See WILD WATERWAYS for River Frome otter survey news / John Harris’s illuminating website is extremely helpful in identifying fungi: mushroom
An interesting article in The Guardian (below) on the Environment Agency’s latest data on river quality in rivers in England also has links to its detailed analysis.
The stretch of the Somerset River Frome which we survey was deemed Moderate for both Overall Water Body and Ecological but Fail for Chemical pollution.
A couple of areas leap out – every year from 2013 until 2018 the Chemical content was deemed Good but in 2019 it was deemed Fail. As there was a stricter test for this latter period, it is difficult to know whether the pollution is worse or whether it is simply down to the new test – common sense would lead one to suppose the latter.
The Somerset River Frome receives discharges from sewage works at Rode, Beckington and Frome, trade effluents e.g. cooling waters, boiler blowdown water and dairy effluent. For our stretch the pollution caused by continuous sewage discharge by the Water Industry and pollution from agricultural and land management (phosphates and Macrophytes and Phytobenthos) were already in the river when it reached the beginning of our survey stretch, i.e. the confluence of the Mells River with the Somerset River Frome.
The Environment Agency data doesn’t give details of whether the pollution becomes heavier downstream from that point so it is difficult to draw any conclusions about the health of this particular stretch of river.
However, it is likely that cattle from the dairy farm and the creamery factory outfall will add pollution to the river. 50 years ago the entire River Frome was category 5, the highest pollution category, so there have been improvements, enough for Dippers, Kingfishers, Brown Trout, Stoneloach and invertebrates like saddle-case caddis fly, damselfly, mayfly and dragonfly larvae to live.
Instream habitat, such as aquatic vegetation, rock and wood has a range of functions essential for maintaining the health of a waterway, and in turn supports recreational fisheries and other social and cultural values. They provide shelter, food sources and breeding sites for a variety of instream animals, including many fish species, as well as contributing to biological processes within the river channel. The removal of instream habitat, particularly wood (referred to as instream woody habitat – IWH) has also been identified as a major factor in the decline of many freshwater fish populations. IWH is an important structural component of rivers, assisting in the formation of features such as scour pools and channel bars and in stabilising the river channel. In large lowland rivers, IWH may be the only stable substrate and an important instream source of nutrients.
Extensive removal of IWH occurred historically in Victorian rivers for boating purposes, property protection and to reduce flooding. Research has however shown that IWH has negligible impact on channel capacity and removal does little to improve flood conveyance. IWH have also been found to reduce bed erosion, whereby its removal increases flow velocity, bed degradation, channel enlargement and loss of important instream habitat.
Vegetation is important not only for providing nesting sites for birds, it also provides cover for many insects and fishes. Pike, the predator of the fish world is frequently to be found hidden amongst weed beds, waiting to rush out and grab an unsuspecting roach as it swims by. Many species of coarse fish use weed beds to spawn in and insects use the stems of plants to help them emerge from the water. Plants perform one vital function for all water life, they use sunlight to build up water and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates, which power the plant’s life processes. As a byproduct they release oxygen into the water which is available for insects and fish to breathe. The food reserves built up and stored within plants as in the form of starch are eaten by many insects, which in turn are food for fish.
River life normally reflects the quality of a river and its recent pollution history. Pollutants change the balance of flora and fauna between groups of plants and animals depending on their relative sensitivities to pollution. Regular invertebrate surveys are therefore carried out by the National Rivers Authority to complement data from water analyses. Fish life also reflects the quality of river water since some species are sensitive to pollution whilst others are tolerant and may survive for long periods in low concentrations of dissolved oxygen. In order to maintain the high quality of water in our rivers, a watch must be kept for pollution and potential pollution risks. Rivers are affected by many factors, including farming, industry, weather and climate.
19th October 2020 / Temp: 12.5 C / 10.35am – 1.14pm
A time of colour, all the shades of yellow and gold, red and scarlet, pink and purple, the time when Field Maples come into their own – ignored for most of the year until autum when they glow! Wild Cherry leaves and Hawthorns and not just leaves, scarlet rose hips, skeins of blood red black bryony berries entwining around trees and posts and branches and up through the layers of fluffy old man’s beard.
And it not just the leaves and berries, there are also the fruits of autumn – fat rosy red apples, small bright green crab apples, the Blackthorn, heavily laden with purple-black sloes – splashes of vivid colour everywhere we look.
