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Wildlife Garden blog

2 Posts tagged with the blackbird tag
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Greetings from a garden full of Spring promise! After an absence of several weeks, I recently left winter dormancy behind and have been welcomed by the optimism of spring from the Garden.

 

The productive work carried out by Larissa, Naomi and our wonderful volunteers these past few weeks is evident from the signs of coppicing, pollarding, pruning and propagating, as well as thinning out some of our most determined umbellifers - cow parsley, hogweed and ground elder.

 

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Coppiced alder (Alnus glutinosa)

© Derek Adams

 

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Seed propagation in preparation for our Spring Wildlife Event on Saturday 5 April

© Sue Snell


And the garden itself has a surprise around every corner. On the ground in the coppiced woodland habitat and beneath the mature lime, the daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) are in bloom.

 

2. .WLG_06032014-108 daffodils (Custom).JPGThe first of our native daffodils was recorded on 25 February nine days earlier than last year

© Jonathan Jackson

 

There's a fair sprinkling of primroses (Primula vulgaris) in flower, with many more buds yet to open.

 

3. WLG_06032014-058  primroses 6_3_14 (Custom).JPGPrimroses at the edge of woodland - first flower recorded on 18 February; just a couple of days earlier than last year

© Jonathan Jackson

 

A deeper shade of yellow is offered by the fluffy heads of coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) which brighten up the hedge banks.

 

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Coltsfoot, a plant typical of waste areas but welcome in our garden

© Derek Adams

 

Red dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum) along the path provides nectar for early flying insects, and other shades of pink include the occasional red campion (Silene dioica) and herb robert (Geranium robertianum).

 

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Red campion thrives in our Wildlife garden -  at least one plant can be seen in flower throughout the year

© Derek Adams

 

Sweet violet (Viola odorata) is in flower between hedge and pond and dog's mercury (Mercurialis perennis) is increasing its territory beneath silver birch and ash. We'll be contributing our first flower and animal sightings to the Woodland Trust's Nature's Calendar.

 

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Dog's mercury (Mercurialis perennis) - first flower this year was recorded on 13th January

© Jonathan Jackson

 

But what is most striking is the volume of bird song this week! After crossing the threshold of the Garden the traffic noise of Cromwell Road melts away and a symphony takes over inlcuding the medodic song of blackbirds and robins, rich trills and 'Tshews' from a flock of greenfinches, a medley of calls from blue, great and long-tailed tits, the occasional sound from our moorhen couple, and more.

 

There are flashes of red and yellow from goldfinches, and blue and yellow as blue tits whirr across our pathways. Territories are being established, courtship is in progress - and in some cases nesting material is already being transported to niches within ivy-clad trees:

 

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A female blackbird was observed building a nest in ivy this week but here the male is feeding up on ivy berries

The supply of rowan berries referred to in recent blogs is finally exhausted!

© Jonathan Jackson


And to nest boxes, and the eaves of our garden shed:

 

DSC_0674 (Custom).JPGA wren started building here this week, the site was then taken over by a robin and now is currently vacant...

© Larissa Cooper

 

 

But not to hedges where there is too little camouflage just yet:

 

DSC_0399 catkins (Custom).JPGCatkins amongst the bare branches of one of our laid hedges

© Jonathan Jackson

 

Hazel catkins broke hedge dormancy in early January and now white flowers appear on the bare branches of blackthorn (Prunus spinosa).

 

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Our first blackthorn flowers opened on 18 February

© Jonathan Jackson

 

This is our earliest flowering native shrub in the Wildlife Garden (and elsewhere). Clouds of white blossom are already visible in hedges in the countryside. One of the many country sayings relating to Blackthorn is that its flowering is said to coincide with a cold spell - but not this week. More blackthorn country sayings and uses can be found on Roy Vickery's website of Plantlore.

 

Blackthorn is a spikier relative of hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) - and an excellent hedge companion, quick growing and providing good nest sites amongst a network of spiny branches and thorns. And, in autumn, sloes are food for berry-eating birds.

 

But this shrub and hedgerow plant is beneficial to many other species: providing nectar for early flying insects such as the tree bumble bee (Bombus hypnorum), first sighted in the garden this year on 15 February; and buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) observed on 6 March.

 

It's one of the larval food plants for many beautiful moth species including sloe midget (Phyllonorycter spinicolella), tufted button (Acleris cristana), clouded silver (Lomographa temerata) and the brimstone moth (Opisthograptis luteolata), all of which have been recorded here. You can read more about moth recording in the Wildlife Garden, by Lepidopterist Martin Honey in the Spring issue of evolve - the Museum's quarterly magazine.

