Hainault Forest Website

Nature Diary for 2008

HOME PAGE    DIARY INDEX      JANUARY - FEBRUARY   MARCH - APRIL   MAY   JUNE - AUGUST  SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER  NOVEMBER - DECEMBER

November - December 2008

Beech leaves 8th November 2008

Zephyr in the winter sunlight 11th November 2008

Sid feeding the water fowl

Two Christmas wreaths

There have been several cold and sunny spells during the period alternating with dull periods and rainfall. The last two trees to shed their leaves were the Beech and the English Oak by the middle of November. The beech leaves turned a golden yellow before they were shed. The sun in the late autumn  is never very high in the sky and consequently casts long shadows which is shown in the picture of Zephyr the donkey on the farm. On several days the lake had a thin layer of ice, but as Sidney (Paddy) hardly ever misses a day over there at the lake even on cold and wet days, the swans, geese, ducks, coots and moorhen are well supplied with food. Even the Robins along the path from New North Road to the lake expect, and get, food from him.

The last event of the 2008 Country Park programme was the Christmas workshop which took place in the Hainault room and was attended by twenty ladies. Due to illness, Linda Herbert was unable to be there to instruct and supervise. However, staff  and myself rallied to help, collected materials and the event was able to go ahead. Some impressive garlands, table decorations and wreaths were made including the two pictured above. The foliage on the left is Cypress and on the right Evergreen or Holm oak. At the moment of writing it is expected that Linda will return shortly to the Office in the New Year.

The Conservation Rangers arranged for Father Christmas to visit children at Hainault Lodge Local Nature Reserve on the 22nd December. The event started with a self guided walk around part of the Reserve where facts about the Reserve were interspersed with stars and other decorations. About 40 children took part together their families. Santa's helpers were on hand to stop children getting lost and Santa was eventually located in his grotto under an ancient rhododendron tree. Santa spoke to each child and they left with a present. At the end of the event children and adults were offered hot or cold drinks, mince pies and biscuits which were much appreciated as the weather was cold. Thanks to the Conservation Rangers for the fantastic scoop in getting Santa to visit at such a busy time in his Christmas schedule.

Much building work is taking place this winter. The cafeteria is closed for rebuilding, and there will be a roof over part of the seating area. The toilets near the cafeteria are due for extensive refurbishment. I'll keep you up to date on developments on the Homepage. On the farm are a couple of play areas for youngsters with climbing frames and abseiling equipment, and in the forest are rope walks between trees for older children. Play development is part of a National scheme to encourage children to play more in a natural environment.

Finally wishing you a Happy and healthy New Year and I hope to see you on some of the walks and events during the coming year.

Children meet Santa at Hainault Lodge Local Nature Reserve

Climbing frame  on farm

Rope bridge in the woodland

 

    JANUARY - FEBRUARY   MARCH - APRIL   MAY   JUNE - AUGUST  SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER   NOVEMBER - DECEMBER

September - October 2008

 Woodhenge complete 25th September 2008.

Signs of Autumn - Norway maple leaves and Spiders web. 15th October 2008

Autumn equinox walk 21st September 2008

Knotgrass caterpillar: Rose sawfly larva. 28th September 2008

Peter Comber surrounded by enthusiastic fungus gatherers. 18th October.

Wood blewits 23rd October 2008

Sulphur tufts 21st September: Richard with Birch bracket 23rd October 2008

October saw the completion of the sculptures at Woodhenge with the erecting of eight new sculptures making a total of twelve in the circle. The new sculptures are very detailed and show fauna that has been present in the forest area from prehistory. To view the sculptures click here.

The weather during the period has been very extreme. The first couple of weeks of September were cool and overcast, then a high pressure area developed from the 18th when it was warm and sunny for a few days. We awoke to an autumn mist on the 27th which cleared to a sunny afternoon with 20C recorded. It was cool and sunny on the 28th and 29th with continuous rain on the 30th. The first half of October had warm periods with a very sunny weekend on the 11th - 12th. The weather became cooler with occasional rain. It was bright and sunny on the 28th then turned cold in the afternoon and by evening there was a blizzard with sleet and snow, with little remaining by the morning. The last three days have been extremely cold.

