Friday, 12 May 2017

The time of year

The Time of Year - April-May

The 'finest' time of year in fact - the all too brief period from the peep of a snowdrop to the wilting of daffodils - a period of yearning for the end of winter, the slight, but significant lengthening of the day, the Blackbird's early morning regale, a tentative suggestion of comfort and warmth, although frost, wind and rain give frequent reminder of the time of year, changeable weather conditions persist.
Highbury and bluebells
Then we think on to the dawn chorus, the first bat night, eyes on the ground, impatiently identifying the meadow plants, inspired by the bluebell displays and talk of bees, hoverflies and the strange  territorial behaviour of our garden and woodland birds.

Springing forward - May 12th - there's talk of drought, but today it rains, "much needed", the gardeners insist - It's raining in Spain too, as George and his school chums head there for a five day football feast. (I miss him already, for the routine daily process of parenthood is disrupted for now)

 A positive and optomistic time as nature predominates; paradoxically distracting us from society's perils, with wonderous daily discovery - highlighted for me so far with great views of nesting Treecreepers at Holders Woods, and yet uncompromising in its cruelty, with predators all around. We are all at the mercy of ill intent, disaster and personal strife.
Here I pay tribute to a family friend whose life ended on Bank Holiday Monday, at the age of 36, killed in a hit and run incident in Halesowen - 
RIP Benjamin Morse The Gunner
 Holders woodland
Spring never fails to impress or affect the animal kingdom, the impression is recorded by 60 million UK individuals, either in the primitive realm of the brain or in a variety of artistic impressions.

The greening

 Whether one realises or not, this changing time affects how we think and how we behave, how we cope and how we suffer.
But the greening continues today and it's important to recognise the 'shifting' and 'repositioning' - the reaffirmation.
 The Oaks seem to be well ahead of the game this year, some in bold leaf before the Ash has barely burst the first bud.

A pollarded Oak at Highbury

The interesteing mound in front of the pollard has formed following the deposition of cut branches around the base of the tree, thus protecting vegetation from the grass cutter's

 Cannon Hill Meadow

An early Wildlife Trust 'Eyes on the Ground' event revealed a 'Green Winged Orchid' (above)

Apple blossom

A 'million' natural settings are there for discovery and it is essential to young lives that daily exposure to nature is made possible, and becomes part of everyday life - sadly the school system generally doesn't allow for this.

'Wild discoveries' generate emotions with lifelong impact and aids resilience in later life.

A flower, an insect, a spider, a bird observed in its natural repose, should be daily encounters for all of us essentially but especially in early life.

Down To Earth at Holders

Family Learning
Highbury Park

Bridging the gap and reconnecting parents and children to earthy settings

Ribwort Plantain at Cannon Hill Meadows
with Knapweed adding dimension

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Dawn over Moor Green 4.45 am on the 22nd April 2017

4.45 am looking east over Cannon Hill Park
A cool morning but not unpleasantly so, and dry. At precisely 5.00 am a north westerly breeze blows by adding some discomfort.

 5 of us wait at the gates, expecting more and thinking most have overslept - often the case with dawn chorus promises.

30 more eargerly awaiting souls are inside the gates - we meet up and early morning greetings are made.

'The Dawn' is a somewhat primitive time of day- and what a strange moment and place to meet, yet, although we mostly know each other, we are briefly strangers in the twilight - 
Sunrise by Sahira
 Dawn has no precise time, we figured, and is dependent on weather conditions; if the sky is full of dark clouds the daybreak may be thwarted for a while. 

By 5.15 am the day began to break, leading me to think that perhaps dawn is from the moment the light changes until Sunrise, which is predictable and today it was precisely 5.54 am
photo by Sahira
"We are here today to listen and then look"

The chattering continues and I don't wish to spoil their moment.

6.00 am at Centenary Woods (Carley Perry)

The Mistle Thrush is the first song on my list as I walk along the riverside, and a badger hovers across the path in quick succession. The legless form of the low lying badger is unmistakable, even in low light.

Eyes soon become accustomed to the dark and ears to the quiet.

The dawn chorus is mostly free from background city noise, but I realise that Sunday choruses are best with even less distant traffic. Saturday, perhaps more people are at work. A Sunday before a bank holiday is the prime time - therefore the International Dawn Chorus is held on the first Sunday in May. Indeed the 7th this year.

