Paul Smith died on the 22nd March, 2007. It had been apparent for some time that his health was failing, but he remained active until the end, going off on his electric bicycle on expeditions into his beloved countryside when many wanted nothing more than to sit by their firesides. This accounts for some of the 'missing' periods in his nature diary during the last couple of years of his life. His love of the countryside, and the plants, animals and birds that inhabit it, is no more clearly expressed than in the drawings that were his delight to produce.
The Winsham Parish Web Site was launched in 2004, and Paul Smith was an enthusiastic supporter from the very beginning. He contributed a 'nature diary', titled 'Bugs 'n' Bees' from its earliest days. The reason why the illustrations are relatively small is that in the days before broadband , the standard internet speed was 64bits per second, which meant that pictures sizes were reduced before loading them onto the internet, to avoid long delays in uploading onto a PC could take ages to load-so the smaller the better! To further reduce delays in downloading, thumbnail pictures were used which had to be clicked upon to enable the larger pictures you see here to be loaded.(Editor)
With Sparrow Hawks becoming more common some people find them difficult to distinguish from Kestrels as they fly quickly overhead. The former has wide wings of a true hawk while the Kestrel is a species of Falcon with thin wings.
With the long series of comparatively mild winters continuing the first spring flowers - a Celandine and a Primrose - were reported before Christmas. As usual several single plants of Hogweed graced our roadside verges. On the fungus front a fine growth of Chanterelle were growing in a garden corner where beech leaves are often discarded.
Bird watchers report a regular visit from a pair of Fire crests.
A new report is of a Corn Bunting which picks up the droppings on the grass beneath fat balls put out for other smaller species especially the Winsham flock of Long Tailed Tits. January -2005
There has been a report of a very large 'furry' BUMBLE BEE feeding on the nectar from many wild flowers (including primroses, pink campion, cowslip and hedge parsley) before seeking a nesting site. The similar shaped hairless bee will be seen later in the season. This is the CUCKOO BEE that lays its eggs in the Bumbles nest.
Now in full flower under a bird-feeding site is a good specimen of HEDGE PARSLEY (T. japonica) that normally flowers after the rampant roadside Cow Parsley had died down. There was a case (some forty years ago) of a spectacular plant that grew from under a Winsham bird table. It turned out to be CANNABIS. It was promptly destroyed.
Just after the War (1946) some cheap grass seed was used to reseed a small arable field in Winsham. For many years this yielded a wonderful display of wild flowers including wild mignonette , poppies, wild pansies , cranesbills and fumitory.
Bird sightings include Song and Mistle Thrushes feeding on ivy berries. Also both GOLDCRESTS and FIRECRESTS have been closely observed towards the top of the Village.
A tour by bike and car around most of the Parish lanes just after Christmas revealed no wild flowers this year. The few frosty nights and the slight fall of snow destroyed the single specimens of Celandine, Groundsel and Hogweed that had bravely just appeared. Garden birds have been profuse. Chaffinches, Greenfinches and various Tits (nine Long tails) , even a Gold crest but only a single Siskin and Brambling so far. A cock blackbird is already nest building. There is a report of a blackbird with a white tail feather.
Now (end January) the view has little changed. The garden finch flock numbers over sixty. A Mistle Thrush sang only a few notes. A few Primroses and Snowdrops are just reported in flower. Also another Groundsel, some Violets, a Dandelion and a lone Celandine. There is a National Bird Census this weekend.
The wind change in February brought us a flock of Siskin and a few Brambling. Many of the cock Siskin were in breeding colours (bright yellow and black) and readily fought with the Greenfinches on the nuts. One strange specimen is extra large and appears to be carrying baby fluff. There is a Chaffinch, seen for several years, that has yellowish furry legs. The Great Spotted Woodpecker has started his hammering call and a Song Thrush has a few notes of song. Wild Snowdrops are in the hedges (Western Way) and Primroses are appearing. A lovely specimen of the bright red Cup fungus has been handed in. There are many varieties of this species. They grow on fallen dead wood, usually twigs, and bear such English names as Elf Cup or this one, Eyelash Cup. They are inedible.