But of course it is the leaves which take the prize. Forget Westminster Bridge – ‘earth has not anything to show more fair‘ than a golden tree in autumn – who can look up and not be moved by its last gasp celebration before the long, dark days of winter arrive?
9th October 2020
As part of the Nature Up Close & Personal: A Wellbeing Experiment” which was run by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in association with a couple of universities, we took part in a Pollinator FIT (Flower-Insect Timed) Count which sought to establish which activities gave the most benefit and wellbeing when outdoors in natural surroundings. Volunteers were asked to complete a simple activity over the course of several days or a week and complete a short survey which could be collated and assessed – an activity we found rather more enjoyable in retrospect than at the time. However it did cause us to question the props which we use to hold us up and see us through challenging times.
Like the majority of people, we find sitting on a log looking, really looking, at stately beech trees as their leaves reflect the changing seasons is better than any drug for relieving stress, or sitting or standing by a moving river watching dragonflies or pond skaters or just the swirl of the water empties the mind of worries; watching birds, butterflies and insects in flight, the flowers slowly unfolding, seeding and falling becomes a haven of peace and tranquility which does relieve the tensions and demands of daily life at a time of huge worry and stress.
But what happens when the prop is kicked away? When right of access to a favourite walk is removed, vital habitats destroyed, a dearly loved tree is cut down, a hedgerow flayed at nesting time or the log you always sit on removed or chopped up? What happens when rivers occupied by dragonfly and caddisfly larvae, Stoneloach and Brown Trout, fished by Kingfishers, Heron and Little Egrets has huge amounts of phosphates and untreated sewage allowed to run-off continuously into the water? And what do you do when in extremis you go looking for peace and solace and find total devastation – what then?
13th September 2020
John Hansford posted on Twitter today’s sightings along Colliers Way : “Decent fall of migrants today including 3 Singing Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs galore, Blackcaps and a single Garden Warbler. 6 Buzzards, 1 Red Kite, 1 Kestrel.
This Blackcap might be a juvenile Male from this Spring? It was warbling gently at times.“
6th September 2020
John Hansford sighted 11 Lizards, 1 Hare, Spotted Flycatcher (above) Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, 30+ Chiffchaffs, Red Kite, Marsh Tit today. Eleven Common Lizards! And we thought the seven we saw on the 22nd August was a record! It really is becoming a thriving colony.
What an amazing number of warblers highlighting that Colliers Way is one of the best sites for them in Somerset.
22nd August 2020 / Temp: 20.5 C / 3.50pm
Thrashing rain and storm force winds most of the day yesterday so this was the first opportunity to complete our second Pollinator FIT Count. The wind was still strong but it had abated somewhat and thankfully the sun shone so we took our chance. We were so relieved we had chosen the angelica plant in the grass verge on the hedgerow edge which was well protected by trees as there were hardly any insects on the flowers we passed on our way there, bar a colourful hoverfly busily feeding on a yarrow (above) and another on a hawkweed (below). The strength of the wind made photographic records on the the angelica impossible as flower umbels were never still enough, but fortunately we still managed to count 19 flies (many blue and a few green blowflies, tachinid flies (including several relatively common Eriothrix rufomaculatus (with their black and red bodies), 5 hoverflies, 2 honeybees and a single wasp.
As flies still fly in less favourable weather conditions, even on windy and overcast days such as this, we were fully expecting a really good number of flies on our count rather than bees or wasps and this proved to be the case.
As we were so close we decided to check out the ant hills along the embankment on the off-chance we might catch sight of a common lizard and so imagine our delight when we saw 7 lizards in a stretch of no more than 25 yards! First what we thought was one adult, but which turned out to be three when we checked the photograph (see below)….
while just a short distance away, maybe 7 yards or so, we saw a single lizard standing guard in total frozen stillness on the top of an anthill – another 10 yards or so searching carefully (their camouflage is so very effective, they can be difficult to spot) we then triumphantly spotted two small juveniles, one little stubby already minus his tail which he no doubt dropped when escaping a predator. Common lizards give birth in July so these two small lizards were likely to be not much more than a month old.
Astonishingly, we had walked no more than another 10 yards or so when we caught sight of yet another lizard, stretched across the grass, almost completely camouflaged while he enjoyed the short burst of unexpectedly hot sun as the wind dropped to a gentle zephyr.
