The news blog is prepared by Brian Fellows.
THURSDAY MARCH 26 – 2020
I had my daily ‘Boris walk’ on my own this morning which gave me more opportunity to have a close look at some things. There were very few people about, so there was no problem in social distancing.
A Chiffchaff was singing in the north west corner of the meadow, as yesterday, but no Blackcap. That very early Blackcap yesterday was probably passing through.
The large Ash tree on the railway embankment is decorated with bunches of what seem to be flask-shaped female flowers. I was concerned about this Ash last year, but it now looks very much alive!
The Rowan trees on the Gwynne Johnson plantation are now sprouting leaves shielding forming flower buds.
Both yellow male and green female catkins are now open on the Grey and Goat Willows respectively. The yellow catkins were attracting lots of insects in the warm sunshine. I spotted Comma and Peacock butterflies. A yellow Brimstone fluttered past, but did not stop for a photo!
Also feeding on the catkins were Bee-fly and Drone Fly. That’s not a much of a photo of the Bee-fly, but you can see its long proboscis sticking into the flowers as it hovers.
The new track cut by the Environment Agency down to the Lumley Stream has a good selection of Primroses of various colours. While I was there I said hello to Kath over her garden wall in Rose Cottage – well distanced.
The large Weeping Willow tree is a splendid sight at the top of the south meadow – thanks are due to Brian Boak for this fine addition to the meadow flora.
The Lumley Stream continues to flow strongly with an attractive babble.
The cones of Field Horsetail are now showing on the north meadow orchid area and the Lumley area. Moorhen is a common resident of the river.
TUESDAY MARCH 24 – 2020
Note from Colin Brotherston Chair of the Brook Meadow Conservation Group
As a result of the lockdown on social contact and movement announced by the British Government yesterday there will be no scheduled work sessions on Brook Meadow until the social situation returns to normal.
There is no restriction to anyone accessing the meadow for recreation purposes within the parameters laid down by the government.
Just a little piano piece from the delightful Alma Deutcher to raise the spirits in these troubled times . . . https://youtu.be/kR3T9OjoxSM
MONDAY MARCH 23 – 2020
It was such a beautiful spring morning for an early walk – early for me that is – 10am!. With the need for social distancing in mind, I did the 5 minute walk from home along a deserted street to Brook Meadow where other people were there walking dogs, etc. Keeping to the rules, we all steered well clear of one another, giving cheery ‘Good Morning’ greeting as we passed. It was just like wartime. It did my heart good to see a couple of young lads with fishing nets on the river bank. Here are a few pictures to remind one of the beauty of the place. The south path is now dry but for a few puddles at the southern end.
The main river path is also good. The grassland is drying out, though remains very boggy in parts.
Looking across the north meadow I could just detect a tinge of green of on top of the tall Crack Willows.
The sign in the signcases was a stark reminder of good intentions
My main objective this morning was to do a final count of the Butterbur flower spikes. Today I took my time and found most of the spurs, though many were quite tiny and partly hidden amongst the burgeoning vegetation, whereas others were large and getting old and worn.
As I suspected, the total count of 198 was way down on recent years which have been consistently over 500; last year’s count was 794 and the all time record was 1,150 in 2013. As shown in the following chart, this year’s total was the lowest I have ever recorded over 20 years of counting.
Butterbur grow in several areas of the meadow, but the largest drop was in the largest area immediately below the main seat which fell to 147 from 704 last year. The smaller Butterbur sites, on the river bank, south meadow and east causeway were much the same as before.
So what has happened? There has been no special conservation work on the main Butterbur area which could account for this change. Weather is an obvious cause. This winter has been warm and wet, but I can see no obvious reason why this should disadvantage our native Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) – which are all male plants and which propagate and spread though underground rhizomes. If anyone has any idea please let me know.
SUNDAY MARCH 22 – 2020
The leaning Blackthorn on the Seagull Lane patch which conservation volunteers righted during the past week is leaning over again, presumably blown by the strong winds. Maurice tells me that volunteers will have another crack at righting it, but it is a heavy tree and the roots have loosened. Not an easy task.
Maurice, Terry and Nigel were working when I arrived this afternoon, continuing the clearance of scrub from the west bank of the river on the Seagull Lane patch. This is a big job.
I tried to carry out a Butterbur count, but it was hard work finding the flower spikes in the burgeoning vegetation. My impression that numbers are well down this year. I shall try to do a final count in a few days.
The flooding on Brook Meadow has subsided and the south meadow is open again. There are still a few big puddles on the main path, but access is fine.
I walked back through Palmer’s Road Car Park where I found a bright Comma butterfly basking in the warm sunshine on the edge of the car park.
Dan Mortimer delivered the three signcase display boards to my house. My job is now to update the displays for Dan to replace them in the cases later next week.
