Garden Illustrations 2

Thanks again to Sue Gage for sending in more of her excellent illustrations produced from wildlife found in her garden. You can see more of Sue’s work here.

“I started making a record of our garden in 2016 with illustrations of the plants and wildlife through the seasons.

Once I had done the whole year (on 20 pages) I started to look closer at the insect life. So far I have 9 A4 pages of various butterflies, bugs, spiders etc.

I do a watercolour painting of each creature using my own photos for reference as much as possible, and annotating them with the common and latin name, size etc.”

Gloucestershire Bird Report 2014-16

The latest edition of the Gloucestershire Bird Report covering the years 2014 to 2016 is now available to purchase from Gloucestershire Naturalists’ Society, cost £15.00 + £3.25 Post & Packing = £18.25. Click here to purchase.

Published by Gloucestershire Ornithological Co-ordinating Committee, this is a combined 3-year report in a new size and format for the 21st century with a fresh and different look from previous issues and is intended to deliver all of the essential information required from a county report whilst being rather more interesting and entertaining than a bland dates and numbers document.

In essence it takes some of its design features from the Birds of Gloucestershire (2013) by Gordon Kirk and John Phillips, features many photographs and personal views of the Gloucestershire avifauna, contains a wealth of information and is an essential document for ornithologists with any interest in the county’s bird life.

Garden illustrations

Thanks to Sue Gage for these samples from her collection of garden-inspired illustrations…

“I started making a record of our garden in 2016 with illustrations of the plants and wildlife through the seasons.

Once I had done the whole year (on 20 pages) I started to look closer at the insect life. So far I have 9 A4 pages of various butterflies, bugs, spiders etc.

I do a watercolour painting of each creature using my own photos for reference as much as possible, and annotating them with the common and latin name, size etc.”

Lockdown blues. And whites, and yellows, and…

By Alan Waterman

Like many others I had never heard of Wuhan and was only vaguely aware that there were a group of viruses known as Corona viruses. When first reports of a virus came from China in December 2019 I did not think much of it.  We had after all got used to such outbreaks. There had been Swine Flu, Avian Flu, Ebola, MERS and SARS and they were somewhere far away and never really had much impact on my life. It did register and I was vaguely worried when it was reported that the Chinese were rapidly building complete new hospitals to deal with the outbreak and had also shut down an entire province, but still it was over there.

Bit by bit it worked its way over here, and slowly the name Covid 19 came into use. Officially the name of this corona virus is 2019 nCov. The 19 is because it first made its appearance in the year 2019. I had not  realised that. The first definite case in Britain was identified  on 20th January 2020. Soon after this we left Britain for a two week holiday in Gran Canaria and it was during this fortnight that it really took off in Italy followed by serious outbreaks in France and Spain.

On our return the writing was very much on the wall and we decided to stop visiting the gym.  I stopped going to my regular Monday night camera club meetings, no more restaurant visits and only essential shopping trips. At this point, which was still about two weeks before the stay home message and lockdown was eventually introduced on the 26th March, we started our home fitness regime. Walks of about one hour on four days of the week, home gym exercises on two days of the week and on Saturday we chilled out.

Living very close to two beautiful areas, the Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley, we already enjoyed a decent repertoire of walks. Most of them involved a short drive but some were direct from the house. During the pre lockdown period we extended our number of routes and in particular we discovered some new paths through the Forest of Dean, some with excellent views. I normally take with me a small Olympus camera  which will easily fit into my pocket so that views and any interesting wild flowers can be photographed. I am hoping to publish a book on woodland wildflowers and the publishers had instructed me to top up on and improve some of my photographs. With that  in mind I did a round trip just before the lockdown first to the area of Gloucestershire known as the Daffodil Triangle, then across to Inkpen in Berkshire to find the Wild Crocuses and finally stopped off at a spot just outside Gloucester to photograph the very rare Yellow Star of Bethlehem.

So pre lockdown it was not so much blues as yellows and even when the stay  home restriction was first introduced it still remained largely yellow the dominant wild flower at that time being the Primrose.

