Nature Notes, by Malcolm Cox, February 6, 2015

Nature notes winter aconite ANL-150302-102331001

Nature notes winter aconite ANL-150302-102331001

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So that’s the first month of 2015 out of the way. On the whole it was fairly benign, just a week or so of really low temperatures. At least for us southern softies.

All gardeners however will be aware that this mild start may harbour bugs of all sorts that a week or two of really harsh frost might have finished off. I have no doubt that within the soil or foliage of some of the plants I have brought indoors for forcing into early colour will overnight be crawling with aphids or similar.

Nature notes pied wagtail ANL-150302-102321001

Nature notes pied wagtail ANL-150302-102321001

I recently came across this: “A green January makes a full churchyard.” The ancients were obviously aware that mortality might increase due to human diseases not being knocked on the head during winter. As we know an element of truth often lies within old folk tales and sayings.

I wrote last year about Castle Rising as one of our favourite short stroll venues and I am returning to this lovely location for a while. If you awake to a sunny day then I urge you to go there.

Near the church there is a glorious show of aconites. These golden gems are guaranteed to lift anyone’s spirits during this mean season. You might then try the footpath opposite the almshouses to admire snow drops. Take care not to stray from the path which runs by a rather grand private residence bounded by a fairly new carstone wall. The wall is intrinsically a work of art but look closely. There are thousands – yes quite literally thousands of spider’s webs, each with a clearly defined beautifully circular entrance hole. At the time of writing I am attempting to identify which species has fashioned this colony. Hopefully I will be able to report back in due course.

Meanwhile the teasels in our garden have belatedly been discovered by goldfinches. No doubt many readers will be aware that the collective noun for these birds is “charm.” Was there ever a more apposite term?. An old alternative name for goldfinch is “redcap” and again so descriptive. It is however that glorious yellow wing bar which gives us the more common name. Goldfinches are also blessed with such a delightful call often uttered excitedly as small flocks search manically for food. Excuse the romantic in me but I hear it as liquid gold, probably the most musical of our finches.

nature notes goldfinches ANL-150302-102310001

nature notes goldfinches ANL-150302-102310001

When temperatures dropped to minus zero the pied wagtail that earlier in the autumn had a partner foraged nearer to our lounge window, picking up whatever blackbirds and starlings had left. Such a smart visitor in its black and white livery. I wonder if it will survive to breed in the neighbourhood come April. Many birdwatchers at this time of year especially along coastlines, pay special attention to pied wagtails. The continental race or “White” wagtails sometimes show up.

I cannot report on finches without mentioning the large flock of twite that have lingered near Thornham Creek. Seeing these birds was for me this year like renewing an acquaintance with old friends. My recollections of twite stem from voluntary work at Loch Garten. And this period in my life was further jogged by the Winterwatch team. We have seen in this year’s programmes the night time activities of seals and birds on Norfolk’s beaches. Today’s technology allows crystal-clear images. Almost four decades ago the RSPB provided its osprey wardens with an image-intensifying monoscope. What a treat it was to be given the opportunity to use this technological breakthrough even if the greenish image we viewed was a little fuzzy. The Winterwatch scenes turn grey, pink-footed geese into birds with wings as white as egrets, a bit odd I must confess. It was also nice to see the subject of last month’s notes, the corvids of Buckenham featured.

Alas I can claim no inside information from Packham et al. All just a fortunate coincidence. Mention of RSPB provides a chance to say I look forward to Mark Roney’s bi-monthly contributions to Lynn News. Mark is based at Titchwell.

Many winter visitors will soon have the option of returning to their breeding grounds. The flock of lapwings that I have noted from the A17 driving south into Lynn now approach 100 plus. I wonder how many of them are refugees from a chillier Europe.

To round off this month I finish as I did last month’s, on the subject of Lynn’s peregrines. My wife and I had the fine sight of a peregrine high against a clear blue sky from Lidl’s car park. A perfect end to the mundane business of a supermarket visit. Stay warm and try to get out and about and make the most of February with its lengthening daylight.