THURSDAY MARCH 19 – 2020
Brook Meadow workday
There was a good turn out of volunteers for the special ‘coronavirus work session’ organised by Colin Brotherston. Colin had previously outlined the conservation group’s position regarding volunteering on Brook Meadow during the coronavirus crisis. Everyone appreciated this and were keen to get on with some physical work on the meadow as a release from the doom and gloom in the news. The volunteers spaced themselves about 2 metres apart for the group photo – three more arrived after the photo had been taken.
For the full workday report with more photos go to . . . https://www.brookmeadow.org.uk/conservation-news/
TUESDAY MARCH 17 – 2020
I had a walk through Brook Meadow this morning and down to the Hermitage Millponds, keeping well clear of other people! Lots of dog walkers on the meadow. I am the only one without one! Here are a few of my observations.
Meadow Foxtail – The first spikelets of the year are now out on the north meadow (though not yet in full flower with anthers). Meadow Foxtail is always the first of the grasses to flower on Brook Meadow in the spring, but Mar 17th is exceptionally early even for Meadow Foxtail. Looking back through my records I find this is the earliest ever date for the appearance of Meadow Foxtail spikelets since I started recorded in Year 2000.
Butterbur – Many of the Butterbur flower spikes on the area below the main seat are now well developed, but many are still in bud stage. So I will delay the annual count of the flower spikes for a few more days, though I can’t leave it too long as the surrounding vegetation is also growing fast and threatens to envelop the flower spikes making them difficult to count. Last year I did the count on Mar 22.
Black Poplar – The two large Black Poplar trees on the edge of the Lumley copse are now covered in thin yellow-green catkins which I think are female; apparently male catkins would be fatter and red.
These two Poplars were planted on the meadow in November 2004 in memory of Frances Jannaway’s mother are probably hybrids, but I am not sure which hybrid. The Collins Tree Guide has a section devoted to Black Poplar hybrids, some of which are female clones and others male clones. Of the female clones I am tempted to go for ‘Florence Biondi’ (p,158) on the basis of its description as straight stemmed, graceful with fairly sparse foliage denser at the crown, but I could be wrong!
Queen Bumblebee – I watched for a few minutes a large black Queen Bumblebee with a bright red tail exploring the rough grassland on the on the edge of Lumley copse, presumably looking for a suitable site for a nest to lay eggs. I took a few photos and managed a video clip.
Identification – possibly Bombus lapidarius which Bryan Pinchen says is one of the most common species, being widespread across most of the country. Queens emerge in March and April and nests produce workers from May to August. The worker is a similar colouration to the Queen but much smaller. I will check the ID with Bryan.
Lumley Stream – Continues to flow swiftly. A video clip taken from the edge of the Lumley area.
MONDAY MARCH 16 – 2020
I walked over to Brook Meadow to look for signs of spring in wildlife. On entering the Seagull Lane gate I encountered Maurice and Terry from the conservation group working to straighten the Blackthorn tree on the west side of the Seagull Lane patch that had been partly blown over in the wind.
As Maurice said . . . “My old climbing rope that lives in HQ was useful but even with our combined strength, (Terry’s 90% and my 10%) we needed greater pulling power. Our friend Steve in Artec Engineering came to the rescue with two adjustable webbing ratchet ties and after a lot of head scratching we pulled the tree at last to an acceptable position.”
Well done, chaps.
The two workers were being closely watched by a Robin first from the handle of a fork pushed into the ground and secondly from the dark ash remains of a bonfire.
I had another look at the Ash flowers on the north path which I am fairly sure have a mixture of male and female parts as shown in the following photos. Here is the whole flower cluster with the female styles and stigmas sticking up above the coral-like male anthers which split open to release pollen. In fact, pollen can be seen sticking to various parts of the flowers.
Here are two photos taken through the microscope with the male flowers on the left and the female flowers on the right.
I was delighted to see two butterflies heralding the onset of spring, a male Brimstone and a Small Tortoiseshell, neither of which stayed still for a photo.
FRIDAY MARCH 13 – 2020
There was a positively spring-like feel to Brook Meadow when I visited this afternoon. The sun was warm, the birds were singing and it felt as if the meadow was coming to life!
It was particularly good to hear the mellifluous tones of a Blackbird wafting across the north meadow for the first time this spring. Dunnocks were busily displaying to each other. A Goldcrest and a small flock of Long-tailed Tits were busily feeding in the Cherry Plum tree on the causeway. Here is a Goldcrest photo I dug out of the archives that Malcolm Phillips took on Brook Meadow a couple of years ago.
One bird that did stay still for a photo from me was the resident female/juvenile Kestrel perched in a Black Poplar tree.
The leaning tree with roots partly exposed on the west side of the Seagull Lane patch is a Blackthorn not as I previously thought a Prunus.
CORRECTION: My thanks to David Search for pointing out that Blackthorn is a Prunus! Prunus spinosa. I should have said it was not Cherry Plum (Prunus cerasifera ‘Pissardii’)
It is now in full blossom with attractive white flowers.
