Nature Notes 2012-2016
NATURE NOTES – 2012 – 2016 collated
Brenda Hudson (and August Mark Huckerby)
January 2012 - Tennyson’s description of Nature as ‘red in tooth and claw’ certainly applied to my neighbour’s experience in a nearby field recently. She saw a Green Woodpecker on the ground, being attacked by three black birds. In her enthusiasm to drive the attackers away she didn’t see whether they were Rooks (with black beaks) or Crows (with grey beaks). The poor woodpecker was taken to the vet who did not feel that anything could be done to save it as the head was so damaged, but suspected that the bird was already weak. It would seem that the villains were Crows, and it is with good reason that they are known as Carrion Crows as carrion provides a good bit of their diet. I have also know Crows attack weak new born lambs and trapped sheep on occasions and although they are less gregarious than Rooks they can get together in small groups in winter.
We had a more attractive experience on Broom Hill some days ago when a Muntjac deer ran through the trees and, having had a good look at us, went into a nearby garden. These small deer are the earliest known species and have spread rapidly since they escaped from Woburn where they were introduced in the 19th century. Their numbers have increased so fast because they don’t have a particular rutting season but can mate at any time. They eat any forest food including shoots leaves and berries as well as bark and acorns. It may be that the cleared patches in the leaf cover on Broom Hill resulted from a search for acorns. Fortunately, as far as worried gardeners have discovered, they do not have a taste for Bluebells so our wonderful displays may be safe.
January 2013 - It is good to find that Barn Owls are becoming more common in this area, and the provision of nest boxes in the region may be encouraging them to breed round here. One has been seen on a number of occasions around the Drift above Valley Farm and another, or perhaps the same one, was seen at dusk flying up behind Church Cottages. They are particularly keen to feed on small mammals and the rough ground in that area provides good shelter for small mice and voles.
While the Barn Owl is usually seen at dusk, the Little Owl is out and about in daytime and obligingly will perch near its nest. One has been seen on several occasions by a parishioner on the road leading up to Hemingstone Church sitting on a fence post. These birds were introduced to Britain around the end of the last century and have spread widely.
It is only since we have been hearing about Ash dieback that I have made an effort to look out for these trees and I have been surprised to find how many there are in the parish and in the countryside in general. I was told of a suspected case in a garden in Lower Road and we went to examine the tree. We could none of us decide from looking at the remaining leaves on the tree if it was infected. We all thought that if it had got the fungus, it was at an early stage. We will have to wait until next year to find out. Although diseased trees in nurseries and plantations have to be destroyed, the advice from Defra, it seems, is not to fell infected mature trees straight away. The hope for saving some Ash trees will be to identify the resistant specimens and grow seed from them. We must hope for the best.
January 2014 - “Which came first, the chicken or the egg” is a tiresome question we were all asked as children, but I have often applied it to question of the naming of living organisms. The Binomial System initiated by Linnaeus in the 18th century, gave each organism two names using Latin as the generally understood international language in Europe. Names of plants and animals had been different in different countries and, particularly with plants, different names for the same plant in English. The first of the two Latin names linked very similar organisms and the second described only the one species itself. By this system we all became known as Homo sapiens. Thus they had to start from scratch choosing Latin names for plants and animals when previously they only had a variety of, often very descriptive, common names. For instance, there is an invasive plant, introduced to Britain in the 19th century, growing in the stream that runs from Hemingstone through Coddenham, which is a close relation of a native plant originally with the common name of Touch-me-not. It was well named, as the seed pods explode on touching, firing the seeds some distance. The Latin name given to it is Impatiens noli-tangere, which is a direct translation. I recently saw a robust fleshy plant, growing beside the drive up to Coddenham House, which I think is Chenopodium bonus-henricus. It was probably introduced into this country in Roman times and its common name, unsurprisingly, is Good King Henry, again I suppose, a straight translation. On the other hand a weed, which often pops up in our garden, is Galinsoga parviflora. It seems that this plant was first introduced into this country in the mid-19th century from S. America. It now has the common name of Gallant Soldier, surely taken from the Latin one. So I still can’t answer the first question. Any ideas?
January 2015 - I shall close our computer when I have finished this article and the machine offers me a choice of options when I do this. One is “sleep”, which allows the programmes to start again quickly, “shut down” is a complete switch off, but a third option is “hibernate” which is something between the two. It is interesting that the computer wizards found this last name, usually applied to a similar state in wild life, as appropriate for their machine. Strictly speaking, hibernation applies only to warm blooded animals when they slow up all their body processes in cold weather when food is scarce. It is indeed a deep form of sleep and disturbing this state can waste all the energy they have preserved. However we also apply the term to reptiles and amphibians when they become dormant during cold months and interrupting this dormant state is not so drastic.
This was fortunate for the Slow worm shown in the photo above, which was discovered in a compost heap in the allotments. It was quickly reburied in this warm rotting material as these cold bloodied animals are unable to warm themselves enough in cold weather to become active.
I have continued to look at Ash trees growing round the parish to see if we have any distinct signs of Ash die back. It does occur in this part of Suffolk but as far as I can see we don’t have any infected trees yet. One thing I was reminded of when looking at our local trees was something that has always puzzled me. The bunches of “keys”, the winged seeds hanging in clumps from the branches, are obvious at this time of year when the leaves have fallen, are found on some trees or parts of trees but not at all on others. The computer was no help with this but books came up with the answer. It seems that the unfortunate Ash trees are totally sexually confused. Some trees have all male flowers while others have all female flowers, some are all male with one or two female branches while others are the other way round. In other trees some branches are male one year and female the next! This confusion, however, seems to allow them to reproduce successfully as we can often find local seedlings.
January 2016 - A weed, it is said, is only a plant in the wrong place. This is certainly true of the unwelcome arrivals in our flower and vegetable beds, but the ability of plants to disperse their seeds so effectively gives us some unexpected treats. The walk I frequently take to the Coddenham Shop must be a trip of about a hundred yards down the High Street but in that short distance I have identified twenty three different species of flowering plants which have, in most cases, germinated in the cracks between the road or pavement and house walls. This is not including species of grasses, apart from a most ornamental clump of Slender False-brome which grows by the road at the end of our parking place. These plants may be classified as weeds but they certainly add to the pleasure of walking on a busy stretch of road. Some of these have escaped from gardens such as the odd Antirrhinum, Buddleia and Campanula along with the clumps of Red Valerian which also finds a home in cracks in walls but many of these never manage to produce flowers in their limited growing area. Stinking Hellebore and Oxeye Daisies, however, are more comfortable and may give one some blossom as will Hairy Bitter-cress with its explosive seed pods which scatter seeds far and wide to the detriment of our vegetable garden. The clumps of Yellow Corydalis growing out of the wall below the Club have had some charming yellow bouquets of flowers earlier this year. However my favourite plant at the moment is a specimen of Spotted Hawkweed in full bloom in a pavement crack opposite the pub. Its particular distinction is the rosette of leaves spotted with deep purple which give it its name. I hope this is not tidied away before it has produced some seeds as I would give these pride of place in our garden.
February 2012 - This winter must have been as confusing for Grey Squirrels as it has been for the rest of us. We saw three performing their graceful gymnastic antics a few days ago on Broom Hill and they seemed as active as at any other time of year. Of course these squirrels don't hibernate but they usually spend colder weather sleeping for longer periods in their nests, or dreys, at periods when food is hard to find. These dreys may be in suitable holes in trees or in forks in tree branches where they look like large bird nests but they have a roof over the top, a better design if you are planning to have a lengthy sleep in bad weather. This autumn must have provided plenty of food for these mainly vegetarian diners. There has been a generous crop of acorns, a fruit that Grey Squirrels, apparently, can digest whereas their red relations cannot. This may be one of the reasons why the grey is more successful in the competition for food. It seems hard that such an attractive creature should be regarded as a pest but they do a certain amount of damage, although not as much as has sometimes been blamed on them. When food is very scarce they may eat birds' eggs or small birds. Sometimes they strip sections of bark from trees to line their dreys but mostly they will use leaves and the damage done is not likely to kill the tree. As great opportunists, they will steal food from garden bird feeders, much to the annoyance of the human provider. They seem able to open all but the most robust nut feeders. However, the few hazel nuts that have been produced by our garden bush have probably been opened by Great Tits. These birds make a small hole in the shell while a squirrel will split the shell in half.
February 2013 - It is a brave person who dares to walk down the middle of Coddenham High Street these days and it is not a place you would expect to see any earth- bound wildlife. I was amazed, therefore to hear that a Muntjac deer had been seen one morning walking down the street towards the Club and then strolling up Mill Lane towards Mill Hill. Muntjac deer have been seen on a number of occasions in gardens on the north side of the High Street. As these gardens back onto Broom Hill it seems likely that these deer come into gardens from this refuge. They may be very unwelcome visitors, as they can be very destructive of foliage and flowers but they are most successful at hiding away when discovered. They can breed all the year round so their numbers have increased, resulting in their spreading over southern Britain since they escaped from Bedfordshire where they were first introduced to this country. It seems that they are as successful in coping with the traffic as they are in establishing large populations.
Garden birds are much in evidence this month as many of us put out food for them. We have had a Jay as a regular visitor for the first time. We have no groups of large trees very near our garden and as these are their favourite retreat we were surprised to see how often this exotic looking bird came to call. Their voice is their least attractive feature being a harsh shriek. It does seem that many of the most colourful birds have the ugliest voices. Peacocks and pheasants, for instance, are not tuneful songsters.
There has been another sighting of what is likely to be a Little Owl, as it was seen in daylight perching by the roadside near the village sign beyond the top of the High Street. A Tawny Owl has also been busy at the other end of the village. It was heard from houses on Greenhill making its typical call.
February 2014 - I have to admit that Wood Pigeons are not my favourite birds. We have had a marvellous crop of berries on our Cotoneaster bush, which forms a large hedge across the garden and we hoped it might supply a feast for flocks of Redwings or Fieldfares which, in the past, have come as winter visitors to the area. Before the New Year, however, groups of already heavily overweight Wood Pigeons descended on the bush and have stripped the top foot completely. Fortunately they were not sufficiently agile to strip the whole plant. It seems that, for some reason, far fewer groups of Fieldfares and Redwings have been visiting the area recently, but a good meal is waiting here for those who do come.
If you have been walking recently through the Lawns on Manor Farm, although some of the lower lying areas have had severe flooding, you may have noticed large parts of the drier pasture are full of Mole hills. It looks as if a large army of these industrious creatures have been excavating but in fact Moles are solitary creatures, and except for mating, work on their own. One Mole can produce a vast network of burrows throwing up the excavated soil into mounds at intervals as it searches for worms and other invertebrates. The Mole will decapitate the worm and store it for later consumption in a sort of larder in its burrow. What struck us as interesting in the location of the Mole hills on the Lawns was that in one area, just beyond the stream, the line of mounds followed the course of the old road to Needham Market. This was replaced by the present road to Lime Kilns and beyond to Needham at the end of the 18th century. I wonder what it was about this soil that made it preferable to the rest of the field.
February 2015 - In spite of the inclement weather this New Year wildlife has been out and about as have neighbours all over the parish, as observant as ever.
