Tag Archives: catkin

Buds and blooms

Many fellow bloggers out there have been posting some lovely images of spring events and as this time of year is an exciting one from a nature perspective I felt inspired to get out and get some pictures of vernal regeneration in my part of the world.

I didn’t have to wander too far, the apple and hazel trees and the beech hedge in my garden are showing signs of waking up from the winter slumber:


Nascent apple blossom about to burst into life

A catkin – the flower of the hazel tree, above. And below, the diminutive inflorescence that will eventually become a hazelnut.

Hazel trees (Corylus avellana) produce catkins early in the year which are monoecious, which means they are either male or female, the one above is a male one, the females being tiny and hidden in the buds and the pollen is wind dispersed.  They provide not only nuts but if left to their own devices hazel ‘poles’ sprout from the ground which grow tall and straight and are coppiced to make fencing, and in the days when wattle and daub was used for building  walls the poles were used to make the wattle on which mud was plastered to provide the daub.

Beech leaves sprouting from the apical buds at the top of a hedge


A couple of hundred metres along the road on the grass verge was this cluster of lesser celandines (Ranunculus ficaria)

According to the font af all wisdom that is Wiki, lesser celandine used to be known as ‘pilewort’ because it was thought of as a remedy for haemorrhoids. I like this cluster because all the flowers are in different stages of opening, from a tightly closed green bud to a fully open flower.

Once into the fields the hedgerows were lined with the thorny stems and freshly shooting leaves of the bramble:

Lining the drainage ditches which delineate the field margins in this part of the world are willow trees (Salix cinerea) which need the water that drains from the fields and in the spring are covered in the furry catkins which give the tree its common name of ‘pussy willow’:

Willow catkin – unlike the hazel the catkins of the willow are dioecious, containing both male and female reproductive machinery in the same catkin

The wood of another species of willow tree (white willow, Salix alba) is very light and very strong and is used to make cricket bats and the bark of the willow contains a compound called salicylic acid which is the chemical precursor of aspirin. The analgesic properties of willow bark have been known of for centuries and have been maximised by acetylating salicylic acid to make aspirin. As well as analgesia, aspirin is now used as an anticoagulant to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke and recent studies suggest it may have anti-carcinogenic activity too.

The plants in this post are a random selection from the garden, roadside verge and the countryside within 200 of my house and all of them provide us with something useful. The beech is structural and is ideal for hedging. Apple, bramble and hazel all have edible fruits. Lesser celandine may shrink your chalfonts* and the willow provides drugs to treat pain, heart disease and cancer (not forgetting cricket bats).

* Chalfonts = ‘Chalfont St Giles’ (I’m sure you can work it out)

Buntings abound: 29th and 30th January 2011

This weekend my meanderings took me to the open fields Histon and Cottenham, an area I haven’t properly explored for quite a long time. As I set off early on Saturday morning the weather was murky and very cold and consequently I was feeling pessimistic about encountering the local wild creatures.

Fortunately I was mistaken. The wild creatures were there aplenty. Flocks of mixed gulls, rooks, Corvus frugilegus, (N.b. I’m planning to make a taxonomic index of Latin names for the species on an adjacent page so I can avoid writing them here), and in particular, wood pigeon, Columba palumbus. Wood pigeon can often be seen in flocks but on this occasion there were many flocks, the  largest containing thousands of individuals. They are a farmers curse as they can devastate fields of new shoots, hence the sound of shotgun fire punctuating my progress. My father told me stories of my grandmother being given wood pigeon during World War II – a valuable source of free meat – and when opened up the crops liteally exploded as they were stuffed completely full of fresh green shoots. Multiply that up by several thousand birds and the damage they can do to crops is obvious. Still, they’re impressive to watch in those kind of numbers.

My aforementioned pessimism was tempered by the sight of hazel trees, Corylus avellana, covered in catkins, the first suggestion of approaching Spring time.
Hazel saplings festooned with the first catkins of 2011 – Spring is imminent!

And indeed, a friend told me on Monday morning she had seen daffodils shooting in the village. So I reckon that makes it official. In the same hedgerow as the catkins – the Merlin Hedge – (click here for a sketch map of my walk route), were a flock of greenfinch, Carduelis chloris, and a small group of fieldfare, Turdus pilaris, feeding on the ground. The greenfinch were manic, chasing each other as a flock around the fields either side of the hedgerow.

Turning right at the end of the hedge heading past the Yellowhammer Hedge – which didn’t contain any yellowhammers, or indeed any other birdlife – a big fox, Vulpes vulpes, was standing in the middle of the field beyond watching me and the dog:


A fox taking a keen interest in what me and the dog were doing

The fox was around 300m away and the quality of the image gives a good idea of the murky grey weather condiitions. Doesn’t convey how cold it was though! This one has a distinctly grey coat and I’ve seen foxes in this area before with similar coloration, so it could be the same one or one of his offspring. He’s close to where foxes reared a litter of cubs last year so he could be one of that family.  After the excitement of seeing the fox, I was scanning the adjacent field for any other signs of life and spotted a second fox – it could have been the same one but he’d have had to move very fast to get to the second location. And as it disappeared through a hedge a group of three roe deer, Capreolus capreolus, entered the same field.


Roe deer bounding across a field – and a bird taking to the air somewhere between me and them

The dog spotted the deer as soon as I did and immediately pricked his ears up, he was around 25m away from me and in order to avoid any dog/deer interaction I called him and the deer instantly turned to look even though they were around 300m away. They have incredibly acute hearing.

Between us and the deer were a flock of skylark, Alauda arvensis, on the ground (it could be one of them taking off in the photograph). It was impossible to count them accurately as they were whizzing around at very high speed close to the ground where their camouflage rendered them almost invisible, but I estimate there were between 10 and 20.

I’d been hoping to see yellowhammer, Emberiza citrinella, and I’d spent some time peering at the Yellowhammer Hedge and the surrounding fields but without seeing many birds at all. Then as I approached the end of the hedgerow leading to the Owl Shed I could see a flock of small birds flitting between the hedge and the Fallow Field and they turned out to be a mixture of reed bunting, Emberiza schoeniclus, and yellowhammer:


Mixed group of reed bunting and yellowhammer


Female yellowhammer
…and a male of the species. What a glorious colour!

Both species were numerous and could be seen flying around the hedge all the way along to the Owl Shed and dropping down onto the ground to look for food and to hide from me.


Reed bunting male

Young male reed bunting

The remainder of my Saturday morning sojourn was not quite so lively but numerous fieldfare, redwing (Turdus iliaca), chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) and a kestrel (Falco tinunculus) were busy around the pig farm.

On Sunday 30th January the weather was brighter and more mild so I set off again towards the Owl Shed to try to get some more photographs. Despite the improved weather there was nowhere near the amount of wildlife around I’d seen the day before, although a hare (Lepus europaeus) appeared in the field where I first saw the fox. And fortunately the reed bunting and yellowhammer were still in the end of the hedgerow where I’d left them on Saturday, although not in the same numbers. So I got my pictures and then had to rush home to get off to my nephews 18th birthday party.

A very enjoyable weekend all round, and in particular the Emberiza species congregated in the Owl Shed Hedge.