Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Awaiting call of chiffchaff

THE cloud of white in the hedgerows is blackthorn, flowering early this year, before the leaves have emerged, which will produce sloes in the autumn.

Their astringent tannin is diminished by frost in the same way as the sugar content of sprouts, carrots and grapes is enhanced.

It is the favoured bush of little birds as it so dense and prickly and of the brown hairstreak butterfly, which has orange wing undersides and lays its eggs here for the emerging caterpillars to feed — one of the 11 British species which feeds on leaves of shrubs or trees.

The hawthorn, also a prunus, is pushing out tiny leaves in favoured spots. These are delicious to eat when very fresh, a valuable source of vitamins in harder times.

Their appearance heralds the return of the yellowhammer (some do stay all year) singing “a little bit of bread and NO cheese”.

One ladybird emerged in the house and I found one in the beech woods and hoped it found safe refuge when a hail shower rattled through.

This disturbed the flock of birds feeding under trees — the chaffinches flew off but the pair of great tits only rose to the lower branches, calling “teacher teacher” to each other.

The most eagerly heralded call is that of the chiffchaff — it really does say chiff chaff — to announce its spring return but it needs more than one ladybird, indeed a ladybird may be too coarse for its fine, pointed beak.

You are unlikely to see the chiffchaff as it is the ultimate nondescript little brown bird, slimmer and finer than a robin, browner than a willow warbler, calling from within a tree rather than from the top.

During the recent Henley litter pick day I found a huge toad squashed on Greys Hill, heading towards Greys Road, but where is there a pond in that direction for it was loaded with eggs to lay urgently.

You may have already seen the strings of toad spawn, as opposed to the clumps laid by frogs. Either way, please report them on freshwaterhabitats.org.uk/
spawnsurvey2017 or look for identification help at pondnet survey options.

There is a simple form to fill in and you will be asked to name your humble garden pool, thus we can put another aspect of Henley on the map!

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