Monday, 17 January 2022

Nature reserve on my doorstep makes me feel happy (shots excepted)

Nature reserve on my doorstep makes me feel happy (shots excepted)

AFTER a pretty wet spell, things have brightened up somewhat so I decide to visit the nature reserve on my doorstep, Clayfield Copse and the adjoining Blackhouse Wood.

I have not paid a visit since October and I wonder how it looks and what I will find.

Before setting off, I take a brief look at Emmer Green pond. A smallish willow has been blown down into the water but does not seem to be in any state of distress. Otherwise all looks to be in good shape with yellow iris (Iris pseudacorus) in bloom.

The previous afternoon, as I gazed accross the water, I spied three large red-eared terrapins (Trachemys scripta elegans) sunbathing on the small island in the middle of the pond.

These cold-blooded non-natives became the pet of choice for many children in the late Eighties as a result of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze. Then the owners became bored with them and clearly ditched them in our pond. Maybe they are the reason for the decline in the population of our local frogs.

A pair of semi-tame greylag geese (Anser anser) moved on some weeks back and I miss them. A cormorant flies eastwards, presumably heading for the gravel pits near Sonning. These birds always seem to be moving back to front with their long necks and short tails.

Some starlings alight on my TV aerial and I can hear the chatter of house sparrows in nearby School Lane. How I’ve missed them.

I look skywards before I leave home and decide to take an umbrella with me. I’m glad that I do because as I cross Caversham Park Road the skies open. I cross the road and take cover under an old beech tree, hoping that the downpour will not send me back home.

The rain relents and the sun comes out. I’m happy. Water drips from the trees at the slightest hint of a breeze and the earth smells pleasant. A song thrush starts to sing as if to tell me it’s safe to move on.

As I walk northwards through the trees along the now half-muddy track, it is odd to think of the vast old chalk mines that lie beneath my feet. Pendulous and wood sedges (Carex pendula and sylvatica) on either side of the pathway are doing very well.

The trees and shrubs are now in full leaf, all a fresh green as I look at the canopy above. Many of the oaks here are straight and true as if I’m walking through a green cathedral.

There are so many species of trees and shrubs here that it is easy to lose count. Wych elm, rowan, hornbeam, sweet chestnut, wild service and wild pear. I count about 23 natives along with a cluster of cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani), a legacy of once being part of Caversham Park.

Dogwood, guelder rose, field rose and spurge laurel make up the understorey with holly and honeysuckle all about.

As I cross the boundary into Blackhouse Wood, a family of long-tailed tits moves along the woodland edge, a green woodpecker “yaffles” somewhere in a group of common limes. Greenfinches call in the distance.

Moving to the old dip. I see some beech trees with scarred trunks. Has someone been shooting at them for target practice? I don’t like it.

In the far corner some elegant foxgloves stand proud above the bracken that lies underneath the silver birches.

Stepping outside the old trees to where once was just grassland a new woodland is emerging. The colonising ash trees are clearly in trouble but among them oak and birch are prospering.

A strip of meadow that separates the old from the new reveals some blue-flowered meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense) and the red-flowered hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica).

I don’t know why I don’t come here more often.

Returning homewards through Clayfield Copse, I spot some scarce sanicle (Sanicula europaea) under the beech trees.

A jay cackles as I take my leave but I’m not too sure about these birds as they maraud like magpies for fledglings. Yet when I visit my mother later she is feeding one at her feet with granules of suet. Is it tame or just confident? Out in the woods you would never get this close. They’ll be coming indoors next.

Vincent Ruane

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