Trees began to show their autumn colours. Silver maple and Norway maple leaves turned a range of colours and the Field maple a golden yellow. The oaks remain green. On cold and wet days spiders webs become noticeable in the bushes and tiny webs occur in the grassland in vast numbers. The low sunshine at this time of year inspired Sarah White to write a poem. Sarah valiantly gathers discarded rubbish from the Woodland Trust's section of the  forest each week. She is an excellent photographer. You can see her photograph and read her poem by clicking here.

Twenty eight adults and children turned up for the autumn equinox walk on a fine morning. There were many opportunities for participants to collect samples of tree galls especially on oak, and to realise the importance of late flowering plants for insects. Many of the Michaelmas daisies had honey bees feeding on them. There are few honey bees around and it is reported that British honey stocks will be depleted by Christmas.

On the 27th September Comma and Small copper butterflies were seen. There were many hoverflies around and from the grassland areas Crane flies or Daddy-long-legs were much in evidence. Although hoverflies often mimic wasps in their appearance they are completely harmless as are the Crane flies. The weekend of the 11th - 12th October also brought out Speckled  wood, Comma, Red admiral and Peacock butterflies. A Knotgrass Acronicta  rumicis moth caterpillar  was found in the wildlife garden on Borage. They overwinter as a pupa in the leaf litter. The adult will emerge in May. A Grey dagger Acronicta psi moth caterpillar was also found. This too overwinters and flies in June. Both these adult moths are very drab having mottled brown forewings and buff hindwings The Rose sawfly larva also found in the garden is not a true caterpillar and it eats its way though the leaves of rose bushes, leaving just the leaflet stems.

Peter Comber led three fungal forays in Hainault Forest. For the Country Park on the 18th October, for the U3A Epping branch on the 23rd and for the British Naturalists Association on the 25th. As in previous year there were about 70 people attending the foray on the 18th. Fungi were few and far between but a large number of species were represented. A full list for each foray can be found on the fungi list page until next year's forays. Common blewits Lepista nuda were present in good numbers with the underside showing the pale purple gills, and Sulphur tufts Hypholoma fasciculare were present in groups on logs and buried wood. Clouded agarics Clitocybe nebularis showed rings or partial rings in the undergrowth and the rare white form var. alba was also present in the aspen scrub near the lake. A member of staff Richard Olley discovered a mammoth Birch bracket Piptoporus betulinus. It measured 14" or 36mm in width and he brought it with him to show the BNA group.

Whilst on the Country Park foray a participant noticed a wasp feeding on some rotting wood. The facial markings and the yellow segment on the antennae close to the eyes identifies it as the Forest wasp Vespula sylvestris one of the social wasps. They build their nest in trees and hanging from bushes. The nest is made of paper which the wasp makes by chewing wood and with its saliva makes paper pulp which it uses to make the cells and the whole nest. After turning over the rotten wood a ground beetle emerged. It had a purple sheen and purple edge to the elytra with three rows of pits on the elytra. It is probably Carabus nemoralis which is closely related to the Violet ground beetle C. violaceus.

In the cow field on the farm I found a couple of banded snails on an old stem. They are very variable in bands and colours. Some have no bands. The ones pictured are large and both have a brown lip to the shell. The lower one shows the brown lip. This identifies them as Brown lipped snails Cephaea nemoralis.

Staff member Nicola Thomas has been hand rearing a Barn owl chick. An egg was laid on the floor in the aviary and hatched on 29th August and became vulnerable to rat predation. Nicola has been able to feed the owlet regularly each day and it is gradually putting on weight and is now getting its adult feathers

Field maple  leaves

 Nicola with Furby the Barn owl chick. Right - Furby at 9 weeks. Photos Nicola Thomas.

