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Wildlife Garden blog

4 Posts tagged with the moorhen 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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While some of us are head down searching for first flowers, others are alert to life higher up: Wildlife gardener, Daniel Osborne, who often spots some of the Wildlife Garden's less common sightings shares his winter observations:

 

“For those prepared to venture out in the cold, observing birds in winter has a charm all its own. While many of the enigmatic summer species will have migrated south, and none of the spring breeding displays or nesting behaviour will be in evidence, birds in winter are no less engaging.

 

There are still many species around. Blackbirds, robins, finches (including colourful flocks of goldfinches), tits, wrens, dunnocks and many corvids are common in gardens throughout winter. They are more or less non-migratory, but movement within these species does occur - from the colder north, and even from the countryside into cities.

 

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One of our resident robins (Erithacus rubecula)

© Mark Humphries

 

Some species, such as fieldfares and redwings, are encountered only in winter when they leave their summer breeding grounds in Scandinavia and Siberia. Redwings have been recorded in the Garden this year, as in previous years, and a pair of mistle thrush have chosen to make the Garden their home this winter, as reported in our December post.

 

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Redwing (Turdus iliacus) have been spotted in the Garden during the past month
© Phil Hurst

 

Due to the scarcity of food, many different species will flock together in winter feeding parties. Excellent viewing opportunities are afforded by the absence of foliage on the deciduous trees.

 

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A great tit (Parus major) in the Wildlife Garden

© Derek Adams

 

And birds are increasingly willing to visit garden bird feeders.

 

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European greenfinch (Carduelis chloris) and blue tit (Parus caeruleus) on our garden bird feeder

© Derek Adams

 

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Our resident moorhens (Gallinula chloropis) ensure nothing is left to waste below the feeders...

© Derek Adams

 

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... Though some can get left behind.

© Mark Humphries

 

 

The feeders in the Garden are usually in regular need of refilling during the winter months, although not too much this winter so far. The relatively mild temperatures appear to be offering a continued availability of natural food, and it is interesting to note that the blackbirds only recently started feeding on the rowan berries that they usually pluck in August with precise bursts of hummingbird-like hovering.

 

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Blackbirds (Turdus merula) feed off rowan berries most summers ... but not last summer

© Derek Adams

 

Blackbirds are seen frequently at all times of year in the Garden. They are common, and easily identified, the males a uniform black with a bright orange bill and eye, the females a diffuse brown as seen above and further below.

 

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Male blackbird in the Wildlife Garden
© Mark Humphries

 

They have the habit of cackling noisily when they take off and slowly bringing their tails up to the vertical when they land, making them identifiable even at distance.

 

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Female blackbird
© Derek Adams

 

The males are territorial and will often proclaim their territory from the same branch. It's my estimate that the Garden is the site of at least three different male blackbird territories. One male has a spot in the apple tree in the orchard area from which he can regularly be heard singing. At this time of year they will be re-establishing their territories and, like all birds, looking for enough food to survive.

 

Winter is undoubtedly a time of great hardship for birds. Severe or extended cold has disastrous effects on bird numbers. But it can also be a time of unrivaled avian spectacle. Starling murmurations are among the most celebrated natural phenomena and reach a peak during winter, when the birds roost most communally.

 

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Common starling (Sturnus vulgaris) - sadly uncommon in the Wildlife Garden - our last sighting was in 2009

© Tim Munsey

 

Some parts of Britain entertain huge influxes of swans and geese. Waders and wildfowl flock in huge numbers on the coastlines. And for me, in London, there is always the hope of seeing, in my opinion, the most beautiful of birds, waxwings.”

 

Thank you Daniel!

 

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A waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) - one that is definitely on our Garden wish-list!

© Phil Hurst 

 

We'll be sharing more of our bird sightings with you later in the year

Caroline

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As autumn approaches and the new academic year begins so we lose Thomas Fieldsend, or Tommy as we know him, who enters the final year of his studies for a BSc in Animal Conservation & Biodiversity at Hadlow College. In common with many students, Tommy came to volunteer with us for work experience while studying for the first two years of his degree course. He covered a wide variety of practical and survey work as (hopefully) the images below will show! We will greatly miss his input, and his company. Here he describes his time in the Wildlife Garden:

 

"As a young boy growing up outside of London, a trip to the Museum was a rare treat. So, as I began the first day of my two-year work placement here in November 2011, I couldn’t help but wonder what my younger self would have made of it all. I’m sure he would have been excited; I know my 22 year old self was! I was about to become initiated into the world of the ‘Wildlife Garden Volunteer’, and I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. As it turns out, the only thing I ever came to expect in the Garden was the unexpected.

 

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November 2011 in the Wildlife Garden

 

 

Although a ‘can do’ attitude may be considered a prerequisite for a Wildlife Garden Volunteer, an ‘I’ll give it a go’ attitude is probably more beneficial, because when your day’s work might include tree felling, sheep corralling, or calculating the Garden’s amphibian population to the nearest hundred, just ‘giving it a go’ often becomes your best course of action.