Spring was about a month late this year. So the early wild flowers - from snowdrops,
-wild violets-and primroses to bluebells, dog''s mercury, wood anemone and cowslips will not be swamped with early grass or nettles.
The fast mild day was 24th March and since then many of the colourful cock siskin
seem to have gone, blackbirds and song thrushes are singing, a brimstone butterfly
and a large bumble bee are reported. A tiny dark butterfly, seen in Western Way, was probably a small-copper ( which lives on docks) The rare small-blue is too early . Garden flowers are often profuse.
Now for a mystery!
A small bag of eating potatoes was left on a Winsham table in a closed room one evening. At some time between about midnight and five am. the bag was torn open and a number of potatoes partly chewed up so that the pieces were apparently not eaten but deposited in and around the bag. As if the creature spat then out in small mouthfuls. A mouse was apparently too small and a rat would have left some droppings. Any ideas?
The warm weather towards the end of the first week saw the real arrival of Spring. The Siskins suddenly left and our Blackbirds went into full song. This is a poor year for song for most birds are too busy catching up with nesting. It was the insects that suddenly got busy as the weather warmed up on 5th May.A swarm of Honey bees first settled on a Churchyard gravestone before settling into the tower near the church clock. Two interesting swarms of flies filled the area between the trees. The first were blue flies with their long legs dangling. The circled from above the garden plants to up beyond sight over the trees. Among these was a swarm of tiny white Gnat -like flies, also circling.
At this time our Swallows and Martins were feeding high over the village UNTIL a Hobby suddenly appeared and for a time they had to circle the houses.
A very noisy period this year. The sound of Wild Boar in a Davies Close garden turned out to be Three hedgehogs trying to perform their courting ritual. A protracted sound down Court Street like some ten tom-cats fighting after midnight only stopped when someone shouted to them to be quiet. That turned
out to be three large badgers fighting. As they dispersed in various directions one was still heard muttering to itself as it joined the footpath at the base of Broadenham Lane.
One of the 29 species of Bumble Bee seen this year has been the 'yellow skirted 'variety known as the CARDER Bee . These nest above ground.
The toadstools growing were thought to be the species St. George, but they were later seen to have a collar and were identified as the species 'Horse Mushroom'. These are normally an Autumn species.
Due to the mildest season ever witnessed the leaves are still on the trees, which , like all plant life, are 'dripping with fruit. Gardens are practically deserted of wild life. Our Blackbirds and even Robins are still in the woods. Hedgehogs are still around and a litter of baby foxes were seen and heard playing in late September. Last week dragonflies and butterflies were about, especially near, waterways ( Rivers Parrett and Sid), and many Hummingbird moths seen earlier.
Our unusual sightings (two independent reports) are of a large bird (seemingly larger than a buzzard (could have been a Red Kite) being attacked by a group of jackdaws and then by a single crow. In each case there was a much smaller hawk-like bird (thought to be a sparrow hawk), joining in.
Although the milder weather may tend to upset the balance of Nature it is also the length of daylight hours that determines our seasons.
Recently a rare WRYNECK has been feeding on fat balls in a Winsham garden. Of the woodpecker family it is said to be very distinctive and unmistakable. Unlike the reported 'glimpse ' of a Yellow-browed Warbler seen recently. The Asiatic version of our Willow Warbler it is just one of some forty similar looking Warbler species. The mixed-finch flock from the Nursery area - mostly chaffinches - now numbers over thirty. A flock of twelve Long-tailed-Tits is seen every day. A Goldcrest is reported from the Court Street area. On 25 Nov. a large Grey Heron was seen circling the Village and pitched in an Ash tree overlooking a pond. There is a rescued baby Hedgehog growing well. Despite a couple of short night frosts earlier there are a few reports of late butterflies, dragonflies and the odd bumble-bee.
