Wildlife diary April 2017
8th April. An abundance of flowers
So far, 2017 seems to be a very good year for wild flowers. Wood Anemones are blooming profusely throughout the Ancient Woodland areas and we can't remember seeing as many primroses in recent years.
What do you think? Do there seem to be more flowers than usual?
Cowslips, like Primroses are members of the primula family and they are just beginning to come into bloom but, once again there really do seem to be a lot of them coming up. Look particularly at the small patch of grass south of Top Lodge, just opposite the orchard. Over the years this has been managed as a traditional meadow by Fineshade residents and last autumn it was mown and raked as recommended by the Wildlife Trust who have designated the meadow and orchard as a Local Wildlife Site.
One particular clump of flowers are already out, but they don't look quite right for Cowslips, nor for Primroses. We think these are "False Oxlips" - a cross between the two types of primula. The true Oxlip is a species in its own right but is nationally rare and does not occur in Northants.
Primroses blooming beside the stream
Wood Anemones - an indicator of Ancient Woodland
This may be False Oxlip on the meadow at Top Lodge
Barren Strawberry - lots of these can be seen in Westhay Wood
Throughout Fineshade there are Wild Cherry trees and they are looking at their best now. The ones planted 65 years ago around the green and elsewhere at Top Lodge are particularly attractive at this time of year - attractive both to the human eye and to many bees and other insects.
Elsewhere, in the Ancient Woodland areas, bluebell buds are beginning to emerge and the spotted rosettes of Early Purple Orchids can be seen. We wonder whether these too will be most abundant than usual in 2017?
Wild Cherry blossom, illuminated by the setting sun
14th April. Crossbills probably bred
Common Crossbills have been turning up from time to time over the last few months and it now seems probable that they have bred in Fineshade.
Back in December we first reported that these attractive birds were being seen and photographed from the Wildlife Hide. Then, in early January, Terry Tew recorded two signs of probable breeding evidence. Crossbills are quite exceptional in that they can start to breed in the winter, rather than waiting for spring like most other woodland birds.
The first indication of nest building was the sight if the green female carrying a feather in her bill - almost certainly this would have been used to line a nest high up in one of the conifers near the hide.
Then, a little later, Terry captured a brief piece of video which clearly shows the male landing on the female's back and mating with her. It was all over in the blink of an eye but the still images below confirm what was happening.
We carried out a discreet search for a nest but were unable to locate one.
Female carrying nest-lining material. Photo Terry Tew
However, 7 weeks later in late February Mark Evans & Steve Thornton recorded a possible family flock of 4 Crossbills flying over near Top Lodge. Since then adults have continued to turn up - see John Atkins' pictures below.
Above: A pair of Crossbills mating in January in the Wild Service Tree in front of the wildlife hide. Photos Terry Tew
Below: A female and male Crossbill seen at the hide in April: Photos John Atkins
20th April. An Oak in spring
This Oak is in one of the widened rides in Westhay Wood, the southern part of Fineshade. Just look at its shape - any forester would be proud of this! And the buds are now bursting with exuberant vitality.
24th April. It's bluebell time
Now is the perfect time to appreciate Fineshade's bluebells. Look at them en masse and appreciate the deep swathes of blue rippling in the wind. Or get in close and see the perfection of form of the individual florets.
The Bluebell is the sweetest flower
That waves in summer air:
Its blossoms have the mightiest power
To soothe my spirit's care.
First verse of "The Bluebell" by Emile Bronte