 

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Amphibian survey April 2013

 

So I was very pleased - and somewhat baffled - when I realised that somewhere along the line I had actually become proficient at performing many of the tasks I had once regarded as exercises in damage limitation.

 

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Tommy and Alex learning to navigate while reducing reeds and great willowherb on the moorhen island


Not only that: I realised I had acquired the vocabulary of the Wildlife Garden natives as well as their skills. I found myself using words such as ‘coppicing’, ‘pedunculate’, and ‘pinnate’, without realising I had even learnt them. I had become, unbeknownst to me, a wildlife gardener!

 

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Newly coppiced hazel

 

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Hedge planting with Alex and Naomi

 

This came as quite a shock, as when I started in the Garden I was a first year Animal Conservation student at Hadlow College who was of the firm belief that he was an 'animal person', not a 'plant person'; that animals and the environment they inhabit could be treated as somehow discrete from one another, even in the context of conservation.

 

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Tommy inspires another young person: making insect hotels during our Spring Wildlife event earlier this year

 

In actuality, most of the work undertaken in the Wildlife Garden consists of facilitating natural ecosystem functioning through habitat management; in this sense, the Garden can be considered an example of effective conservation in a microcosm. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the importance of approaching habitat management and wildlife conservation holistically is the single most valuable lesson I learnt during my time as a Wildlife Garden Volunteer. But whatever I learnt along the way, I know this much: I had a lot of fun, and I won’t be forgetting the time I was part of the Wildlife Garden Team any time soon!

 

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Tommy, Nadia and Alex at the Brighter Kensington and Chelsea Scheme collecting an award in November 2012


Let me finish by thanking Caroline, Larissa, Naomi, and the whole Wildlife Garden Team for all their help and kindness during my time as a volunteer. Special thanks must go to Alex Lynch for the comic relief."

 

Hopefully we'll hear or see more of Tommy Fieldsend ...

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With the Wildlife Garden opening earlier this week and our first event of the year due to happen this Saturday 6 April, Larissa has been looking around the garden for the first signs of Spring ...

 

"Sitting at my desk in the Wildlife Garden shed, I heard something scratching outside. Thinking the squirrels were raiding the bird seed, I crept to the window to catch them at it. No squirrels, then the sound came again but from under my feet. It was the foxes confirming our suspicions they had taken up residence under the shed again.

 

Despite the chilly weather persisting, the garden is slowly beginning to wake up around us with the first bluebells, daffodils, primroses and cowslips appearing, and the blackthorn beginning to blossom.

 

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Wild daffodils in the Wildlife Garden were some of the first to flower this year.

© Derek Adams

 

The leaves of the wild garlic have carpeted the woodland in one area while, in another, dog’s mercury is making an appearance.

 

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A squirrel climbs a tree above the wild garlic covering the woodland floor.

© Jonathan Jackson


However, this is a poor show compared to last year when around this time wood anemone, marsh marigold, wood sorrel, and wild cherry amongst others were all in flower.

 

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A bumblebee enjoys the nectar from a hybrid bluebell in 2012. We haven't spotted many bumblebees yet this year.

©  Jonathan Jackson  

 

Although the sleepy frogs and toads are yet to wake up, the birds are gathering supplies for their nests. This wren spent a whole day meticulously constructing a nest only for it to be blown down the next day.

 

 

 

This wren spent the whole day building a nest precariously balanced on the shed porch ... Unfortunately the wind blew down its efforts the next day!

© Larissa Cooper


It’s not just the wrens who have been busy. The moorhens have been spotted carefully choosing dry leaves and pieces of reed before carrying their finds into their nest box. The box is so full - as you can see from the picture below - there is scarcely space for the moorhens themselves. The moorhens are not the only birds on the pond preparing for spring. Over the last couple of weeks, a group of mallards have also been visiting the garden on a daily basis.

 

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You can see just how full the moorhen nest box is!

© Larissa Cooper

 

The staff and volunteers in the garden are just as active with preparations for the opening of the garden at the beginning of April. The laid hedges have all had a trim to encourage bushy growth which will benefit both the birds looking to nest and the small mammals which hide in the base of the hedge.

 

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One of our laid hedges trimmed and ready for spring growth.

© Larissa Cooper

 

In some of the hedges we have added new whips (the name given to nursery-grown small trees and hedge plants) to fill a few gaps. Elder and wild cherry have been added to the hedge bordering the Darwin centre courtyard and the Wildlife Garden and will be allowed to mature within the hedgerow providing nectar for insects and food for birds.

 

I love this time of year, if only it was a little warmer…"

 

Thank you Larissa


Watch out for details of our Spring Wildlife and other events on our web page.