Blooming November

Five years ago, my mother was very ill in hospital in Slough. This horrible chapter of my life lives in my memory now as a rather surreal time, the weirdness being exaggerated by the fact that great swathes of Daffodils were in full bloom in Slough by the sides of the roads in November. It felt like the world had gone wrong in so many ways.

Half a decade on now and another mild autumn, although there are no Daffodils flowering this November. But, surprisingly, the Choisya in the garden is in full bloom and the fragrance is absolutely wondrous.

There were some Hoverflies visiting the Choisya and it was great to dust off the Insect books again and set about trying to identify them:

The Mahonia is also in full flower in the garden, but this is as expected for this shrub.

As I stood and admired it, I saw that Bumblebees were regularly visiting:

This is the Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus terrestris. My Bee book tells me that two generations are regularly attempted in the south of England with queens from the second brood often seen into September and October. However, in some areas, there is also a third generation that takes advantage of winter-flowering garden shrubs. These Bees on the Mahonia must be of this third, have-a-go-hero winter generation and I’m so pleased that the garden has something to offer them.

Glorious sunrise over the meadows one morning this week:

Wrens are not often seen on the trail cameras but I have been seeing some recently.

These are probably my favourite British birds. There is just one species of Wren in the UK but, because they tend to be sedentary, over the years they have evolved into six subspecies. Four of these are on islands – Shetland, Fair Isle, St Kilda and the Outer Hebrides all have their own subspecies of Wren. On mainland Britain, the subspecies indigenus is found in the north and west, gradually merging with troglodytes in the south-east, which is the subspecies found in the rest of Europe.

Winter is a challenging time for Wrens because of their small size and the scarcity of their insect prey, although the subspecies on the islands can survive by foraging in the intertidal zone for marine invertebrates. Elsewhere, Wrens defend a territory even during the winter in order to protect for themselves what food there is. They also have the really lovable tactic of bundling into a bird box together overnight to keep warm – sixty have been recorded snuggled up in just one box. They all arrive just after dark and leave just before dawn and so we humans rarely notice this going on. How I would love to get some cameras in some nest boxes to try to capture that.

In the colder bits of Europe, Wrens are forced to migrate because they cannot survive those winters. It was always thought, however, that our British Wrens stay put, although recent ringing evidence suggests that some do actually migrate from here as well.

At low tide one morning, we went down to the foreshore near us to see what Birds were taking advantage of what it had to offer.

There seemed to be generally very few birds around and we certainly didn’t see any Wrens foraging for marine invertebrates.

You need to be sure of the tide situation when you walk on the beach here because you wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of this wall on a rising tide.

As well as a few Gulls and Crows, we saw a Little Egret, an Oystercatcher and heard a Curlew. There was also this Pied Wagtail:

And a handful of Rock Pipits as well:

Still plenty of Fulmar on and around the cliffs here:

There was so much work going on down at the beach this autumn, building three groynes using rock that was arriving on barges from Falmouth in Cornwall.

Now that everything is finished, we walked down to have a look at this section of the beach. For all that work and all those loads of rock that were delivered, the groynes are strangely unobtrusive.

There is a bit of a problem with garden escapee plants growing on the beach and several large clumps of Kniphofia from South Africa are still flowering there halfway through November. They shouldn’t be there but they are very beautiful – naughty but nice.

As I go to put the peanuts out each evening, there is a Bat flying along the hedgerow, not far above my head. Surely there can’t be much still around for it to eat? We are yet to properly got to grips with what Bats are here, but many of our Bird boxes are designed to also accommodate Bats roosting within. We have two boxes specifically for Bats as well:

We had a look in one of these and there were signs that it had frequently been visited. There was no nesting material so it has been used for roosting rather than nesting.

Below is an internet photo of Bat droppings and so I think we can say that it is Birds rather than Bats that have been roosting in the box:

The hole into the box is very small and flattened and most birds would not be able to fit in, so could it actually be that Wrens are roosting communally in this box? Well, maybe, although there were also some yellowish feathers which points to Blue Tits having been in there at some point and they do fit in too. Here is a photo of our other Bat box earlier this year with a Blue Tit emerging:

I can’t get a camera into the bat box but I might get one looking at it to try to see what is going on.

The Owl was back on the perch up on the strip this week. We had tried to ramp down the infrared coming from this camera by putting sticky tape across some of the bulbs. However, it seems that we need to cover still more because the Bird was yet again burnt out:

Fortuitously, however, it also landed on the gate and the camera there dealt with it all much better:

As we embark on the final thirty days running up to the winter solstice, the days are now depressingly short and the sun is hanging low in the sky – what a long shadow this is for 10 o’clock in the morning:

More from the meadows this week:

Some of our family are enthusiastic to help with the coppicing of the wood this winter, although all work parties are sadly put on hold now that we are again in lockdown. But we have been working there ourselves and making slow progress – its simply lovely to spend time there and it is certainly great all-round exercise. The knowledge that there are Dormice in the wood gives us added impetus to keep going.

The new pond is proving popular. Our first visitor arrived within an hour of its completion:

Rain this week has now filled the pond:

Winter is a time when you find yourself noticing the bark of trees and Field Maple is certainly one of the more distinctive:

Back to the meadows, where this Whitebeam was planted in memory of my much-loved mother. It has lost all its leaves for now but it stands waiting to burst back into life next spring.

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