If you go down to the woods today…..

This brilliant wood is definitely not the place to sit down and have a picnic, even with a teddy bear !

It is home to amazing colonies of the Wood Ant and they were very active in yesterday’s sun.

The videos below show the number of ants and the constant work they are doing. You can hear them moving about. Watch an individual and what it does. They are fascinating.

The ants are everywhere in the wood, they have large mounds for the colony , they are foraging across the floor and scaling high up the trees.

Some of these mounds are very tall and spread a long way. Here is a diagram of the organisation below.

These ants are Southern Red Wood Ants ( Formica rufa) Green woodpeckers are fond of eating these and meadow ants that can also be found in the area.

Southern Red Wood Ants are also known as the Red Wood Ant. They are aggressive predators that feed on invertebrates collected from the area around the colony.A colony can be huge, containing up to half a million ants.After watching them yesterday this is very easy to believe!

These animals are fascinating ,here are a few facts but there is so much to find out about them , their social structure and life cycle. A great website to find out more is:http://www.woodants.org.uk

Wood Ant Facts

Ants are insects they have three parts to their body a head a thorax and an abdomen and they have six jointed legs.

  • There are more ants in the world than any other creature.
  • Colonies act as one organism with roles that can change.
  • The life expectancy of a worker Wood Ant is 60 days.
  • The life expectancy of a Queen is 15 years or even more.
  • They can spray formic acid for defence up to 12 times their body length.
  • They navigate through sight and small, they have memories of routes even after hibernation.
  • They can lift 100 times their body weight.
  • The method of nest construction is important for thermoregulation.
  • They sunbathe on the top of the nest on a sunny day , this absorbed heat is released when they are in the brood chamber.
  • The thatch layer on the outside of the nest is also waterproof.

A brilliant walk , with literally millions on animals .

Suns out , Bees 🐝 Out

This morning at 7am I was sitting in the garden drinking coffee in a T shirt under incredible blue sky.

This is the Victoria plum tree ready to burst into full blossom, the wood pigeons are enjoying eating these flower buds.As the sun warmed up through the morning the bees arrived, honey bees and small bumble bees They were attracted by the blossom of a weeping Cherry.

There were at least 20 honey bees working hard across this little tree.

The trees in the garden are all just at the point of flowering I have a new tree called Alelanchier canadensis ( Canadian Juneberry) given to me by my friend Jan, I’m really looking forward to see it’s blossom , it will be any day now !

Plants in the garden to attract and feed bees are a must . Here is a list , maybe add some new species to your garden.

The main thing think is think diversity, lots of different flowers at different times through the year , think about having some native species, wildflowers can be very attractive in the garden. Here is a short list of some suggestions;

  • Foxglove
  • Bluebell
  • Comfrey
  • Honeysuckle
  • Vipers Bugloss
  • Hawthorn
  • Lavender
  • Ivy ( late flowering good at the end of the year)
  • Sedum
  • Rosemary.

Another way to encourage bees is to make or buy a bee house.

These are very easy to make. I had cuckoo bumblebees in a terracotta bird box which were brilliant to watch with the daily routines and their behaviour.

The blue sky and warm weather lasted all day, the birds were singing and very active. These two blossom eaters spent the afternoon preening and relaxing taking in the sun!

Looking forward to more days of sun and Spring this week.

Flight of the bumble bee ….and goose

Another day with some sun, bumble bees were busy exploring, flying at low levels , slaloming between plants. They were somehow impossible to photograph in their haphazard journeys. It was great to see them active, they were joined in flight by flies in large groups around vegetation and the waters edge.

The geese were very loud and busy and constantly flying over , this fly past is much harder to photograph than you might think.

A group of three sped past , honking loudly . Only this one just managed to have its photo taken . It is a pink footed goose (Anser brachyrhythus) The main geese we saw today were the Canada Goose (Branta canadensis).

The Canada Goose is an introduced species, they are very vocal birds making a typical honking sound. There are 62,000 breeding pairs in the UK and 190,000 wintering birds.They eat vegetation, grass, roots leaves and seeds.

This swan on the river was not impressed with the geese and herded them away from its area.

The geese were a little easier to photograph as the took off away from the swan.

Also great to watch landing.

The bumble bees were searching for food , the number of flowers are increasing, White Dead Nettle was flowering in the woodland edge.

In the wet meadows milkmaids (Lady’s Smock ) was starting to put on a show which seems early. I love these delicate flowers. They favour damp meadows and stream banks.

One bird that spent most of its time flitting and climbing rather than flying was the wren that was hopping about by the waters edge.

Wrens have a fantastic Latin name, Troglodytes troglodytes.

