Thursday, November 30, 2006

November Birds

It's still so windy that there isn't much birdlife around - the skylarks are the few birds around up on the Tye and I usually spot a stonechat sitting on a fencepost or on top of a bramble and perhaps a wren. There's usually a songthrush and of course plenty of blackbirds feeding on the berries all round the playing fields which are still pretty plentiful.

In the garden - the feeders have been kept topped and and I've managed to put off the wood pigeons by switching to a feeder that doesn't have a nice large seed tray they can sit on. I've moved that elsewhere where it's less accessible to them. I saw a blackcap a couple of weeks ago but so far the regular visitors are blue and great tits, sparrows, starlings (who prefer the peanuts and fat), a robin, wren and a pair of blackbirds. That's about as exotic as it gets round here - except for the magpies of which there usually half a dozen hopping around on the rooftops, the crows over in the park and the seagulls which don't often come into the garden.

One of my nut feeders has vanished completely - whether a seagull, magpie, crow or cat has made off with it I don't know, but the hanger snapped and the whole thing has totally disappeared. I did spot a squirrel in the small wooded area just up the road but I've never seen one in my garden ... fortunately, so I don't think it's the culprit.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Save West Thurrock Marshes

OK, I know it's not in Sussex but as a keen, lifelong supporter of several wildlife groups, I remember reading about this wildlife site that is being threatened by development. Marshes are not wasteland, there to be developed. They are important ecosystems in their own right, supporting a huge variety of fauna and flora.

West Thurrock Marshes is home to over one thousand three hundred species of invertebrates, birds and reptiles, including dozens of rare species and 36 animals listed in the conservation Red Data Book. Royal Mail have just been given the go ahead to develop it into a warehouse and lorry park.

Save the marsh - sign the petition by going to

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Sussex Water Levels

Is anyone else pleased that it's raining?

While I prefer the sunshine, it's nice to see the heavy rain showers that we've had over the least few days. The dewpond on the Tye is full, well, as full as it's going to get with a damaged lining and the local reservoirs are beginning to fill up again - and are mostly above average for the time of year.

Reservoir Levels:
Arlington - 50%
Ardingly - 75%
Bewl Water - 57%
Darwell - 57%
Powdermill - 64%
Weir Wood - 63%

However, most of the water for the region comes from groundwater and rivers and it will take time to replenish otherwise the drought and hosepipe ban will continue next year.

You can get water saving tips from most water supply companies. The Environment Agency has tips for the home, garden, business and industry.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Urban wildlife - a heron!

I was driving into town today along the coast road when a fox ran across the road in front of me. Fortunately it wasn't rush hour so there wasn't too much traffic around but it was broad daylight and it was crossing four lanes of dual carriageway from the cliff edge across and up the bank to the fields by Roedean school. It was pretty late in the morning for it to be out in daylight and what it was after on the other side of the road I'm not sure - rabbits maybe? Off to checkout the waves for a midday surf?

As I glanced across - a heron flew up from the field. Not a sight you see too often right on the edge of town. They do often turn up in fields and not always on river banks. Urban foxes are more common. There's one I've seen around every now and then, wandering down the middle of the street late at night.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Tweezers and Thorns

It wouldn't be a scrub-bashing day if I wasn't picking bits of hawthorn out of my fingers at the end of the day.

Not that I quite managed a full day yesterday. I'd been laid up on the sofa for most of Saturday having either eaten something or I'd caught a chill when I was out coppicing on Thursday. [It was cold and wet and I did get soaked but we did a good day's work]. I was in two minds whether to go out but I tracked the group down on the top of Malling Down and helped out with some scrub clearance near the quarry. A tangled mass of hawthorn, honeysuckle and bramble.

What would we do without loppers? They make the job a whole lot easier although we didn't quite have enough to go round, they really do help to clear an area pretty fast.

Yet again it was a glorious, if chilly, sunny day looking out across the Ouse valley as we sat and ate lunch on the side of the hill in a fairly stiff breeze but at least the forecasted rain didn't turn up. We did have buzzard circle over the hill, noticeable first from it's cry.