Just after Christmas, there was some work being done on the Needham Road between Lime Kilns and the A140. This needed a set of traffic lights for some days and two different motorists saw a group of six Roe Deer on one occasion at mid-morning crossing the road, perhaps taking advantage of a pause in the flow of traffic, and subsequently grazing in the adjoining fields. The coats of the deer were black and it seems that Roe Deer do develop much darker hair in winter.
Another neighbour, from the comfort of their bathroom window, was able get a prolonged view of a Bullfinch enjoying their garden. These shy birds are not often seen round the village and I would be interested to know if anyone else has spotted one. They are fond of buds of fruit trees particularly when berries and seeds are becoming scarce so I shall watch out for my apple trees.
A very beautiful bird was seen by a neighbour in his van, as the bird flew along the course of the stream that runs parallel to Lower Road between the Hemingstone Bridge and Rectory Road. This was a Kingfisher, presumably looking for minnows and sticklebacks or other small water creatures while the stream was flowing well during the first week of January. I have heard that they have been seen along the river Gipping but not so near the centre of the village. Fish do swim up that particular stream as I have seen quite a large one, some years ago, marooned in a pool near Lime Kilns. However as the stream frequently dries up I fear that there may not be a regular supply of small fish for this gorgeous visitor.
David was taking a late afternoon stroll down the permissive path behind Coddenham House and was rewarded with a prolonged view of a Barn Owl hunting in the gathering dusk. I was sorry I hadn’t joined him that day.
February 2016 - This is the time of year for looking back at what has been going on during the last months. The newspapers do it in all areas including wildlife so the Six Village News can follow suit this month.
It is particularly interesting to compare the national winners and losers on the wildlife front with what we have found has been going on in our little corner of these islands.
Some of the losers nationally have been frogs and toads and certainly I have not seen or had so many reports of these this last year. The same is true of ladybirds which do not seem to have been so plentiful. The dire predictions of our having swarms of harlequin ladybirds which might be a threat to our native species do not seem yet to have been fulfilled, Countrywide fungi seem to have been scarcer but there seem to have been quite an abundance of different species in our area. The Turtle dove, however, is a loser everywhere. I used to get reports of numbers of these from the Crowfield area but have had no news for some time.
Of the winners, Barn owls are on the increase nationally and we have seen one coursing the fields below Broom Hill as well as having had a number of other local reports. Another bird which seems to be much more prevalent in recent years around the village is the Buzzard seen all round the parish. I have not seen any mention of this nationally.
Over the last few days several newspapers have reported the disastrous decline of the White-letter hairstreak butterfly whose numbers nationally have dropped 96% in the last forty years. This individual is now a UK Biodiversity Priority Species. The really good news is that one of the recorders who walk weekly round the Manor Farm butterfly transect spotted two of these scarce creatures last July on the double hedged stretch of the footpath to Limekilns behind Coddenham House. This are is an ideal feeding place for this butterfly as it can feed on nectar of bramble blossom, its favourite food in this very varied and vigorous hedge. The Elm suckers in the hedge nearby are its chosen breeding place. Look out for this smallish, mainly brown individual with a white W on it’s under wing and you may have a rare treat.
March 2012 - There is a good deal written about encouraging wildlife into your garden and this last month there have been many hungry visitors to our village gardens. In some cases these have been taking advantage of food directly provided and in other cases exploiting what happens to be growing there. A garden in Greenhill has had regular visits from a Great Spotted Woodpecker, which was taking hazelnuts from a nearby hedge. The shells of these have large holes punched in them and may, on occasions be wedged into the bark of trees. A Song Thrush visited our garden several times in late January to feed enthusiastically on the dull-looking berries of Ivy that scrambles up an old apple tree. It paid no attention to a magnificent crop of red Cotoneaster berries a few feet away and we thought these prominent berries must be with us for the rest of the winter. We were away for a couple of weeks and on our return the Cotoneaster had been stripped. Our neighbours' bush had suffered in the same way and they were lucky enough to have seen the diners. These were a group of Fieldfare with some Redwing and this gang may be responsible for taking all the same sort of berries from a bush in Love Lane. I wonder if there are any Cotoneaster fruit left in Coddenham. Nut feeders must also have been emptying rapidly. We were delighted to see a Blackcap on ours today and I have had reports of two other sightings of Blackcaps recently in the village. These birds are regular summer visitors and passage migrants but few overwinter. The nut feeders must help them to survive the chill.
Has anyone else seen the white Hart that I was told about in a group of deer in the Lime Kilns and Shrubland Park area? It has been spotted on several occasions and must be very distinctive in a group of more usually coloured animals.
March 2013 - NATURE NOTES
In this wintery weather we have all been filling up our bird feeders to tide the birds over these lean times. I was sent this picture from a Coddenham garden where this sleek white individual is a regular visitor. This is hardly surprising when he is offered such a gourmet meal. I have said "he" as his red wattles (not visible in the black and white version of the photo) tell, as this is a male Pheasant. He should also have a crest, which doesn't show here. Pheasants have many forms of plumage from the white one here through the more usual glamorous coloured forms to almost black. This is the result of captive breeding of various varieties some of which have later escaped into the wild. They are not native birds, originally coming from Asia and having been introduced into Britain some time before the Norman Conquest. They had nearly disappeared by the eighteenth century but were reintroduced in the 1830s and have been bred as game birds ever since with many escaping to breed in the wild now giving some exotic colour in our fields and gardens.
The first spring flowers have started to show with snowdrops in Nucleus Plantation and Aconites near the permissive path round Manor Farm. One of the first shrubs to flower is the Myrobalan (or Cherry) Plum. This is often mistaken for Blackthorn, which flowers at nearly the same time but is easily distinguished from the plum, which is thornless and has leaves showing along with the flowers. Some Cherry Plum are to be planted, with a group of other shrubs, at the east end of the churchyard where we shall be able to enjoy the beautiful white blossom without being scratched.
March 2014 - “Nice weather for ducks” is not a phrase that would be tactful or popular at a time when so many communities are being so badly affected by the unusually wet and windy weather. Here in East Anglia we have had some problems to the human population, although much less severe than in other parts of the country. But what of our wildlife? Are there more losers than winners in these conditions?
It would certainly seem so, although the Mallards, Coots and Moorhens have a wider habitat, the scarcer Kingfishers, which can be seen along the Gipping, will have had possible nest holes which they can use in the river bank flooded if the high water levels continue into the Spring. We have seen more small birds on our garden feeders, possibly because seeds have become more scarce with plants being damaged by wind and rain. Greenfinches, which have rarely visited the garden previously this winter, have been in evidence.
Much of the year Coddenham has no streams through the village, as the water table in our underlying chalk drops rapidly but, we have become all too aware that the two “bourns”, as these seasonal streams are known, have become real brooks. The stream from Hemingstone direction, referred to in old documents as the Wrangbrooke has flooded the fields on Manor Farm for some weeks. The health of all our soils is largely dependant on the large population of Earthworms. They aerate the soil with their burrows and draw in leaf litter and other organic matter which they are able to digest and release some of the nutrients into the soil. When rain falls they have to come to the surface as they “breathe” through their skin but in a sudden complete inundation they will not be able to avoid drowning. It may take a considerable time for a population to re-establish itself after a prolonged flooding.
Are there any winners in this situation? There has, for a long time been a struggling population of Marsh Marigolds and Meadow Sweet in a field near Dennis’ pond, these may well thrive now but neither plant is rare in this county.
The Dove brought the Olive branch after the biblical flood. We have seen an increasing number of Collared Doves in the village recently, is there a connection?
March 2015 - Gardening can be a lonely business in this weather when other companions are not tempted to spend much time out of doors. However at any time that I go into our front or back garden to remove a few weeds or plant the odd bulb, I am immediately joined by a companionable Robin who follows me at a distance of a foot or two looking expectant and pecking at the disturbed soil presumably to collect tiny invertebrates that are invisible to me. In this cold weather when food is scarce small birds are particularly keen to keep up their body temperature by finding extra food or seeking shelter. I have heard several instances of Great Tits coming indoors and one on a particular occasion being reluctant to leave. This bird had followed the house owners indoors and rejected the opportunity to escape through the opened door. It was only taken outside when it had sought refuge in an open handbag! Not an acceptable action. It was carefully carried outside and put in an opened garage but shortly after appeared, hopefully at the house window.
Other warm blooded creatures, like Badgers and Squirrels save their energy by partial hibernation but do come out occasionally in search of food. Another neighbour of ours, also in search one evening of an energy boost at the “Sorrel Horse”, saw two Badgers crossing Sandy Lane. I have not seen any Badgers in this area although they have been recorded in the Shrublands area. Sadly, most of the Badgers I have seen have been dead at the roadside. They are not rapid movers but do use the same foraging routes so please drive slowly down Sandy Lane.
I am pleased to say that a Barn Owl has been seen again in the area of the Lawns also, like the one reported last month, at dusk and presumably hunting. There have also been Tawny Owls heard frequently at night in the centre of the village. The only evidence I have had in our garden is what I think is an owl pellet in a flowerbed.
March 2016 - I don’t often get bouquets these days but much to my surprise, a fellow enthusiast arrived a few days ago with a large, well seasoned Elm log that he had left on a saw bench in his garden. Sprouting from this log was the most decorative clump of yellow/brown fungi which had, it seems appeared over the previous couple of weeks. I have included a photograph of this specimen with this article and I was only sorry that it rapidly wilted in the recent wind. I am pretty sure that it is a Sulphur Tuft fungus. Many mushrooms and toadstools fruit around autumn time but the Sulphur Tuft can be found at any time of year on dead wood and tree stumps. It looks lovely but is not edible.
Another interesting discovery we made when walking along the part of the drive to Coddenham House that incorporates the footpath, was a strange growth in patches on the shingle of the drive which looked like small clusters of brownish green seaweed. The weather had been wet and windy but this was certainly not blown in from the sea. After a little investigation we found out that it was indeed an alga, like seaweed, but a terrestrial one which can be found on driveways and parking areas. Its common name is Star Jelly or Witches butter. A hint, perhaps that this is perhaps not edible either.
I heard a sad story yesterday from a walker who had been up the path opposite the track through Broom Hill and across Rectory Road in Hemingstone. At the top of the hill opposite Hemingstone Hall he found a complete entire seagull’s wing and a little further on a seagull walking on the grass missing one of its wings but with no further damage to its body making it unlikely that it had been attacked by a predator. This poor gull was unlikely to survive and indeed some days later the dead gull was found in a ditch. The observer’s theory of the cause of this accident was that the gull had flown into a wire which severed the joint. This certainly sounds likely.
April 2012 - No one would intentionally wake a very sound sleeper; but several individuals enjoying a very deep sleep were unintentionally disturbed recently. These were a group of about seven bats who were hibernating on the old wooden cover of a well in the village. When this lid was removed to provide the well with a new and safer cover, the problem arose of what to do with the dozey individuals that were hanging there. The restorers of the well wisely contacted the local bat expert who took the group of bats away for a day or two to feed them, as hibernating animals quickly lose their fat reserves if disturbed. The bats were then returned to the well where they could lodge in crevices and continue their sleep undisturbed. You will be glad to know that the new lid of the well will have gaps through which the bats can escape when the warmer weather comes, and there are insects about for them to feed on. These were most likely to be Pipistrelle bats as these are by far the most common species in this country. You may have seen them on a warm evening ziz-zagging at dusk several metres from the ground searching for insects which they can eat on the wing. I am told that they can eat up to 3000 insects in one night.