Some Wren Facts

  • In relation to its size the wren has the loudest song of British birds.
  • In the winter Wrens roost communally to stay warm, highest number recorded was 61.
  • There are about 7 million wren territories in Britain.
  • This walk was full of flights, bees, flies, geese, swans and wrens. It was also punctuated by graceful gliders, The Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps crostatas)
  • Remember EXPLORE MORE

    Spring and no coat !

    So great to be outside with no coat on this lovely spring morning.The sun was welcome and the birds were very loud! The geese give the impression that they need to honk louder and louder to be heard.

    The willows are cascading green on the lake bank and the catkins are golden yellow.

    Walking along a main path I caught a movement from the corner of my eye, a muntjac deer was foraging in the scrubby woodland.

    This is only a tiny video clip but it also shows the days soundtrack, so many birds!

    This walk was full of interest , I saw my first Brimstone butterfly of the year, I usually write this yearly marker in my diary. The Brimstone was obvious from a long way off against the bare branches looking like a flapping yellow bird.

    Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) hibernates through the cold weather and can seen again on warm days.it is thought that the yellow colour of the brimstone’s wings inspired the term ‘butterfly’.

    The larvae feed on Buckthorn and Alder Buckthorn. They are most common in hedgerows, open woods and scrubby land.They lay single eggs on the underside of leaves which hatch in 10 days. The caterpillars are green and lay along side the midrib of the leaf. These caterpillars are heavily predated by birds such as blue tits. The remaining caterpillars change into Green chrysalis which are very well camouflaged. The adults emerge after 10-14 days.

    The trees continue to burst their buds.

    Up the trunks of these trees my favourite snails (banded) are climbing again!

    All along this walk the birds were singing and flitting constantly from tree to tree, groups of long tailed tits, blue tits , great tits and many more. No sign of the great spotted woodpeckers today but evidence of there work on the trees and they were drumming loudly.

    I walked quietly to the edge of a small lake to watch this Heron.

    This walk was full of energy and activity , big bumble bees were moving through the grass and there were insects flying.Flowers are blooming, colour is returning .

    A fantastic spring walk.

    Bathing in the rain

    It might not be our favourite weather but these amphibians are having a perfect night !!

    This video was sent by nature table explorer Reccy of the pond in the garden . They have had a lot of other toad activity in the pond , keeping a look out for spawn.

    In the meantime it’s rain bathing time !

    Out and about with the daffodils.

    Returning to Dymock yesterday to wander in the daffodils was windy but very pretty.

    The daffodils are through fields, on the verges but for me they are their most beautiful are those carpeting the woods.

    The soil in this area is a wonderful deep red as are the stone houses. It was a very colourful morning.

    Interestingly the seeds produced by wild daffodils take five to seven years to develop into a plant that will again flower.

    Other early spring flowers are beginning to make a show , on this short trip we found wood anemone, just starting to come out into flower. Dogs mercury, primroses and speedwell. This is a fantastic time of year as the woods and verges start to flower .

    These daffodils are a wonderful start to the wildflower year .

    Dancing Daffodils

    When all at once I saw a crowd, A host of golden daffodils

    William Wordsworth, “I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud”

    A wonderful sight travelling to the Forest of Dean, wild daffodils dancing in the breeze. These amazing little flowers were carpeting woods, edging fields and running and spilling along lanes. They are gorgeous.

    This area of Gloucestershire is famous for its daffodils.

    Around the village of Dymock there are daffodils weekends through the woods, this sounds wonderful.

    This extract is from the Dymock poets website;

    The area between May Hill and the Malvern Hills is most famous for its wild daffodils, which once grew in profusion in the meadows and woods. Despite changes in farming practices there are still many places where wild daffodils can be seen in late March and early April. The villages of Dymockin Herefordshire and Kempley in Gloucestershire organise guided walks and other events on their ‘daffodil weekends’.

    The wild daffodil,Narcissus pseudonarcissus, was once a common sight in England, but intensive agricultural practices and use of chemicals has led to them becoming less common.

    The area around Dymock was known as the golden triangle because there were so many daffodils.The Golden Triangle used to be a commercial centre for daffodils which were picked by local people, including school children, and sent to London by train to be sold at the major flower markets and delivered to hospitals. These pickers were immortalised by the Ledbury poet John Masefield:

    And there the pickers come, picking for town
    Those dancing daffodils; all day they pick;
    Hard-featured women, weather-beaten brown,
    Or swarthy-red, the colour of old brick.

    In the 1930s special trains bought people to see the daffodils, after the war the changes in agriculture caused the decline of the daffodils in meadows however with conservation work the daffodil is flourishing.

    Here are some photos from the Gloucestershire website , I am returning to this area this week for some exploring in the wonderful woods. Watch this space !!

