Friday, May 28, 2010

Birds, bees and a rather trendy caterpillar

I went to meet Steve Cornish to talk about the reed warblers currently nesting in Downtown Pond, and to look at some of the recent work being carried out at the Russia Dock Woodland. The RDW is looking good, with water flowing well, lots of Yellow Flag irises in full flower, hundreds of damsel flies, and lots of pale pink dog roses scattered around. After we had failed to see the warbler (but saw a spotted woodpecker) we walked to the Stave Hill Ecological Park compound.

The Stave Hill compound is looking excellent with a vast and elegant wooden insect city sitting on a base of pebbles, water and apline flowers. But although these were great features the star attraction turned out to be some bee hives that I didn't know existed, complete with their handler Craig. The hives, which Craig makes himself, were quite unlike any hives that I have seen before, and I had thought were compost bins. Likewise Craig, in a business suit and bare-headed, did not fit my preconception of a beekeeper (which involved strange hats and a lot of netting). We went over to him as he opened up the hives to look for the Queen, pulling out frames covered in bees to locate her. The bees carried on working regardless, apparently unconcerned about their world being rearranged. I asked a lot of probably very silly questions and received some fascinating answers. Queen bees (we saw one) can live as long as eight years, whereas worker bees during the busy summer months may literally work themselves to death in only six weeks. The Queen that we were looking for wasn't laying eggs properly. If a Queen ceases to lay eggs then the hive will die out in a matter of around two months. Craig had a replacement for her to ensure the survival of the entire hive. If the Queen isn't replaced then not only does the population of the hive eventually die out, but the worker bees cease to work at full capacity. As well as collecting pollen and working in the hive, the workers are responsible for keeping the hive clean inside and out. They can also attract missing bees by generating the scent of the hive, which they do as a group with a fanning motion. The male bees from the hive have no stings, and I stood with one on the palm of my hand, a truly beautiful little thing. Craig says that many people confuse honey bees for wasps, which surprised me.

My thanks to Craig for the highlight of my week.

A presumably suicidal caterpillar, black and bright green, was trying to make its way into one of the hives, and that too ended up on my hand. I didn't photograph it but I looked it up when I arrived home and it was a Zygaena filipendulae moth (Six-Spot Burnet - you can find a photograph here if you want to see what it looked like).

Friday, March 19, 2010

Surrey Docks Farm & Greenland Dock on the 16th March

After leaving Stave Hill Ecological Park I walked through the RDW and headed past the Downtown site and over the bridge to the Thames Path.

The Downtown site is an absolute disgrace. The strategy of leaving an area to decay so that people will support development is truly dishonourable. Fortunately local kids don't seem to have adopted it as a private hideaway (which is what we would have done when I was a kid, it has to be confessed).

I cut through the Surrey Docks Farm to follow the Thames Path and was lucky enough to see piglets! Quite gorgeous. As usual the farm looked great and the cafe, re-opened a few weeks ago, was absolutely heaving!

I walked back to my house along Greenland Dock where the coots and grebes were already attacking each other. A pair of grebes were laying claim to the pontoon under the Norway Cut swing bridge - last year they shared it with a pair of coots. We'll see who wins this year!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Stave Hill Ecological Park

The SHEP is also looking extremely well organized. Spring is usually a period when the new growth climbs through the old, but at Stave Hill the old growth has been firmly removed and the new growth will have a free range. I walked past a man hoeing at the grass area below the windmill. It looked like hard work but everything was very tidy and clean.

The main highlights of the walk through the ecological park were the violets, a single lovely daffodil and two frogs mating in the tiny pond at the end of the butterfly sanctuary. The reed bed opposite Stave Hill pond, and the fabulous coloured bark of the surrounding shrubs, are as lovely as usual. The colours never cease to amaze at any season. The butterfly sanctuary has been crew-cut again, but will doubtless recover eventually. The bee-attracting budleias are all growing new leaves. The new moat at the end of the butterfly sanctuary still looks very harsh and new but it will hopefully mellow during the summer.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spring is arriving

Today was the perfect spring day. I arrived at about 12.30 and I was wandering around in a t-shirt. I had the emergency back-up of a jumper around my neck and a jacket arranged over my shoulder bag, but it was so warm that I didn't actually need either. I haven't felt so warm outdoors all year.

The park was very quiet. There was the usual assortment of women with pushchairs, men with small dogs and the odd jogger, but there weren't many other people around.

I haven't been in the parks for ages and it was great to go and stretch my legs and see what had changed. As everything was under snow the last time I was there quite a lot had changed!

Both the Russia Dock Woodland and Stave Hill Ecological Park looked very manicured.

I'll write about the Ecological Park in the next couple of days. In the Russia Dock Woodland there were patches of crocus and snowdrop. They were lovely. Daffodils still haven't come into flower but they should do in the next couple of weeks. The cherry laurel is in bud, and in the areas where it was seriously cut back it is making a radical come-back and the Red Nettle is widespread. The Yellow Flag, as usual at this time of year, is reviving and the bulrushes are fluffy, dispersing their seeds. Everything else has new buds and tiny green leaves. There is pussy willow and there are catkins.

There were several squirrels out and about.

There was a lot of bird song from the trees but the only ones I came face to face with were blackbirds, starlings, a magpie, lots of pigeons and two sparrows.

On the ponds there were mallards, moorhens, coots and, on Globe Pond, two Canada Geese.

On the insect front there was one gigantic and very cheesed off bumble bee, a ladybird on a dead oak leaf and a very surpising bright yellow brimstone butterly (which was just too far away to photograph).

Spring has certainly arrived, and not a moment too soon!