   JANUARY - FEBRUARY   MARCH - APRIL   MAY   JUNE - AUGUST   SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER   NOVEMBER - DECEMBER

June, July and August 2008

Fly past over Hainault Forest en route to Buckingham Palace.

14th June 2008.

Tamworth pig enjoying a wallow, 28th July 2008

The Mayor at the Barbecue, Hainault Lodge Nature Reserve.

7th June 2008

Summer Solstice evening walk, 21st June 2008

Gall walk 27th July 2008

Spangle galls on an oak leaf - but which types are present?

Vegetables from the Wildlife Garden at Lammas, 2nd August 2008.

The weather for the summer period June to August has been poor. It has been reported that the rainfall for the period was 40% higher than expected and similar readings to last year. The wettest summer recorded was in 1956. It has also been the dullest summer with sunshine 40% down.

The 6th - 9th June were hot and sunny, continuing sunny but cooler from the 10th - 15th. In July there was a hot spell with temperatures over 30C on the 27th and 28th. The Tamworth Pigs on the farm were wallowing in mud to keep themselves cool in the July 'heat wave'.

Butterflies have had a poor season with a few species appearing on bright days. Meadow browns and Gatekeepers were the only two species with good numbers. There were a few sightings of the White admiral at the beginning of July around Roes Well by Steven Stuart and his family. It would seem that the area with the honeysuckle lianas is suited for it's breeding as it has appeared here for the last three years.

The 7th June marked the annual barbecue of the Havering and Redbridge Wildlife and Countryside Group. They manage the Hainault Lodge Local Nature Reserve on behalf of the Redbridge Conservation Rangers. This year the Mayor, Councillor Loraine Sladden attended with her Consort and her daughter the Deputy Mayor. They were shown round the reserve by the treasurer Mr Bill Kober. Cllr Sladden shows a keen interest in the environment. Pictured left is the Mayor and her husband together with Bill Kober (centre).

The Queen's Birthday parade and Trooping of the Colour took place on Saturday 14th June. The skies were bright and the one o' clock flypast over Buckingham Palace came over the forest a minute or so before.

Alice Greenacre led an evening walk around the forest on the the longest day the 21st June which finished with a picnic at Woodhenge. In London the sun is above the horizon for  16hrs 26 minutes from 4.43 hrs to 20.17hrs GMT but there is an extra hour in Edinburgh.

I led the Gall walk on the 27th July. Several children and adults collected specimens. Twenty four species were found on a variety of trees and shrubs. On  English oak were  Ramshorn, Marble, Knopper, Oyster and Artichoke galls. Gooseberry and Anemone galls were present on Turkey oak. The spectacular Robin's pincushion was found on the Dog rose as was the Sputnik gall. Spiral galls were heavily infesting the Black poplars, and the pouched mite galls Vasates quadripedes are numerous despite being only found in three locations in the UK.

Spangle galls were found on the undersides of English oak leaves. Both Silk button and Common spangles were present in large numbers throughout the forest. The Silk button gall Neuroterus numismalis is a tiny, thick, shiny gall, like a small ring doughnut, and the Common spangle Neuroterus quercusbaccarum is a flat round gall with a central raised area, like a target board. Less common with only one or two on an occasional leaf is the Smooth spangle gall Neuroterus albipes. It is saucer shaped, usually hairless and white, with the rim occasionally tinged pink. See if you are able to identify all three on the English oak leaf in the photo on the left.

Alice Greenacre led the Lammas walk on the 2nd August, and explained its significance to people of former times. The cereals Wheat, Oats and Barley were harvested and to ensure the continuation of a successful season the following year a Corn Dolly was made from the last sheath gathered. This would be buried in the spring with the seed sowing to ensure continuity of life. I attempted to make a Corn Dolly in the shape of an angel from wheat growing in my garden! Some of the vegetable harvest from the wildlife garden were shared with the participants.

