Wednesday, 6 January 2016

A dismal pocket park

Chris and I arose to a rather foggy day, but some way short of a frost. We were to visit Byfield to meet old friends at the Coffee Club. I took the chance to stroll around the pocket park but conditions were predictably rather dismal, despite the fog having largely lifted.

Great Tits, Parus major, flitted through the bare trees, their distinctive see-saw call ringing out. Occasionally a bird would break into a single note, reminiscent of the pink-pink of a Chaffinch, but shriller and thinner; the Great Tit has a large repertoire of calls and can sometimes be a puzzle to the inexperienced birder. This is the largest of our tits with a very wide range, including North America, where it is known as the Great Chickadee. A robin sat on a nearby twig whilst a pair of the relatively gigantic ravens passed overhead a little later. Other than that few birds made themselves either audible or visible. 

Some years ago I had among my pupils an African-Caribbean pupil with the surname Pink; he was puzzled by this as it no way resembled his skin colour. I explained that Pink was an old country name for the chaffinch and he was a little relieved, it seemed. So many surnames are those of birds: Wren, Bunting, Nightingale, Mallard, Swann, Finch, Crowe, Eagle, Raven - and once I even came across the surname Sparrowhawk.

Now, where was I?

Rose-bay Willow-herb and teasels form a dense mass
at Byfield Pocket Park. 6 January, 2015

Rose-bay and teasels were oddly attractive in a stark way. They had little to offer for birds; their inflorescences had long been picked over by flocks of Goldfinches, a species particularly fond of the thistle-like heads of teasels.

Silver birch, Betula pendula. Byfield
Pocket Park. 6 January, 2015

At the edge of the nearby burial ground a birch, with its delicate tracery of pencil-thin branches - still occasionally used for making traditional brooms - stood out black against a steel-blue sky. As a native tree it was once quite uncommon on the heavy clays of Northamptonshire but has been so widely planted and naturalised that it is now a familiar site everywhere. It is certainly an asset for wildlife.

A Viburnum was in flower in the burial ground.
Byfield. 6 January, 2015

A short distance away a small tree was in flower. From a distance I took it to be a cherry or crab but closer examination showed it to be a viburnum, unlabelled but perhaps Viburnum x bodnantense. The blossoms were just past their best, but were welcome nevertheless.

Something - Muntjac deer? - had gnawed
the trunk of this Viburnum. Byfield.
 6 January, 2015

The burial ground is completely enclosed in a chain-link fence but the trunk of the tree had been heavily damaged by the gnawing of rabbits or deer; without protection it could be bark-ringed and die.

A large range of flowers adorned nearby graves, mostly varieties of 'Polythenus vulgaris'. It is unfortunate but, as the colours fade or are leached out of the plastic, they can look dreadful.

Solanum pseudocapsicum had so far survived the
conditions. 6 January, 2015

Rather less predictable was a plant of Solanum pseudocapsicum. Sometimes called the Jerusalem Cherry, this ornamental relative of the potato is distinctly tender. The optimism of whoever presented it had paid off, for it was still as yet undamaged. The fruits are highly poisonous and, looking like small tomatoes, must be very tempting to a child, yet they rarely seem to carry a warning label.

I saw not a soul during my walk. People must have decided they had better things to do and, after another ten minutes or so, I decided I could also use my time more constructively - and the Coffee Club was open.

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