January 2021, and we face another few months of staying at home. I will be out walking every day in the hills around Bath, and to add some focus, learning and extra interest to the walks, I‘m sharing here a few nature notes from each day. I hope you enjoy them, a week at a time.
Jan 1st. Minus 3C with ice underfoot. In mid winter I see lots of ivy here, winding prolifically up the trunks of the bare trees. Ever wondered why the leaf shapes vary? The leaves with the defined 3 points are actually the younger leaves, the rounder heart shaped leaves are those of a more mature plant…so you‘ll often see them higher up. Amazing how it clings on so very fiercely, even when dried out and dead. These plants are clever and determined: first the tendrils change shape to wind into and around the cracks and crevices, then they send out new shoots into the cracks and secrete a sticky substance. But there‘s more: then they grow a little hook at the tip of the tendrils inside the cracks, and then they dry out and shrink into a spiral shape to hang on even tighter.
Jan 2nd. Still minus, down by the river. Sleet. We passed yew trees growing by the railway bridge, a prompt for good yew tree facts: The oldest trees in the UK by far, some at 2,000 to 3,000 years old. The Magna Carta was signed under a yew tree. Often found in churchyards, possibly because people thought the trees would purify and protect the dead, the trees were sacred in pagan times, but on a more practical note, maybe to stop commoners allowing their animals to graze on the land, as the tree is poisonous.
Jan 3rd Warmer today, up to Brown’s Folly Nature reserve. We noticed all the beautiful snow berries. These lovelies, also known as waxberries, ghost berries or ice apples, are actually poisonous to us, but the birds quite like them. They aren’t native, they were brought over from the USA as an ornamental bush (Thomas Jefferson described them as ‘A very handsome little shrub….’ ) and have long since escaped into the wild.
Jan 4th Along the canal today, looking at the banks lined with bulrushes. With their magnificent sausage seedheads, these give such a lovely shape to the canal side, and the swans and ducks love the habitat. What most people (and I) call the bulrush is actually a Reedmace, and not part of the family of rushes at all – it‘s a sedge. And of course it is, as the rhyme goes‚ ‘sedges have edges, rushes are round, and grasses are hollow right down to the ground’. True bulrushes have a much more droopy and feathery seed head.
Jan 5th, UK goes into a tighter lockdown, schools are closed. We cycled along the canal in glorious sunshine and admired the cute little moorhens. But did I know the difference between a moorhen and the similar coot? The moorhen has a red bill with a yellow tip, and it‘s olive black back is separated from it‘s blue-black body by a white line. (The coot has a white bill and is entirely black). The moorhen builds a messy nest which it defends fiercely. Apparently the mating rituals are interesting to watch, so I‘ll be looking out for that in the early spring.
Jan 6th. A robin hopped on to the canal path as we cycled to Bradford upon Avon. It’s all puffed up to keep warm. Alone, as usual, because robins are so very territorial. Exceptionally good a social distancing!
Jan 7th Week one of winter lockdown done. I try not to wish the time away, there are always tons of fascinating things to see out there in nature, but it’s hard. Today’s frosty and sunny walk on Bathampton Down was stunning. This bird of prey glimpsed through the misty sunshine was a treat but I couldn’t manage to identify it.