While clearing the wildlife garden area, a slab was lifted and underneath were two amphibians - a Smooth newt and a Common toad. These are two animals which are great beneficiaries in a wildlife garden and will be encouraged. They will consume a large number of insects and when they mature in three or four years may lay eggs in the pond which has been dug and will shortly be lined and filled.

The Wildlife garden is making  progress albeit slow. The project is led by volunteers in conjunction with the Country Park staff and the Conservation Rangers and up to date has cost little by raiding rubbish tips for wood, slabs, pallets and turf. A cold frame has been constructed by using two grass doors from an old commercial fridge. Funding is being applied for. In the raised culinary herb garden there are a variety of mints, rosemary, fennel, thyme and sage, and with the soil from the pond we are preparing a raised medicinal bed. The allotment has produced potatoes, runner beans, broad beans, squash, marrows, courgettes and cabbages.

The tomatoes were a disaster remaining green through lack of sunshine but have now been picked and turned into chutney. The idea of the garden is to encourage bees, hoverflies, lacewings and ladybirds into the garden to keep pests like green and blackfly under control and in doing so providing blossom and nectar from wild plants and garden plants help build up their numbers. Bees are having a hard time at present and without them we would have a poor harvest. An insect tower is being prepared which it is hoped will provide a winter quarters for the insects and spiders.

Phil Eckett of Owl Wise gave a talk and demonstration of some of his owls and told of the work of Owl Wise. Visitors had the opportunity to see some owls including a giant Eagle Owl and to feel the feathers. Ray Ellis captured this photo of a Barn Owl which shows the fine downy feathers which allow the owl to hunt in silence.

The Bank Holiday Craft Fair was better attended  this year despite some rain on the Sunday, and on the 30-31st August the Offset Music Festival was held. Weather was bright on Saturday and showery on the Sunday. According  to The Ilford Recorder the Festival was attended by 8,000  people.

Smooth newt and Common toad  Photo: 17th June 2008.

One of Phil Eckett's Barn owls. Photo Ray Ellis.  7.7.08.

    JANUARY - FEBRUARY   MARCH - APRIL   MAY    JUNE - AUGUST    SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER   NOVEMBER - DECEMBER

May 2008

Cob (left) and Pen swans bring out their new family of cygnets 31st May 2008.

Ichneumon fly Lissonota sp. on stinging nettle 14th May 2008

Beetle Rhagium sp. on stinging nettle 9th May 2008

Scorpion fly Panorpa sp. on Elder.  24th May 2008.

Field Madder Sherardia arvensis on kerb edge 9th May 2008

Round the Maypole.

Alice (second left) joins in with others to learn a Morris dance.

The Up Street Morris dancers perform.

Hainault Forest Website Statistics since Jan 2003.

TRUST IN A SPIN

You may have received a letter dated 29th May from Tony Chadwick, Woodland Trust Forest Development Officer in which he wrote of the busy time in Hainault Forest including Tree planting and a prestigious visit from Clive Anderson and other events including 14 guided walks. What he chose not to mention was the fact that many of these events which by inference the Trust was to be credited with, were organised by other groups. Three were organised at Chigwell Row Nature Reserve by Epping Forest Country Care - no one from Woodland Trust turned up. A family fun day was organised by the Lambourne Centre, a Health walk was organised by Redbridge Healthy walk group, 14 guided walks and events for children were organised by Linda Herbert of the Hainault Forest Country Park. The two guided walks organised by The Woodland Trust were cancelled through lack of interest. It is a modern trend to spin ones achievements, when there is little to write about.

 

 

CYGNETS

The pair of swans which failed to breed last year as a result of their nest being waterlogged have a family of four cygnets which they brought round the lake on the 31st May. The Mute swan has a knob or berry at the base of the orange bill. The knob is much larger in the male or cob (left) than in the female or pen.

