A WOMAN has walked the distance from Land’s End ... [more]
Thursday, 24 June 2021
ROSEMARY wants to visit Kingwood Common. She’s quite unequivocal. She longs to see the enormous spreads of bluebells that lie beyond Coldmoor Wood.
We go early as the weather forecast is for rain and possibly hail in the afternoon.
From Emmer Green, we drive along Peppard Road, through Sonning Common and after a rise in the road bear left towards Peppard Hill and the bus terminus. We then head down bumpy Colmore Lane past the Unicorn pub and park in a convenient spot.
After admiring some yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon), we walk north in the direction of Witheridge Hill.
To our left some wild crab apple trees (Malus sylvestris) are full of sumptuous blossom in an area of heath. Gorse is flowering too. We dive in for a closer look. Much work has been carried out here to keep this attractive patch open to the sun and free of scrub.
There is an impressive array of plants on the lane’s sides — woodruff, wood spurge, common figwort, dog violets, dog’s mercury, primroses, dandelion, red dead-nettle, various ferns, green alkanet, ground ivy, bluebells, both blue and white, and wood anemones.
Some of the trees are extraordinary, twisted and multi-trunked in the case of oak and beech, and covered with mosses as high as the eye can see. Silver birches stand as if in a form of vigil. Evergreen hollies lurk in the interior and woodbine creeps through.
A tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum), a recent colonist from mainland Europe, is having the time of its life in the alkanet flowers. I love the sound of bumblebees in flight. Chiffchaffs seem to be everywhere as this is a perfect setting for them.
Nominally migrant, the males arrive first to claim territory. When the females turn up, they choose a nesting site on or close to the ground and begin building a spherical nest with a wide front entrance made of grass and leaves and sometimes moss and lichen too. (The males do help, I hasten to add.)
Out here on the common the nests will be built in long grass or under heather or gorse.
We pass Blue House and approach a crossroads, where we turn right on to a bridleway that leads to Satwell and enter the northern side of Coldmoor Wood.
The leaves of beech trees are coming into their own, a light translucent green as sunlight shines through. They are beautiful when they emerge in May before taking on a deeper hue in summer and finally fall, copper-coloured, at the end of autumn.
Underneath the trees hollies and hazels glow, the former’s leaves shining like silver. Green woodpeckers laugh, or yaffle.
Rosemary spots a fallen oak and declares that it looks like a Martian tripod from H G Wells’s The War of the Worlds. I think it has too many legs but it is an arresting sight.
We make our way down through the woods to the valley floor and a spectacular sight — vast drifts of bluebells, wood anemones, goldilocks buttercup and lesser celandine, all in flower under the trees, blue, white and yellow. Wood millet (Milium effusum), a grass, is present, too.
It is breathtaking, so beautiful and a combination only to be seen in Britain. Whichever way you look, it’s simply stunning.
This is a comforting place and we could spend all day down here as it has that all-important feelgood factor. The peace is only broken by a noisy mountain biker going for it with determination up the hill northwest towards Satwell.
We take a bridleway to the north, past Oveys Wood to our right, Greyhone Plantation to our left. The overall theme is the same, now joined by silver birch, oak and hazel with flowers everywhere and bumblebees on a mission. The lovely, diminutive but colourful flowering plants grow tight up to tree trunks in an endearing way.
A wren breaks into strident, loud song, incredible for such a small bird. It’s Latin name is Troglodytes troglodytes, meaning cave dweller. Lovely. Like the chiffchaff, the wren builds a nest with a side entrance but with a difference. The male chooses the nesting site and will build up to eight different nests which can be placed almost anywhere, from holes in old walls to tangled thickets, sometimes ripping up one of last year’s nests to rebuild elsewhere.
Made of lichens and moss, the nests are normally constructed close to the ground and are well concealed. The male will leave each nest unlined until the female makes her choice after a brief courtship and, if she likes him, she will fill her chosen nest with bits of hair, feathers and occasionally sheep’s wool.
The superfluous nests don’t go wasted. The male will spend the night in one or other and after just over two weeks will be joined by his mate and their youngsters. How cute is that?
Pheasants sound off, “kor-kok”. They are somewhat dim birds but the males are polygamous and normally have a few females on the go. He leaves all parental duties to his harem.
Their nest is a shallow hollow on the ground lined normally with grass and often hidden in a clump of common nettles. The eggs are a glossy olive colour.
Once, as a teenager, I was exploring a copse and accidentally trod on the tail of a camouflaged female. She flew off minus tail feathers to reveal a clutch of about a dozen eggs. I felt desperately guilty.
As we walk on slowly, our favourite woodland grass wood melick (Melica uniflora) grows in profusion alongside common male-ferns (Dryopteris filix-mas). Ancient badger tracks are everywhere. On our right, we pass some green metal fencing that shores off part of Oveys Wood. To our left, Greyhone Plantation and Greyhone Wood are both “open access”. What a contrast.
Song thrushes sing their repetitive phrases on the woodland’s fringes.
The birds will be nesting now in dense undergrowth. The nest is unusual when compared with that of other members of the thrush family. Made of dry grass, twigs, lichen and moss, the bowl is fashioned with a solid mixture of soil, saliva and wood mould.
Two clutches of eggs are laid, the first in April or May, the second in June or July. The light-blue eggs are slightly speckled and shiny.
Male blackbirds are in full song, too. Unlike the song thrush, there is no repetition, only a varied and flute-like delivery. An old friend of mine used to refer to one in his garden as “Caruso”.
The blackbird’s nest is made of similar materials to the song thrush minus the hard interior, placed in dense foliage by choice of both the male and female. They can raise three broods from April onwards. The eggs are greenish-blue and speckled.
We press on and take a turn uphill to our left. It’s quite steep so we go slowly, hand in hand.
Douglas firs planted after the Second World War dominate and western hemlock-spruce is growing with vigour.
Inside the conifers we hear the tinkling of goldcrests, our tiniest bird.
Their little nests, although small, are far bigger than the birds and narrow towards the top to prevent the eggs falling out in high winds. Mainly constructed with moss and lichen, cobwebs are used throughout to hold the structure together. Clever.
A whitethroat (Sylvia communis) rattles away in a nearby thicket. Like the wren, the male builds several, largely makeshift, flimsy looking nests close to the ground that are later completed by the female.
Cocoon silk is used to hold the structure together deep inside a bramble or any other suitable bush. The yellowish eggs bear reddish spots.
We return home for lunch and, as predicted, the heavens open. The garden needs it so we are happy with that.
Rosemary scatters the seeds of toadflax, common comfrey, meadow cranesbill, cornflower, fragrant nicotiana, Californian poppies, field scabious and ox-eye daisy in both front and back gardens. We already have ox-eyes bursting forth by our burgeoning wild service tree that is growing at a rate of knots, as are our crab, whitebeam, limes and red oak trees.
We sit outside to take the last rays of sunlight. The birds have already turned in and we will follow suit shortly. After rough winds, it is so pleasant to hear the gentle rustle of a kind breeze through our trees. They are all coming into leaf, multicoloured, strong and purposeful.
We are just awaiting our vast array of plug plants and two bat boxes that we ordered online. We do everything in our power to help nature. Come on, you swifts, swallows and house martins, we love you all.
17 May 2021
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