It is lovely to hear the birds starting to sing and it won't be long until there is a full blown dawn chorus! One of the birds I heard sing for the first time this year, is the dunnock This is a common bird, but it is not always readily seen as it often skulks around in the hedges. Hence it is often called a hedge sparrow - not that it is related to a sparrow though! They can be found flitting along and around the hedgerows of the Green, but they are also a garden bird, so you may well see them at home as well.
One advantage of the trees not having any leaves on them is that it is very easy to see the beautiful lichens growing on them, especially when the sun shines. Many of the hawthorn bushes on the Green have this wonderful orange coloured lichen Xanthoria parietina, growing on their branches. A closer look and I think you will agree it is beautiful. Lichens are fascinating as they contain both fungal and algal cells, that live symbiotically. In this photo, the bright orange discs are the part of the lichen that produce the spores (apothecia) and the more yellow leafy growths are known as the thallus.
The spring flowers are slowly starting to appear and I did see my first lesser celandine flowering last week, which is always a welcome sight. Another early flowering plant and one that is a very important nectar source for emerging bees, is the red dead nettle. Whilst it is a common plant, it might take a bit longer to find, as it nestles in amongst the grasses. Once found, I think you will agree that the flowers are beautiful, being very delicate and almost orchid-like - and the bees definitely like them!
There are definite signs that Spring is getting a little bit closer: snowdrops are flowering, tree buds are swelling and more birds are singing (especially the song thrush). A less obvious sign that Spring is creeping up on us is the presence of hazel flowers. Now these pink/red flowers are only a couple of millimetre long - so you are forgiven for not seeing them! They adorn the branches of hazel trees and can usually be found just above the dangly male yellow catkins. Amazingly, these small female flowers, once pollinated, go on to produce the much larger hazel or cobnut see Diary 2022 and scroll down to August, much loved by mice, squirrels and humans! So next time you are admiring hazel catkins, take a closer look and see if you can spot any red female flowers.
Regular visitors to the Green will be familiar with the sight of the fallen sweet chestnut tree, that we have left to rot down in situ. However, last summer some of the branches were cut up and distributed around the edges of the Green, to rot away and to provide habitats for all sorts of critters. Well, I was delighted to see that the decomposing process has already started, by the presence of fungi on some of the dead wood. This is hairy curtain crust fungus (more about this in a future post) and it is an important species in breaking down and decomposing dead wood. Just what we wanted!
Quiz time … what bird does this pinkish breast belong to? Well, it is a rather camera shy male chaffinch who just wouldn't put his head in front of the branch! It was great to see though, as chaffinch numbers have dropped dramatically since 2007. They are susceptible to a disease called Trichomonosis (as are greenfinch) and so their numbers have plummeted and this once common garden bird is now struggling. So it is good to see a pair out and about on the Green and fingers crossed that they will breed successfully this year.