Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I just wanted to say thanks to my friend Patrick Roper for the gift of his book 'Chequer - wild service tree' written by Patrick. I know you'll get this Patrick as I've included the words wild service tree, so thank you. The book is published by Sage Press and there are others available such as Oak, Hawthorn, Ash etc. They are excellent reference points for the history of our trees.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It was a beautiful day at Scrag, cold and misty at first but once the sun broke through, it was lovely to construct the new bird hide. I built this one with my father over Christmas in his big garage and its aim is to provide an alternative shooting position for up to 3 photographers when the later afternoon, light is more dominant. The main hide can get a little shady from 3pm onwards in winter when the sun is lower, so this one should really enhance the woodland bird's photography workshops. If you are interested in attending one of these superb days please visit the website
All day there were 2 robins singing from the blackthorn area as well as the occasional great spotted woodpecker drum. Spring is approaching and if you look at the woodland floor it is obvious with the new season's primrose leaves emerging as well as bluebell clusters appearing (not the flower, the plant) and dog's mercury too! By my reckoning the start of spring is in the first week of February, but everyone moans at me when I say that. However, if you spend enough time in the wood there are so many plants beginning to emerge it can't really be denied that growth is starting.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

It has been a busy week at Scrag this week. The warmer temperatures have meant that I have been able to get on with some nagging jobs before the start of teaching in February. I started a bit of thinning along the south side of the stream. It is a potentially lovely strip of woodland with areas of good ground flora, but it is being shaded somewhat by young hawthorns and blackthorn. They are only a few centimetres in diameter so I brought them down with a bow-saw and worked up the brash with billhook. Its very satisfying work and I've been using the resulting brash to create a brash hedge along the edge of the public footpath which is better than burning it.
Last year a large hornbeam came down in a storm and it created a gap in the canopy and a nice light glade which had a resident speckled wood butterfly guarding the area territorially. However, there is still a huge pile of branches and dead vegetation shading it out still so I have been gradually clearing that up and again using it in the hedge. Creating a lighter glade will result in more ground flora and maybe some grasses which will be beneficial for butterflies.
I have now treated all the bird boxes I previously made from recycled floorboards so there are about 25 boxes now to go up as soon as possible.
On a negative side the bridge that floated downstream after a flood into the neighbouring land has sadly disappeared!! I was waiting for the ice to melt and water level to drop so I could float it back upstream but annoyingly someone got there first.
During an afternoons work, I heard a loud commotion from a couple of dogs that went on for some time. Later, I also found the freshly severed leg of a roe deer. Not very pleasant but I was s
urprised at the damage to the bone and considering that we don't have any wolves around here I assumed it was caused by the dogs. These are another pair of dogs that are annoyingly being allowed to run wild throughout the local area. On Friday, I saw them again at around the same time of day chasing another 2 roe deer. The deer seemed to be staying well ahead but the dogs seem relentless. I think I know where these ones come from, so if there are any more problems I will have to pay a visit.
A little more positively, the jay that now feeds at the
baiting area gave me some nice opportunities the other day. This will be good for the upcoming woodland birds workshops.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

So Much for Squirrel Proof!!!

Well, I think the picture says it all! This could be Houdini the squirrel but he got stuck. I found him trapped and struggling inside this supposed squirrel proof nut feeder at around midday today and when I finished he was still there at 4pm. Now, although I don't want squirrels at Scrag due to the damage and the effect they have on breeding bird populations, I felt it was no way to die for any creature; freezing to death. So, with a thick pair of work gloves and throwing my coat over the feeder to prevent him panicking, I dismantled the whole thing to let him out. Fortunately, it all went smoothly as I had no desire to have set of sharp teeth hanging from one of my fingers. Hopefully, he has learnt from his experience. I now have to take the nut feeder back for a refund; they are not cheap and I do not want to turn up to find a frozen squirrel in a cage next time I arrive.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Yesterday saw a spectacular hoar frost across Scrag Copse with every tree was frozen into a crystal sculpture. When I first arrived at the wood every single branch and twig was coated in feathery, translucent ice crystals. I think the overall temperature rose to a maximum of 1 degree and as the morning progressed, some sun broke through causing exposed areas of the hoarfrost to melt, however, most of the wood remained frosted in ice throughout the whole day. Looking through the icy chaos of the branches towards the sunlight was a spectacular sight!
It was good to crunch through both the leaves and the frost and has the added advantage that my boots aren't getting heavy with mud. I have to make the most of this as thick mud is a fact of life at Scrag. At one stage throughout the day I was alerted by the sound of rustling leaves and I thought someone was approaching. When I scanned with my binoculars, however, I realised it was a large flock of redwings. They were rolling along the woodland floor throwing leaves behind them as they searched for invertebrates. It was difficult to estimate the size of the flock but I would say close to 100 or so and collectively their leaf sifting activities caused quite a lot of noise even from 30m distance. The normal view of redwings in the woodland is as they fly overhead, 'hupping' so it was a pleasure to watch them so engrossed in their feeding. They're a dynamic looking small thrush with orange-red underwings and flanks. They have a pale stripe above the eye with a similar pale moustachial stripe and this gives them a slightly annoyed or angry look. As I watched them, leaning against a birch, there were some sudden alarm calls from the canopy from magpies and jays and then the whole redwing flock took to the wing in fright. They all flew directly past me just above the ground so close to me that I could hear their wings. I scanned for the avian predator that had clearly caused the commotion but got no sighting. Overall though it was a lovely winter experience in the woods.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Capture to Computer Workshops

There are still a couple of spaces available on the next Capture to Computer workshops. These workshops cover photography and Photoshop techniques to get the best from your images of wildlife. They take place at Woods Mill the headquarters and reserve of Sussex Wildlife Trust near Henfield.
If you are interested in attending this workshop please visit and click on the courses page.

Bitter, was the only way to describe the weather today at Scrag! We have now had a very cold 2 weeks and in fact this winter overall so far has been very cold; I have heard it is the coldest for 30 years and tonight is forecast to be the coldest yet.
As a result, I have not been visiting as often as I would like despite having jobs that need to be done. However, there is little point in expending the petrol just to be there for a couple of hours. I feel that my only responsibility is to ensure that the birds are fed. The bird population at Scrag is an asset and as such helping their winter survival is important. Besides, imagine being a tiny bird trying to get through this arctic spell, they deserve our help.
The squirrel-proof feeders have certainly proved a worthwhile investment. Previously, a stocked feeder would last 1-2 days at most before being ripped open by a squirrels. Now they are lasting up to 6 days. This is good for me as I don't spend so much on nuts and certainly good for the birds as they have a prolonged and guaranteed supply of energy-rich food.