Nature Notes 4

With a change to slightly cooler weather, I thought that maybe the onrush of spring would slow down a bit. Wrong. The headlong dash has continued unabated. It never ceases to amaze me just how quickly the flowers of the Horse Chestnuts follow the opening of the leaves and any minute now those ‘candles’ will be looking glorious (in one or two places they already are). In some sheltered spots, Hawthorn and Rowan are also, tentatively, beginning to flower. The wind isn’t helping the blossom of the flowering cherries though, and in some places, where the ground is carpeted in pink, it looks as though a manic wedding reception has taken place. On a rather darker note, gaps in the canopy are revealing just how many Ash trees are succumbing to the Ash Die-back disease.

There was something magical about walking in the rain on Friday and hearing Skylarks singing as though it was the sunniest of days. Talking about singing, the Nightingale (I think there’s only one at the moment) on Witley Common was performing well the other day as were Stonechats, Whitethroat, a single Yellowhammer and, at last, Willow Warblers. Swifts have been reported on the coast so any day now their distinctive screaming will be back with us for the summer. I’ve mentioned Stock Doves before but thought you would like to see the photo of one that Hugh took in his garden recently (see above). It’s a much more elegant bird than the Woodpigeon which, although very subtly coloured, always looks overweight and pompous! There don’t seem to be as many Collared Doves around as there used to be or am I just lucky to live in an area they don’t frequent?

Notable additions to the flower list this week were Meadow Saxifrage (particularly good in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul’s), Bush Vetch, Common Fumitory, Opposite-leaved Saxifrage, Dove’s-foot Cranesbill, Storksbill, Thyme-leaved  Speedwell and a wonderful (and very smelly) patch of Ramsons – thanks to Virginia for the heads up on that one! One other plant which repays very close scrutiny is the well-known Lords and Ladies (wild Arum). We so often walk past it saying oh yes, Lords and Ladies but next time you come across one, don’t walk on by. For a start, the colouring is spectacular; the lime-green hood or spathe is rimmed with deep purple which echoes the colour of the spadix (the bit that looks like a poker). But what is really fascinating is what is going on at the base of the stem. If you can very gently pull back the hood you will see first of all a ring of yellow hairs, then below that a ring of black flowers (the male flowers) and finally, a ring of yellow bobble- like flowers which are the female flowers and it is these which will turn into the bright red, poisonous berries that we see in the autumn. The job of the hairs is to provide a trap to ensure that any visiting insect stays long enough to get dusted with pollen. Although the berries are poisonous and all parts of the plant can produce allergic reactions in some people, the root when roasted is edible and used to be traded under the name of Portland sago. It was also used to make a drink called saloop which was popular before the arrival of tea or coffee. However, the information goes on to say  ”If prepared incorrectly, it can be highly toxic, so should be prepared with due diligence and caution.” It’s a minefield out there….!

Have a good week, enjoy the weather and keep on keeping on…

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