WEATHER

The weather for May was variable with very hot days at the beginning of the month and very cold days from the 15th with some heavy rain. It was hot again for the start of the late  spring bank holiday but rained on the Monday followed by showers and high humidity for the rest of the month, reminding one of the saying "Ne'er cast a clout 'til May is out"  It was particularly hot on the May Day weekend. Crowds turned out on the Sunday 4th to enjoy the open space. Both car parks were full and overflowing on to  the grassland parking area. The Farm had lots of visitors and many were picnicking and playing on Hog Hill and the amenity grassland areas.

INSECTS

On bright days insects were out in force and watching a nettle patch armed with a camera is a worthwhile exercise. Click beetles, soldier beetles, cardinal beetles, squash bugs and other insects are to be found. The Ichneumon fly female Lissonota sp. has a long ovipositor which looks like a sting. In fact the ovipositor is lined by two sheaths when not in use drilling holes into wood or stems to lay its eggs on larvae within the wood. The beetle Rhagium sp. is a long horned beetle particularly of oak woods. It is often seen amongst foliage. The Scorpion fly Panorpa sp. is quite common this year on various foliage. I photographed one on an Elder bush. They are completely harmless but get their name from the fact that the males abdomen is turned up like that of a scorpion.

SPAWN

The frog spawn which we kept in the Visitor Centre has now started producing small froglets. The tadpoles develop their front and back legs and then crawl out of the water where they absorb their tail. The toad spawn which was laid three weeks later has not yet developed into toads.

PLANTS

Growing on the kerb edge just inside the Country park entrance were Common storksbill, so called because its seed pod resembles the head and bill of a Stork. Alongside this plant was a tiny plant with delicate four petalled lilac flowers - the Field Madder Sherardia arvensis.

MAYPOLE DANCE

On Bank Holiday Monday 5th May, Country Park Warden Alice Greenacre led 23 people on a Beltane walk in the evening, explaining how people in earlier times celebrated the start of May. The walk ended with a traditional dance round the Maypole and we were then entertained by the Up Street Morris Dancers - a local group - and a few joined in with the dances including some young lads. Alice is leading a Summer solstice evening walk at 6.30pm on 21st June from the Visitor Centre, and a date for your diary Saturday 2nd August when Alice will lead a Lammas walk starting at 11am. celebrating the first wheat harvest of the year.

HAINAULT WEBSITE

I launched the Hainault Forest Website in January 2003 with a certain amount of trepidation but pleased that it has been well received not only locally but via schools colleges and universities in the UK and abroad. It has been archived by The British Library and is regularly updated. The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) have a project to list all suitable websites to be made available to Higher Education authorities, and have asked to list the Hainault Website on their register. May had the largest ever stats with 53,129 pages requested  and 627,514 files downloaded.

WILDLIFE GARDEN

In September last year I started clearing an unsightly field of bramble and wooden structure opposite the pig enclosure. The brambles were over ten foot in height and had very thick stems. It was necessary to initially cut the growth away and then dig up the roots. After four months of toil the site was eventually cleared. The area at one time had been a pond and there was no top soil only sticky clay. Alice Greenacre, an organic vegetable fanatic, wanted somewhere to grow some vegetables. She developed a small plot with potatoes beans and tomatoes and soon the concept of developing the whole field as a Wildlife Garden was born with help and suggestions from the Conservation Rangers and Country Park Staff. The garden would complement the Redbridge Biodiversity Action Plan for Schools, Allotments and Urban gardens.

 

So far we have:

 * An area in which we have planted a hedge using native trees and garden shrubs and a couple of apple trees.

*  A raised bed containing culinary herbs, mints, borage, angelica.

*  An allotment containing broad beans, tomatoes, potatoes and courgettes.

*    A container for runner beans

*   An area of wild flowers including cowslips, knapweed and ox-eye daisies.

 

We are in the process of:

*  Building a raised bed for medicinal herbs.

*  Building an insect tower to encourage insects to nest and overwinter in the garden.

 

We have plans for:

*   More apple trees especially Essex varieties

*   A garden pond and marsh area.

*   A living willow arbour.