    A little more about the wild daffodil –

    it is commonly known as the ‘Lent Lily’ for its long association with Easter celebrations, the Wild Daffodil got its Latin name, Narcissus, from an Ancient Greek myth. Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, becoming so obsessed that he fell in and drowned. The nodding head of the Wild Daffodil embodies Narcissus bending over the water and it’s said that the first flower sprang from where he died.

    The flower structure:-

    Here is a herbarium specimen from Herefordshire collected in 1931 , the time of the daffodil special trains .

    Looking forward to Thursday and walking in these woods !!

    Buds are bursting

    It has been a few days of weather that encourages you to stay in. Today I braved a walk, which was damp and windy but not without some spring joy.

    Buds are swelling and bursting open . The weeping willow trees have turned a green colour all over. There is a green upswell from the ground under the old brown growth of last year.

    As I was walking round I was thinking that I hadn’t seen any snails recently and then almost immediately I spotted one up a tree!

    The swans were busy as usual, the injured swan with the damaged wing has survived the winter and is happily swimming about.

    Last years helicopter seeds from the field maples are sprouting in carpets under their parents.

    Blossom is really starting to decorate trees , even on this rather grey walk.

    As I was walking today I noticed:-

    • The wonderful sound of the swans wings as it flew low over the lake.
    • The slightly comical walk of a moorhen as it walked quickly and then swam off into the lake.
    • Diving cormorants
    • Herons busy on their nests.
    • Great tits eating amongst the blossom.
    • Elder and bramble leaves nearly out .
    • Coots eating around the edge off the lake.
    • Tufted duck in groups.
    • Blackbirds running and posing through the undergrowth.
    • Terns paddling
  • These Terns are on the first lake and have a floating nesting platform. I noticed that when they move across the water their feet are going very fast almost doggy paddle for birds !
  • The Lichens added colour to this rather dull day. There is a feeling of spring and green on the way as the buds and leaves are bursting forth.
  • A stroll through the church yard at Higham Ferrers was brightened up with some lovely primroses. Looking forward to plenty of primroses this weekend in the Forest of Dean.
  • Robin-Soundtrack to the day.

    One of the best parts of this beginning of better weather is that the soundtrack of the outdoors changes. It is full of chattering and singing birds.

    The Robin , who continues to sing through the winter has definitely upped his game and is a star of this new soundscape.

    We are lucky that the tall tree at the corner of the garden seems to be a favourite singing spot for the Robin. This joyful and varied song lifts our mood and spirits without fail.

    The Robin (Erithacus rebecula) is a member of the bird family old world flycatchers and chats.

    Male and female Robins look identical , young birds have no red breast. They may be pretty birds but they are aggressively territorial. female birds are allowed into male territory at breeding time.They eat worms, insects, invertebrates , seeds and fruits.

    Robins build nests in some unusual places , old pots, boots, even peg bags. They lay 5-7 eggs and the chicks are fed by both parents.

    Here are some more robin facts.

    • Robins sometimes sing at night in urban areas, confused by the street lights.
    • They weigh 16-22g
    • Pairs of Robins can have 3-5 broods of chicks a year.
    • Three quarters of Robins in Britain die before they are one year old due to predation.
    • About 10 percent of older Robins die in territorial disputes.
    • The first record of a Robin taking good from a human is from the 6th century.
    • They are one of the first birds to sing in the morning and one of the last to stop at night.
    • British Robins are friendly with humans and associate often with Gardeners especially when digging and worms are on offer.
    • Continental Robins are more shy, this may be because of a history of hunting.
  • This afternoon I have been re-edging the lawn and turning the soil and sure enough the Robin appeared hopping along behind me feasting on worms.
  • Finding Fish- The experts

    A walk at the lake , still no fish to be seen . The expert fishers were happily finding plenty of them.

    Cormorants were almost sliding into the water , diving down to find the fish.

    The Heron sitting high on the trees was flying off, catching a fish and feeding it to its chick. It had a quick turnaround…Fishing to order .

    These photos needs some imagination , there is a heron, a chick and a heron flying. This is another time I would love a bigger lens.

    Sitting in the next tree was a little Egret looking out for fish.

    Walking around to the next lake , closer to the shore than normal another pair of fish eaters, the elegant Great Crested Grebes.

    These birds were killed almost to disappearance in the UK for their head plumes !

    The sun was out and the birds were very active, and in the case of the Canada geese very noisy.

    The very large lake had a super group sitting in prime fishing position, a Heron and an Egret.

    These two were later joined by a passing swan, which the ignored!

    All this fishing going on , around the lakes the birds were busy in the trees too, blue tits, great tits and long tailed tits flitting from tree to tree. Robins seemed to pop out of every area of scrub or undergrowth happily sitting and singing. A flash of red high up in the trees caught our eyes. A pair of Great Spotted woodpeckers . They were busy in the tree for ages, not fishing but eating in the sun .? A real treat to see.