Friday, 27 February 2015

Badger bank

During one of my regular snuffles through the woods, I stumbled across a massive badger's sett. It was on a bank below the path through the woods and when I climbed down to take a look I realized that there were at least 20 (probably more) entrances and the whole area was pock-marked with holes and hummocks stretching away along the bank.


There were holes everywhere. Some were leading out of the bank and formed a distinctive D shape (with the flat part of the D on the bottom), while others were hidden in the tree roots.

A clear trail led from the sett, back up the bank. There were lots of footprints, but it was very muddy so I couldn't make out any clear tracks.

 I found a couple of latrines with fresh poo in them - I could smell it, but it wasn't a strong smell like dog or fox poo.

What an exciting discovery and it just goes to show that you never know what you'll find just around the corner! I've regularly walked within a few metres of the sett, but it was only when I took a different path that I actually noticed it. I'll keep an eye on it and take Bug Mad Girl back there to see if we can spot any more signs of life. Perhaps we'll set up the trail camera and see if we can get any pictures of them.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

A mossy moment

The woods are still beautiful at this time of year, but they do feel a little bare. There are no leaves on the trees, no flowers and no fungi, but look closely and you'll see that now is the perfect time to see the small but beautifully formed mosses that love the weather at this time of year. In another couple of moths it will be too dry and warm for them and they'll be lost in the spring growth, so now is definitely their moment!

The back of Whiteleaf Hill, with Pulpit Hill (and the hill fort) in the distance
A carpet of moss under the beech trees

 I found a little bit of candlsnuff fungus growing through the moss on some logs

This tree trunk reminded me of a Dr Who monster

Mossy spider legs
Moss is so much more than the fuzzy green stuff that annoys people when they find it growing in their lawn. It provides food and shelter for lots of minibeasts and is used as nesting material by many birds. It has been used by humans as a food wrapping and tons of it was used for wound dressings in the First World War. It's also a great indicator of air quality due to its sensitivity to environmental change.

Walking through the woods at the back of Whiteleaf Hill (one of my favourite autumn fungi woods), I was amazed at the amount of moss that was around and the variety of shapes, sizes and colours that I found. I'm definitely not an expert, but I've had a go at naming some of them (but I might be wrong).

Spiral extinguisher moss

Rambling tail moss growing on a flint - I loved the way this one had wound
round the flint and was hanging on tight!

From the other side it looked like eyes

Bank haircap

Big shaggy moss - yes, that really is what it's called

Common feather moss

Common haircap - covered in lots of pointy capsules

Common pocket moss

Common smoothcap

Common tamarisk moss

Featherwort - a type of leafy liverwort

Neat feather moss
I also noticed that many of the plants are really starting to grow now . They'll soon take over, so enjoy the mosses while you can.

Herb Robert

Not sure what this one is, but I'll keep an eye out for it flowering

Viper's-bugloss (maybe?)

Lords and ladies (aka wild arum)

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Red kite nest

Very exciting news ... the red kites that have nested in my parents back garden for the last few years have started tidying up their nest. I saw the male carrying a twig up to the nest this morning and my parents said they have seen them taking lots of sticks and twigs up there.

Kenny with a twig

The nest is in a tree just outside their back door
Kenny and Katrina have nested right outside my parents back door for at least the last 3 (probably more) years. The year before last they raised 2 chicks, but sadly last year they failed to raise any. A neighbor had a big tree cut down (which was touching the red kites tree) just when they were sitting on the eggs. They were scared off the nest for a whole day, so we suspect that's why the eggs didn't hatch. Anyway, it's a new year and it looks like they're going to try again, which is great news. You can see the nest from the kitchen window, so hopefully we'll get a good view of any chicks that hatch.

They have very interesting nests, because they line them with all sorts of strange things like baler twine, plastic bags, socks and soft toys. Their favourite thing last year seemed to be kitchen roll, which they dropped in the garden most days they were working on the nest. Looks like they're still on the twig stage though at the moment, so we'll have to see what they put in there this year.

