Sunday, 4 June 2017

Love up trees....

If you need time out and a little heart-warming positivity then sit back and listen to this lovely, funny story by A. L. Kennedy about a man stuck up a tree and a woman who will climb.....

Love Love Love like the Beatles by A. L. Kennedy

Urban peregrines of Bournemouth in the air (any minute now!!)

Urban peregrines nest in all kinds of places and Bournemouth's ace birds nest in a fabulous clock tower. And the time is fledging time! On the 16th May this year's brood of one female and two male chicks were ringed  as part of the long-term monitoring of this species. This involves fitting under special licence a small metal unique-to-that-bird BTO ring, and a three letter colour-coded Darvic ring. We did this while they were still very fluffy and just a bit of their adult feather growth coming though. Nearly 3 weeks on and boy have they grown as you can see here on the live video feed run by Wildlife Windows. One of the male youngsters has already taken to the air and the other two will not be long I am sure. See here quick for the latest live footage of the nest.

Old trees: a fine veteran sweet chestnut

Old trees have a strange fascination for me and this sweet chestnut is not exception! I spotted this beauty, a fine veteran tree, at the fabulous Penshurst Place & Gardens. I asked David Alderman of The Tree Register, an organisation full of facts and figures who have unique record of Notable and Ancient Trees in Britain and Ireland. David told me "the common limes there date back to 1798 and so a Sweet chestnut of this size could be from any time 1550-1750." We measured a rough girth at 1.5m of around 9.5m. It has living bits and dying bits, and all kinds of nobbles and bobbles and even a duck nest in a cavity in the end of a big dead limb. The team on the estate are clearly taking good care of the tree although it did seem very compacted around the base. So while the exact age of this champion specimen is unknown, we can be sure it has a few hundred years under it's belt!  

Nightjars and their bovine neighbours

Up on a Dorset heath there is a small herd of fine white and a few auld Shetland cattle. These guys are not only braw looking beasts but they are also doing some special that gets them a big thumbs up from the ground-nesting birds. Heathland will get swamped with trees and dense gorse without large herbivores to keep the vegetation at bay. The cattle browse in a way that massively benefits the  heathland wildlife.


We were up there to assist with the monitoring of some of the birds, in particular the nightjars. Nightjars are very special birds with a very cool call. Their 'song' is very distinctive and you can hear it when the males start to sing as the evening fades into dusk for nightjars are birds of the night! By night they fly around hunting moths and other flying insects and by day they sit very tight, so incredibly well camouflaged you would walk right past it without knowing. Only here for part of the year, these birds fly all the way to Africa and well south of the Sahara - see a map here, and some of these Dorset monitored birds have made this journey at least 10 times! 

The evening was full of calling males, a few midges and the occasional wheep wheep call of the male in flight. We were extremely privileged to see one of these fantastic birds up close, a one year old female from last year.  Apart from th cryptic plumage, what struck me was the size of those eyes, and we could clearly see the big moth-funnelling bristles at her gape. After reading the ring number and checking on her condition she was quickly released and we caught a glimpse of her as she vanished back into the night.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Evenings are magical!

Evenings are magical. I loiter by the whispering river to watch the swifts hurtle through the zig-zag air and soon I am covered by hundreds of ghost-white flies and the evening is thick with them. And out of no-where, a barn owl, tinged pink in the last of the glow from a superb sunset hunts his way over the flower-thick fields. As I head home I glimpse him once more, this time mouse heavy, a mouse black shape dangling limp from his talons, as he draws a line between a death among the sweet flowers and the lives it will grow, a line that leads to the clamour of hungry owlets.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The woods are a-wash with bluebells!

Get out there when you can for the woods are awash with that amazing delicate yet vibrant bluebell blue (or is it purple..see here). Bird song throngs the forest and I was delighted to hear the thin, wispy call of a firecrest again this morning. Over on a patch of heath, my first tree pipit of the year was in full silver song. And from the hole of a dead sweet chestnut tree I spotted the cheeky beak of a great spotted woodpecker peeking back out at me; Spring is in full swing!

Ravens are Go!

Ravens nest early. And what fine big stick nests they have! The great stick nest contains a very cosy lining or nest cup which keeps eggs and young chicks warm during harsh early Spring weather. On a fine late April afternoon we visit a raven pair we have watched for some years now. We hike in to the forest under the watchful eye of the adults who circle high above us. On a previous visit I had crept in unnoticed to hear the strange, deep-throated chatterings and gulping noises of the young ravens. Guano was splattered on the nest edge just in case I was in any doubt of what was up there.

Our visit to the nest tree is as short and sweet as we can make it: I quickly climb up to the nest (Blake's Hitch on 13mm arb line DRT and my amazing CT foot ascender) and lower three fine, plump bellied pulli in a big old rucksack to the ringing team below. We measure, weigh (1.23kg, 1.05kg and 0.91kg) and ring them and return them back up into their cosy nest.

Our next visit is to a tall, thin Scot's pine. There are good-sized chicks up there shown by a vast zone sprayed white under the tree. The climbing is way more exciting - gulp! - and clinging to a branch I peer around the great stick pile to see four fabulous ravens. This bigger brood of slightly smaller ravens (1.06kg, 0.92kg, 0.69kg. 0.65kg) is significant as it is the first here for some years. This pair built a nest in 2016 (we recognise the female by a particular damage to one wing) but produced no chicks. Hiking back to the car we are happy to see both adults soaring over the wood, and we leave them to their dinner.

