 7C.
Background to the spangled Celandines and starry Wood Anemones of Catsfield hedgerows right now is the Dog’s Mercury, with fresh green stalks and leaves and green female and male spikes of flowers. Culpepper,the 17th century herbalist, described this innocent looking plant thus: “There is not a more fatal plant, native of our country, than this”. The foetid smell attracts midges which pollinate this highly poisonous plant which is avoided by wild animals and can kill slowly over weeks. ‘Dog’ is used to mean ‘worthless’ but I like to see its fresh backdrop of leaves in the woods and hedgerows in early spring. Conditions: Bitterly cold breeze amongst sun and cloud.
Temperatures: Max 8 Min 5C.
Goldeneye are beautiful, diving ducks that overwinter in the UK. You may see them at Old Moor; we recently watched them on the Northumberland sea and at Druridge Bay, a bit distant so I have drawn a male to add to the photo’s
. Males have iridescent heads- studies suggest iridescence is related to testosterone levels, which may explain why heads look blacker in winter. The white cheek patch helps identification. Goldeneye first nested in Scotland in 1970– nest-boxes in trees near lakes has increased the small number of breeding to 200 pairs. Conditions: Cold with some sun. Temperature: Max 4 Min -2C.
Reed Bunting- about the size of a sparrow but longer and more slender, this lovely bird was in some numbers at Old Moor RSPB reserve today. Feeding on seeds and insects, and traditionally a wetland bird, the Reed Bunting is now spreading out into farmland, where it particularly enjoys the seed of Oilseed Rape, it can even turn up on garden feeders through winter. Like some other species, the Reed Bunting will feign injury to draw predators away from their nests. Conditions: Sunny and still Temperature: Max 7- Min 3C.
Hemp Agrimony (neither related to the much smaller Yellow Agrimony nor to Hemp!) is a brilliant wild plant for late summer and autumn- attracting many insects, Butterflies and Moths. Impressive in size (3-5 feet, 1-2 metres,) with large, frothy flowerheads, this plant loves damp grassland, ditches, marshes and damp woodland edges. Nick- named ‘Raspberries and Cream’ from its appearance, there are smaller versions of these eupatoriums
– like ‘Baby Joe’– which would be great for autumn wildlife in a smaller garden. Conditions: Sun and cloud. Temperature: Max 19- Min 12C.