It was very pleasing to hear that a Barn Owl has been seen in the late afternoon by several different people, both in the area of Broom Hill and around the top of the High Street. We must hope that one will nest in the barn owl box this year and steal a march on the Jackdaw that squatted there last year.
April 2013 - The things that go on in Coddenham you wouldn't believe! Two very strange happenings were reported this month.
Firstly some odd behaviour of a native animal. Badgers are not normally active in winter and may have periods of sleep in cold weather, however two crazy Badgers were recently found in a swimming pool in the parish. Fortunately the pool contained very little water and there was no indication of how they got into the pool or how long they had been there. (Extensive research does not reveal if they are able to swim!). The Good Samaritan who discovered them called the RSPCA, who came to collect them, and they will be cared for until they are fit for release. There are Badger setts in the parish and the animals will range at night on well defined paths from their setts to forage, particularly for bedding. The are fastidiously clean animals and frequently replace the bedding in their nesting chambers but no instance of the need for a cold bath has ever been recorded!
Secondly a strange alien visitor was found in the bedroom of a neighbour's house. This was a large and, fortunately, dead insect which was lying near the suitcase of a human visitor who had just come from New York. The insect turned out to be an American Cockroach whose fearsome proportions make it look very different from our native version, also it had lost its antennae and legs in transit. Although called American, these insects came originally from Africa and, like our specimen, must have hitched a lift across the ocean. They are scavengers and often found in sewers but will come indoors in cold weather. Fortunately our climate does not suit them.
Some more familiar visitors who do like our climate have been seen in a neighbour's garden behaving in a more characteristic way. A group of Siskin have been monopolising their bird feeder and one has even visited our garden. These charming little finches are surprisingly aggressive and will chase off larger diners. Most of the ones we see are winter visitors but some Siskin do breed here.
April 2014 - It is amazing in these small islands how varied the weather can be in different parts of Britain. I am writing these notes in the Isle of Skye where we have been experiencing rain, strong winds and hail storms. The ferries to the Outer Isles have been cancelled on two successive days and one needs to hang onto the car doors when opening them, to stop them being wrenched off their hinges. Meanwhile, my spies in Coddenham tell me that in the balmy weather you have enjoyed recently a yellow butterfly has been seen. This is likely to be a Brimstone as these bright yellow individuals overwinter as adults and are possibly the first butterflies on the wing in as early as February. What a contrast!
The very wet weather this winter has affected our garden up here, and has meant that there has been less food available for the (unwelcome) Rabbits that visit our garden. Some years ago I obtained a list of plants from the Royal Horticultural Society that were, in general, not eaten by Rabbits and this included Foxgloves, as their leaves are poisonous. We have encouraged these pretty plants to spread round the garden and I was surprised to find this Spring that most of my Foxgloves had been eaten nearly down to the roots. I looked in vain for Rabbits suffering from ill effects of these unwise meals.
Fields in Coddenham had, of course, also suffered from the heavy rain earlier this year and during a walk along the Gipping before we came north we were delighted to see a Little Egret in the flooded meadows nearby, spreading its large white wings and flying towards the old gravel pits. By contrast, this afternoon, we saw a Great Northern Diver in its winter plumage fishing off shore in a chilly sea.
We were greeted on our return to Coddenham, on a glorious sunny day, by no less than three butterflies. A Brimstone, a Small Tortoiseshell and a Peacock. A good start to summer.
April 2015 - Where would the Nature Notes be without the excellent observations of our neighbours. It is always a joy to hear of the fascinating sightings of what is going on in the parish on the wildlife front. One walker saw “for the first time in fifty years” four Hares boxing in the area near the Drift. March is, of course the month when the mating behaviour of these usually shy animals reaches a peak. The picky female Hare will box prospective suitors until she finds one, presumably superior to any others, which she will accept in the short time, a few hours in fact, that she is on heat. The female will make a “form” or nest on the ground to give birth to her young and it is important that these nests are not disturbed by dogs or humans running in the same area.
The same walker saw two Buzzards, a Kestrel and two deer near Needham Plantation, while another walker, more recently, saw no less than eighteen deer, either hinds or a young family further to the north of this plantation.
Now is the season for spring cleaning, and while a chair was being moved from a garden shed eight peacock butterflies were seen hibernating underneath it. The removal was stopped in order to avoid disturbing the sleepers but a week or two later, during the recent warm spell, the sleepers had flown and the clean up could continue,
I was envious to hear yesterday, while we were experiencing rain and gales in the North West Highlands, that our neighbour had seen a Brimstone and also a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly in sunny Coddenham.
Before we came north we were privileged to have a visit from a Hedgehog walking across our lawn in the middle of the day. We duly reported this sighting to the Suffolk Wildlife Trust who are recording observations of these animals both living and dead as there seems to have been a steep decline in their numbers. It seems that 20% of the records sent are of Hedgehogs killed on the roads. Our sighting was not really good news as the animal, not quite fully grown, should not have come out of hibernation so early and particularly in the daytime as it would use up its fat reserves looking for food. We did not dare to feed it as we were shortly going away and could not keep up the food supply. I do hope it survives.
April 2016 - The middle of March, when I am writing these notes, is a hungry time for wildlife, and creatures will take whatever opportunities they can to keep themselves going. The rather unappetising berries from our Cotoneaster bush have now all been stripped by Blackbirds and Wood Pigeons since tastier things have already been eaten. However a flock of around eighty Fieldfares found a tastier feast in another garden where fallen apples had been left for the visitors. While watching these, the garden owner saw a Treecreeper exploring a Sycamore nearby and this bird was, no doubt, searching for whatever insects remained in hiding. Surprisingly, on Broom Hill, in the middle of the day two Barn Owls were seen hunting over the rough ground opposite the Broom Hill grassland. Usually seen only at dusk, these birds will come out to hunt in the daytime if particularly hungry at the end of the winter. The watcher who saw them wondered if they were after a Blue Tit which they seemed to be chasing.
This is also the time of year when many creatures are becoming more active or coming out of semi-hibernation and getting ready for the breeding season. Two Hares were seen from Church Cottages on the grassland below Coddenham House known as the Lawns. Their dens are in the open and are shallow depressions in the ground, usually known as “forms”. Usually they remain in these during the day but as Spring approaches they may well be more active in the daytime. One animal which should certainly not be active at all yet is a bat. A neighbour could hardly believe his eyes when he saw what was undoubtedly a bat flying in the middle of a warm day very recently. It was being chased by two Magpies and these scavengers did not appear to catch it. This extraordinary sighting seemed to have been explained a few days later when he saw the Magpies making a nest in a hole in a tree near to where the first incident occurred. Had the Magpies disturbed the bat from the hole in the tree that they had chosen to nest in where the unoffending bat had been hibernating? It seems very likely and one would like to know what happened to the evicted tenant.
Diligent gardeners are now preparing gardens for planting and one task is spreading compost. The possessor of a well fermented compost heap discovered, a little while ago, a home that had already been abandoned, as he excavated his heap. A cache of empty Grass Snake eggs had hatched sometime before and the young had gone to find new homes of their own. The warmth in the heap had helped the eggs to mature. A welcome sign of returning Spring; seen by the same gardener was a Brimstone butterfly. A charming flutter of bright yellow in the sunshine.
May 2012 - We have been away for some time and one of the tiresome chores on homecoming is removing the many spiders' webs that these tireless creatures have made in our absence. Having a timbered house they find many places to hide if they are small enough. Spiders are most numerous in late spring, late summer and early autumn but one large House spider had even trapped itself in our bath. A neighbour has sent me a photo of a larger and even more fearsome-looking spider, with a body size of around 15mm, that he discovered down the manhole in a neighbouring village. Not an experience for Miss Muffet. We think it is a species of Cave spider. These are found in places where there is no light and so are not often seen. One might wonder how they spread from place to place, but it seems that the new born spiderlets are attracted to light and so can find a new habitat and only shun daylight as they get larger.
It is good to hear that the summer visitors are arriving. I heard a warbler on Mill Hill but I am not good enough at identifying bird song to know which species it would have been. A Nightingale has been heard singing for some time, by a resident of Mary Day Close, in Nucleus Plantation, so we must hope that it is able to find enough cover to nest in that area.
Barn Owls have been seen around Broom Hill for some time and it was exciting to hear yesterday from an early morning walker that one was flying in the vicinity of the Barn Owl box. It was being mobbed by a number of birds which might have been Rooks, Crows or Jackdaws. We know that Jackdaws nested in the box last year so we do hope that an owl will get there first. There are plenty of holes in the trees for Jackdaws.
May 2013 - Spring cleaning can produce all sorts of interesting discoveries, as indeed a neighbour of mine recently found when cleaning out his wildlife pond. This small pond had a wide lip round it and below the lip he discovered a large family group of newts. I don't know the collective noun for newts, but this could well have been termed a "huddle" as there were newts of all sizes presumably waiting for a rather warmer temperature to encourage them to leave their shelter. Newts normally emerge from hibernation in February or March when they start to feed and go in search of water. They need water to breed and lay their eggs but may hibernate hundreds of metres from water. Small garden ponds without fish are ideal sites to lay their spawn which, unlike frog spawn, is laid as single eggs. Newts (which are amphibians with a damp slimy skin) are sometimes confused with lizards (which are reptiles with dry scaly skin). I was told that if they stay around long enough for you to look at them they are newts but if they rush off to hide quickly they are lizards. As far as I know there are no lizards in the Coddenham area.
I have always found it interesting to see how plant life can tell you something about the history of a particular area. The Three Cocked Hat, now subject to heavy traffic round its three corners, used to have a small colony of Wood Anemones growing near the centre. These plants are indicators of ancient woodland which seems strange in their isolated position. However, having looked at a late 18th century map of the area made before the present road to Needham was built, it seems that this area was on the edge of a field and probably in a hedgerow or copse. Sadly, this year I could not find any trace of these plants.
May 2014 - It’s all happening in the parish this month now that the weather is getting warmer; and friends and neighbours have been out and about seeing what is going on. The aim of Biological Recording is to keep regular accounts from year to year about annual events in order to note variations, and it is fortunate that there is a neighbour in the village who does this. She saw the first Swallow this year on 8th April and this, she tells me is earlier that last year. Also a Chiffchaff was heard in their garden even earlier, on the 28th March. Another neighbour saw a Swallow on 10th April reconnoitering the nest site that had been used last year by what was presumably the same bird. We have enjoyed the beautiful spring songs of Blackbirds for some weeks now but my same neighbour was distressed to hear a great racket of Blackbird noise in their garden and saw that the cause was a Sparrowhawk attacking a Blackbird while being harassed by other Blackbirds. In spite of being only partially dressed and with no shoes she rushed out to scare the predator away but her valiant efforts were too late and the hawk flew off with its prey.