Despite the exceptionally mild spell (52 deg. F) only a few wild flowers are reported. The Marsh Marigold is on its third flowering and the Celandines are out. Pair of Jays has returned to a Winsham garden.
A Song Thrush was singing at full pitch not here, but over the Lym river into Lyme Regis. A male Kestrel was seen perching on a roof and being mobbed by two blackbirds and other small birds. We usually see the Sparrow Hawk when every bird disappears. Wild bees have been reported buzzing from a Winsham garden.
A disappointing season, for most of the features of winter are missing. The Siskins and Bramblings are absent from the gardens; just a flock of Green finches and Chaffinches in the Nursery area.. Only small flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares are seen in the area. Snowdrops, without much competition, grace the hedges and insects are rare.
The only unusual bird reported was a Stonechat ,seen in Western Way.
A second baby Hedgehog, called Harry, has now grown to full size, like Spikey, but is bad tempered and growls if handled. They will be returned to the wild when real spring arrives. The rescued baby hedgehog (SPIKEY) is rapidly gaining, in weight and now full size but will have to remain indoors until being released in the true spring. Two synthetic House Martin nests are now available for mounting on the Jubilee Hall when required.
While the end of December, with Christmas and the New Year, is probably the greatest time for human activity, for Nature, with the shortest days and cool temperatures, it used to be, the time of its lowest ebb.... but not this year.
The swarm of honeybees that had their Christmas dinner on a flowering Mahonia bush has been traced to a nearby house roof.
'Prickles', our rescued baby Hedgehog -has gained over twenty grams each week and shows no signs of wishing to stop eating and hibernate.
An adult fox with 6 baby cubs (probably two litters) was disturbed feeding at a sheep carcass before it could be collected just before Christmas day.
A villager with a wildflower bank to her garden collected six different wild flowers on Boxing Day and 2 horse mushrooms were found down Court Street. The 'mixed finch' nock from the Nursery now numbers over sixty birds and recently contained a Brambling. The two family parties of Long-tailed Tits met over the holiday at a bird feeding station and fifteen tailed were counted.
This 'modern' winter consisted of little more than a five minute snow storm on 28th of January and a short flash flood on 1st of February. At least our birds think so . Several have started singing - including a thrush and the robins. The siskins - on the nuts -that arrived with the colder winds, are now in full breeding plumage and the cockbirds will even drive off the Greenfinches twice their size. The Pheasants have started fighting and 'Charles', the local champion for two years, has already had several contests. There are five local hen birds . A pair of Gold crests and a Tree creeper have been closely observed.
A Lesser Celandine is in flower in Court Street. Prickles ' the baby Hedgehog rescued when he weighed 550 grams was 975 grams on 1st February and growls when approached. He has not been tamed as he - and his box - will be returned to the wild part of the garden when his mates will have woken up later in the spring. He still eats heartily and will then be over 1 ,000 grams.
There are 88 species on my Winsham Parish bird list as seen since about 1935. Several species are peculiar to Britain, having slightly altered since arriving -after the last Ice Age - up from the Continent. The Fire crest - the Continental version of our Gold crest has now been identified in Winsham. Likewise the Yellow Wagtail -with it’s yellow and not grey back - had been identified. This brings our list to 90.
'Prickles' - our rescued baby hedgehog - now weighs 2 lbs 5 ozs. and is double his original weight. He will be given an RSPB approved hedgehog lodge for his life in the wild when Spring is arrives. Charles' - the boss Pheasant - has now gathered, at great difficulty, five pale hens for his harem. A black hen has been seen with them one early morning. The gentle rain showers around the 18April saw the trees beginning to burst into leaf. Our 'winter' was over . Baby robins were already out of the nest. The large flock of mixed finches - up to 200 birds - had already dwindled. The cockbirds had donned their breeding colours . The bramblings and siskins had gone north and chiffchaffs and willow warblers were singing from the hedges. Charlie, our boss pheasant for the last two years, was seen alone with a broken wing feather . His place, with three hen birds, has been taken by a new even more magnificent male...who crows from before light (6.00am) each morning.
