Hello everyone! Well at long last we have had some snow in our corner of the country, albeit a very meagre dusting compared to the thick blanket my Great Niece and Nephews were sledging on in Scotland and the Northern counties. However, it was enough to transform our landscape for a little while. Lorna took some stunning photos of the Quarry Wood ferns, each frond delicately picked out by a light powdering of dazzling white flakes.
Snowy ferns in Quarry Wood – Feb 2021
The Crowhurst Marshes, still a vast expanse of surface water had a glistening layer of ice topping it. Loud retorts echoed in the chilly air as it moved and cracked under the watery Winter sun while it did its best to warm things up for a few hours a day.
Snowy floods across Combe Valley Countryside Park – Feb 2021
As I stood there wrapped in multiple layers, clumsily fumbling with my binoculars in gloved hands, I was in awe of the water fowl as they casually rested on the frozen surface. Those bobbing around in patches of open water would suddenly go tail-up and dive down into the icy depths as they looked for food. When I was not rosy-cheeked from exposure to the biting Easterly, I am convinced I was green with envy at the superb insulating quality of those duck and swan feathers!
If you did brave those icy trails, I expect, like me, you were wearing at least two pairs of socks, thick boots and you did not stand still for longer than needed. Have you ever wondered just how our feathered friends cope with cold feet? Whether paddling in icy water or perched on snow-covered branches, there are no oil-coated feathers protecting the legs and feet against conditions that would see us puny humans turning blue with the cold.
Swans swimming along snowy water channels through Crowhurst Marsh – Jan 2010
As usual, Ma Nature has provided a number of strategies and fixes to help overcome the ravages of the elements. The majority of the birds we see though our windows, such as Robins, Tits, Finches Wrens, Sparrows and even the larger species like Magpies and Crows, have small feet in proportion to their bodies, so the loss of heat from them is relatively low. Many birds simply tuck their legs up under their bodies where those fluffed out layers of feathers trap warm air and prevent them from becoming frozen.
But what about those hardy ducks, swans, geese, and various other water fowl, standing on ice or bobbing along in freezing water? Well, they, along with several other groups of birds and indeed animals, make use of a rete mirabile (Latin – marvellous net), a fine network of arteries and veins which in this case, carries blood to the birds’ feet as part of a counter-current circulatory system. Blood is cooled as it flows down the legs and warmed as it returns to the body, the result being that the feet have little heat to lose, even in the depths of Winter.
Birds on frozen water on Crowhurst Marsh – Jan 2017
The snow and ice have disappeared now, and the land is back to its soft, mire-like state. The temptation, when out for a stroll, is to try and avoid the clarty gloop by walking on the edge of footpaths or even take another route though the undergrowth. Unfortunately, this results in the erosion of verges and the woodland floor and has a deleterious effect on the wildflowers and even ground nesting birds in small reserves such as ours (see The Straight and Narrow, June 2014). We may not need that second pair of socks now, but please stick to the boots or wellies and brave the mud for a while longer, especially as the Nesting Season is well underway.
Scarlet Elf Cup & Townhall Clock in Quarry Wood – Feb 2021
In Quarry Wood Spring has started where it left off before the cold spell brought everything to a temporary halt. The Scarlet Elf Cup fungus (Sarcoscypha coccinea) survived the snow and is proliferating throughout different areas of the wood at a rapid rate and the leaf-strewn ground of the Viking Camp is turning green with the tiny leaves of the Townhall Clock plant (Adoxa moschatellina).
Alongside the gloss of the evergreen Ivy (Hedera helix), another plant is snaking its way up trees and forming clumps of dry, dead-looking tendrils on which fresh new leaves have been forming for several weeks now, Wild Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum).
The ecological value of this common climber is immense. Our elusive White Admiral Butterflies (Limenitis camilla) lay their eggs on Honeysuckle leaves on which the caterpillars feed and pollinating moths are attracted to the sweet scent of the flowers at night when, as anyone who enjoys a late evening stroll will tell you, it is at its most aromatic.
White Admiral in Quarry Wood – July 2017
The food chains being what they are, many a Bat will pick up a tasty treat when patrolling the Honeysuckle entwined trees hedges alongside our little reserve; the large Elephant Hawk Moths (Deilephila elpenor) I have seen on the flowers must make a particularly satisfying snack! The red berries of L. periclymenum are devoured by bird and animal alike when they ripen in the Autumn but, as always, extreme caution is necessary if trying them for yourself as there are reports of the fruit causing sickness in humans.
We have plenty of Honeysuckle in QW and one of these days I hope to spot another, rarely seen, animal which relies on the plant, our Common or Hazel Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius). Feeding on Honeysuckle nectar as part of their diet and building nests from the bark for their young, the nocturnal Dormouse is mainly found in the southern Britain only and unlike their name are far from common!
so doth the woodbine, sweet honeysuckle entwist
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Honeysuckle is one of our most important plants and long may it remain one of our most widespread. Do enjoy the coming of Spring, keep to the footpaths and give our fauna and flora the space they need.
Photography: Lorna Neville
7 March 2021: Update
More Scarlet Elf Cup than we have ever seen before in Quarry Wood, stretching along about 10 or 15 metres of the old railway track. A breath taking display!
The frogspawn laid last week is now perilously close to the edge of the pond after these sunny and dry days. Unless we get a good soaking soon, it will almost certainly dry out and perish.
But the Early Purple Orchids are looking robust, and the Town Hall Clock is spreading its dainty blanket. You have to kneel to see this modest little beauty, one of the only UK wildflowers to have a green flower and one of our ancient woodland indicators.