The bonfire on Broom Hill, which is lit to dispose of small branches, is always made on sheets of corrugated iron in order to avoid scorching the soil below more than necessary. These sheets remain in situ and are a useful source to gardeners of bonfire ash. They have also made a warm and sheltered home for a Slow Worm, I was told by an observant walker. The sheets heat up in the sun which just suits this cold blooded reptile. It is fortunate that we always look under the sheets before lighting the fire on the Work Day.
It was pointed out to me when I was down at Haysel House that a Fox had been walking down the slope of soft earth in front of the hall windows above which a footpath is being made to the new bungalows. Fox prints run in a straight line one behind the other unlike prints of dogs feet which alternate from side to side. I wonder if anyone has actually seen this visitor.
May 2015 - This month has seen a real “all change” to Spring. These days, the main roads which pass through the parish and beyond have a charming border of small, frilly, white flowers to soften the edges of the tarmac. These are Danish Scurvygrass, a plant which used to be confined to sea coasts and cliffs. Like other Scurvygrasses it is a salt tolerant plant and the salting of main roads in winter has given it suitable habitat, while the rapid movement of car and lorry tyres have spread the seeds along the A12 the A14 and other main roads from the coast. It is also beginning to spread along minor roads and I have seen plants on the road outside Manor Farm House. Who could resent a plant which flowers in March on such unproductive ground to such good effect. The Scurvygrasses have fleshy leaves which contain vitamin C. They have acquired their name from the fact that, in the past, they were apparently eaten by sailors to prevent and cure the disease of Scurvy caused by a shortage of this vitamin.
As well as floral treats, some birds are beginning to draw attention to themselves. While walking on the footpath from Greenhill to Cooper Road we heard more than on Skylark singing their liquid, chirping, while rising vertically over the fields of growing crops until they were almost invisible. They can be heard at any time of year, but most often during this season.
Starlings are with us all the year round but small groups of passage migrants have also been in evidence on the recently replaced robust telegraph wires. These sociable birds are now beginning to pair up and sit on nearby television aerials making their variety of calls. They are excellent mimics, and one in particular disconcerts us and our neighbour by imitating a ‘phone ring tone.
May 2016 - Summer is on the way. A regular recorder saw House Martins on the 4th April and at least three Swallows in the area of the church on the next day. One of these Swallows was in and out of the former dairy at Manor Farm. This is earlier than they have recorded them in previous years. I also heard that there were three Swallows in and out of a barn at Spring Farm up Spring Lane on the 11th April. This barn is a building in which they regularly nest. The accuracy with which they are able to return to their old nest sites after their long flight from Africa continues to astonish me. I am often behind the times as seemed evident when, last week, we were staying in a house in Crete. Sitting in the sunny garden we saw gangs of Swallows swooping over the garden pool to feed and drink. I was thinking happily that on our return to Coddenham on 9th April we might see the same Swallows looking out their summer residences in our village. Obviously I was well behind the times and summer had already arrived here.
Good news travels fast and in the case of a recent sighting, the news was confirmed by two observers. A Red Kite was seen from a garden on the High Street as it was flying from east to west. At around the same time what must have been the same individual was spotted by someone else, flying in the same direction across from the church towards Dennys pond. I have only heard of one previous sighting of a Red Kite in the parish but perhaps we shall see more of them in the future.
We have heard the drumming of what is most likely to be Great Spotted Woodpeckers in the Broom Hill area and in New Close Plantation behind Mary Day Close. We have also seen them drumming on a telegraph pole behind our garden. This would not seem to be a good nest site or a useful source of insects. Perhaps this one was just keeping in practice.
Hedgehogs are generally thought to be declining in numbers; however their droppings are regularly seen in the area of the allotments and the gardens nearby. This is a good area for them as they have the whole Broom Hill and gardens nearby to explore and feed. It would be good to hear of an individual actually being seen.
June 2012 - One of the most evocative sounds of summer is the purring call of Turtle Doves. We sometimes have heard this call around the Blacksmith's Lane area when these visitors have arrived in past years. However I heard that, on the 26th April, Turtle Doves returned, as they have done for many years, to a garden in Crowfield and as many as five have been seen there at one time enjoying bird food in the garden. It never ceases to amaze us how these migrants find their way back to their nesting haunts after long trans-continental journeys. At about the same time the Swallows returned to nest in our neighbors' stable, while at the beginning of May I heard from another neighbour that the Swifts were back in the village. Our bird watching on that day was made in the comfort of our own garden enjoying a drink outside on one of the rare warm evenings. We were treated to displays by the Swifts, Swallows and House Martins who seemed unperturbed by a Sparrowhawk swooping around. The Swift nest box that we provided to encourage the birds to nest in our garden has not tempted them away from nearby pantiled roofs and is now inhabited by a family of squatting Blue Tits. A Blackcap has been seen in a garden near the shop. This might be also be a summer visitor, although some of these birds do overwinter here.
Muntjac are frequent (and some times destructive) visitors to gardens backing on to woodland in the parish, and are usually well able to look after themselves, however a wounded Muntjac was seen lying in a garden in the High Street with three long wounds on its neck. We wondered what had inflicted these and it was suggested that it might have been a Badger.
Another piece of bad news was the appearance of a Mink in the region of the Three-cocked Hat. Mink are not native and are a threat to our Water Voles. I have not heard of any sightings of these locally recently. Has anyone else seen one?
June 2013 - Having been away for more than three weeks it was good to hear that the annual cycle of natural events has been continuing as reliably as ever in the village.
My neighbour reported the arrival of the first Swallow to occupy its habitual nesting site on the 12th April. Swallows have nested in this stable for so many years we wondered if it is the same pair, or descendants reclaiming the family home. Swifts always come later, and the first Swift seen by our neighbour near Crown Corner was on the 4th May and this lone arrival has now been joined by a number of others. The spell of warm weather has stimulated a good deal of plant growth during this time and the Bluebells are as prolific as ever in Nucleus Plantation and on Broom Hill. The grassland on Broomhill, thanks to some cutting, is looking more like a traditional meadow with a much more plentiful population of Meadow Saxifrage. It seems to be a good year for this charming plant, which only survives in unimproved grassland, as there are a large number of these plants in flower on the Three Cocked Hat. I am also happy to say that my fears that we had lost the colony of Wood Anemone in this same site were unfounded. It must have delayed its growth until the weather was warmer.
There seem to be a number of white Pheasants around. In addition to the one on Broom Hill, one has been seen regularly on a field above Lower Road from Greenhill. You certainly can't miss them from a distance.
Some of the common names given to plants are rather strange but others seem to be remarkably appropriate. After three untended weeks the bare places in our garden beds have been covered by Speedwell. The small flowered Ivy-leaved Speedwell certainly lives up to its name in its rate of growth and I must get out into the garden and transfer it to the compost heap.
June 2014 - It is such a pleasure in the village to be able to take a real country walk straight from our own front doors and enjoy such a variety of scenery. However a few weeks ago, with great daring, we decided to go further afield and we crossed the river Gipping into our neighbouring parish of Baylham. Having parked near the church there, we made a circular walk through a covert, where we were treated to the sight of a pair of Buzzards circling over the trees. Continuing through a derelict collection of buildings and round a small lane, on higher ground a Lark was singing strenuously over a ploughed field, always an inspiring sound not heard so frequently these days. But the greatest treat was yet to come, which was something we had never seen before. Near the path, at the edge of a field were four depressions in the ground about the size of a saucer absolutely full of the pooh of some largish animal. The clayey soil round about was reasonably moist and David spotted an unmistakable Badger print. It transpires that this was a Badger latrine which a family of Badgers would use regularly at point on the edge of their territory to make it clear to other Badgers that this is their patch. There would be other latrines placed round the whole area which they reserve for themselves to search for food. I can see that piles of pooh would be a distinct discouragement to visitors.
This seems to be a month for spotting interesting animal droppings. I have, on several occasions, found Hedgehog droppings among the plants in our garden while doing much needed tidying in preparation for the Open Gardens. Hedgehogs are suffering a steep decline in their numbers and the Suffolk Wildlife Trust are asking for records of sightings of these quaint animals. Hedgehogs range widely for food and the visitor to our garden might be seen anywhere in the parish. I have not yet seen our visitor but I would love to know if anyone else has.
On a more picturesque theme, it has been a delight to see the increase in the amount of Meadow Saxifrage flowering on Broom Hill. The cutting and raking of the grassland here has encouraged these flowers of old, unimproved grassland as well as other similar species. Well worth a visit before they go over.
June 2015 - As one has to put these notes together at least two weeks before you receive them, I am afraid that the news is often out of date. The first Swallows and House Martins were seen about 8th April over the fields of Manor Farm and the Swallows that nest in our neighbour’s stable started to set up house again on the 14th of that month and only a little later there was a sighting of these birds over Spring Farm. By now active nest building has been going on for some time and both sets of birds are very active. We saw our first Swift on 5th May by which time they had been spotted over Greenhill. Now there is frequently the welcome sight of groups regularly circling and screaming over the village. Nest sites are available under the tiles on the Club roof and one of these is occupied by Starlings whose youngsters can be heard screaming for food as the parent returns.
One of the recorders on the Butterfly Transect round Manor Farm, where one can often see Buzzards circling, saw a Red Kite last month. This is the first sighting I have heard of this raptor, easily distinguished by its forked tail. Red Kites are spreading round the country and have been spotted in other parts of the county mostly as winter visitors or passage migrants.
The congregation after the church service on Sunday last, 10th May, had a treat on emerging from the church. A Cuckoo was singing repeatedly in the direction of Broom Hill. These birds have had a catastrophic decline in numbers over the last ten years so we are privileged to have one and we hope it is not just visiting.
In the same area where the Red Kite had been spotted, a walker, looking at the ground this time, saw a full grown Grass snake moving across the track above Vicarage Farm. This was not the only evidence of this reptile in the village. A compost heap was being carefully demolished when a clutch of Grass snake eggs was discovered. The eggs had already hatched , the warmth of the compost helping them to mature, and the occupants had vanished but the observant gardener later lifted a stone to discover a group of very small Grass snakes which had, presumably once occupied the eggs. Grass snakes are doing well here.
We must not forget plants with all this spring activity. The Bluebells this year have been spectacular on Broom Hill and New Close Plantation. In the former area the grassland has greatly benefited from the cutting and raking last year and produced a good display of Cowslips and Meadow Saxifrage. If you want to see small show of an unusual Bugle plant, which normally has blue flowers, look behind the Community Hall near the fuel tank. There are some large pink ones there.
June 2016 -
- Its all happening now. The Swallows and the Martins have arrived in greater numbers and have been much in evidence exploring their old nesting areas. The last of
these wonderful swooping fliers, the Swifts are with us as well. I am writing on the 11th May but the first Swift was spotted by an observer on 1st May! We are lucky to have so many possible nesting sites for these birds, particularly the Swifts who need a reasonably high entry point, such as that under pantiles, to fly into without perching first.
- Some diligent parents have been feeding two broods of Starlings recently. One family have made a home under the Club roof and another in the top of our neighbour's gable where the parents, arriving every few minutes with supplies, are greeted by a noisy brood. An early Song Thrush youngster was reared in the area of our gardens and was to be seen at the end of last month hopefully following its parent and occasionally being fed.
