Nature Notes August 2021

Taking a Closer Look

Verges in mid June 2021

Whilst following a regular walk along Sandmead Road I decided to make a list of plants that were there now and the remains of earlier spring ones. Here is the list: All common but lovely to see them together and not cut back – primrose, bluebell, cow parsley, hogweed, dock, sorrel, daisy, goose grass, common cranesbill, Ladies bedstraw, herb Robert, chickweed, wood avens, dandelion, meadow thistle, nettle, Jack- by -the -Hedge, white clover, ivy, sow thistle, buttercup, red campion, plantain(hairy and ribwort), field and hedge bindweed, sweet woodruff, silver weed plus a variety of ferns including mother’s tongue and many grasses such as Yorkshire fog and fescues. That is 28 flowering plants plus grasses and ferns.

The next day they had all been cut back leaving some escapees beneath the hedges. How sad. They were doing no harm but adding to the interest of walking along the road and more importantly providing a habitat and food for many creatures.

Growing New Feathers for the autumn and winter

   Every year birds renew all their feathers to make themselves ready for harder weather. This year the geese here moulted at least 2 months earlier than usual. Feathers of all sizes strew the ground and the pond so at first sight it looks as if a fox has attacked them. Immediately replacements begin to grow and it is fascinating to watch new feathers break through and start to replace the old. The geese are always meticulous in preening (grooming) their feathers no more so then now. They spend several hours a day dealing with each feather I suppose making sure that they are oiled and in just the right place

 New feathers looking a bit ruffled awaiting full growth and some serious attention

New tail and wing feathers just pushing through

    One goose is always on guard looking out for potential danger whilst the others relax but on this very hot day the goose on watch just kept dropping off to sleep try as he might to keep his eyes open

It’s so hard to keep my eyes open!

Setting up a New Hive of Honey Bees

   A new hive of honey bees is often made by ‘rescuing’ a swarm. A swarm is protecting the old queen that has been ejected from her hive by a newer replacement. She takes about half the worker bees with her who protect her whilst scout bees search for a new home. A beekeeper dislodges the swarm by a quick shake of the branch or similar into a nuclear box. As long as the queen is inside the workers will surely follow.

A starter home
Foundation for the frames

   Fortunately for me, a friend, Andy Mathieson offered to settle a new swarm into my garden. At first they lived in this small nuclear box ‘nuc’ which contained a few frames for them to build up cells in order for the queen to lay eggs, hatch larvae and store honey and pollen (see above)

   The life of a worker bee includes 3 stages of about 21 days each. It takes about 21 days to grow from an egg to an adult. Then a further 21 days to carry out household, cleaning and feeding duties in the hive and lastly about 21 days to forage outside and take supplies to the hive and then she dies but the queen is laying more and more eggs….. and so it continues.

   After a week or so the bees had filled their given frames and had begun to make their own comb as seen in the bottom right of the picture near Andy’s left hand. A new frame is needed.

Some cells are already capped to protect larvae whist at the bottom right tiny larva can be seen in uncapped cells. They are later capped with wax whilst the larvae pupate
Checking for the queen
National hive with new frames of foundation

   The frames in the nuc are closely checked especially to find the queen which we did and then placed in the new national hive. Ten frames are placed in the new hive. When new the frames , made of wood, are fitted with foundation made of wax which the bees will ’draw out’ to the well known hexagonal 3d shape ready for their use

Book Recommendation

The Consolation of Nature. Spring in the time of Coronavirus by Michael McCarthy, Jeremy Wynott and Peter Marren.

   It was the best of times for the most glorious spring ever, but it was the worst of times because a tiny virus had cut us off from normal life However these observations of three naturalists capture the contradiction that many of us experienced. Were we allowed to enjoy ourselves when hundreds were dying? Was it OK to listen to bird song while NHS staff were sweating in PPE to keep our fellow citizens alive?

   Confined to their own localities in Suffolk, Berkshire and south west London these three senior naturalists kept diaries of their encounters with nature and their thoughts about wildlife in the time of coronavirus over a period of about 3 months. All observe closely and describe everyday spring events so well. They experienced the things that many of us heard or saw too, such as brimstones on the wing, primroses in the hedgerows and woods and the songs of resident and migrant birds filling spring dawns and then, my favourite, the arrival of swallows, house martens and last of all swifts. If others did not keep diaries this will be a reminder of how life happened. Nature kept on track as usual but humans not so.

End Pieces

  • The verbascum recovered completely and produced a flower in 3 weeks only.  What amazing power nature has to survive.
  • If anyone is creating a meadow I have many yellow rattle plants from which seeds may be extracted but they must be used now. E-mail
Gasping for breath This heat is too much

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