The local buzzards have given some wonderful flying displays this season. There is one very large pale hen bird that was seen - back in March - on a grass road verge perched on top of a deceased cock pheasant plucking out the feathers.
The wild spring flowers are very good this year . Especially the wood anemones. Those straying to the Headstock Road (Thorncombe) will have noticed the lovely blue flowers of the grass vetchling . The butterbur was reported to be flowering beyond Ammerham. Like the coltsfoot the flowers are nearly over by the time the leaves show above ground.
Prickles, weighing in at nearly two and a half pounds , decided to break out of his winter pen and is no doubt already searching for a mate and doing battle with other male hedgehogs that stand in his path. He has been back only once for food.
In this vintage year for Wild life Winsham's wild flowers have rarely been better. The Bluebells have been glorious in size with their brilliant blue . Now the Pink Campion, Stitchwort and Beaked parley have taken over . The Hawthorn bushes are heavy with dazzling white flowers. Special mention must go to distinctive bright blue patches of the Germander Speedwell that dot the hedge banks along our lanes. The first prize for birdsong this year must go to a Garden Warbler - a truly exceptional songster - that took up station around the Field Maple at the top of Wynyards lane. Next door was a very mediocre Blackcap and a chorus of Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Robins, a Song thrush, Hedge sparrows and a rather persistent Wren. On the lawn below was the occasional explosive crowing of a magnificent Cock pheasant who had won battles with several potential suitors.
Our wildlife watchers this month came up with;
A few Glow-worms usually appear down Wynyards Lane each year. This week a female was picked up in the road and taken – still lit up - to a local garden in the hope she will start a colony.
At this time of year Nature has 'exploded'. The plant seeds are ripening. The baby -animals -foxes, badgers, deer …and the rest, at their most numerous. Young birds have lost their baby fluff and are getting their winter colours .The parent birds are moulting into their winter coats and our glorious cock pheasants, in particular, look very sad.
Where are our Blackbirds? After a good breeding season only occasional birds are now seen. 16 Canada Geese recently flew over and 2 Tawny Owls hoot locally most nights. A person with a garden that has baby newts has asked if they could possibly be baby lizards. Although easy to tell apart as adult - one is a reptile, one an amphibian - newts spend time in water as tadpoles. Baby lizards are dry and tiny with scaly skin. Crab Spiders have been seen hiding under wild plant flowers this season. They use their big front legs to catch insects. Although they have been seen on St. John's Wort, they don't seen to have quite mastered the colour ... just a few reddish marks.
Paul Smith has been unwell over the last few weeks, necessitating a period in hospital. He is now recovering well, and we are grateful for his continuing support of this feature.
With more than ample rain, the lush growth of summer has filled the area with masses of seeds and fruits. Our birds, including a lovely flock of 15 long-tailed tits that constantly tour the Village, are mostly hidden in the greenery. The 'mixed' finch flock (mostly chaffinches and greenfinches) join the house and hedge sparrows that feed on the lawns. A short spell of afternoon sun brought out many bees and even wasps and also a fine Brimstone butterfly. Several different species of 'mushroom' are growing down Court Street.
The garden pheasants are now in full winter plumage and a fine cock chose to start crowing form his perch high up in an oak tree at 3.30am on one dark night recently. Although they often crow at dawn, could it be that flashing car lights deceive the birds into thinking that the sun is rising?
The cool northerly winds of recent days have brought out swarms of the winter non-biting midges in the lanes and gardens, (a great hazard to cyclists not wearing goggles!). During a short sunny spell on an afternoon in mid- October,
a large Dragonfly was seen circling shrubs in a garden presumably feeding on the midges. Large numbers of dragonflies and an otter have been reported as seen further down the River Axe recently.
Some late news… A pair of Red Kites and two Ravens are reported as being seen from the top gate of Colham lane.