- Older bird books will not include lake and pond dwelling Little Egrets as visitors to Britain but they are becoming increasingly common as summer visitors and some are resident in certain parts of the county. One was seen on 4th May flying down the High Street towards Denny's Pond. As far as I know, this is the first one to be seen so near the centre of the village.
- A great sight at the moment is the splendid display of Meadow Saxifrage on the grassland on Broom Hill. This attractive old meadow flower has been spreading here over recent years as the grass cutting regime has removed smothering grasses. Its well worth a visit.
July 2012 - The bad news of the sighting of a mink near the Three-Cocked Hat has been followed by another sighting of one in the same area near the lower end of Maydown. The mink that we now see in this country are American Mink and are not native to this country. They were imported around 1929 and farmed for their fur, but some escaped or were released and they have since multiplied and spread to many areas of these islands. They are fierce hunters and apparently will hunt even when they are not hungry. They are found near water and will eat fish, small birds, voles and young rabbits and will even hunt when not hungry and so are a threat to our native wildlife. It seems that the decline of Water Voles may well be due to their destruction by mink and it is true that I have not heard of a sighting of Water Vole in the village recently.
Now for the good news. The churchyard is looking better than ever this year. The unwelcome rain has made the growth more vigorous than ever and provided us with a permanently Open Garden. There are more than thirty varieties of wild flowers in bloom there at the time of writing this. A small group of Bee Orchids is now in flower at the west end of the church, while the Quaking Grass, sometimes known as Maiden Hair, is spreading to more parts of the churchyard. This beautiful grass is one of my favourites and we are lucky to have so much as, in general, it has been declining due to improved fertilization of grassland where it is swamped by taller grasses. All we need now is some sunshine to bring out the butterflies.
July 2013 - Many parents have had to extract their offspring from adolescent scrapes. Some Thrush parents, which had nested in our garden, had a night of anxiety about a newly fledged pair which had left the nest. We had left a back door open one fine evening and in the morning heard distressed tweeting from indoors and discovered the errant pair huddled in a corner of the room next to a pile of droppings. Meanwhile the parents were calling from the roof top. David put the youngsters on the lawn where the caring parents came and shepherded them to safety.
The same room in which the Thrushes had sought refuge has also a nest of Bumble Bees under the roof space. We have not discovered which species the individuals belong to. They crawl happily in and out along the outside wall and are now keeping me company with a cheerful buzzing audible through the ceiling.
Cuckoos are, sadly, becoming scarce but I was delighted to know that two birds had been heard from Greenhill. Has anyone else heard any. They should be changing their tune now and will be on the move before long. I have just had a report of another Cuckoo calling in the area of the allotments. Excellent news.
Slow worms should be basking in the sun at this time of year but the strenuous parishioners who were clearing out the untidy compost heaps in the churchyard disturbed a pair that were sheltering there from the chilly breeze. They were behaving strangely, as one had taken the head of the other in its mouth. Is this a reaction to disturbance? Whatever the reason they made off quickly.
July 2014 - We are frequently encouraged to leave a part of our gardens uncultivated to encourage wildlife of all sorts, and this neglect can have some pleasant rewards. We failed to prune a much overgrown early flowering clematis which has grown vigorously over an old apple tree, but never produced much blossom. However we have been delighted to have a Song Thrush nesting in its dense tangle of growth which has successfully reared at least one fledgling. The Swifts have been giving us some dramatic aerial displays round the village and are nesting in roofs in Greenhill and under pantiles in the High Street. Swallows have found familiar nests in open stables and barns while Martins have made many nests under eaves. In spite of providing a nest box for Swifts below our eaves which David carefully made to a recommended design, these birds have never deigned to inhabit it. However this year some enterprising Martins constructed their cunning mud nest cup using it as one of their walls. Great opportunists.
Walking down the lawns from Coddenham House I saw two noisy Greylag Geese at the bottom of the slope. I tried to get a closer look to confirm my identification but they flew off to safety in the middle of Dennis pond. Were they just passing or has anyone else seen them?
The wonderful display of wild flowers in the churchyard has had a welcome addition in the form of a small group of Bee Orchids in the uncut grass at the west end of the church. By the time you read this, they will be over and although they are not as dependable about reappearing in the same place as the Pyramidal Orchids, they may well set seed and we may be in for another treat next year.
Enthusiastic feeding of the young has resulted in a blitzkrieg on the snail population in the whole garden to the benefit of the salad crops and the Strawberries. A reward for neglect.
July 2015 - I so often miss out on the natural events because I am in the wrong place at the time. My neighbour telephoned to say that there was a Cuckoo singing in the direction of our garden. I had been watching “Springwatch”, an excellent programme but not equal to the live experience, and by the time I got into the garden the visitor had gone. It, or another Cuckoo, was heard the same day from Greenhill and a few days later near Needham Plantation but still I had not heard the familiar song. I gather now that a Cuckoo has again been heard in the area of the Drift from Lower Road, so it is good to know that these birds, whose numbers have been declining, are very active round the village. We are now in the West of Scotland and at last, I am happy to say, I have heard Cuckoos in full song. Although the birds are supposed to sing night and day in May; here, where spring has been late this year, in the middle of June, they are a month behind and certainly have not “changed their tune.” Incidentally, Bluebells are only now beginning to go over in the copse behind our house
Another treat I missed in Coddenham was heard by David when walking near a wood off Sandy Lane. This was an unmistakable Nightingale, another bird which is becoming increasingly scarce. We do hope that it will find a mate.
House martins started to make a nest in our eaves in the High Street last year but gave up. We were happy to see them back and making a better effort this year. There is a thriving colony of these birds near Crown Corner undeterred by traffic close by.
Has anyone seen a Redpoll? Our neighbour saw one of these birds when it was on a prolonged visit to their bird feeder in mid-May but there has been no sighting since.
July 2016 - I have often envied the possessors of these amazing modern mobile 'phones that seem to do everything. If you have such a machine with you, you are ready for any eventuality. This was the case with a walker on the path from Broom Hill to Rectory Road last month who was stopped in her tracks by the sight of a large Grass Snake basking on the path. It was about a metre long and you can see the markings clearly in the 'photo she was able to take with the handy 'phone. A most useful device.
One of the pleasures of retirement is having the time to linger over the newspaper at breakfast before going into the garden. However on the 19th May we missed what has become an increasingly rare treat in East Anglia. Two different neighbours in the High Street heard a Cuckoo at about 9am. By the time that they had told us about this unmistakable visitor, he had moved on. I have not heard of anyone else hearing this call. I would be glad to know if there have been any other hearings since. We have now been in Skye for the last two weeks and have had no shortage of Cuckoos. In our area there seem to be two local visitors who can be heard frequently, often late at night, and are occasionally seen flying past. Cuckoos seem to be less shy in this area where there is not so much tree cover and they often lay their eggs in the nests of ground nesting birds such as Meadow Pipits.
Before we came north we had heard a good deal of activity in a box built for Swifts to nest in which David had put under the eaves at the front of the house. We hoped that at last one of the Swifts that give us so much pleasure swooping and screaming round the village had chosen this to nest in. It turned out, however to be an opportunist House Sparrow that had decided to "squat" in the empty shelter.
August 2012 - I keep a few haphazard bird lists, one for the garden, one for birds seen from the car and one for birds seen on holiday. The newest addition to my train list was a Little Egret seen wading in the shallows at Manning Tree. Closer to home, I added Skylarks to my garden list as I caught distant sight of one flying high above the nearby fields and a Black Cap as well, our garden is only small so it’s always great when you get to add even a relatively common bird. One that I would love to add to my overall Coddenham list would be the Red Kite, one of which was seen flying over the village recently. I know they’ve been nesting as close as Cambridgeshire (the last nesting birds in Suffolk were in the early 19th century) so it must be only a matter of time until they spread east.
The history of this impressive bird of prey is fascinating; in the middle ages they were so abundant they would scavenge on the streets of towns and were common soaring over London Bridge. But over time they were persecuted to the point of extinction. By the early twentieth century there were as few as ten breeding pairs in the entire United Kingdom. But they just about hung on. The RSPB started a famous reintroduction plan in the 1980s and it proved to be a massive success, Red Kites are now firmly back in British airspace. The nearby Cambridge birds have probably descended from the pairs that were reintroduced in Northamptonshire. Hopefully soon Red Kites, with their magnificent angled wings that spread to over one and half meters, will be a regular addition to Coddenham’s birding list.
August 2013 - I read with interest a few weeks ago that a bird unknown to science had been discovered in the Cambodian city of Phnom Penh. While Coddenham can’t claim anything as exotic as the Cambodian Tailor-bird I have recently added a new species to my local patch list. Alerted by tales of a Nightingale singing in the heart of the village I set out one evening to track it down. And while I can’t claim to have seen it, I certainly heard it. Nightingales truly do have a beautiful song, perhaps unrivaled in the bird world. And it’s an elegant, if understated, bird to look at if you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse.
In my hunt for the Nightingale I also saw a Whitethroat singing its distinctive scratchy song from a thicket. I have a bit of a fondness for this warbler, I used to watch them on Wimbledon Common when we lived there. And on the way back home, I was treated to the traditional Coddenham fly-past of Swifts. They nest above the club and if you ever want proof of how long these incredible birds spend on the wing, have a look at how quickly they feed their young- they’re still for barely a second.
Another, once rare bird that’s made a comeback in our environs is the common Buzzard. They can be seen most days gliding over the village or riding the thermals over the fields. Buzzards have protected status now and also thrive because of their wide-ranging diets. They’re not fussy eaters, taking anything from earthworms to small mammals. I heard on the radio that in Scotland they’re called “the tourist’s eagle” as they’re often mistaken for them by over-eager visitors. I hope your regular correspondent, Brenda Hudson hasn’t made this mistake up in Skye!
August 2014 - It might not look it but the Church Yard has been a hive of activity recently. Whether it was the Bee and Pyramid Orchids earlier in the year or the Anguis fragilis (aka a Slo-Worm!) that Colin Hardy photographed crossing the gravel path (see pic below), there’s more going on there than you might think. Bird life is abundant around the church and I’m pleased to say that I’ve seen a Spotted flycatcher there again after a couple of blank years. I think they’re a beautiful bird, “understated” is perhaps the word but their behaviour is anything but. The grave stones and the relatively low roofs of the church give this bird a fantastic perch from which to launch its brief sorties as it darts after flies, butterflies and moths which are of course abundant there. And when I say brief, I do mean brief, they’ll fly out, twist, dive and snap at an insect and then return to their perch in the blink of an eye. Fantastic. If you’re close enough, you might even hear the snap of its beak. They don’t seem to mind people being close to them.
We’ve also had a Spotted flycatcher in our garden; perched on the telephone cable with an unfortunate butterfly in its beak. They’re on the RSPB’s red status which means they’re in severe decline so we’re lucky to have them in the parish- do make an effort to see this fantastic bird. Another bird which is of concern in terms of its decline is the Swift. I write about them every year at this time- we’ve got a lot of breeding pairs right in the middle of Coddenham. They’re as fun to watch as flycatchers as they speed up and down the high street, skimming the houses. They’ll be heading back to Africa soon, indeed, they’re one of the last migrants to return to these shores and the first to leave so do look out for them…and hope we get them back next year!