Leaves are now starting to emerge on the Hawthorns on the Seagull Lane patch. Leaves on Hawthorn always precede the blossom, whereas in Blackthorn it is the other way round.
There is a good stack of logs near the river from the work of Maurice and Terry earlier in the week.
As I walked along the main raised path, it was good to hear the rippling of the river which is still flowering swiftly.
The river is still bubbling over the sluice gate forming a stream of water down the south path which remains closed, but is not seriously flooded.
I was amused to see a pair of Mallard clambering over the sluice gate.
The Butterbur flower spikes are growing fast, but so is the surrounding vegetation which will soon cover the flowers. So I shall have to do my annual count of the Butterbur spikes very soon while they are visible.
The Osiers on the east side of the north meadow are always the first of the pussy willow catkins to show.
Reminder: Dan and I will have to update the signcases in the coming week.
MONDAY MARCH 9 – 2020
While on Brook Meadow this morning, I came across Maurice Lillie and Terry Lay on the Seagull Lane patch collecting up sawn logs and branches from the recent tree surgery to create a log pile. Here is Terry at work.
I stopped to admire the interesting patterns of rings and cracks that had been created on the sawn stumps.
I had a closer look at the bracket fungi growing on a fallen Crack Willow tree on the river bank that Terry had alerted me to previously. I am fairly sure they are good examples of Common Ganoderma (Ganoderma adsperum) – now renamed Southern Bracket (Ganoderma australe).
Maurice and Terry had already placed some of the sawn Willow stumps in an attractive circle in the area of Frank’s seat and the Cherry trees on the west side of the north meadow.
The river is still running very high and is brimming over the sluice gate into the south meadow which remains impassable without boots.
Here is a view of the river looking north from the observation fence – the banks are nicely clear of excess vegetation for the time being, though this will change with the growing season.
FRIDAY MARCH 5 – 2020
What a difference a day makes! I went over to the meadow on this bright and sunny morning mainly to have a look for the fungi that Terry Lay found while he and Maurice Lillie were making a dead hedge along the west river bank in the Seagull Lane patch a couple of days ago. By chance, Maurice was on the meadow when I got there, so we looked together for Terry’s fungi. Despite a good deal of scrambling and searching we failed to locate any fungi on the west bank of the river.
However, looking across from the east bank of the river, I could clearly see at least four bracket fungi on a fallen Crack Willow. From a distance, I am fairly sure they are Common Ganoderma (Ganoderma adsperum) – now renamed Southern Bracket (Ganoderma australe). We have had these large very woody bracket fungi on the meadow before, though not often, so Terry’s was a good find.
Here is a shot looking across to the west bank with the arrow pointing to the fungi.
Here is a close up of the four of the fungi.
Walking along the north path I was very pleased to see the black flower buds on the large Ash tree with purplish male flowers starting to show. I do not recall this tree flowering at all last year. Maybe this is a sign of the tree’s good health? I shall keep an eye on it.
As for the younger Ash saplings along the north path, some of them appear to be dead or dying from Ash die-back disease.
Maurice told me that Michael Reed had been on the meadow a few days ago to cut off the large Crack Willow trunk that had been leaning low over the path which meant one had to duck down to avoid cracking one’s head. The photo shows the path now has a nice clear run with the offending branch removed.
The river is now running very high after yesterday’s deluge and as can be seen in the photo the water was topping the sluice gate and streaming onto the south meadow. The two chaps wading through the flood are from the Environment Agency and they had just placed ‘Footpath Closed’ signs at the two ends of the main south path and padlocked the south gate. Maurice has asked them for a key so we can open the gate once the flood subsides. Last time there was a flood the gate was closed for a long period after the water had gone. Here is a shot looking south . .
Here is a shot from the south gate showing the ‘Footpath Closed’ notice and the padlocked gate.
SUNDAY MARCH 1- 2020
Brook Meadow Workday
There was a turn out of 10 volunteers for this morning’s first work session of the new month.
See the following page for a full report with photos and videos . . . https://www.brookmeadow.org.uk/conservation-news/
SATURDAY FEBRUARY 22 – 2020
During a stroll through Brook Meadow this afternoon I was very pleased to get a good view of a female/juvenile Kestrel hunting. Kestrel is a fairly common bird around the meadow, but this was my first sighting of the year. The following photo and video clip shows the bird perched in a tall Crack Willow tree, peering down, looking for sign of prey. I saw it drop down a couple of times, though seemingly not catching anything.
Video clip of the Kestrel . . .
I searched around the main Butterbur site below the central seat and managed to find a few spikes starting to flower. I shall be doing my annual count of this striking plant in about a month.
Walking along the causeway towards the Lumley gate I stopped to admire the glorious while blossom on the Cherry Plum tree which does not seem to have suffered from being severely cut back by conservation volunteers during the winter. The white blossom contrasts nicely with the yellow of the Gorse.