A perky Jenny Wren flicks across the brash surrounding the newly-pollarded willow alongside Willow Pond, seeking shelter in the shrubbery. Across the Meadow, a pair of Bullfinches perch with their fat cherry-red waistcoats like a couple of John Bulls (is that a coincidence of name?) and their jet-black heads, remarkably similar to the matt black buds on the Ash tree. Long, white, bark-stripped branches of the fallen willow by Penny Pond gleam in the sunlight and both dead and alive Hawthorns rear starkly against the clear sky. Also silhouetted against the light blue the lazily flapping-and-glidiing wings and characteristic forked tail of a very rarely seen in these parts Kite (Red or Black?) as it meticulously quarters the ridge along Lings Lane.
On a mild drizzly morning the neon flash of a Kingfisher brightened a dull visit and a pair of Mallard, prospecting for a nesting site was a sign of spring to come. Earlier in the month a Woodcock was flushed whilst inspection of the Teasel showed the presence of the tiny larval stage of the moth, Endothenia gentianaeana which feeds on the pith within the flower head. Teasel has been seen in the meadow before but not for several years and I always find it strange how plants come and go. Both Woodcock and the moth are additions to the reserve list. Two Tree Sparrows - now quite scarce accompanied the Yellowhammers and Chaffinches near the entrance stile and a Green Woodpecker was nearby.
Only a single Lesser Celandine has defied the cold spell and flowered, albeit modestly, and a Snipe, flushed from the old brook course, was probably roaming around for unfrozen ground in which to probe its long bill. Four Buzzards, two of which were occasionally talon-grappling and mewing is a sign that they will be nesting locally. During a brief, mild, wet spell, the brook has swollen and when the water clears I expect chub will have taken the opportunity to get upstream to spawn. On a willow-tree trunk a grey moth was obvious; it was a Grey Shoulder-knot which was only seen in Nottinghamshire for the first time in 2003. These over-winter as adults and fly on milder days very early in the year; but the cold spell was too much for this one as it was in the same place 36 hours later.
Dusk can be a mystical period away from the lights of the village. Between spring and autumn equinox, when night creeps in more slowly, and especially on milder evenings without an overcast sky, the eyes are confused by the deceitful light and the wildlife is swapping shifts: Moorhens drop into the brook with a splash, from low hawthorns where they planned to spend the night and pheasants rise almost from underfoot, creating more commotion and disturbance than a lone walker ever did. At the same time a distant Tawny Owl hoots and a moth jigs above the brambles.
There is a feeling that spring will finally gain the upper hand, but what a passive spring it has been so far. An occasional bumblebee, a couple of chiffchaffs and some late frogspawn, accompanied by a croaking frog (which fooled me, for a moment, into thinking an early Turtle Dove was singing from the hawthorn tree above) is pretty much all there is to remark on. Even the show of Dog Violets seems modest. But over the next few weeks spring will be sprung and even the Ash trees will admit that summer is nigh.
Following a week of sunshine and warmth, a cool and cloudy day meant butterflies were absent, but a Turtle Dove, sat atop a Hawthorn tree and purring loudly, was assurance that winter was well and truly over - but wasn't it late in coming? The May blossom, only in bud at mid-month, testifies to this. That the dove's song was in duet with a Cuckoo, and had the accompaniment of Willow Warblers and Whitethroats, as they mingled amongst the luxurious, green undergrowth and bushes, reaffirmed the date.
Turtle Doves have become quite scarce over recent years, though the meadow hosts several pairs. This attests to the value of such relatively small nature reserves at a time, when despite 'green' growth, our farmland and our gardens become ever more tidy, trimmed, neat and paved: Turtle Doves adore mature, hawthorn trees and dense scrub: Oddly' for a bird that winters in tropical Africa, it seems to like the shade; this one, easily visible on the top twig, on this dull day, seemed to be enjoying the panorama.
The Day of the Cow Parsley! From last years concerning but not extensive patch, Cow Parsley has become rampant, with much of the meadow a four-foot deep drift of snowy flowers throughout May. English Nature's recommendation to control it is to behead the plants before they seed, but our experience is to time this well, as otherwise they fight back - producing more flowers and reinstating their dominance within a week. Pulling them up looks like being more effective - volunteers please?
Balmy evenings are a great time for recording moths without the bother of running specialist light traps as many species - especially the geometers fly before dusk. Silver-ground, Garden and Green Carpet were all recorded in this way as was a small noctuid, the Straw Dot.
With the dry conditions continuing, the flow in Fairham Brook is down to a trickle. The deep pools however still hold fish and the kingfisher is still finding good hunting alongside the reserve. However, invertebrates need high dissolved oxygen levels which in these conditions will be hard to find especially at night when the plants are using up the oxygen instead of producing it by photosynthesis.
I’ve mentioned before how important the reserve is for Turtle Doves which “purr” away from deep inside the tall hawthorn trees, so to discover one singing from rooftops on Beech Avenue was a real surprise.
I’m sorry if moths predominate the notes recently but the acquisition of a generator has enabled a mercury-vapour light to be operated in the meadow for the first time. Its arrival coincided with the end of the perfect mothing weather of July and the arrival of other commitments but two consecutive evenings up to 11.30pm produced 31 species, and brought the total for the meadow to 53.
This included the “micro” moth known as the Water Veneer. White, small and unassuming, it has a surprising life history in which the larvae are aquatic, feeding on pondweeds and the females can be either winged or wingless – these remain submerged. The males are winged and mate with the females at the water’s surface.
With truly autumnal days still to come, a visit in early October saw the refreshment of stream flows making it the babbling brook that is so attractive. In the minds of visitors whose memories pre-date the "improvements" downstream of Windmill Hill, by the internal drainage board in 1987, it was always like that. The canalisation of the brook through Bunny Moor was a terrible piece of engineering, far more damaging than the vandalism to the urban environment that we so readily condemn, but perpetrated by an authority and funded by the equivalent of DEFRA. It is astonishing that in this more enlightened time, what they now refer to as a "drain", is being maintained to the same standard with no attempt to improve its value to wildlife. The contrast with the riffle and pool nature near the reserve, with its deep pools, meanders and shallow zones, and where Common Darter dragonflies were egg-laying, couldn't be more marked.
The grassy areas are lush and green following the wet and mild autumn. Three Bullfinches have arrived for the winter and a party of Long-tailed Tits move through the trees lining the brook. As they pass through the open they can be counted: whilst flitting about amongst the twigs, their movements are too random for them to be estimated … five… seven maybe? As always there are more than expected and thirteen is the eventual count.
In late autumn and winter, Blue and Great Tits, the “true” tits; (Long-tailed are in a separate genus) form loose flocks and are often accompanied by other species: wintering Chiffchaffs or Blackcaps are possible, as are Willow Tits – a species that is declining nationally, but which remains frequent in the meadow. This species and the Marsh Tit have now been assigned to a new genus: no longer Parus but Poecile!
A Green Woodpecker was heard calling whilst clearing brambles from the banks of the brook. The Sunday morning work parties have a varied programme of work lined up this winter and this clearance is intended to make the brook more visible and accessible to visitors. The brook, after all, is probably the most attractive feature of the meadow and it has been largely inaccessible over much of its length for some years.
The Green Woodpecker's call is a loud, laughing cackle which earned it the onomatopaeic name of "yaffle" in some parts of the country. In Nottinghamshire, "nicker" is a local name for a woodpecker. Our other two species of woodpecker are both woodland specialists whilst the Green Woodpecker favours ants which it finds in open country. Thus the latter species is most likely to be the one that gave its name to Nicker Hill.