* A cottage garden with colourful annuals and perennials.

*   A scented area with Lavender and Lemon balm.

*   Bird feeding area, and nest boxes.

*   A shed and a cloche.

*   Dead hedging, log piles, rabbit proof fencing.

*   A refuge for hedgehogs.

 

All materials used so far have been recycled from skips, tips and other sources.

 

THE GARDEN NEEDS YOU

The Wildlife Garden project is Volunteer led, and we are currently looking into possible funding for the future.  Could you spend a few hours a week helping myself along with Chris, Ray, and Alice? Perhaps you have some spare herbs, plants or seeds that you could offer to us. Please contact Francis or Fiona at (020) 8501 1426 or e-mail fiona.oconnor@redbridge.gov.uk.

 

 Family enjoying the sun 4th May 2008

Crowds on the Farm 4th May 2008

First Car Park on 4th May 2008

    JANUARY - FEBRUARY   MARCH - APRIL  MAY   JUNE - AUGUST   SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER   NOVEMBER - DECEMBER

March - April 2008

10am Sunday 6th April 2008 Hog Hill

Frog tadpoles developing gills 16th March.

Frog tadpole with eyes 13th April.

Toad tadpoles in string 28th March.

A young lamb is petted.

Canada goose family with five goslings.

The weather for March was mixed with a few warm days. April was more typical and seasonal with showers and thunderstorms, fulfilling the old rhyme -March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers. We awoke on Sunday 6th April with heavy snowfall. By ten o'clock families were beginning to arrive at Hainault Forest with sledges and were soon tobogganing down the slopes of Hog Hill. Others were having snowball fights and others building snowmen and others rolling giant snowballs. The excitement didn't last long as by the evening most of the snow had gone. I was out taking photographs which can be seen here.

In early March a Frog and Toad weekend was held in the Visitor Centre. Ray Cranfield of the Essex Field Club, and the Essex Amphibian & Reptile group brought along some aquaria containing examples of amphibia. We set up two tanks containing frog and toad spawn to watch it's development. Frog masks were available to colour and cut out. The school Easter holidays spanned about a month as different authorities set different dates. Many children visited the Visitors Centre to see the fluffy chicks, stroke the rabbits and guinea pigs. They were also provided with materials to make Easter bonnets, masks, and there was an Easter egg hunt with chocolate eggs and rabbits as prizes. One of the most popular animals in the centre were four lambs. These were from Writtle College and had been abandoned by their mothers. Several times a day, children and their parents were given the opportunity to bottle feed the lambs with a special formulated milk. Many children handled and petted the lambs, some returning several times, and for many it was an experience that they will remember for years to come.

The farm has been undergoing a make over. New paths, replacing the old muddy ones have been ongoing which has meant closure and partial closure of the farm during the period, for safety reasons. The farm should be fully operational in time for the Half term holiday events on the 27th and 29th May. See What's on page.

A large area opposite the pig enclosure has been cleared of bramble over a period of a few months and will gradually be transformed into a Garden for Wildlife. Already a small vegetable plot has been prepared and a raised herb bed. Some wild flowers have been planted. The area will be managed by volunteers, staff in their spare time under the supervision of the Country Park Staff and the Redbridge Conservation Rangers. Look out for a garden pond, a willow arbour, garden flowers, orchard trees, a hedgehog enclosure, an insect tower block, nest boxes. Recycled materials will be used and the project will gradually evolve in the coming months. The project will support Redbridge's Biodiversity Action Plan for Gardens. A web page will appear here soon to explain what is happening and the reasoning behind it.

The ducks and Canada geese on the lake are suffering again this year. The Carrion crows have learnt to swoop over the lake and take the ducklings and goslings. This habit appears to be a newly acquired one as it was only observed here last year. The pair of swans have yet to produce their family. Swallows were seen over the lake on the 17th April, and the Cuckoo was calling on the 23rd April.