 

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Brimstone Moth - this particular specimen was caught in our light trap on 6 August and released the following morning

© Florin Feneru

 

This week also we were shown the concept plans for the redesign of the Museum grounds, some of which included some surprising suggestions for the Wildlife Garden - you can read about this competition at Malcolm Reading Consultants.

 

Its been a fine Spring week but March is a capricious month and country sayings about the blackthorn weather may yet ring true.

 

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Coltsfoot (again)

© Derek Adams

 

In the meantime we intend to hold on to our Spring optimism in the Museum's Wildlife Garden and continue to promote and conserve biodiversity here in the heart of London.

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The berry season has been spectacular this year, and continues, in green (ivy), in black (tutsan and privet), and more seasonally, in many shades of red and orange. Clusters of red fruit remain on our rowan trees and it’s easy to spot feeding birds within the bare branches. This morning I watched 2 plump mistle thrushes gorge themselves while blackbirds fed on a neighbouring tree - so no surprise that we have so many rowan seedlings throughout the garden.

 

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A morning feast - mistle thrush and blackbird on neighbouring rowans.

 

Butcher's-broom (Ruscus aculeatus) brightens dark corners of woodland together with the maligned stinking iris (Iris foetidissima) - it doesn't smell bad!.

 

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Butcher's-broom (Ruscus aculeatus).

Derek Adams

 

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Stinking Iris (Iris foetidissima).
Derek Adams

 

Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) dangles its ripe red berries over fences and through hedges where a few bruised rose-hips and the occasional pink of an unripe blackberry can also be found. But it is the holly (Ilex aquifolium) that steals the show; its scarlet berries looking luscious amongst the dark shiny leaves.

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A holly tree (Ilex aquifolium) in the Wildlife Garden.

Jonathan Jackson

 

Holly is a rich source of food for birds and crucially will be available when most other berries have been exhausted. Blackbird, mistle thrush and redwing - all members of the family Turdidae (the thrushes) - will compete with woodpigeon and squirrels for the fruit. Our Christmas card icon, the robin, very occasionally feeds on these berries too.

 

Holly berries are resistant to the extreme cold and stay well preserved for several months, but another reason for their longevity is the mistle thrush.  Barbara and John Snow who spent years studying the ecological interaction between birds and berries*, observed that some holly trees are fiercely defended by mistle thrush.

 

By preventing other birds from feeding on the fruit, mistle thrushes can conserve the berries as a long-term food supply which may last all winter through to spring. And as they suggest, this conservation of hollies by mistle thrushes is one of the reasons there are always holly berries around on some trees for our festive decorations. 


Roy Vickery takes up the seasonal story of holly:

“Although it seems that in earlier times a variety of evergreens were used in Christmas decorations, for many years red-berried holly was the most important one. Indeed, in some parts of  England it was known simply as ‘Christmas’. Before computer-generated posters became common, holly leaves, which even artists with few skills could draw, inevitably adorned notices announcing Christmas events.

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Hedge holly in the Wildlife Garden.

Jonathan Jackson

 

Although growing holly trees were usually considered to be protective, and therefore should not be cut down, it was sometimes considered unlucky to bring branches of it indoors before Christmas Eve. There are even occasional records of holly being considered inauspicious during the Christmas period.

 

However, most people tried to get sprigs of holly, with its bright red berries and dark green glossy leaves, to decorate their homes. Thus the gathering of holly provided a useful supplementary income for farmers who had trees growing on their land, and gypsies who gathered it wherever they could. In 1980 it was estimated that holly sold at Christmas came equally from these two sources. In some areas, notably Cornwall, Christmas trees were traditionally hollies rather than the more usual conifer trees.

 

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More holly in our garden.

Jonathan Jackson

 

In recent years holly seems to have become much less popular, at least in London. Little was available for sale in 2012, although it appears to have made something of a come-back in 2013. Presumably holly, which tends to soon dry up and lose its leaves in warm conditions is unsuited for display in centrally heated homes, although holly wreaths, usually of natural leaves and wired-on artificial berries, are still commonly produced for decorating graves and attaching to front doors.

 

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Christmas wreath on the door of the Wildlife Garden shed, made by Larissa from willow stems, yew, juniper and holly - nothing artificial here!

 

To a certain extent more easily manageable poinsettias and stems of the deciduous North American holly, known as winterberry (Ilex verticillata), have replaced the hard to arrange holly twigs which were once sought in British hedgerows.

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Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) on sale this weekend in a market in Kent.

 

In the past, outside the Christmas season, chilblains were cured by beating with holly twigs until they bled, branches were pulled down chimneys to clear them of soot, bird-lime used for trapping small birds was extracted from its bark, and an abundance of its berries were believed to foretell a severe winter.”

 

Partly down to the mistle thrush?

 

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Winter holly in the Wildlife Garden in 2003.

Derek Adams

 

* Snow, B and J. 1988. Birds and Berries. T & AD Poyser