Check out the International Dawn Chorus Day web page with the following link -


International Dawn Chorus Day is the worldwide celebration of nature's daily miracle. 
The next International Dawn Chorus Day is 7th May 2017. 

Evening choruses likewise are polluted with the drone of distant traffic.

Today, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs compete well with Wrens, Robins, Blackbirds and Thrushes.

7.00 am - time for breakfast in the pavilion. A good start to the day.

Thanks to Sahira Noor and Carley Perry for the photos.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Ten Acres Revisited- once again

The Ten Acres site is a historic backwater on the west bank of River Rea at Stirchley; a seemingly 'unloved' area with no immediate neighbouring human community, although, somewhat contradictory, a much loved site by those in the know.

In terms of wildlife, Ten Acres is a veritable haven, with much of the site receiving little in the way of footfall or disturbance - a single, unkempt and at times muddy path being the only option of traverse, with thorny blackthorn either side keeping walkers on track. Therefore there is little 'off the beaten track' exploitation.

East side of the River Rea
East bank
On the east side of the river we have another largely undisturbed swathe of land, containing grassland scrub and tall herbaceous vegetation, together with a number of planted fruit trees. Bullfinches thrive here, feeding on the early spring blossoms.

The site as a whole (east and west of river) is therefore rich in both plant and animal species, and a great asset to the neighbouring residents. The east side also contains the Rea Valley Cycle Route with many of the users passing by without a glance. There's not much scope here for loitering with the intent on wildlife, as attention is required on the speedy two wheel passers by. It might be that an 'off track' option for walkers would be desirable - just a thought. Management of the existing fruit trees together with the addition of other types has also been suggested - these ideas can be achieved with a rally call to volunteers and with little or no financial cost.

In my opinion, the site, presumably close to 10 acres to the west with similar to the east, is unique along the Rea Valley, having both heritage and wildlife appeal, with enough diversity of habitat to make it significant both locally and regionally. For much of its course the Rea is encroached upon right to the water's edge on one side or the other, either by buildings, other hard surfacing, pathways or mown grass, but here we have a substantial area of unmanaged floodplain, rich in riparian vegetation and little in the way of daily human impact.

Andy Slater of 'Eco Record', The Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust's database, has recorded a few gems at Ten Acres and thanks to him we have the following images -
Flea Beetles (Andy Slater images)

A Bee Fly (Andy Slater)

Many invertebrate species thrive at Ten Acres

A variety of hoverflies at Ten Acres by Andy Slater

Looking downstream along the west bank
From west to east across the Rea Valley at Ten Acres we have a green span of around 150 metres at its widest.

Lady's smock

Looking downstream from Ten Acres footbridge

Butterflies of Ten Acres by Andy Slater

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Springing along in 2017

A Random mix of images from the Rea Valley, past and present - make of them what you will - there's not always a specific theme, other than -
  • the natural aspect of the area
  • changes over time
  • observation of small details
  • a world on our doorstep
  • discovery 
  • biodiversity
  • people 
  • together with a few urban gems, many of which will never get a mention - 

18th century River Rea near Digbeth- a big sweep on the river in those days rendered the land to the left vulnerable to flooding - 'Floodgate Street' is in that vicinity.
Ten Acres, Stirchley, Butterbur and Cow Parsley with a central sprig of Eucalyptus
Greater burnet on the banks of the Rea at Ten Acres
The guillotine lock at Lifford Lane
Coppice Regrowth at Moor Green
Mistletoe seems to be on the increase in the Rea Valley area, and we're encouraging people to send records to Eco Record
Spanish bluebells with Snowberry compliment between the CHP meadow and Queen Mother's plantation
Ten Acres Field (Late 19th Century)
Dog Violets at Queen Mother's Plantation, Cannon Hill
A path bordered by wild garlic
Five fruit trees for Selly Park Rec. x2 Apple, x2 Cherry, x1 Pear.
Thanks to the Selly Oak Community Wardens

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Storm Doris and More Dead Wood

A huge amount of fallen and lying timber currently adorns the ground in gardens, parks and woodlands around Britain,  following Storm Doris's fly-by a few weeks ago.