Peacock butterflies have been seen throughout the period whenever the weather was fine. Brimstone males and females were seen on several occasions in April and Orange tip butterflies were first seen on the 26th April just as the food plant Garlic mustard or Jack by the Hedge Alliaria petiolata was flowering. The Orange tip female deposits the tiny orange coloured egg on the flower stems of the Garlic mustard.

Five brave souls attended the Lower Plants walk in almost continuous rain and cold. there was a good attendance on Daphne Gilbert's Spring Equinox walk - 25 attended and the Coltsfoot was in flower around the lake and along the Havering link path. I led the Bluebell and Blossom walk on the 27th April. The weather was kind to us and we walked through the Bluebell area where the bluebells were looking  fresh. We stopped and looked at the alien garden species, the Spanish bluebell with its broad leaves and thick tall upright flower spikes of light blue flowers and compared them with the English bluebell with its dark blue flowers hanging down on one side of the stem, and the narrower leaves. The Spanish bluebell hybridises with the English bluebell and although there is still a good number in the UK., internationally it is an endangered species.  Large slime moulds were seen throughout the walk. They often appear at this time of year following a period of rain. Lycogala terrestre and Enteridium lycoperdon were particularly noticeable. 43 people attended the walk.

Ivy-leaved speedwell Veronica hederifolia and Common field speedwell V.persica were in flower on the 22nd March. Greater stitchwort Stellaria holostea, Chickweed S. media, Bog stitchwort S. alsine, Three-nerved sandwort Moehringia trinerva and Common Mouse-ear Cerastium fontanum were flowering on the 12th April. Their close relative the Red Campion Silene dioica has started flowering in the last few days of April. Along the kerb edges of the roadway entrance to the Country Park two bright pink flowers were found at the end of the month - Field madder Sherardia arvensis and Common Stork's-bill Erodium cicutarium.

Slime mould Enteridium lycoperdon on rotting birch.  

Photo Peter Comber 27th April.

Young hawthorn

    JANUARY - FEBRUARY   MARCH - APRIL   MAY    JUNE - AUGUST   SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER   NOVEMBER - DECEMBER

January - February 2008

FROG FRENZY Roe's Well, 26th February 2008

Red Admiral Photo: 4th February 2008

Witches' butter on dead oak. 22nd January 2008

 King Alfred Cake or Cramp Ball on Ash. 4th February 2008

Hairy stereum on log.  4th February 2008

"Green oak"

Butcher's broom. 10th February 2008

Black-headed gull in winter plumage. 6th February 2008.

The first half of January saw a series of low pressure areas passing rapidly over the area, giving rise to strong north-easterly winds with rain and sunshine. By the 22nd an anticyclone brought in colder weather with several frosts, foggy mornings generally clearing to a warmer and sunnier afternoon. This continued through February when night temperatures rapidly dropped and on the 18th the lake was frozen over. This all changed with low pressure accompanied by strong westerly winds, some showers and sunshine on the 24th.

The change of weather in the last week of February signalled the start of spawning of the frogs in Roe's Well, where hundreds had gathered. There was about 70 clutches of spawn and much activity on the 26th and more laid on the following day. Frogs were assembling in Bomb crater pond but no signs in Sheepwater. Such was the frenzy in Roe's well that many males were competing for females and a knot of about a dozen developed with arms and legs grasping each other. Dates of frog spawning in the forest ponds taken from the diary pages are as follows:

19th March 2003

23rd March 2005

18th March 2006

28th February 2007

26th February 2008

 

A Red admiral was in flight on the 4th February and was photographed drinking the dew. It was a warm sunny day and was the earliest that I had ever seen any butterfly in flight in the forest.

 

Fifty people turned up for my tree identification walk on the 27th January. It was a lovely day and participants carried a chart of the twigs of many of the forest trees. Several people collected specimen twigs and learnt something about the trees - the typical bark, the colour and arrangements of buds on the stem and other facts. During the walk a track of the tiny Muntjac deer was found.