As I am sure  will be the case for many people fortunate enough to live in a rural situation we soon discovered many more walks that could be undertaken direct from the house. We basically had three directions to head off in. We live in a valley, so there are lots of ups and downs involved in any walk. The right hand direction provided several routes, some involving a region known as Clearwell Meend. There are quite a few Meends in this area. Meend is a local name which might have its origin in the Welsh Myndd which means mountain but now it denotes a sort of common land. Clearwell Meend had quite a few Primroses on it and a later some Cowslips and even a couple of False Oxlips. In these early days of the pandemic there were lots of Sallow bushes with the beautiful Pussy Willow flowers. On this right hand route we could walk through some ancient woodland with wierd rock formations caused by excavations carried out way back in prehistoric times. These are known as scowles, and some of these local regions have been used for filming such epics as Star wars and Harry Potter films. Here too were Primroses and also Lesser Celandine.

Lesser Celandine
Cow slip
False Oxlip

To the left of the house and through the village are various footpaths and some charming little lanes with quaint names like Pingry Lane, Rookery Lane and Margery Lane. We gave the different routes our own names. Some are based on the actual names  but others are based on our own observations. For example there is rat junction so called because at one time a rat was regularly to be found on the stile there, not a live version but a cuddly stuffed rat. It was there for a few weeks but eventually disappeared. Possibly the child who left it there passed by again and picked it up. Another walk is the Julie Andrews “the hills are alive” walk which passes through a meadow reminiscent of an alp. A third set of walks starts over the road from the house and involves climbing what we were told was called the burial path and passes a chicken farm. It all means something to us and each walk is different and provides a variety of views, habitats and wild flowers. We can often see across to the Welsh Brecon Beacons with the Sugar Loaf  and Hay Bluff frequently visible.

Gradually the yellows gave way to more blues. Green Alkanet, which despite its name has bright blue flowers grew in a big patch by the side of the village church and along the lanes and through the woods the Bluebells made their presence felt. You always seem to get a few precocious ones that start flowering  in early April but the main flush is towards the end of the month. There were also several places where Periwinkle was established, sometimes in gardens, sometimes as escapes but their blue to purple colour also added to the general blueness. Even the Violets did their bit although occasionally one could see a white variety.

Dog Violet
Dog Violet
Green Alkanet
Lesser Periwinkle
Ground Ivy

Hard on the heels of the Bluebells were the Ramsons and white now seemed to be in the ascendancy. The Wood Anemones had provided a little taste of the whiteness to come and combined well with the Bluebells  but  in  Mid Spring there was  Cow Parsley in the lanes and Ramsons in the woods There was also a lot of White Dead Nettle  and Hedge Bedstraw to be seen to contribute to the whiteness.

Some plants, such as the Ramsons have a very short flowering period. Others such as Herb Robert, one of the Pinks, seem to go on for ever and is still flowering now as I write this in August . Another pink that puts in an appearance at the same time as the Cow Parsley is the Red Campion combining well with the Cow Parsley. I suspect many casual observers do not see the sequence of  changes especially with the white umbellifers in the Hedgerows. Cow Parsley appears first followed by Ground Elder and then Hogweed which has a longer season and overlaps several of the others. Hogweed can err on the side of pink and is  more robust than the other umbellifers. Later  some Common Vallerian may be seen and by mid summer there can be quite a show from the more delicate Hedge Parsley.  In the woods there may be Pignuts, quite delicate but another white umbellifer and in the fields there is Wild Carrot.

Cow Parsley
Ground Elder
Common Valerian
Hedge Parsley

Once lockdown was lifted  we were allowed to travel and so we have done, but not that much. We still walk four times a week and three of those walks are from the house with only one involving driving to somewhere local. We did have a trip over to Stroud to photograph a rare orchid, a Narrow leaved Helleborine, but we are mostly maintaining the local nature of our walks. After all in years to come I expect Covid will be a memory but climate change will still be with us. I have managed to carry out my publisher’s instructions and I think I have improved my photographs. I have certainly discovered quite a few species that I never knew grew so close to home. I expect there are still more out there waiting to be discovered… maybe during the next lockdown!

An Omnivorous Shrew

Many thanks to Alan Waterman for his observations from his Clearwell garden.

Clearwell is where I live. You may well have heard of it because despite being quite a small village it does punch above its weight a bit because of Clearwell Caves and Clearwell Castle which both put the village on the map. I live almost equidistant between the two. For those of you who do not know where it is, it is close to Coleford, on the western edge of the Forest of Dean and only 5 miles from the River Wye and Wales.