They're spoilt by my parents, who feed them twice a day (only them, they call for them to come and get their chicken, so the other kites don't get it!) They also put out sticks on the lawn for them to take for their nest - a bit like Bug Mad Girl and I made a nesting bundle for our garden birds, they find great big sticks for the kites. My parents are really trusted by Kenny and Katrina, who will sit in a tree just above them while they're out in the garden and seem very comfortable around them, often watching whatever they're doing. They usually disappear when I turn up because I always point a camera at them and they don't like that at all!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Back garden news

The bird feeders seem strangely quiet today. The frantic feeding of the last few weeks seems to have given way to birds with other things on their minds. Don't get me wrong, they're all still around, they just seem to be popping in for a snack every now and then, instead of staying and feeding all day. Maybe it's just the warmer weather and longer days means there's more food around elsewhere.

There is little doubt that the birds have all paired up. Brenda and Eric, our resident blackbirds, have had a bit of trouble this morning with intruders. Eric had to chase a male blackbird around the garden until he eventually got rid of him. There was also a new female under the bird table, but Brenda didn't see her, else there would have been trouble (Brenda can be quite fierce!)

Eric (on the left) giving the intruder with the Elvis hair do the evil eye

Eric chased him out of the buddleia
He chased him over to the silver birch and eventually got rid of him

Brenda missed this female blackbird that was under the bird table. She would
have been very cross if she'd seen her there.
A pair of long-tailed tits have been popping in to feed this morning. Such pretty little birds and they seem to like the bird cake we made.

Unfortunately the blue tits took great offence at the long-tailed tits being there and chased them away at every opportunity. Obviously blue tits are higher up in the pecking order, although they know their place because they didn't chase any other birds away.

We've had a charm of goldfinches in the top of the silver birch for the last few days. Lovely birds!

This great tit was taking a look at one of the new nest boxes we put up

This pair of rooks couldn't decide whether they would try to get the bread
from the bird table or not

This little wren has been around the patio this morning. Such a tiny little bird
and they don't stay still for long, so are hard to get a decent photo of - this
would have been OK if there weren't some fairy lights in the way!

Elsewhere around the garden, our nettle patch is just starting to grow. We'll definitely be letting them grow again this year as we had so much fun watching all the wildlife on them last summer. Highly recommended - everyone should have nettles in their garden!

I spotted this clematis, which is growing really fast now. All good signs that springs nearly here!

Monday, 23 February 2015

NHM Tring

Today was the last day of half term, so we decided to visit the Natural History Museum at Tring. It's the baby brother to the fab museum in London and is used to house the Victorian stuffed animal collection of the 2nd Baron Rothschild. It's a fascinating place as you can get face to face with all sorts of animals and get a really good look at them. It's also not very big, so the kids can run around the whole thing without getting lost or tired!

It does feel like there are a lot of eyes watching you all the time though, as there are rows of cases literally bursting with creatures looking out of them.

It's a bit creepy and I find it best to imagine they're all models, instead of once living, breathing animals. Both Bug Mad Girl and I got about half way round before we both said how sad it made us feel to see so many animals killed so that people could look at them. Thankfully we don't do that any more (at least I hope we don't!) and people prefer to watch wildlife in it's natural habitat, taking photos and filming it.

This lion had a bit of a pained expression

Seeing a stuffed red kite makes me sad - better to see
them flying around!
How can stuffing this be a good idea?
Walter Rothschild owned Tring Park and kept a lot of unusual live animals in the grounds (as well as collecting the stuffed variety!) He used to drive around in a carriage pulled by a zebra and had emus, wallabies, cassowaries and giant tortoises roaming around the parkland. He also had muntjac deer and glis glis (edible dormouse) which both escaped and thrived in the local area (glis glis are a bit of a nuisance in the Chilterns and are still only found within a 25 mile radius of Tring).

The museum also houses many of the specimens that Darwin brought back from the Galapagos Islands. Although most of these are not on display and only available for research.

They even have a dodo on display, although this one is a model.

So, I think we had mixed feelings about our visit. It was interesting to see some of the animals up close and get a real feel for their size and features. But it was also a bit of a sad place, because so much had been killed.

We decided to go and have a quick look at Tring Park, but we'd forgotten our wellies, so didn't get too far (it was very muddy). Looks like a good place to visit again later in the spring.

 Finally, something alive and kicking ...

15 red kites flying over our house - I guess somebody must have been feeding