 

Alice Greenacre led a walk on the 2nd February entitled Imbolc (pronounced ee-molk).  30 people came along on another fine day. Imbolc is a Celtic festival of fire midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox and celebrates the preparation for the coming of spring. Imbolc literally means "Ewe's milk" as it was when most lambs were born, and signs of spring were beginning to appear. Early flowers were noticed, houses were cleaned and any Christmas decorations removed. Candles were lit on the eve to  mark the return of the sun. This folklore was inevitably tied in with the religious Candlemass and St. Bridget's (or St. Bride's) day. Alice told us several weather sayings pertaining to the festival.

Several fungi were seen on dead wood during the walks in January and February. Witches' butter Exidia glandulosa is a jelly fungus commonly found this year on small dead branches which have recently blown down. King Alfred's cake Daldinia concentrica is aptly named as it is black and has a burnt texture. It is found on Ash. Hairy stereum Stereum hirsutum forms tough brackets on all deciduous wood and is very common. Green elfcup  Chlorociboria aeruginascens rarely has fruiting bodies but the emerald green threads or mycelium that are in the fallen oak branches give rise to the term "Green oak". This and other coloured woods were used as veneers in Tunbridge Ware.

Plants in flower during the period are European gorse which is always at its best during the winter months, Snowdrops in Hainault Lodge Reserve, Red deadnettle, Common field speedwell and Dandelion. Recently noted were Coltsfoot on the 18th February, and Lesser celandine on the 26th February. Butcher's broom Ruscus aculeatus is an oddity of the plant world and is in flower at the moment. Its stems are flattened and leaf-like and tipped with a spine. The correct term for this feature is a cladode. The flower (inset) arises from the middle of the cladode (left) from which forms berries green at first (middle) and then red (right). It is a plant of old woodland and has a southern England distribution. It was once used to scrub butchers blocks and also to make a hedge round dishes of meat in the butchers window. This was to deter vermin. Today parsley is used and is often plastic - but only for decoration!

On the lake is a pair of Mute swans and Great crested grebes. Mallard pairs, Tufted ducks, Pochard, Moorhen and Coot. The Coot is an aggressive bird at this time of year and will see off any rival on its territory. Large flocks of Canada geese are feeding on the grassland areas and on the 7th January 15+ pairs of Shoveler ducks were present on the lake. They often visit the lake in the winter months. The Green woodpecker can be seen feeding in the grassland areas. In the wooded areas family groups of Blue tit and Long-tailed tit fly through seeking out insects. Great tits can be heard calling "Teacher, teacher". Magpies and Jackdaws are vocal and preparing to nest, Around the farm and buildings Goldfinch and Pied wagtails are seen. A Black-headed gull was caught on the 6th February snagged in a kite line and rescued. Fortunately it suffered no injury and was later released, but not before its photo was taken. In winter it has a black patch behind the eye. On the 29th February several gulls were showing their black heads.

Francis Castro and Fiona O'Connor led a group of BTCV and other volunteers on 6th and 13th January with a demonstration and practical hedge laying exercise at Forest Farm, Hazelbrouck Gardens, Hainault. A hedge was cleared of its lower branches, and the base of the hedge cleaned. The base of the trees were PLEACHED i.e. were half cut through taking care to leave some of the living bark. Hazel stakes were knocked in at half metre intervals and the trees and bushes woven and layered into the stakes. The ARISINGS which were removed initially in cleaning the hedge had the side shoots removed, a process known as SNEDDING which created small binders which could be used to weave in the hedge. Finally the hedge was strengthened by BINDING or plaiting three lengths of hazel around the stakes. The finished hedge is virtually impenetrable and will come to life in the spring providing shelter and nesting places for birds and mammals.

 

 

 

Volunteers clear lower branches from the hedge. Photo: Francis Castro

Fiona pleaches the bases of the bushes. Photos: Francis Castro

Laying out the stakes - two per metre. 

Binding the top of hedge with three lengths of hazel for strength. Photo: Brian Ecott