August 2015 - The dog days of summer are traditionally not the best time for the rabid bird watcher, because they’re slap bang in between the spring and autumn migrations and the chance to see rarities has supposedly past. Not so this summer with several richly-coloured European Bee-eaters visiting near Minsmere on the Suffolk coast in July. Possibly the offspring of birds that nested in the Isle of Wight recently, they’re a clear sign that our climate is changing. Here’s hoping they breed and stick around. Closer to home in our own patch, Spotted flycatchers have nested again near the High Street and are regular visitors to my garden, using the overhead wires as a perch to launch their acrobatic forays. Walking down the footpath at the bottom of Broom Hill last week I came upon a Buzzard tucking into a baby rabbit as I rounded the corner. I’m not sure who was more surprised but I was sorry to disturb a Buzzard’s breakfast.
The footpaths above Valley Farm that look across the meadows are a happy hunting ground for me. There are Cuckoos in spring and by summer it’s a fantastic spot to see and hear Coddenham’s healthy population of Yellowhammers. Just as a note, earlier in the year, the same fields are the place to see Hares chasing each other around at high speed. Whitethroats are also in abundance here (listen out for their distinctive scratchy call) they’ll return as late as October to the Sahara to breed. And as I always say every August, the Swifts will be off soon back to Africa so keep an eye out as they cut through the air overhead. These incredible birds have been known to climb to ten thousand feet. Last to arrive, first to leave, the Swifts summer break in our village is all too brief!
August 2016 - I'm writing this month's nature notes from north Norfolk and am just back from a walk on the coast where marsh harriers, lapwing and oystercatchers abound. Closer to home, I was very happy to see a barn owl in the fields in front of Coddenham House recently. It was a gloomy sort of morning and it had been raining all night, I wondered whether it had failed on its evening hunt. It was great to see it anyway, I've read the population is making a comeback. This afternoon I spent some time watching a kestrel close up, hovering only a few feet away. We've had an influx of birds of prey in our parish, red kites have been seen passing through and buzzards are of course well established here now; I've got used to their plaintiff cries drifting across the village. Hobbies can be seen too, keep an eye out for them above the village trying to catch their dinner among the house martins. In terms of size, hobbies are like an oversized swift. As I always say whenever I fill in for Brenda at this time of year, Coddenham is blessed with a healthy population of swifts and I was amazed at the sheer number overhead a few nights ago. In the thirty years up to 2014, the population in Suffolk has halved, so we're very lucky to have this annual visitor. Swifts do like nesting in pantile roofs, which are numerous in the village. And they're clean tenants as well: they don't leave piles of droppings underneath their nests. Let's hope Coddenham keeps bucking the trend for one of my favourite birds.
September 2012 - The Swifts have really gone now. It seems that summer weather had scarcely begun when a large group of Swifts was screaming over the High Street, and another similarly circling low over Green Hill preparatory to setting off the next day. Although the majority of Swifts seem to have departed by the 26th July a few were seen swooping around hoovering up insects for some time after this.
The wet weather has been an opportunity for a good deal of slug and snail activity. However a family of Song Thrushes have been doing a great deal of pest control in our and our neighbours' gardens as is evident from the shell remains on our garden paths. We hope for bursts of song later as an added benefit from the family that they have been rearing and which they seem to be continuing to feed.
Not all birds live up to the job description given in their names. A neighbour saw a Flycatcher in their garden feeding enthusiastically on Honeysuckle berries, not on their usual insect diet. He found out, however, that when these birds are stocking up with food for their forthcoming migration that they will add fruit to their diet as well. It is good to know that Flycatchers are around as I have not seen or had a report of one since they were nesting in the past near Crown Corner.
The damp weather has, as we all know, produced a great deal of lush vegetation, often blocking local footpaths which our splendid volunteers have struggled to keep clear. This weather has also benefitted the clump of Nettle-leaved Bellflower growing beside the lower path on Broom Hill where it has collapsed bearing its mass of blue bells. There are also a few pathetic remnants of the Harebells that, I gather, used to be very plentiful there. I hope they will survive.
September 2013 - At last a real butterfly summer. Those of us who, weekly walk the route round Manor Farm and the churchyard recording butterflies seen, have recently been rewarded by bumper records. Particularly clouds of Meadow Browns in many parts of the transect make counting difficult. We can only record during certain suitable conditions when butterflies are likely to be on the move and our records are sent each year to the recorder for Suffolk to be entered into national records and these records will be used by the media to comment on the survival of these beautiful insects.
Not only butterflies are on the wing. I was shown a photograph of a spectacular moth taken near the Country Club. I believe it was an Elephant Hawkmoth. It gets its name from the trunk-like snout on its lava and these larvae feed on willowherbs and bedstraws which can be found on Mill Hill and in the churchyard.
Other insects which cover the Lavender and Marjoram in our garden are crowds of Bumble Bees. Hive Bees seem to be having a difficult time just now and I have often wondered if other bees and insects could also do the useful task of fertilizing plants to produce the fruits we all value. Fortunately my question was answered in the unlikely setting of a Coastguards' Lookout at the northern end of the Isle of Skye, where we met a researcher into this very area. She assured us that many other bees and insects can do this job as well. Travel does broaden the mind, not only what you see but who you meet!
September 2014 - Following Mark Huckerby’s delightful notes last month, about the sightings of the Spotted flycatcher around the excellent habitat of the churchyard, he was told of a nest of Flycatchers in a garden near the church. Hopefully a family will have been reared before these summer visitors are due to leave. I look forward to seeing one myself before they go.
Another group of migrants, the Swifts, have now left us, after we had seen rafts of them screaming over the roofs in the village preparing to set off. Just about this time my neighbour found a small
Swift grounded in the road in the centre of the village. These birds have very weak legs, because they are very seldom used, as the birds spend most of their lives on the wing. Once they are grounded they are helpless. Having tried unsuccessfully to relaunch the casualty she kindly took it to the vet who could find no injury to cause the crash landing. Sadly the bird would not feed but eventually scrabbled out over the door of the outhouse, where it was put for sanctuary, and escaped. The future, however, doesn’t look too hopeful.
The same Good Samaritan who found the Swift, has twice rescued Hedgehogs, one a baby and one full grown, both of which had been discovered at different times by our neighbours’ dogs at night in their garden. Our own garden is full of vigorous herbage at present (a polite way of saying rather overgrown,) and was felt to provide plenty of suitable shelter for these vulnerable creatures. These were transferred here to a dog free zone. I have not seen them myself yet but nor have I seen many slugs. It is encouraging that we have had sightings of Hedgehogs, which are declining in numbers, both at Greenhill, by Anne Goad two months ago, and now in the High Street area
The local bus provides an excellent service and is also a useful viewpoint over the fields when travelling into Ipswich. From this hide I saw a Hare running over the stubble in the field beyond the barns at the top of the High Street. Another bonus.
September 2015 - Towards the end of last month I was delighted to hear from Church Cottages of a prolonged visit of a male Bullfinch to their Niger-seed feeder. I had never seen one locally, but was even more delighted the next day to see a pair of Bullfinches on the seed heads of the perennial Geraniums in our garden. Another neighbouring family near Crown Corner, who had also not seen one in the village before, reported more than a fortnight later, a male Bullfinch on their Sunflower-heart feeder, it also feeds on Honeysuckle berries. Any other sightings?
Summer visitors are leaving us. After much screaming round the centre of the village, the majority of Swifts left by the end of July. We saw our last pair on the 1st of August. Swallows have been lining up for their journey for sometime now and we hope that the second brood of youngsters in our neighbours stable are strong enough to travel. Nests that have been abandoned by these visitors are sometimes taken over by squatters. An unused Martin’s nest under our eaves was inhabited by a vocal family of Sparrows. Also a nest which had earlier been used by Swallows in a nearby out building was taken over by a family of Wrens. Very labour saving birds!
Our neighbours’ dogs, on their late night visit to the garden, disturbed a young Hedgehog. Not wanting this small visitor to be continually bothered by the dogs the small creature was transferred to our garden with the kindly intention also that it could keep our vegetables free of slugs. We have seen neither slugs nor the Hedgehog but we heard a couple of days ago that a very young Hedgehog had been discovered, after dark, in the overgrown garden beds in front of the Duke’s Head. This was not suitable place for one so young, and the rescuers, after consulting a rescue centre, are giving it a more suitable environment until it has gained weight.
September 2016 - I have heard two similar stories which should be shared. One was a sad story, while the other was of a gallant rescue with, hopefully, a happy ending.
On the first occasion some weeks ago a gardener near the allotments, having not visited the garden for a few days, found a grass snake entangled in garden netting. The unfortunate creature had not been able to free itself and was, unfortunately, dead. By a strange coincidence a few days ago another grass snake, about three feet long, was found on one of the allotments also caught in garden netting. This time the creature was still alive but had become greatly entangled in the netting and strenuously resisted efforts to release it. However the persistent rescuers were successful but found that the creature had a wound made by its efforts to free itself. Eggs had been laid in this wound by some insect and, after getting expert advice, one of the rescuers, with great care and concentration, removed all the eggs with forceps and bathed the wound with salt water. The patient was left on the edge of the woodland and later had disappeared.
The allotment area is ideal for grass snakes as they thrive in border areas with plenty of cover around and a number of compost heaps which provide warmth in cold periods and will be excellent egg laying sites. I cannot discover if grass snakes have poor eyesight. If this is so this may have led to their entanglement.
A successful garden visitor to a garden at Church Cottages has again been seen. This is a hedgehog, attracted to this site by the cat food put out there which it purloins even in daylight. The cats are not pleased.
At the time of writing this, just before the middle of August, I have not seen any Swifts for some days. The Martins and Swallows, however are still with us.
October 2012 - Curiosity can lead any creature into difficulties. A neighbour brought me a dragonfly she had caught which had come into her conservatory and was unable to escape. We think we have correctly identified it as a Southern Hawker. This species breeds in still or slow flowing water but wanders widely being a very inquisitive species. It will even approach people and this one might well have hatched in the moats at the top of the High Street and then flown to explore lower down the hill when it got into difficulties. Hawkers are the group of dragonflies which are so called because they "hawk" or wander up and down rather than perching for long periods and then darting after prey as the suitably called "darters" will do.
A happy ending to another encounter with wildlife in the village was told to me this week. A Tree creeper had been watched regularly by my informant as the bird climbed spirally up the trunk of a large tree in his garden as it searched for insects in the bark. On this particular occasion, however, it was behaving in a most distressed way rolling in the grass below the tree and rubbing its head against the foliage. The bird allowed him to pick it up and he then saw that the cause of its distress was a large tick on the bird's neck. Our Good Samaritan managed, with difficulty to remove the swollen tick. The bird was placed at the top of a wood pile nearby and shortly flew away.
Buzzards do seem to be establishing themselves happily in this area. An early morning dog walker was lucky enough to see a family of buzzards at the bottom of Broom Hill with one young member of the family perched on the path. They should not go short of food, as the fields nearby are rife with rabbits.
