Winter Lockdown nature notes week 6

13 February 2021 | 0 comments

Friday. We saw a couple of blackbirds hopping jauntily about. A blackbird with the most curious white patch on his head hopped around our garden for a couple of years, disappeared, then lo! Two years later, back he came…could it have been the same bird with the very same white patch? These patches are where there is some fault with the feathers growing, and can be a single feather or large patches, and quite widely reported in the birding community. Blackbirds typically live 3 – 4 years but the oldest recorded has lived 20 years. So our ‘white spot’ as he became known, was surely the same bird. Mating for life and producing 3 or even 4 ‘clutches’ of young per year, they’re made of strong stuff!

Saturday, back up to the golf course on Bathampton Down with it’s beautiful pine trees. So elegant.  Pines can grow in altitudes up to 4000m, maybe 100 ft tall, and some of the oldest are over 4,000 years old (a bit of a ‘living stump’ though – most are in the 500 – 1,000 year range). The Scots pine is the only pine truly native to the UK and fortunately, with help, it’s making a comeback. The bark has a fantastic red/pink/grey  colour. More commonly (here on the golf course) you’ll also see the Black (or Corsican) Pine, a little smaller and with darker grey bark. However it does have longer needles (3”) than the Scots pine (1.5”), The other pine you might see int he UK is the  Lodgepole pine, similar to the Black pine but look for a grey/green bark. I’ve written more about cones here.

Brrrr. Coldest week so far this year, I only got as far as the garage today. But I have solved a mystery. That huge fat tree last week was not a lime tree, it’s a London plane. The dried round seed balls still hanging from the high branches were such a distinctive feature, and all the other clues of alternate buds on the twig and camouflaged bark add up. I’m a bit more confident on my ID this time.

Monday. We are still seeing lots of old man’s beard about, now covered in frost. This scrambling plant often grows on top of hedgerows, bushes, or trees, really taking over sometimes. Also known as Travellers Joy.

Tuesday. Amazing that I can still find new paths is my rambles around Bath. Today, as we walked through fields from one side of the valley of the Bybrook ( a tributary of the Avon) to the other, we walked past a medium sized factory in the middle of the countryside. The tidy buildings straddle the river in many places but there was no real indication of what it was. Now I find out that’s it’s Portals paper mill, and they produce specialist paper for bank notes and passports! There’s been a mill here on the river since 1086 ( originally grist not paper, of course).  A local walk can turn up fascinating things. And then just up the road we find Mumfords Vinyard. On the sunny south facing side of the valley. Note to self: must taste local wine!

Wednesday, walking in the snow showers, though nothing is settling, it’s very dry and windy, sunshine and snow, I looked out for a snow bow, but I was in the middle of the day, and these pretty rare beauties are most likely to be seen nearer sunrise or sunset. 

Thursday 11th Feb. Our canal is frozen now!  We saw six magpies gathered in a tree.  The collective noun can be variously a gulp, a tidings, a mischief (that’s nice), a charm or a conventicle!!!..Conventicle: a secret or unlawful religious meeting. I didn’t know that.

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