Up in the Woods

Back in Berkshire again this week, we walked the dog up into Ashley Hill Woods. I first remember this Forestry Commission wood from when I went on an infant school trip there, not so very long after it had been clear-felled in the early 1960s. Thankfully, since then it has been more sensitively managed and is now a beautiful place – probably my all time favourite wood and one that I have done a lot of dog-walking in over the years.

At the top of the hill is a Giant Sequoia, forty-four metres high and dwarfing all the other trees around it. I suppose that this tree must have been spared in the clear-felling.
A different order of magnitude to all the others

We have been watching this Red Kite nest on Ashley Hill for several years now. It is much larger than it was when we last saw it a few months ago, so hopefully this means it has been active this year. Red Kites are famous for weaving plastic and other bits of human detritus into their nests.

Hiding under a shady roof of Bracken, we found a thriving colony of Common Spotted Orchids:

Another old haunt of ours in Berkshire is Carpenters Wood and we also visited there this week. It is nearly the seventy-seventh anniversary of when a Halifax bomber, with seven men on board and loaded with bombs destined for France, crashed into these woods. There is still the disquieting sight of a large crater at the crash site:

A plaque at the site says: ‘Tread softly because this is hallowed ground’ and that exactly describes how it feels.

A Comma, from Berkshire…

Back in our own wood in Kent, the wet summer so far has meant that the undergrowth is distinctly more rampant than normal and we are slashing and hacking back nettles and bramble to remake our woodland paths. A battery powered hedge cutter seems to be working best for this.

The new part of the wood is densely planted and badly needs thinning and so, in the autumn, our first job is going to be some selective clearing. We are going to prioritise English Oaks and clear space around them so that they have a better chance to become sturdy, beautiful trees.

But because we are not confident that we can recognise these young Oaks once they no longer have leaves, this week I have started to identify suitable trees and tying red rope around them. It’s a shame that it wasn’t yellow, but I was singing the song to myself anyway.

Fresh bark on the ground below a birch, alerted us to look up and notice that Grey Squirrels have been up to their old tricks again and are stripping bark:

Fresh stripped birch bark on the ground….
….and yes, the tree is completely bare of bark at a height of 3m and above. At least this isn’t at ground level so the bottom part of this tree will hopefully still survive. That stripped part and above will now die though.

I am so looking forward to the successful end of the trials that are currently underway to test a contraceptive that can be delivered to Grey Squirrels via hazelnut spread in a specially designed box. UK Squirrel Accord is a partnership of environmental, wildlife and forestry organisations working towards making this happen and it is definitely something that we would be very interested in for our wood as soon as it becomes available. It seems a humane and perfect answer to a big problem.

A female Large Skipper in the wood. I also saw a Silver-washed Fritillary but it was very jittery and I failed to get a photo even though I crept carefully towards it, applying my best bushcraft skills
Buzzards are such bulky birds with chunky feet and legs
Fox in a woodland scene
Bullfinch still visiting this pond daily
I do not know what is going on here!
A Nursery Web Spider guarding her white egg sac which is protected by a web, within which the spiderlings will live once they hatch
This is a Scorpionfly (Panorpa communis). In the male as above, the end of the abdomen is swollen and held over its body like a scorpion’s tail earning these insects their name…..
The female does not have the swollen end to her abdomen…
…but both sexes have a long, downwards pointing beak. These insects feed on small invertebrates in woodland margins and rough grassland

Back in the meadows, a young Blackbird appears on the gate…

…and then the ringed female comes to feed it. This female was photographed here carrying nesting material for so many weeks, it is wonderful to discover that it all that work led to a satisfactory conclusion:

I think this is a different Blackbird family down by the wild pond:

Fledgling Blackbird with its father

Although we often catch glimpses of Wrens poking around in the vegetation, it is rare that the trail cameras get photos of them. What a long beak they have:

The camera taking videos along the cliff edge captured these two fledgling Jays with fluffy white bottoms:

We spotted a large and rather extraordinary fly feeding on Wild Carrot that we had never seen before – Nowickia ferox. Its larvae grow within the caterpillars of the Dark Arches moth:

It had a strange white face:

This is another large fly, Myathropa florea. This hoverfly is irresistibly drawn to the revolting-smelling buckets of Comfrey fertiliser that are brewing away. She is looking to lay her eggs in there, from which rat-tailed maggots will develop. These maggots get their oxygen by sticking their tails above the water surface and so have no need of clean water. However, this has reminded me that I must sort out some lids for the buckets.

The extraordinary colours of the Green Bottle fly
I have seen mating Marbled Whites before but never where there is such a size discrepancy. The male is so small compared to the female
Here are the two vixens that had cubs this year. One-eyed vixen on the right.

And finally, some shipping! One evening this week two ships dropped anchor alongside us, both blue and white with yellow funnels. The THV Patricia feels like an old friend. She is operated by Trinity House and comes here to look after the buoys and lightships guarding the notorious Goodwin Sands that lie just offshore.

THV Patricia with her funnel, painted a delicate shade of primrose

The second ship’s funnel was a very different yellow:

Cefas Endeavour with her sunshine yellow funnel

Cefas Endeavour is a fisheries research vessel, owned by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), and she supports their activities such as monitoring fish stocks. She was designed to minimise underwater noise to reduce fish disturbance.

A little further up the coast in Sandwich, The Open Golf is being held at Royal St Georges golf club this weekend, postponed from last year due to Covid. Over thirty thousand people a day are flocking to the area for what is expected to be a very hot and sunny weekend. We shall be keeping our heads down, enjoying the weather and looking at nature, with the odd peek at the television to see who’s winning.

2 thoughts on “Up in the Woods

  1. The grey squirrel contraceptive idea sounds perfect. I can definitely see for a nd against when it comes to grey squirrels. It’s sad that the Lancashire red squirrel colony at Formby have squirrel pox :(. Equally sad that the Grey’s get caught and killed. 🙁 .
    Wow, the female marble white there looks like a giant compared to her mate.

    1. I didn’t know the Formby squirrels have squirrel pox – how sad and I see there is currently no cure. I understand that they would have caught this from Grey Squirrels and eventually they will be able to control back the greys using contraceptives and then safely reintroduce the reds at some point in the future? But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

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