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autumn bird watching birds garden wildlife wildlife

Late Arrivals

Our winter visiting Redwings arrived the latest ever this year. These migrant thrushes usually arrive late October and into November sweeping in in huge noisy flocks. They are very obvious arrivals but this year they have been more stealthy. They just crept in during December with the first appearing in our garden on December 11th. One or two Redwings at a time dropped in to lunch on the berries we grow for them, the Cotoneasters, Crab Apples and Sorbus. They soon discovered that one problem with arriving at the restaurant late is that some of the items on the menu have all gone. The resident Mistle Thrushes moving in from the woods had already indulged on the Sorbus berries and our Blackbird population had made inroads into the crop of “Butterball” Crab Apples and started dining on the Cotoneaster bushes. You can see from these photos that they were taken during heavy rain! It didn’t stop the birds from feeding though!

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One male Redwing seems to dominate, being larger and sporting much brighter markings. His eye stripes are striking and his speckled chest is covered in the blackest and biggest streaks and spots. He is featured in the final two photos of the set below.

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One thing we noticed as the berries started getting in short supply was that some House Sparrows mixed in with the Blackbirds and Redwings to gorge on the berries.

 

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We still haven’t seen any Fieldfares this winter. These winter migrant thrushes usually arrive with the Redwings. There will certainly be few berries left for them when they do come!

Categories
arboreta autumn autumn colours Cheshire colours garden photography garden wildlife gardening gardens gardens open to the public ornamental trees and shrubs wildlife woodland

Telescopes and Trees – part one

Telescopes and trees do not normally go together but there is one very special place here in the Midlands where they certainly do. We drove northwards on the A49 making our way into Cheshire in search of Jodrell Bank famous as a space research centre created by Sir Bernard Lovell. He was a man with varied interests trees, cricket and space. Here in Cheshire he indulged in two of his passions trees and space.

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We passed through part of the information centre to get to the start of the arboretum trail and we tried to read some of the information panels and studied complicated diagrams. We were instantly lost – the realms of space are not within the realms of our understanding. We both find it fascinating but it all seems way beyond our understanding. At least we tried before moving into the arboretum – trees we can appreciate and understand.

This arboretum holds two National Collections, crab apples and rowans. Malus and Sorbus to be more botanically correct. These are two of my favourite families of trees, if only they had Betulas as well! I would have been in my element!

We had read on the website before coming that the paths can get wet so sensible footwear was advisable. We wore our walking boots and we were so pleased that we had. The paths were so wet often the water was almost to the top of our boots, but it didn’t spoil our enjoyment of a wonderful collection of trees set amidst a natural woodland setting.

A collection of deciduous Euonymus welcomed us as we passed through the wooden gate, their wild coloured berries and bright autumnal leaves were a treat for the eyes.

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We wandered through woodland towards a fairly recently created garden designed by Chris Beardshaw. Before entering his garden we found a little collection of Berberis clothed in their waxy red berries which hung in long racemes.

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Chris Beardshaw’s garden was designed to reflect the creation of space itself and was a strong design based on spirals and circles with a gentle mound at the centre affording us the opportunity of appreciating these shapes from above. The main planting was willows, grasses and perennials.

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Soon after a circular walk around this garden of circles and spirals we discovered the first of the Crab Apples and they were laden with fruit, their miniature apples in sizes varying from tiny beads up to golf ball size.

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This golden fruited variety in the two photos below are “Comtesse de Paris” and the red fruited variety below them with fruit reminiscent of the haws of our native Hawthorn is “Mary Petter”. Close by the stump of a felled old tree had been carved into a proud looking eagle. Upon the eagle we spotted a ladybird sunning itself perhaps finding extra warmth on the wood of the stump. Better camouflaged was the Shield Bug we found just inches away.

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Malus “Indian Summer” was one of the newly planted specimens probably a cultivar newly developed although some of the old original crab trees were now being replaced as they died off.