A Met Office image of Storm Doris
The clean up operation began immediately -  but many fallen trees will remain undisturbed where they lie, and will gradually decay naturally. In some cases taking 50 years or more, the rate of decay depending on a multitude of invading decomposers, including fungi and invertebrates in all shapes and sizes and further aided by wind, rain and extremes of temperature.

other trees will be cleared away immediately
The transition from 'plantation' to 'woodland' is a gradual one, elevated somewhat by the presence of deadwood and the decaying process.

For details on deadwood management in woodland and forest follow the link below$FILE/FCPG020.pdf

Monday, 20 March 2017

Eyes On The Ground - EOTG

A Birmingham & Black Country Wildlife Trust initiative to encourage the observation of wild flowers -

March hedgerow, bank and ditch at the Grove, Kings Heath. The oldest oak tree is around 150 years but the feature could date back to the Enclosure Act of 1772. A 'hidden history' of Kings Heath.
The term 'eyes on the ground' often has military connotations and has been conceptualised thus since the Iraqi war.

other definitions =
"The term "eyes on the ground" is occasionally used to describe those
individuals (frequently soldiers) who are close to an event and can
give first-hand information to decision makers." Google


""witnesses."  The Americanism "eyes on the ground" appears
to be military (or espionage) jargon for information obtained directly
("what they saw with their own eyes") as distinguished from
deductions, documentary information etc.   But the meaning is
simply witnesses." Google

Here's a link to a blog, exploring the concept further =

Our approach focuses on less sinister motives and encourages a 'walking pace' approach to life - a slow, very slow, walking pace at that. No dashing from here to there required - simple gentle grazing only.

Daffodils at Highbury
The season for EOTG began, for many, a couple of weeks ago, or perhaps earlier, when the snowdrops first poked an appearance. it's a bit like searching for a pinhole of light in a darkened place, such as a sweat lodge, odd analogy but never mind. The first sign that winter is subsiding and/or that Spring, warmth and light and food, is near.

This means a 'chance of survival' for many creatures, no time to lose in the search for an essential morsal - creatures with an adeptness for spotting the first bud or bug, behaviour becomes slightly frantic - feeding - establishing territory - attracting a mate. The song of Blackbirds and Thrushes have been my wake up call for the past 3 weeks.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

A mixed bag of Springy goings-on

This is, at least for me, always an exciting time of year. I'm not desperate to be rid of Winter 2016-17, for it has been relatively comfortable, 'unseasonal', some might say, followed by 'we need a good freeze to get rid of pests'. I'm not convinced with this argument, although I do enjoy wintery seasonal conditions, you know - threatening, moody skies followed by heavy snow, resulting in standstill on the roads, or bright clear night skies followed by hard, hoary frost. I do sympathise however with those poor unsteady-on-feet souls during such conditions, and falls can be fatal for elderly people; indeed it seems that most years an inevitable 'fatal fall' happens somewhere in my extended family, as it did this year to a 99 year old. The 100th celebration will continue later this year however.

The 'pest wipe-out' argument' also results in many small bird species declining, and in some cases, quite devastatingly, although often recovering in numbers the following breeding season.

This Winter I have both witnessed and received reports of Goldcrests galore, together with positive sightings of Wrens, Dunnocks and Goldfinches locally.

For now it is Spring with loads of changes taking place as we read/speak; and rapid plans are afoot for the coming seasons. I'm somewhat perturbed by the frantic nature of human behaviour at this time of year. For some, it's as if they've been cooped up for the past 16 weeks, and have now burst in to action with overgrown excitement. 

Aah but hang on, that's perfectly natural, look at the Blackbirds dancing on the lawn, listen to the early morning song of Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush, Robin and Blackbird, see the aerial cavorting of Crows and Buzzards, hark the drumming GS Woodpecker or the yaffling Green, smile at the antics of Blue Tits. 

All animal behaviour changes in Britain during early Spring.

Which brings us to the 'Spring Clean', there are plenty of site clean-ups around, so let's spend some of that built up and stored energy  out and about tidying up a littered green space.

For there is much litter.......
Rea Valley footbridge at Ten Acres

Kings Heath Park pond

The rear of Kings Heath Park House

Ground art at Kings Heath Park by Colmore School
Hidden History walk at Highbury with Mary-Ann Ochota (12th March 2017)