October 2013 - The recent continuing hot weather has produced beautiful butterflies but also other unwelcome insects. There have been so many wasps around, that our evening drink in the garden has come to a rapid conclusion when hoards of uninvited yellow and black striped guests arrive hoping for a sweet meal. Wasp nests are started by the queen in the spring. They are beautifully made of chewed wood or paper and she lays some eggs which hatch into workers and these enlarge the nest in which the queen lays many more eggs. Workers in spring and early summer feed the larvae which hatch from these eggs on insects and the larvae feed the workers on a sweet liquid they produce. At the end of summer these larvae hatch into males and queens and, as there are no larvae to make them food, this is the time when our fruit and flowers are covered with greedy feeding wasps. Most wasps die in the winter but the mated queens hibernate to start a new colony the next year, so watch out for sleepy queens which may emerge from hiding in a warm room in winter. They particularly like the folds in our curtains.
The Swallows and Martins have been reluctant to leave this year. There were large numbers gathering around School Lane and Greenhill as early as 20th August but some were still around a few days ago (10th September) making an unusually loud twittering. The reason became rapidly clear as a Sparrowhawk flew into the middle of the group. They seem to have all escaped, but the predator circled around for some time.
Fungi are starting to appear and there are some dramatic ones round the village. The bright yellow clumps of the Sulphur Polypore, more attractively called Chicken in the Woods, is growing on a fallen stump on the Lawns. A dark red bracket fungus grows on a stump on Broomhill and it is likely to be a Beefsteak fungus, while at the bottom of Broom Hill a large number of white Clitocybe grow on the ground under the large Sycamore. These are all reckoned to be edible but a wouldn’t risk it.
October 2014 -
We are usually rather late in getting moving on a Sunday morning, but this Sunday we rapidly shed our dressing gowns in order to look at another shed skin that our neighbour had discovered that morning on Broom Hill. We set off armed with appropriate literature to identify it having been told that this was the skin of a large snake. It was indeed long being about 110 cms. and was curled up among the brambles on the grassland where it still remains. Although it was somewhat damaged the scale markings and particularly those on the head where very clear and these showed us all that it was the skin of a Grass Snake. Female Grass Snakes shed their skins once a year and males shed theirs twice. They have been known to live up to 28 years in the wild feeding on such treats as frogs, toads and (most usefully) even on slugs. We don’t know how old the skin was but perhaps its previous owner is still around.
I was told of another interesting sighting made in the Broom Hill area very recently this time of a Little Egret. These attractive white birds were first seen in this country in the nineteen nineties and have since spread in the south of England particularly in the wetlands and now have been seen further afield. The first one we saw was in the marshland near Dunwich about twelve years ago. It had been spotted by a friend visiting from South Africa who told us there was a white heron in the reeds. We told him patronisingly that British herons are all grey and he must be mistaken but on looking through our binoculars we saw he had indeed seen one of the early arrivals. It is rewarding to think that they are now in the parish.
It is a good autumn for fungi. We saw a well developed and aptly named Stink Horn near the permissive path through New Close Plantation. Its Latin name is also an apt description of its appearance being Phallus Impudicus. The Beefsteak fungus is well named also. This bracket fungus is now growing among other smaller stalked fungi on the stump of a felled oak by the diagonal path through BroomHill. Lots to see this month.
October 2015 - It is always good to hear recent news of previous wildlife reports and you will be glad to Know that the errant baby hedgehog that was rescued from the flowerbed in front of the Duke’s Head is putting on weight and suitable accommodation is being planned for his hibernation and subsequent release. Another sighting has been made of a Kingfisher under Hemingstone Bridge, this time seen from the bus, (always an excellent mobile bird hide.) The amount of water in this stream has varied a good deal recently but hopefully there is enough to keep the bird searching for food.
One particular garden this month has had some very interesting visitors. The Puss Moth in the photograph shows how appropriate the name is as you feel you could stroke the furry-looking head.
This garden has a pond well stocked with frogs, and this lured a Heron to perch patiently on a nearby hedge waiting for an opportunity to get lunch. The prolific compost heap here is a home to Slow worms and one of these even wound itself about the gardener’s leg! Hares are (incorrectly) reputed to be mad in March but one might doubt the sanity of a Hare that was seen running down the drive of this garden and up the B1078. Very risky behaviour.
Having a bit of wild area in one’s garden can be a welcome invitation to some wildlife. Willowherb is a favoured food of the Elephant Hawkmoth larva. One of these spectacular creatures was found on this herb in another garden. The larva is also well named as it has a trunk-like snout which it can wave about in a menacing fashion. Hedges, as we all know, are also great hideaways for birds and a flock of charming and noisy Hedge Sparrows make a roost at night in a thick hedge in Greenhill. From the same area a group of Roe deer were often seen enjoying grazing on the stubble in a sloping field on Valley Farm. When I saw this group the individuals were varied in colour including one nearly black deer.
Not all the migrating birds had left early in the month. Our neighbouring young Swallows were still with us and a pair of Swifts were also seen in the centre of the village. Let us hope the warm weather lasts a little longer.
October 2016 - There are some occasions when you can hardly believe you your eyes when you see unusual insects visiting your garden and the one whose photograph is shown here had its picture taken in a garden in the village. It was hovering near to a flower whose petals form a tubular neck and had extended its long proboscis, (a feeding tube which normally is coiled up below its head) rapidly hovering while it sucked up the nectar. It is, appropriately, called a Hummingbird Hawkmoth and had been seen in the photographer's garden several times. We had also had one visiting our garden a few days before, sucking nectar from a Laurentia plant bought from the shop the week previously to fill a bare place by our kitchen window. Some of these insects are resident in the South of England, but the majority migrate in summer form Southern Europe and Africa. Some years they are more plentiful than others and this may be a bumper time. Has anyone else seen one? They are well worth watching out for.
The Hawkmoth is very descriptively named, but a plant growing by the drive to Coddenham House near the stream by Denys pond, seems at first reading to have a less suitable title. The plant is well over six foot tall but is called a Small Teasel. The name, however may refer to the flower which certainly is smaller than that of the Common Teasel. Another common name it has is "Shepherd's Rod" but the shepherd would have to do some work on the prickle covered stem of the plant before using it. It is a native plant but is quite fussy about its location needing a damp site and slightly calcareous soil. You can't miss it if you are walking that way.
Waiting for the bus at Crown Corner is not usually a rewarding experience, but in the paving by the seat we were treated to a display of a small flowering yellow Oxalis with green trefoil leaves. Is it a form of the similar one which has brown leaves and is a prolific weed in our shingle? The jury is still out.
November 2012 - I am not fond of housework and would prefer to be out in the garden so I must admit that the dusting and polishing is kept to a minimum. However this autumn the creatures known as Harvestmen have really shown up my lack of effort. These tiny bodied, long legged creatures have invaded our house in greater numbers than usual and are no sooner removed from the downstairs loo and the bathroom than they seem to appear again in increased numbers. Harvestmen are not true spiders. They do have eight legs but unlike true spiders, do not have two parts to their body. They are remarkably sociable, as sometimes groups of the beasts gather together in corners of walls as happened, to my shame, in our spare bedroom.
A more welcome visitor to the garden has been a female Great Spotted Woodpecker which has found a ready supply of small invertebrates in the decaying wood of our garden arch. These delightfully coloured birds with their vigorous drumming look almost too exotic for this climate.
Autumn brings crops of fungi round the village and there has been a spread of Shaggy Ink Cap fungi in the grass behind the Community Hall. These look like plump white furled umbrellas when they are young but the cap becomes shaggy as they mature and the rims begin to dissolve into a black liquid, hence the name. They are reputed to be edible when young but I have never tried them.
Ivy is a much maligned plant, perhaps because it so common. One of its great advantages, particularly when it allowed to grow up a tree or stump, is that it can produce a profusion of flowers at this time of year and on into November when other sources of nectar and pollen are so scarce. Walking over to Hemingstone in the sunshine on the path beyond Broom Hill the other day, a mass of Ivy flowers was buzzing with dozens of Bees making the most of the flowers. A great treat.
November 2013 - The last few warm days have tempted out some butterflies to enjoy the late sunshine and we have had Commas basking on our plum tree and a few Small Whites have fluttered round sunny corners. A large number of Shield Bugs live in our autumn fruiting Raspberry bushes but fortunately they don’t seem to eat the fruit.
The recently installed telegraph wires are always popular gathering spots for birds leaving and arriving at the beginning of autumn. Recently over a dozen Starlings have settled there at various times and presumably these are winter visitors to this country. Some Starlings are resident in Britain but large numbers arrive from Eastern Europe to avoid the more severe winters there. I have, on one occasion, seen a flock of dozens of these birds arriving at the viewpoint at Landgard Fort and taking advantage of the crumbs from visitors’ purchases at the mobile snack vans there.
A neighbour has also seen another of these robust telegraph wires used by a Squirrel as high-wire food transport system from a leafy garden to another garden much further down the street where there is a Walnut tree. The enterprising Squirrel returns from the tree with a walnut bulging in each cheek and this will doubtless be buried for consumption in the winter. No wonder Grey Squirrels are such survivors.
Birds are always tempted in to our gardens for food and three Great Spotted Woodpeckers were seen by a generous host in Crowfield on their feeder. A less welcome guest round another feeder in Coddenham was a hopeful Sparrowhawk on the lookout for small birds feeding there. I gather that the predator was disappointed on that occasion.
November 2014 - There has been both good and bad news this month in the parish on the wild life front. First the bad news.
I was sorry to hear earlier in the year that the Rosemary beetle, an invader from southern Europe, was present in other parts of the village. I had regarded our own flourishing bushes with some smugness, but Nemesis was just round the corner and a couple of weeks ago I found several of these beetles in our garden. They are about the size of a ladybird with metallic purple and green stripes and it seems will feed, along with their larvae, from late summer until the spring on the plant foliage. I have hand picked as many as I can find but I am still on the alert for signs of their activity as they can severely damage both Rosemary and Lavender. Watch out.
Following the sighting of evidence of Grass snakes on Broom Hill, a sad observation was made just south of the vineyard on Stone Street in Crowfield where a fellow Grass snake had been killed on the road. Although they can move quite quickly this is just outside the 30 mph limit so perhaps this one was not fast enough! However it is good to know that there are others around in the area.
A more mysterious death was observed by the same walker, this time in Coddenham churchyard where the corpse of a young Fox was shown to him near the south wall. There was no evidence of foul play but the body was rapidly decomposing so he gave it a decent burial making sure it could not be re-excavated. Any ideas about the cause of death? It seemed well nourished and unwounded.
Now the good news. Another neighbour has experienced a real owl Fest on his walks lately. Firstly, when exercising his dog after dark on Broom Hill he saw a Barn owl, in the light of his torch, flying low over the grassland. As if this was not enough he also heard the dual call of the Tawny owls the tu-whit of one and the answering tu-whoo of the other. On another occasion by daylight he spotted a Little owl while he was walking up the Drift above the bottom of Blacksmith’s Lane. This area must be a good hunting ground for owls with shelter for small mammals.