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But there was much more to this part of the arboretum than the wonderful crab apples, and we discovered interesting trees at every turn in the path and around every clearing, birches, walnuts, whitebeam and maples. In this area of the garden migrant thrushes were busy feeding up after their long journeys. All these crab apples, sorbus and other fruiting trees and nut bearing trees provide a wonderfully rich restaurant for them.

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Two trees caught our attention but we didn’t particularly like either of them and they both seemed so out of place in this natural feeling woodland. They were more “novelty features” than attractive trees. First photo is of a strange weeping conifer and the second a columnar Whitebeam.

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I shall finish part one of our visit to Jodrell Bank Arboretum with a photo of a lovely golden crab apple with blushed cheeks. My next post will be part two when we shall be on the look out for the second featured group of trees, the Rowans or Sorbus.

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Categories
autumn birds garden wildlife hedgerows migration

The Little Edible Hedge

When we were visiting my mother recently I was amazed to see just how much food for wildlife the old hedge alongside her back garden was presenting to the mammals and birds and of course the odd late flying butterfly and wasp. This stretch of hedge was originally an old field boundary and it illustrates just how much damage to Mother Nature’s larder the destruction of our hedges by intensive style agriculture actually causes. Here we have a 20 yard stretch of mixed natives with an odd cultivated plant creeping in from the garden that is a veritable larder for all sorts of wildlife.

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Think of hedgerow food for wildlife and the first fruit to come to mind will be the Bramble or Blackberry. This may be simply because we enjoy a tasty nibble of these glossy black gems ourselves. We might also think of Roses with their red fruit following on from their beautiful pink or white flowers. As children we may remember them as natural itching powder – remember the effects of popping a crushed hip down a friend’s jumper? Admit it! Humans have also long collected the hips of the wild roses to produce Rose Hip Syrup.

Rose Hips have long been enjoyed by humans as well as wildlife, being used for jams, jellies, marmalades, wine and tisanes. More recently it has been appreciated for its medicinal benefits in relation to alleviating the effects of arthritis, gradually displacing glucosamine. Our pets also appreciate them as apparently they are given to chinchillas and guinea pigs as a treat.

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A couple of hedge row fruits are also favourites of foragers, the Sloe and the Crab Apple as we readily turn these into tasty winter warmers Sloe Gin and Crab Apple Jelly. In this little length of hedge we found a wild crab and a cultivated crab growing a few feet away from each other. Our birds and mammals probably view them as equally important sources of winter nutrition. They will not be concerned that one has been planted to delight my mother with its spring blossom and red autumn fruits.

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One important food source for wildlife is a little black berry that clumps together in spheres but this will not be until later on in the winter. For now the Ivy is still in flower and these tiny green florets are just starting to become berries. The Ivy plant is a vital  for wildlife throughout the whole year. It provides shelter for all sorts of creatures from the tiniest insect to the plump Wood Pigeons, nest sites for birds such as Wrens, Blackbirds, Song Thrush and Robins and again the Wood Pigeon. In winter the Ivy provides warmth and secret hiding places for all sorts of creatures.

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Less useful for wildlife are the cultivated plants that make their way into the hedge but the local Blackbird population will not turn their beaks up at the tiny long tear drop berries of the Berberis.

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In contrast the deep red berries hanging in full bunches on the Hawthorns will be appreciated by many birds both residents and winter migrants. Once the Redwings and Fieldfares arrive on the back of the cold wet storms of autumn they will soon disappear.

The hawthorn berries have a place to play in human lives as well as wildlife, perhaps not yet seen as important as rose hip but it is being researched at the moment in relation to heart functions. For centuries it has been a part of the cuisine in China. Interestingly the name haw, which is now used to mean the berries, was originally a name meaning “hedge”.

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So this short section of hedge of native shrubs mixed with the odd garden specimen will soon become the favourite restaurant for our avian neighbours.