That was a few weeks ago. The fully grown youngsters soon leave the nest, sitting further and further out along branches, proving how independent they (almost nearly!) are. By now the young ravens will be testing those shiny new flight feathers out. Today there is a fine warm breeze; I wouldn't be surprised if Ravens are already on the wing!

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Sitting tight come rain or, erm...snow!

After the hot summery days of mid April we are back to snow. And the sight of Loch Garten's osprey EJ sitting up to her neck in snow is quite some sight! And tough as it gets for those incubating birds, they just have to sit tight. See how she is getting on on the Loch Garten WEBCAM. And it is the same for raptors on the other side of the pond: peregrines nesting on the Rachel Carson Building in Pennsylania are also sitting in snow! Follow live webcam here. On this day back in 1950, a big snow storm landed in Berkshire, UK and the effects on various species is detailed in this little paper here. And do check out thism a couple of years ago a bald eagle pair also sat out the snow to keep those eggs warm - see the incredible image here!

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Forests are treasures, focus on Bialowieza

On this International Day of Forests 2017 I read that Poland is to report on the impacts of felling in Bialowieża Forest in 2017, as advised by IUCN. This is after Białowieża Forest, a place of great wonder, complex biological relationships and marvellous biological richness, faced a great threat in the form of gouvernment sanctioned logging! (see previous blog here) Let us hope that this great treasure can be fully recognized and fully protected again.


 Summer & winter predator-prey foodwebs in Poland's Białowieża Forest.
With kind permission of Serguei Saavedra.

PERMANENT: wolf, lynx, red fox, raccoon dog, otter, polecat, and northern goshawk.
SUMMER: badger, lesser-spotted eagle.

PERMANENT: red deer, boar, hare, squirrel, mice, voles, shrews, passerines, fish and amphibians.
SUMMER: small passerines, reptiles, and insect.
WINTER: European bison.

International Day of Forests 2017!

Today is International Day of Forests 2017: to all those who found themselves walking in woods, what did you notice? Did you hear the sweet chiff chaff song of a tiny bird fresh from an African migration? Did you notice the first leaves bursting out of the sycamore buds? Did you feel the all too brief warmth of the Spring sun on your face in between rain showers and a wind with still a bite to it?

And to those who spent time indoors or only glanced at the woods and forests around us, go visit them soon!

Here are a handful of photos from my great Canadian adventures with Mark and Melissa in the woods of Algonquin last Fall, and what amazing vast expanses of forest they still have, for now.

The great White Pines
And a plethora of Big-toothed Apsen leaves

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The superb London Planes of Bedford Square!

The superb London Planes of Bedford Square are definitely worth a look. I wandered around the (sadly locked) perimeter of the garden railings and gazed up at the great limbs, and down at the oozing cambium, caught in the act of imperceptibly slow swallowing up the rails.




Monday, 6 March 2017

Sequoias in trouble?

As the planet warms, some species are able to change their ranges. Some plants are however so vast and slow growing, and so restricted in their needs that the future is a little bleak. Check out these thoughts on the future for the redwoods of North America on the BBC 4's Shared Planet programme, origionally broadcast 2013. Also check out James up a fine redwood giant in James and the Giant tree!

Sunday, 5 March 2017

In the heart of Thorncombe Wood

In the heart of Thorncombe Wood are amazing big pines, ancient sweet chestnuts and and great beeches. The woods are now alive to the sounds of bird song with woodpeckers pecking at wood, and yaffling, the strident call of the nuthatch pealing from afar and those siskins really going for it in the oak above me. Here are a few photos of an awesome sweet chestnut, stacks of hazel rods in the hazel coppice, a line of sweet chestnut fencing, a glimpse of a wild beast of the forest, and an ancient fallen tree.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

My latest great read!

Ever hear do the woodwide web? Well, read on! Peter Peter Wohlleben, who calls towering beeches his friends, is full of intriguing and fascinating facts and info. I have just started this and am looking forward to learning to see more when I enter the forest.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

LONDON TREES: Richmond 2

The Royal Oak of Richmond Park is a mighty fine, is a tad creepy, ancient oak tree. It might look a little worse for wear but then again, it is thought to be around 750 years of age and still going strong! It has been pollarded for centuries, a practice which helps it live longer. See below for another example of pollarding.

LONDON TREES: Richmond 1

Oak trees everywhere, and all of them hundreds of years older than me - what a place! I'm in Richmond Park, and I am surrounded by huge, old oaks, hundreds of years of age. Time moves more slowly here. I settle myself with my against this fine tree and gaze up at the limb stretching out above my head. The sun is dazzling, and warm on my skin  although the air in the shadows is bitter cold.

The sky is that pure blue when there are no clouds and everything seems to hangs motionless, quietly. Tattered lobed leaves fall slowly, irregularly, like big crisp snowflakes; spider webs  shine in the sharp light; and some kind of small flies follow some kind of dance. I look up above me at the scratch of claw on branch and notice now the jackdaws anxiously guard nest holes, guarding them from each other and from the noisy, squawking parakeets that are also eyeing up old woodpecker holes and tree cavities. The sun drops and the air is cold; I stand up, stretch, and wander slowly back through the woods towards the perimeter, towards the world of houses and cars and bustle. My meandering path takes me towards an curious oak, small and squat though with a nice canopy; it is only when I am right close up that I realise quite how big it is - a very impressive tree!