Hello everyone! Eggs have been hunted and consumed, Beltane celebrated and Green Men have weaved their way through various troupes of stick-wielding Morris Dancers. Yes, here we are in the merry month of May, having experienced an unusually dry April, bereft of the traditional showers. With sunshine-blessed walks and work parties in recent memory, this month’s scribble will take the form of a gentle, Spring tour of our little reserve.
Last month, Team TQW installed a couple of rudimentary seats, fashioned from fallen Chestnut, on Quarry Wood’s upper tier at the north end of the wood. Just perfect for birdsong and contemplation! As is the usual way with our working parties, half the time (maximum) was spent crashing around looking busy, and half the time (minimum) was observing, listening, taking photos and generally soaking up the ambience. We carried out the less strenuous activities, armed with note book, binoculars and camera, with a slow stroll around the reserve.
Before we entered the gate, the first thing that struck us was the golden verge along the roadside. The ubiquitous Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) may not be the gardener’s friend, but they looked stunning en masse and they attracted several Hoverflies that were taking advantage of the floral display. Lorna spent several minutes putting her camera’s macro lens to good use. Once inside the gate, it became evident just how little rainfall we have had. The fallen leaves of last Autumn littered the ground in a layer of desiccated crispiness, making creeping around in silent, Hobbit-style, nigh on impossible. Amidst the brown leaves, deep blue spikes of Bugle (Ajuga reptans) stood erect among the Primroses and Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea). To the left of the gate an old, coppiced Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa) guards a sunken clearing, all that is left of the original Old Lane. Beneath its bare branches a large patch of leafy Common Cow Wheat (Melampyrum pratense) waited, ready to explode into a mass of yellow flowers. As we dropped down into the Old Lane, a true herald of Spring flew past, a male Orange Tip Butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines), following the border of the wood in search of a mate. Only the male has the distinctive orange-tipped wings, the female resembles other small white butterflies making it hard to identify in flight.
The short stretch of the Old Lane has evolved into a miniature dell, perfect despite its proximity to the road. Fresh, green Ferns were uncoiling on the bank while Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum), Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea) and Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) created a carpet of pink, white and electric blue. Several Hawthorn trees (Crataegus monogyna), of venerable years, lined the glade, their trunks gnarled and knotted. The tiny, newly-formed leaves adorning them almost looked out of place against their aged bark. Some trees were covered in Ivy that was so old it resembled a strange species of hirsute, thick-bodied snake entwined around their trunks.
Continuing in a clockwise direction around the reserve we passed the blackened remains of some Jelly Ear Fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae), our glorious display of Scarlet Elf Cups (Sarcoscypha austriaca) having long disappeared. Woody-looking Bracket Fungus still clung to the sides of Birch stumps, looking, and feeling, as if it had been carved out of the very trees it had helped destroy.
As we approached the North end of the reserve, we looked up into the canopy which was rapidly developing into clouds of various shades of green, in fact the only trees that did not have any sign of leaf growth were the Chestnut. Amidst the leafy branches bird nests of various shapes and sizes could be seen, but, despite the woods being alive with birdsong, there was no sign of them being in use. We became very excited about one large nest high up in the treetops which we thought could possibly belong to a pair of Buzzards, but saw nothing to confirm this. As it happens, that nest is in perfect view, with binoculars, from one of our new seats on the upper level; we will keep watching! A climb up the winding path with its rough steps rewarded us with a lovely patch of Bluebells, more Primroses and, to my relief, a glorious little plot of Wood Anemones (Anemone nemorosa). I had been on the receiving end of a little, gentle ribbing from Lorna who, up to that point, was convinced that Wood Anemones in Quarry Wood were no’but a figment of my imagination!
We left the treetop views and returned to earth with some reluctance and continued on towards the pond, looking forward to seeing how far the Early-purple Orchids (Orchis mascula) had come on. Disappointingly, they appeared to be casualties of the dry conditions. Those that were in flower appeared to be about half their usual size, with only one plant achieving its full height at that time. Close to the suffering orchids, the distinctive leaves of the Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum) were flourishing. These were a mixture of spotted and non-spotted varieties; it will be interesting to see if there is a difference in the flowers. After treading carefully over the well-used Badger latrines at the entrance to the old Viking Camp and identifying a carpet of cube-shaped flowers as those of the Town Hall Clock (Adoxa moschatellina), it was time to move on to the pond.
We were not surprised to find that the water level had receded beyond the marker we placed on 1st January, making it around half of its normal size. Clumps of Bog Bean (Menyanthes trifoliata) and Yellow Flag Iris (Iris pseudacorus) were left high and dry and we could only imagine what happened to the frog spawn. It may be true that nature will find a way ultimately, but seeing first-hand the precarious existence of the fauna and flora in sensitive ecosystems, makes me wonder if Ma Nature is just playing a cosmic form of chess, where individuals are akin to pawns and sacrificed on Battlefield Earth to maintain the checks and balances.
Another disappointment was the presence of obvious hybridised Bluebells and a rather arrogant-looking pink Bluebell by the pondside bench, proof that the Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) have invaded our little reserve. There is a school of thought that mild weather in the early part of the year will separate the flowering times of the Bluebell species, therefore preventing the spread of hybridisation; we shall see! Looking around the dry pond bed and surrounding area we were astonished to see what appeared to be a layer of frost or snow. Closer inspection revealed it to be a fine layer of Sallow seed fallen from the Willows around the pond.
It was a joy to see several pairs of Speckled Wood Butterflies (Pararge aegeria) dancing over the reeds and dry leaves and to record our first Small Red Damsel Fly (Ceriagrion tenellum) of the year. There was no sign of our Moorhens at the time, but we found some Mallard feathers, a sign that our regular visitors were around. I hope enough of the pond survives the summer to entice them to stay!
Moving on from the pond towards the cave we found the Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum) in flower, though again not as vibrant as in previous years. If only we could have a few rainy nights! Continuing on to the old road bridge, looking much better now that we cleared the fallen trees, we had a look at the Ash saplings (Fraxinus excelsior). There was a mixture of sorry-looking trees affected by the Die-Back and those which seemed to be healthy. The monitoring shall continue!
We returned to the entrance feeling full of the joys of Spring. The sight, sounds and scents of life blossoming really does make Quarry Wood a magical place this time of year and I truly believe that a walk around our little reserve is the best therapy there is, and it’s free!
Gone were but the Winter,
Come were but the Spring,
I would go to a covert
Where the birds sing;
Spring Quiet, Christina Rosetti 1847
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Original Quarry Wood photography: Lorna Neville; img 12: Orange Tip Butterfly by Adam Skowronski, used under Creative Commons License 2.0; img 32: Speckled Wood Butterfly by Marilyn Peddle, used under CC2.0; img 33: Red Damsel Fly by Adrian Midgley, used under CC2.0.