Saturday, April 18, 2009

Blue skies and new shoots

I arrived in the Russia Dock Woodland at 12.15, having had to return to the house once to get more clothing. It was deceptively sunny out there. Beautiful, but with a serious wind chill factor. I haven't been in the park since early April and it always amazes me how, in all seasons except winter, the colours and patterns change so quickly. There are thousands of insects everywhere. Some plants have gone over after a brief explosion of life, some which have been in flower for a long time have grown thicker and richer and new colours are everywhere.

The daffodils have gone over completely, leaving behind only a few dead heads surviving over tall dark leaves. The blackthorn bloosom has gone over but has been replaced by bright new leaves. The glorious gorse is reaching the end of its life with some patches already brown whilst others are an explosion of dense bright orange-yellow clusters. A tiny handful of celendines remain.

But whilst some plants are coming to the end of their seasonal display, others which have been around since early spring have continued to flourish and are spreading across the park like bright legions. At ground level speedwell, common chickweed and purple dead nettle are mixing with the dandelions and daisies, providing an absolute riot of colour in the short grass. Some of the dandelions have already produced translucent white globes, brilliant in the wind, floating away on the wind with the blossom petals. Groundsell is lurking everywhere. Looking upwards there is cherry blossom in full bloom and everywhere new buds and leaves are appearing. Taller white dead nettels are spreading, white garlic mustard is going mad and there are more patches of purple honesty. The more mature garlic mustard plants have now developed seed pods which is good news for the orange tipped white butterfly whose caterpillars particularly like them as food. Green alkanet is forming dense clumps with its bright blue flowers. I thought that the violets had vanished completely but I was enhancted to see a small patch of valiant survivors in a corner of the ecological park.

New flowers which have appeared since my last visit include meadow buttercups, bluebells in light blue and pink, greater celandine (which looks nothing like lesser celandine), wallflower and three-cornered garlic with its delicate white bells. There were also enchanting deep pink flowers, tiny little things hiding in the grass surrounding the green, possibly mountain cranesbill. These little bright pink gems are few and far between but look out for them because they reward closer examination. Shepherd's purse is spreading itself over a large area, with its distinctive little heart-shaped seedpods. Even wild strawberries have established themselves. Rather less delicate, cow parsely dominates huge patches of the woodland.

In shurbs and trees the elder flowers have appeared, big domes of white flowers over big dark leaves. The hawthorn is now in blossom and looks very fine.

In all the damp zones yellow flag leaves are growing tall and in the damp bed opposite Stave Hill Pond the reeds are beginning to come through, which is very pleasing. The ponds all need more water, but there will be good-news a post about that in the next few days. The water in Stave Hill Pond is as clear as I have ever seen it and little fish, some as long as two inches, were darting around in the sun.

There were lots of flies, bombulius majors, bees, hover flies, butterflies and a single wasp. There were lots of speckled wood butterflies and a number of whites, although the whites remain elusive as they refused to settle. There were no commas today.

Water birds were mainly on Globe Pond - mallards, coots, moorhens and a single Canada goose. In the trees and shrubs the only birds I could identify apart from the ubiquitous pigeons and magpies were robins and Great Tits. I could hear plenty of different types of bird song but could not see the perpetrators.

There were no butterflies in the butterfly sanctuary but it is beginning to return to life, slowly. The grass is beginning to grow and plants are gaining height.

Throughout the ecological park the vetch is coming back, which will be delightful when it comes into flower. The roses are also looking healthy and should be in flower in the next few months.

I saw a single squirrel but no foxes.

On the green, as I headed back towards the bridge over Redriff Road, there are two additional park benches.

Walking past Redriff School before crossing the bridge I looked into the fenced off devestation that is the Downtown site. I was sad to see that the compass sculpture still hasn't been moved to a suitable location and is still surrounded by barriers. The trees that once stood around it have been felled to a foot from the ground and now all that remains are the bare raw stumps.

The Thames Path was quiet in spite of the perfection of the day, but the Surrey Docks Farm was busy with families happily exploring the sights. I was hoping to see the piglets but the path was blocked off with the warning "bee swarm".

On leaving the farm I was horrified to see that the animal sculptures are no longer there. Have they been removed for their safety or have they been stolen? If anyone knows please let me know.

On Greenland Dock everything was quiet. A single juvenile seagull was busy, but the only other area of interest was the pontoon by the Norway Cut Swing Bridge where a pair of coots have made their nest with a vast array of plastic and aquatic vegetation. The coots already have two chicks which are already quite huge! Three unwary mallards were soon given their marching orders as the chicks preened on the pontoon, unconcerned.

I will post more photographs in the next couple of days.

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