At the request of Winsham Web Museum, Liz Earl, undertook to keep a simple 'Nature Diary', recording some of the events and sightings she experienced over a twelve month period starting at the end of 2015. Liz has a lovely garden and small field located at the top of the village, which is often the place where she takes striking photographs of birds, flowers and insects, which are often featured in the Winsham Calendar, and the Parish Web Site.
December 2015 was very mild and damp and rather gloomy. As a result of the abnormally high temperatures primroses started flowering, daffodils and comfrey bloomed and rhubarb looked almost ready to pick. Phenomenal amounts of rain fell in the north of England causing widespread flooding. Remember Carlisle?
The mild, wet and often windy weather continued throughout January 2016 throwing wildlife into confusion. Dormice, hedgehogs, certain butterflies and other hibernators often wake up and once their dormancy is broken their fat reserves are used up and they do not survive.
30 January 2016 was the RSPB Garden Birdwatch. These are the birds which visited our garden that morning: blackbirds, blue-tits, great-tits, magpies, chaffinches, nuthatches, dunnocks. robins, long-tailed tits, greenfinches, a greater spotted woodpecker, a coal-tit, a wood pigeon, a jay and two pheasants.
Early March the weather has turned much colder with a biting north-westerly and light frost at night. This has not deterred the magpies from nest building in an oak in Ebben Lane. It was completed before the end of February – a rough affair built of thick twigs high up – and the female is now incubating her eggs. There is much small bird activity and birdsong is increasing. The robins, dunnocks and great-tits are especially vocal. Blue-tits have been inspecting our bird box for some time and have finally decided it will fit the bill(!). Most years the great-tits have won out by making the entrance hole bigger. Wrens bob about in the hedge bottoms keeping a low profile. I had a wonderful sighting of a sparrow hawk near the top of a tall conifer in our garden.
The primroses have put on an amazing show this year. They look especially beautiful on the banks along Crewkerne Hill and Horseshoe Lane.
Wednesday 16 March 2016
Bluebells are pushing up 3 or 4 inches and snowdrops are still out. The goat willows are blooming and the furry blossoms are visited avidly by early foraging bees. We spotted 3 different butterflies in our garden today – brimstone, peacock and small tortoiseshell.
Saturday 2nd April 2016 I heard a chiffchaff today. This is the ‘heard but not often seen’ bird, an insignificant, small warbler with a very persistent chiffchaff call. You have to admire the fact that such a tiny bird migrates all the way to and from West Africa although some winter in the Mediterranean (seems like a good idea to me!) and some, due to our increasingly mild winters, stay all year in the UK.
Another amazing migration story is that of the Painted Lady butterfly which arrives here in April having flown all the way from North Africa in April. Imagine such a delicate insect flying so far!
A real Spring day today. Primroses are still out, and now we have bluebells, stitchwort, celandines, dandelions, comfrey and flowering currant. The goat willows are fully out in leaf and flower.
15th April 2016 The primroses just go on and on. This is a truly exceptional year. Cowslips are appearing. Apparently their name is a corruption of early English ‘cow’s leek’ meaning cow’s plant and has nothing to do with their lips! There is a lot of blackthorn blossom along the lanes. I must remember where they are so that I can pick sloes for gin in the Autumn.
We saw our first swallows in Winsham yesterday. I also saw an Orange tip. This butterfly overwinters as a pupa. The caterpillars feed on garlic mustard and Lady’s Smock or Cuckoo flower. The female has no orange tip and is often mistaken for other white butterflies.
27th April 2016 Freezing literally!! Hail and rain on a keen north-east wind. We have a female blackcap feeding on our fat balls. She has a gingery brown cap not a black one. Some blackcaps are now overwintering in the UK.
This Spring must go down as the best ever for wild flowers – a profusion of bluebells, stitchwort, primroses, and wood anemones on the hedgerow banks and now we have herb Robert, campion, vetch and cow parsley appearing.
5th May The temperature has climbed to the high teens. A yellow hammer is singing his ”Little bit of bread and no cheese” song somewhere in the field just above Ebben Lane. We glimpsed a grass snake swimming in our pond. Is he after the newts?
We have so many newts but never any frogs. I believe the newts eat frogspawn but they must be quick on the draw because we never see any frogspawn either. The strange thing is that we see frogs in the garden and they even get into the greenhouse.
During our holiday in mid-May in the Western Isles we heard the wonderful sound of cuckoos on Skye. Not just one cuckoo but several and we even saw one flying over the moorland. Their call has been missing from Winsham for 10 years. It is such a magical sound carrying across the fields and valleys that one has to forgive the female cuckoo her errant ways and total lack of maternal responsibility.
Do try and go to the Chard Nature Reserve. I have lived in Winsham for 11 years and never visited it until now. The orchids are beautiful at this time of year.
20th July Most of the garden birds fell silent 2 or 3 weeks ago after the frantic activity of rearing their young. Some species have managed 2 broods – most of the tits, robins and blackbirds for example. Just as well as most of these have a typical lifespan of only 2 or 3 years. However, due to the cold Spring this year there will have been fewer insects.
3 August We have had a very dry July. The most worrying thing about the summer so far is the lack of butterflies and bees compared with last year. There are plenty of meadow browns in our field and some hedge browns and a few red admirals and small coppers but no tortoiseshells, peacocks or painted ladies so far. I spotted this hawk moth caterpillar on our path near some fuchsia bushes to which they are rather partial. What a strange but rather beautiful creature.
There are quite a number of dragonflies and damselflies flying over our pond. It is lovely to watch the dragonflies after they have climbed out of the water on to the sword-like leaf of a water iris breaking out of their larval state and spreading their new wings out to dry in the sun before they fly off leaving their dry, empty old casing behind.
August was largely dry and sunny and the dry weather continued into September. Still very few butterflies and very few wasps. Are we humans killing off all the wasps? Yes, they are annoying in late August and September when they want to share our picnics and our fruit, but we need them. They are useful pollinators and they build the most wonderful nests. You can see (and even hear them) on fencing or sheds scraping and biting the wood and then masticating it with their saliva. With this mix they all work together to create a truly beautiful work of art and a practical nest in which to rear their young. This was one they built in our field shelter.
The fruit harvest has been amazing this year. Apple and plum trees are laden. Blackberries and sloes are plentiful and spindle berries are beautiful with their pink and yellow. Holly and hawthorn are looking wonderful in the hedgerows. The blackbirds are now enjoying rowan and cotoneaster berries. Later in the winter they will move on to holly, ivy and mistletoe berries. The squirrels are getting to the hazel nuts before they are ripe and the jays are storing acorns and sweet chestnuts for the winter.
I love the stinking iris (Iris foetidissima) berries, so called because if the dagger-like leaves are crushed they emit an unpleasant smell. The orange berries are fat and exposed all through Autumn and Winter and they brighten up a shady corner in the garden. The flowers are just a dull, washed out beige colour.
The grass snake may have laid these eggs a bit late in the year and some never hatched. We discovered them and also a very small baby snake while turning over a heap of rotting grass.
11 November It has been a dry and calm October. No gales. The Autumn colours have been magnificent. It is lovely to drive from Street Farm down the hill to Forton under a bronze and golden archway of trees. Many trees have already shed their leaves but the oaks retain theirs for quite a bit longer. We have a wonderful variety of deciduous trees in the vicinity of Winsham – oak, ash, sycamore, beech, field maple, goat willow, birch, poplar, hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, elder.
This cheeky young deer has made itself at home in our field and when not resting is nibbling our apple trees.