A final piece of floristic good news was pointed out at the top of Broom Hill where some Small Scabious flowers were in late bloom. This pretty blue flower is very similar to the much more common Field Scabious but it is now only found in rapidly diminishing areas of old grassland. We are so fortunate having two such areas in the village.
November 2015 - It was National Poetry Day last week and although I am not usually prone to quote Tennyson in the nature notes, a story I heard at that time reminded me of the memorable phrase in his long poem “In Memoriam”. The sad story I heard took place in a garden near Manor Farm where a Redpoll was spotted. (Not one of the Red Polls that used to graze there but a chubby little bird with a chunky beak and a red patch on its forehead). This welcome visitor, not seen very frequently these days, was, much to the watchers delight, hopping on the ground under their seed feeders when suddenly a Buzzard plunged down and pinioned the little bird under its claws and flew off with it much to the distress of the observers. We have been pleased to see Buzzards more frequently in the village and from time to time circling above Coddenham House. Obviously predators like Buzzards need to feed on small mammals and small birds and I suppose one cannot expect them to avoid birds that are now declining in numbers in this county! Like Tennyson I suppose one must accept that this is bound to happen. The phrase I was reminded of was “Nature red in tooth and claw”.
I have not heard previously of a Buzzard predating birds in a small garden. A more common predator of garden birds was seen sitting hopefully in a nearby garden last month, this was a Sparrowhawk which, while the observer was watching, failed to get a meal.
On happier note we have had good numbers of Swifts, Swallows and House Martins this year all round the village. The Swifts have now left us and I have seen no Swallows recently, however I saw a number of House Martins still feeding young under the eaves of Manor Farm house at the end of September. I would be interested to know when the last ones leave.
We usually refill our bird feeders before breakfast so that we can enjoy watching the visitors to these having their nuts and seeds while we munch our cereal. In addition to the Blue and Great Tits we have recently been visited by the odd Coal Tit which is much shyer than the Goldfinches or the bullying Greenfinches. The overweight Wood Pigeons with the Collared Doves strut around below hoping to catch edible fragments. We have had visits from Siskin in previous years but none has arrived yet. We shall breakfast in hope.
November 2016 - This excellent picture was taken at the allotments by one of the allotment holders. It is an exhausted Convolvulus Hawkmoth which the finders left to recover nearby.
It is hardly surprising that it has used up all its strength as it is likely to be a migrant from Africa which will not overwinter here. Its larva feeds on convolvulus leaves, of which there are plenty to be found after a wet early summer. A recent TV programme on the long migration of the Painted Lady butterfly expressed amazement at that insect's survival of the journey, but many Hawkmoths make a similar lengthy trip and it is great treat to see one and get a chance to photograph it. They are not at all common.
There were very few Buzzards seen in East Anglia after one of the last survivors of the earlier populations was shot in Coddenham in November 1931. However we have seen them slowly returning over recent years and Nature Notes has been able to record sightings showing this recovery. The largest group I have heard of was seen in the centre of the village by a couple enjoying the autumn sunshine in their garden this month. This was a crowd of no less than six Buzzards in two groups of three appearing at once. The group of trees to the south above the Needham road will soon justify its name of Buzzards' Hill.
Starlings are very sociable birds and their habit of gathering in large numbers in autumn is very obvious just now. We see groups of up to sixty evenly spaced along the telegraph wires at the end of the garden. Presumably they need the space between them to spread their wings when they launch off in a group to gather elsewhere. The Starling may be in decline nationally but we do seem to see a good number here.
December 2012 - It is always a pleasure walking around this area, but some of the most interesting sightings of wildlife are made by the solitary walkers. A walker with only his dog for company saw a group of Hares on the large field above Nucleus Plantation which runs towards Cooper Road. Hares love this sort of open country and feel at home here.
An exciting novelty for this parish was observed by a lone late night walker at the end of Lower Road near the junction with Spring Lane where the stream, which is flowing at present, runs under the road towards the centre of the village. The walker heard splashing in the stream accompanied by whistles and squeaks then saw two Otters run across the road in the moonlight. Otters are mainly nocturnal and usually solitary creatures. This sort of larking about by a couple is typical mating behaviour which usually happens around March but can take place at other times of year. We know that Otters are to be found around the Gipping but they can range widely in search of food. In recent years they have been one of our most threatened species but since rivers in Britain have become less polluted and their habitat around river banks improved, their numbers have greatly increased.
No one can have missed the recent news about the disease affecting our Ash trees. Sadly one of the first sightings was in Suffolk and, although I am no expert at identifying the disease, I have had a cursory look around the parish and I cannot spot any affected trees. I was surprised, however to see that we have more Ashes than I had thought and it is sad to imagine that we may yet lose them.
December 2013 - This has been a strange year for weather, as was emphasised when the summary of our records for the Coddenham Butterfly Transect arrived. These records are made on a weekly basis on a fixed route through the churchyard and across Manor Farm. This is done on a suitably warm day, from the beginning of April until the end of September by a doughty rota of four recorders, three from Coddenham and one from Stonham. We walk the route recording each butterfly we see within a prescribed area. I think we can all say that we have learnt a good deal in the process and also contributed to national records. After a very cold spring when hardly any butterflies were about the warm summer months produced a great number and challenged our counting techniques. We recorded 18 different species and a total of 687 individual insects of which 363 were Meadow Browns. Although none of our sightings were of rare species it is good to see such a variety of these lovely insects thriving in our countryside.
Weather provided us with our days of drama when we lost our electricity supply as a result of The Gale. In all the cases we observed, it was not the wind itself which brought down the cables but falling trees or branches of trees which caused the damage. In some cases Ivy growing over a dead tree formed a sail to catch the wind and topple the tree.
The trees which concerned us so much a year ago were the numerous Ash trees in the area which might well become infected by Ash dieback. Although some trees in the parish look as though they may be infected I have also seen the majority of trees looking healthy. There seems to be some hope nationally that some strains of Ash may have some resistance to the fungus. Let us hope that this proves correct.
December 2014 - There were predators in the centre of the village last week. A Sparrowhawk was seen on a tree in a garden at Church Cottages and it even stayed long enough to have its photo taken. Around the same time two Sparrowhawks were seen circling above houses at Crown Corner. I wonder if any attacks were made on small garden birds in the area. Our nut and seed feeders attract the small birds which in turn attract the Sparrowhawks. Another bird of prey, which has not been seen often in this area, was seen flying over the Shrublands area recently. This was a Red Kite which is much the same size as a Buzzard but easily is identified by its deeply forked tail. Kites will take small birds and rabbits but also do a useful clearing up job feeding on carrion.
The warm morning sun last week brought out a surprising number of insects to bask on the trunk of a tree in my neighbours garden. Among them an unusual Ladybird two small Grasshoppers as well as a number of unidentified flies. This trunk is the haunt of a Treecreeper which my neighbour has often seen creeping up the trunk where there is this buffet lunch waiting.
The rain, this month, followed by spells of unseasonably warm weather has produced some dramatic displays of fungi all round the parish. I am never very confident of my ability to accurately identify species of these fruiting bodies having mistaken, on one occasion, some Yellow Staining mushrooms for Common Field Mushrooms. This resulted in an unpleasant stomach upset for us both. Also fungi described as edible in field guides are not necessarily tasty. I now stick to admiring the pretty tufts of yellow-brown Pholiota growing on fallen wood on Broom Hill and a large display of the Yellow Stainers in another local field. Some compost that I put on some rose plants produced the pretty purple-blue Blewits, (no I haven’t spelt it wrongly). We confine ourselves these days to eating specimens from the shop.
December 2015 - We are so fortunate having a site so full of wildlife interest as Broom Hill. We are also most fortunate that the writer of Spade Work has done such an immense amount of cutting and raking of the grassland recently. A huge task. This has not only increased the probability of the wild flowers spreading, by removing the vigorous grasses to impoverish the soil, but it gives us a chance to see clearly what is going on in the area. A small number of plants of Common Centaury have appeared this year. These pretty little pink flowers are born on branching tufty stems only a few inches high. As it is an annual plant we will only see it again next year if the seeds can germinate in the patches of bare soil exposed by moles and rabbits, usually considered a nuisance, but in this case doing some useful earth moving, We should see cowslips next year in the Spring, and Meadow Saxifrage, Perforate St. Johns-wort and Small Scabious all increasing their spread later in the year.
Evidence of animal life is also exposed more clearly. A well trodden path runs diagonally across the hill from the lower footpath. This has clear claw marks on it, too long for a dog, and scattered round the path are piles of rather gooey poo. This leads the environmental Sherlock Holmes to conclude that all of these are evidence of Badgers in the vicinity. These animals make clearly defined pathways in the area of their latrines, which also mark the boundary of their territory. This animal had, on some occasions eaten fruit containing small stones about the size of a Haw fruit or a Sloe which were evident in these droppings and the soft nature of these latter might indicate that they had been eating a number of worms. Badgers have a very varied diet.
Another mammal that is seen from time to time in this area is the Muntjac deer. Usually these deer are adept at avoiding danger but a young one was heard on Broom Hill a few days ago in great distress, screaming as it had trapped its head in some wire fencing. A Good Samaritan, fortunately, heard it and ran for wire cutters and a towel to cover the deer’s head. Although slightly injured the deer escaped when released and another deer, maybe the mother, was heard barking nearby. A successful rescue.
At another side of the Parish a knowledgeable guest visiting a family in the village spotted a Little Egret in a field to the north of the road to Needham near its junction with the A 140. We still think of these “white herons” as rather exotic but they are seen much more frequently in the summer and some are even resident in the county.
December 2016 - One sometimes forgets that birds weigh so little. Their bones are full of air spaces, and it must be a great advantage to carry so little weight when you spend much of your time in the air. One of our neighbours was lucky enough to have an encounter recently with a group of some of our smallest birds each one of which weighs less than a 5p piece. She heard a high pitched twittering in a hedge near the top of Mill Hill and then saw a number of Goldcrest. These tiny birds get their name from the streak of gold feathers on the top of their heads. Goldcrest are not uncommon birds but are not always easy to spot, partly on account of their size and also because of their diet. They feed on insects and spiders and search for these in trees, mainly conifers, therefore they are not going to visit bird feeders. They are resident all the year round but at this time of year flocks from Scandinavia visit for the winter.
From now on food for all birds is getting scarce and hedgerow food in East Anglia is variable. The dry early autumn has resulted in shrivelled Blackberries and Elderberries in some areas, as we found to our cost when we visited a site nearby which has given us a good crop in the past. Rosehips and Hawthorn berries however are reasonably plentiful, and with the usual generous contributions from local garden feeders there should be a reasonable supply of food for the fruit and seed eaters.
We are, at present, in the West Highlands where our replenishment of the bird feeders is much appreciated by the local visitors. The most aggressive are the Chaffinches, where a family of about six fights off the opposition of Goldfinches, a Robin, and Blue and Great Tits. However wily Coal Tits manage to sneak in when they are off their guard.
A final piece of news from the allotments gives evidence that Grass snakes are happily in residence, as a shed skin was found some time ago. I imagine that now they are hibernating in the warm compost heaps.