I left just after lunch as we'd already cleared and dragged quite a lot and the bonfire had been slow to get going. I wasn't sure my stomach would survive the day especially as I'd spend most of the time downwind from the fire and was well kippered.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Not To Be Missed!

Another astonishingly beautiful production from the BBC - Planet Earth. These series just keep getting better and better and this one is no exception. The photography is amazing. The shots of animals close up which then pan out to incredible distances to reveal thousands of snow geese flying over artic tundra or timelapse shots of caribou migrating, have me sitting here with my eyes wide open. They are just stunning!

It certainly makes up for the endless reality TV shows that fill the channels these days (and I've only got four).

This is the second part of the series - the first part went out in the Spring. If you haven't seen them yet, then make sure you don't miss another one. Sunday night on BBC1 at 9pm.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Feed The Birds

I've cleaned and scrubbed all my birdfeeders and filled them up ready to see what will come into the garden. There are four in total - two for seeds and two for nuts. I've put some closer to the house, which may take them a while longer to get used to. I've also got two coconut shells to fill with a fat, seed and nut mixture later in the year and I'll keep a note of what visitors I get.

I've also put the bird table back together after it had fallen apart, not that much stays on it for very long. If the starlings don't demolish it within minutes of putting anything out, the wind will blow it off. I've even had a large seagull standing on the roof trying to get at what's lying underneath.

A pair of blackbirds has been feeding on the pyracantha in the front and the berries are quickly diminishing, which is a shame because it's lovely to watch them so close at hand.

Two red admirals and a peacock butterfly are fluttering about in the sunshine feeding on the ivy which is the only thing with any nectar. Except for the random roses that have come out and there were even a couple of evening primrose flowers opening up. Very confused by the mild weather.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Volunteering Day - Coppicing

Much colder today than last week for another day out volunteering. We were working in a small wood at the base of Ditchling Beacon - coppicing. The wood is owned by a couple who want it managed to wildlife and the South Downs Joint Committee have picked this up.

It's an area that has been left for a long time as can be seen from the four or five large trunks that have grown up from a single stock. The trees are mainly ash and hazel with a few younger hawthorn trees growing up and older oaks. Huge, old ivy stems winding their way up the trunks and brambles along the edge.

Anything that could be cut down with a bow saw or loppers was cleared with the large trees being left for the chainsaw later or just left as they were - especially the larger oaks. The idea is to

a) clear the area back to coppiced woodland so that the products can be used for stakes, fencing or hedge-laying.

b) clear some of the canopy to allow light down to the ground to increase the types of wildlife and plants that florish in coppiced woodland. These are now dependent on careful and selected management to survive as they've adapted to coppiced areas.

We started up the bonfire to clear all the unusable wood. Anything usable was turned into stakes or binders that can then be used for hedging. The trunks were cut up into lengths for firewood. Even when the trunk is only 4-5 inches across, they're a lot taller than you think and you then spend a good half hour clearing and cutting all the branches.

The satisfying crash of trees as they were felled - not many yells of 'Timber!' as we were mainly working several metres away from each other and of course you have to make sure where you hope your tree is going to fall. There were seven of us in total and it's very satisfying at the end of the day to look at the area that's been cleared and see what a difference has been made.

Areas like this were coppiced regularly and harvested every few years or sometimes decades later. We tend to think on a much shorter time scales these days. No instant results when you’re planting for planks of wood. Nature won't be hurried - at least not when it comes to growing trees. Knowing that the tree you plant one year wouldn't be harvested until twenty-five or thirty years later.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Winter has arrived ...

... at least there's been a definite drop in temperature. The blackbird has been at the berries in the front window and a pair of them have been at the ones on the back fence. Plenty to keep them going through the winter and the ivy berries are starting to form which also seem to attract the blackbirds.

I haven't yet started putting food out - despite the fact that this weekend was Feed The Birds Day - it's been too mild but as birds seem to be coming into the garden more I'll get some treats to put out for them. Including making up a fat ball for them which I can pack into a coconut shell. Better get the bird table repaired - it's taken a battering getting blown over in the wind this year.

If you want to find out more about Feeding The Birds - check out the RSPBs website: