Well, it has certainly been a bit of a soggy end to the year, although, we did have a few cold and crisp days at the beginning of the month. On one of the sunny but cold mornings I went over to the Green and the hoar frost was still clinging to the vegetation and transforming it into a beautiful glistening jewel! The Green looked absolutely stunning.
Who can't resist a long tailed tit? This little bundle of gorgeousness appeared with the rest of its family, along one of the hedgerows on the boundary of the Green. For most of the year, long tailed tits live in an extended family, and often you will hear them chattering to each other, well before you see them! They make the most beautiful nests, full of moss and lichen which is held together by cobwebs — an absolute work of art. They do breed in the hedgerows of the Green and in the dense scrub, so do keep an eye out for these delightful little birds.
Earlier in the month, I was looking at some of the wood piles that we made from the branches of the sweet chestnut tree, that blew over a few years ago. I was delighted to find that the fungi have moved in and in particular there is quite a lot of the orange hairy curtain crust fungi (Stereum hirsutum) growing on the dead wood. This is exactly what we wanted to happen — for the fungi to start rotting down the wood and in the process provide a home for a whole lot of other critters. I love it when a plan works! More on the hairy curtain crust fungi next month, when I have got some close up pictures!
Bumblebees in late November - who would have thought it? I was very surprised to see this beautiful queen (buff tailed - I think) bumblebee sunning herself on a fence post last week. However, a bit of an internet search later and I now know that some bees, especially buff tails, can be active in late autumn and provided there is enough food, throughout the winter. Now, I wouldn't say this lady was being very active, but she was enjoying soaking up the sun rays in a sheltered spot on the Green.
Great news — a little egret seems to back and I have seen it on the Green a couple of times as well as on the golf course in Beacon Park. They are a lot more common that they used to be, but it is still lovely to see one. I managed this shot of one in Beacon Park the other morning, where it seemed to be enjoying a breakfast of signal crayfish.
Whilst most of the Autumn colours have know gone, there is still some beautiful light to be had at certain times of the day. This was certainly true the other afternoon when the Cathedral was looking quite dramatic against a dark sky. Maybe they should put some Christmas lights on the scaffolding to give Lichfield a rather unique appearance - it would look a bit like an enormous Christmas tree!
Well, October is definitely fungi month and there has been a lovely display of waxcaps on the meadow area, including these beautiful red ones. Waxcap fungi are quite small and they nestle amongst the grass, so you have to look quite carefully to see them - but they are worth it! Waxcaps form a very important habitat known as a waxcap grassland (more can be read about this on our website) and this year Plantlife have launched an excellent scheme (known as waxcap watch) to identify where these important waxcap grasslands can be found. I would urge anyone to take part and it's really easy to do (all you have to do is download the App). I have done a survey of the Green using the App and based on the number of different waxcaps that I found, the results show that the site is good for grassland fungi and worth a survey by an expert. That's great news, so watch this space!
Another red fungi that can be found on the Green, near the silver birch trees, is the much larger and more easily identifiable fly agaric. However, these iconic fungi can be a bit confusing as their distinctive white spots get washed off after heavy rain and so you are left with just a shiny red cap and very few spots! In fact the white spots, aren't really spots at all, but are remnants of a membrane (known as a veil) which is present when the mushroom is growing and easily gets washed off after rain.
The warm weather in October has meant that there are still some butterflies flying and I noticed a red admiral earlier on in the month, basking in the sun in a sheltered spot on the Green. According to Butterfly Conservation, the number of red admirals sightings have dramatically increased this year. It is thought to be due to more of the species now overwintering in the UK due to warmer temperatures. Now, I'm not sure if this is a good or bad thing!
I was very surprised and saddened to find this dead barn owl on the Green a few weeks ago. It was lying by one of the hedges although there was no obvious sign of how it died. It might have been hit by a car or maybe it was struggling to find sufficient food. All very sad, but I think you will agree, that it is a stunning animal - just look at those talons! Unfortunately, it was not ringed, so we don't know where it came from or how old it is. On a positive note, it is good to know that there are barn owls in the area and the finding has been reported to Staffordshire Barn Owl Action Group.
September has been such a mild month and there are still many invertebrates about, including dragonflies, hoverflies and butterflies. One such species, is the gorgeous speckled wood butterfly, showing off its creamy yellow eyespots. It is often found along the bramble hedgerows of the Green and I have seen quite a few in Leomansley woods as well. Interestingly, the speckled wood has two broods a year - the first in May to June and the second in August to September, which explains why the adults are still around in early Autumn.
Well, it's that time of year again and the cattle are being taken off the Green in the first week of October. As usual they have done a fantastic job of grazing the Green and without them we would not get such a wonderful show of orchids and wild flowers. So a huge thanks to the farmer for putting them on each year and to the people walking on the Green, who respect the cattle and keep their dogs under control. That being said, the cattle have been a little naughty this last week and managed to break out and eat some lovely sweet grass in the adjoining field. So there is definitely a lot of truth in the saying “the grass on the other side of the fence is always greener” — especially if you're a young bullock!
Knopper galls! I don't know if you have looked closely at any oak trees lately, but instead of seeing normal acorns, you may see these weird and rather knobbly distorted acorns, called knopper galls. Many of the oak trees on the edge of the Green have these galls but what exactly are they? Well, in early summer, a tiny wasp (Andricus quercuscalicis, if you want to know) lays an egg(s) on a developing acorn and the resultant larva hatches and not only lives in what should become the acorn, but it also releases a number of chemicals that cause the acorn to develop this rather bewilderingly distorted knobbly appearance. I find this absolutely incredible and if you cut open this gall, you would find the wasp larva nicely snuggled up in its cosy home! More about these fascinating galls are explained in this excellent article by Sussex Wildlife Trust.
Near the path going to the back gate, by Leomansley House, there are a number of tall plants with lovely long purple flower heads. This is purple loosestrife, which loves to grow in damp ground and so is only found on the wetter areas of the Green. It flowers later than many plant species and so is an important nectar source for butterflies and other invertebrates. Often you will see butterflies feeding on the flowers this time of year - but not when I took the photo, as it was almost raining!
What a fantastic photo of the Green in the (very) early morning! It was taken by Wildlife Kate, who often frequents the Green a bit earlier than I do! Such a tranquil scene with the cattle just starting to get out of bed and the cathedral being silhouetted in the background. Sadly for us, Kate is going to be moving on to pastures new in the near future and I for one will definitely miss her support and amazing photos! But good luck Kate in your new venture!
July, as well as August, is when the number and variety of butterflies on the Green dramatically increases (apart from when it is raining of course!). Have a look at our butterfly page on our website to see what species can be found. One of my favourites (although I do have quite a few) is the elegant comma butterfly, which can usually be found feeding and basking on the bramble. They are so called, as they have a small white comma marking on the underwing, but this one decided to show off its beautiful upper wing instead!
Talking of butterflies, don't forget you have until the 6th August to take part in the Big Butterfly Count. This is a great initiative and is simple to do. I spent 15 minutes on the Green yesterday looking at a small patch of bramble and counted 8 meadow brown, 9 gatekeepers (shown in photo), 2 comma and 2 small white butterflies. Not too bad considering the weather could have been better. Please let us know what you find!
Well, the orchids are all done and dusted for another year, and I am really pleased that most of the flower heads managed to go to seed and hopefully that will allow the orchids to spread even further! Although rather different, one plant that is now flowering, is the rather eye catching, yet delicate harebell (also known as Scottish bluebell). These seemingly innocuous flowers however are surrounded by folklore, not least that the milky sap that the flowers produce can be drunk by witches, who will then be turned into hares — and hence the name, harebell! So, look out for any witches, or hares, for that matter on Pipe Green!
Yes, the cattle are now on the Green and are settling in well. They have certainly got a lot of food and seem to be putting up a team effort to see how much they can eat! I have been to say hello and they are very friendly and curious but please keep dogs under close control when around them.
The orchids did not disappoint this year and put on a wonderful show. They certainly seem to be spreading, which is great news. What I also love is the diversity of plants growing amongst the orchids, from the birds foot trefoil to the elegant grasses. It is this diversity of plant species that makes Pipe Green meadow such a special place (and a Site of Biological Importance). Unfortunately, across the UK, meadowland habitat has decreased by 97% since the Second world war and this is why it is so important that we protect and appropriately manage the Green.
Towards the end of the month, the number of butterflies out and about have also dramatically increased. I saw hundreds (well maybe a bit of an exaggeration!) of meadow brown butterflies last week. which is a good sign. They love to feed on the bramble blossom and it is worth stopping and having a good look at the bramble bushes on the edge of the Green to see what you can find. Not only the butterflies feed on the nectar, but also bumblebees, hoverflies and lots of other interesting critters!
What a display the Green is putting on for us this year! There has been a profusion of buttercup and pignut, giving a wonderful yellow and white haze to the meadow, which in turn is encircled by a belt of white hawthorn blossom. It certainly is a perfect foreground for one of the best views of the Cathedral and a scene that would probably have looked very similar 200 years ago!
It's not only the plants that are putting on a great display, but the invertebrates are doing pretty well too. There has been a male broad-bodied chaser dragonfly, strutting his stuff and whizzing around. Fortunately he does occasionally stop and rests, which makes for a good photo opportunity. This is quite a chunky dragonfly with a very distinctive, and rather splendid, light blue abdomen with yellow markings. The female has a yellow/brown abdomen, but so far, I haven't seen her around - hopefully she will turn up soon!
Yes, it is soon going to be orchid time! Some are starting to flower already and hopefully they will put on a great display - it certainly is looking promising! You may have already seen that the “cattle-proof” fencing has been put up around the orchids, to protect them. We are expecting the cattle to be put onto the Green next week, so please be mindful of them (they can initially be quite spritely!) and please keep dogs under close control.
What a lovely time we had on Sunday afternoon doing our Bioblitz as part of the City Nature Challenge (organised by Lichfield Wildlife Group). It was great to see so many people taking part and recording the amazing biodiversity of plant and wildlife that live on the Green. So here are just a few of our findings. Whilst not a rare species, I have never seen common dog violet growing on the Green before, so I was really pleased to find some. On a closer inspection, I think you will agree it has a beautiful purple flower. But be warned, there are a number of violet species that all look quite similar and they can get quite confusing!
How about a beetle for a change? This little chap (or chapess?) was wandering around on a grass stem. It did confuse me for a bit, as it looked like an alder leaf beetle, but it wasn't near an alder tree! However, there are loads of these beetles feeding on alder leaves at the moment, so I suspect it was just a bit lost, or maybe fancied something different to eat for change!
It is not just in the Autumn when the fungi appear! In fact there are quite a few fungi species appearing at the moment, even if they are a bit small and brown. I do like the name of this one — petticoat mottlegill, which, as the name suggests, has a white “petticoat” around the base of the cap. Initially, I was a bit annoyed with the piece of “grass” covering part of the cap, but if you look closely, you can see small hairs on the blade and in fact it is not grass at all but field woodrush. So two species in one photo and a timely reminder that a lot of the “grass” on the Green, is in fact not grass at all!
Hooray — frog spawn in the brook! Wonderful to see and definitely a sign that Spring is here. The Green supports a large number of frogs, which is why you can usually see a heron hunting in the shallow part of the brook and amongst the rushes. Another sign that Spring is here is that chiffchaffs have arrived and are now singing away with their distinctive song. Excellent!
Talking of birds, another species that is out and about is the reed bunting. As the name suggests they nest and live amongst the reeds, and we normally have about 4 pairs nesting on the Green. They can be a bit tricky to see as they are small (sparrow sized) and brown, but the males have a distinctive black head and white collar and will sit and sing from the top of the rushes. So do keep an eye (and ear) out for them as well.
I couldn't resist a picture of the lesser celandine that are flowering well at the moment. Their yellow faces always make me smile and they are an important food source for early emerging queen bumblebees. They belong to the same family as the buttercups and interestingly are also known as pilewort - because they have historically been used to treat piles!
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.