My garden is quite small and very steep. It has been terraced and there are five levels. These are held in place by old stone walls, some of which are supported by concrete and others by gravity! Either way they provide homes for a wide array of life including lichens, mosses, ferns and various flowering plants along with a range of invertebrates and vertebrates. We often see Field mice who regularly pop out to pick up material from under the bird feeders. I also sometimes put a little handful of bird food in odd spots which attracts the mice and also Bank voles.

During the lockdown I sometimes took to sitting at the top level of my garden with my camera and telephoto lens just to see what came along. I got various shots of birds, butterflies, bees and others. On one occasion I caught a flash of something darting from one hole in the wall to another, some sort of small mammal so I put a little handful of bird seed close by. Nothing visited but the next day, as expected, it was gone. It could have been the mammal or maybe the birds. In any case I replaced it and did the same for several days running. Then I set myself up where I had first seen the little chap having first placed another little handful of bird seed and sure enough after a short time it appeared. It was a vole and I believe it was a Bank vole, Clethrionomys glareolus. It did not hang around for long, just darted out picked up a seed and returned to the safety of the wall. I suspect it was not eating what it had collected as it soon returned and gathered another seed and this went on for some time so he was probably laying in a bit of a store. I did get some photographs but had to be quick.

A few days later I repeated the operation and sure enough Mr Vole quickly made an appearance, but then from a different hole in the wall another snout appeared, a rather longer, tapering and twitchy snout. It also took a seed and disappeared. At first it only had to emerge a short distance to gain access to the food and was not fully visible, but I knew it was a Shrew. Bit by bit it collected the food that was closest and gradually had to venture further and further out and more into view so I could get better photographs showing it to be a Common Shrew, Sorex araneus. I always thought that Shrews were insectivores and that is why using small mammal traps is as they harmful to them as they cannot survive without insects. This one was definitely collecting the seeds and sometimes even eating them whilst in view.

Introducing Gloucestershire’s Robberflies

Adult robberflies (Order: Diptera, Family: Asilidae) are effective daytime hunters, relying on sight to target moving insect prey which they then seem able to immobilise by injecting posion through their mouthparts. Martin Matthews has prepared a basic introduction to the adults of the 16 species of robberflies (12 of them illustrated) that have been recorded in Gloucestershire at least once since 1950. The guide can be downloaded from the invertebrates section of our publications pages.

An Unlikely Provider

Thanks to Mike Boyes for his account of this unusual behaviour witnessed in his garden in Little Rissington…

I noticed a male Great Spotted Woodpecker on our peanut bird feeder, so I grabbed my camera + telephoto lens to photograph it because I had only seen a female visiting for the past couple of weeks, and I wanted a picture of the male. What happened next surprised me

The GSW, after pecking repeatedly at the nuts for a minute or two at the base of the feeder, climbed to the top where a recently fledged Great Tit was waiting. The GSW then proceeded to try and feed pieces of peanut to the young Great Tit, while an adult Great Tit watched from another feeder close by. This process continued for perhaps a little less than a minute before being interrupted by the arrival of our postman, at which point both birds flew away. 

Later during the day the adult male GSW returned to the feeder many times, as did an adult female GSW (possibly from a different pair as both birds always approach and fly away from the feeder in opposite directions). The unusual behaviour pattern I witnessed earlier in the day was not repeated.

Background info: we have a garden of just under half an acre, with plenty of small to medium trees for cover, and we have four hanging feeders – fat balls, peanuts, niger seeds and sunflower hearts, plus a tray feeder enclosed in a cage to keep out pigeons. We regularly see goldfinches, greenfinches, GSWs, robins, house sparrows, great tits, blue tits, starlings, blackbirds, chaffinches, a couple of nuthatches, dunnock, collared doves, pigeons, jackdaws, and less often a wren, coal tit, long-tailed tits, and thrushes. In winter, regularly visitors include redwings and fieldfares that feed on our cotoneaster berries, and the occasional bullfinch and blackcap. I have pictures of many of these garden birds too.

This page from the BTO offers a few suggestions as to what might be happening here.

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