Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Woodcock! (amended)

I threw open the bedroom curtains and bright sunshine streamed in. Wow! This is more like it, I thought. Chris dropped me off at a convenient point and set off for her morning volunteering at the Air Ambulance. I took the Newnham Road and headed across fields for a spot of recording on Matt Moser's land.
The sun quietly disappeared.
A different field perhaps, but as usual I was greeted by inquisitive sheep.
Ever-inquisitive sheep trotted over to check me out.
13 March, 2018

My intention had been to check sun-warmed fences for flies but without the sun that was a non-starter; instead I headed for the nearest patch of woodland. I have stated in a previous blog that, on the steep slopes which constitute Beggars Hill, the woodland could be of considerable age. That does not mean that the woodland has not been managed and the presence of pine and beech certainly shows that alien species have been planted. Other, herbaceous, species have also been introduced.
Many hundreds - perhaps thousands - of daffodils were present in large drifts. I was pleased to observe that whoever had planted them had chosen our native Lent Lily, Narcissus pseudonarcissus. Of course, they are Northamptonshire native and John Clare was familiar with them:

         The Wood Daffodillies (sic) have been found in our rambles when summer began.

                                                                                        Clare's MS. poems

George Claridge Druce reported them from Everdon Wood, only a few miles away as the crow flies so possibly they occur here quite naturally after all. It would be wonderful if that were so, but recent Northamptonshire floras describe it as 'extremely rare'. Perhaps I am indulging in wishful thinking. (See Postscript)
Lent Lilies were present in their hundreds. Below Newnham windmill.
13 March, 2018
Snowdrops were present in abundance. These, of course, are no longer regarded as native to Britain and their alien status was emphasised by the fact that two distinct varieties were present. One form was virtually over but in other clumps like the one photographed the flowers were only just opening.
The flowers of some snowdrops had barely opened.
13 March, 2018

Even more obviously alien were Winter Aconites, Eranthis hyemalis. These seemed perfectly naturalised inasmuch as the carpels were swelling, promising seed later in the season. This member of the Buttercup family hails from southern Europe and is one of those species which needs to produce its flowers and leaves early in the season before the woodland canopy develops, shutting out useful light.
The carpels of Winter Aconites were beginning to swell.
13 March, 2018
I discovered only one Primrose, Primula vulgaris, but a careful search could have revealed more. I suspect it naturally occurs in this woodland although it seemed a little early.
By looking only for flowers and insects I missed a particularly interesting bird. As I left the woodland there was a clattering of wings behind me as a pigeon-sized, brown-streaked bird attempted to break though a stretch of wire mesh fencing. After a frantic three or four seconds it made its escape and as it flew swiftly across my line of vision I was surprised to see that it was a Woodcock, Scolopax rusticola. I should not have been surprised as wet, rather open woodland is the classic habitat for this bird, technically a wader. My surprise simply stemmed from the fact that, having long ago given up birding, I had not seen one for many years. Of course there was no chance of a photograph. 
With my small gathering of invertebrates, mostly spiders, I sloshed my was across waterlogged pasture back to the road, pausing only to take a picture of Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara, growing in the verge. Now that really is a sign of spring!

Clearly yellow is the fashionable colour this spring. Coltsfoot flower beside
the Newnham road. 13 March, 2018


I contacted Matt Moser later and he confirmed that he had planted 150 Narcissus bulbs there about 30 years ago. As I said - wishful thinking!




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