Monday, 16 December 2019

Birds busy gorging on autumn berries but what’s happened to bats?

Birds busy gorging on autumn berries but what’s happened to bats?

I AWOKE to near total darkness, incessant rain and gloom as we had changed back to Greenwich Mean Time during the night.

Then suddenly the weather brightened up.

As I stepped outside, a flock of fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) flew by, heading westwards in search of a bounty of fuel in the form of berries.

These birds are one of our most handsome winter migrants. They cross the North Sea to spend the winter months here before returning to Scandinavia and a Nordic spring to raise their young and perpetuate another cycle of avian life.

What lovely birds they are with their noteworthy plumage — a brown-speckled but creamy chest, brown wings, greyish head, dark brown legs.

They make a “chack chack” noise as they move across the sky, sometimes in large numbers.

About the size of our resident mistle thrush, the fieldfare is a most welcome tourist to our shores. It is a close relative of our indigenous blackbird and song thrush.

Beautiful and smaller redwings will soon follow to gobble up all the red-hued and nutritious autumn fruits on show. Two-way traffic if ever I’ve seen it. More berries, more birds and vice-versa.

I’m also anticipating the arrival of dainty little redpolls and siskins, which are sometimes difficult to see up close, not to mention the occasional influx of waxwings that often show up in a super-cold winter snap.

Waxwings have been known to gorge themselves on the fruits of the trees planted outside the Tesco store in Henley.

Today, I am taking a stroll through Clayfield Copse and Blackhouse Wood in Emmer Green with my friend Luke and his mother Sam and then northwards towards Dunsden Green before returning through open country.

It is breezy but comfortable. Leaves flutter down to cover the sometimes muddy pathways and a riot of autumnal colour is growing deeper, like a set of oil paints.

There is a huge variety of trees and this sylvan world smells good.

There are fungi, nuts and acorns while the helicopter-like seeds of field maple, sycamore and Norway maple spin down to rest at our feet. More trees for the future.

All local species of sedge and spurge look content and ready to hunker down for a cold snap. It’s a really great day to be out.

There are plenty of dead and decaying trees around, part and parcel of the cycle of dendrological life.

A pair of magpies that resemble Thirties gangsters are patrolling their territory. An unhappy jay protests.

We surprise a startled blackbird and it disappears into a thicket.

Leaving the cover of trees and the rooty narrow paths, we head towards the award-winning Loddon Brewery.

My friends meet an old pal, Phil, and admire some vintage tractors while I scan the sky for birdlife. I see only two kites but I admire the way that they ride the air so effortlessly. Always inquisitive, they are looking at me as I stare at them. I’d love to see one closer up.

Today was special as I recorded so many species and also introduced a new young friend to the wonders of woodland and the beauty of the individual species of trees that conspire to make a tiny bit of heaven on earth.

I’ve noticed far fewer bats flying about this autumn. They should be eating moths and other insects to build up their reserves to hibernate in tree crevices, gaps in the eaves of our roofs and other natural bolt-holes during the winter. Clearly there are not enough insects.

Agricultural and garden pesticides have been implicated in the demise of these wonderful creatures. So much damage has been done to our environment that I worry about what will survive in years to come.

This is not to mention the pumpkin and throwaway plastic-filled pollution-fest called Halloween.

There truly is an emerging disaster. We’ve nearly got rid of disposable plastic bags, so why not plastic toys and the unnecessary wrapping of everything from greetings cards to fruit?

Returning to Caversham, I take a look at a deodar tree in my mother’s back garden.

A native of the western Himalayas, it is an elegant tree with bark that is nearly black. It provides not just a roost for pipistrelle bats and tawny owls but nesting sites for goldcrests, greenfinches, wood pigeons, jays and magpies. Majestic.

I also visit Rosemary Henderson, a regular Henley Standard correspondent, at her home in Henley Road, Caversham, to help identify some of her wonderful photographs of birds.

She guides me around her garden, which is like a small arboretum full of rarities. Monkey puzzle, Kashmir cypress, flagpole, pocket handkerchief and mahogany trees stand aside a Wollemi pine and a golden Indian bean tree. Below are ferns and witch hazel living alongside Japanese maples. It is an absolute delight.

Rosemary shows me some of her photos, which are of excellent quality. I especially like the one of a wheatear taken near Willow Marina in Wargrave. It’s so beautiful. I have only seen these birds in northern Spain.

Rosemary and I will soon be exploring the countryside together, so expect to see more of her wonderful photography.

What a busy and fruitful time I’ve had.

Vincent Ruane

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