Whenever we catch sight of lizards when walking, they skitter off at such lightening speed we only can a brief glimpse so it is such a joy to be able to watch these embankment lizards for as long as we like, or as long as we can remain totally still. Although these lizards are the most common reptiles in the UK, it appears that their numbers are falling in some areas of the country due to loss of habitat so it is good to see such a thriving little breeding colony here beside the cycle path.
After watching the lizards enjoying their sun bath, we decided to follow their example and walked back along the path to the large boulder beside the buddleia
(the flower heads of which were brown and shrivelled – sadly over for another year) we found comfortable perches, lifted our heads and turned up our faces towards the sun and simply soaked up the sunlight while chatting in a desultory fashion to two walkers from Radstock who were sitting on the picnic benches alongside enjoying the peace and quietness of the path. We had noticed far more walkers than usual since the start of the lock-down in March and, interestingly, many more younger people walking for pleasure and not just to exercise their dogs. It was so good to feel the warmth of the sun after so many dreary and dull overcast days – a thoroughly satisfying occupation and a wonderfully soothing rest after our little lizard safari!!
20th August 2020 / Temp: 20.5 C / 12.50pm
We have volunteered to take part in the Pollinator Flower-Insect Timed Counts (Pollinator FIT Counts, for short) which is a citizen science project aiming to understand how pollinator populations are changing across Great Britain. We have been asked to watch a patch of flowers for 10 minutes and record the insects that visit the flowers, five times over eight days (at least once per day on five days).
We intended to do the count in our local churchyard which is close to where we live but between agreeing to do the count and the count starting the entire churchyard has been mowed within an inch of its life and all the lovely wild flowers have disappeared – so….
It was a beautiful, sunny morning, if very windy, and we walked the path checking on the recommended plants and eventually chose the angelica simply because it was sheltered from the wind and was covered in insects! We counted 17 pollinators during our 10 minute slot: 3 honey bees, 6 hoverfies, 7 other flies and 1 “other insect” because we couldn’t be certain of the species.
It is due to rain tomorrow and even higher winds are expected – will we manage 5 visits in the next 6 days? Watch this space!!
10th July 2020
Populations of the UK’s most important wildlife have plummeted by an average of 60% since 1970 making Britain one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, despite the best efforts of conservationists.
Kent Wildlife Trust hope that introducing a male and three female European bison to their land they will naturally regenerate a former pine wood plantation by killing off trees, thus creating a healthy mix of woodland, scrub and glades, boosting insect, bird and plant life. The trust expects nightingales and turtle doves to be among the beneficiaries of the bison’s “ecosystem engineering”.
It is so heartening to see the frightening depletion of our wildlife being addressed in such an innovative way, particularly when along Colliers Way we are experiencing the reverse, dewilding, which has lead to the loss of our Nightingales and Silver Washed Fritillaries to over-enthusiastic tidying.
24th June 2020
Sign by the small lake in Stourhead
28th May 2020
This gloriously colourful photograph from John Hansford of a Large Skipper butterfly perfectly conveys summer on Colliers Way and, by arriving at the same time as the slight easing of Covid 19 lockdown due to start in a few days, helps to lift the spirits and send a cheering note of hope for the future. John also saw three Common Blue butterflies – a first sighting of these two species of quintessentially summer butterflies.
28th May 2020 / Temp: 22- 24 C / 2.30pm – 5.10pm
A really lovely sunny summer’s afternoon – the sun hot, the grass dry and parched on the areas of shallow soil (so not surprising that someone has had a barbecue) lots of bird song and all the early summer flowers in full bloom – trails of pink and white dog roses falling over almost every tree and bush, clinging to honeysuckle which supported white bryony, while the creamy elderflowers covered their trees, dogwood in flower and the fragile hop flowers waved in the breeze, still green but almost ready to bloom not to forget the brambles just beginning to produce their white flowers.
Under the trees and hedges, along the embankment and verges red campion flashed amongst the white or cream cow parsley, hogweed, yarrow, meadow sweet, bladder campion and moon daisies. Lots more colour offered by the yellow rattle, hop trefoil, birds-eye trefoil, creeping cinquefoil, rock roses, meadow cranesbill, dove’s foot cranesbill, field bindweed, forget-me-not, bush vetch, knapweed, both red and white clover and of course the buttercups and dandelions still clinging on.
One would imagine this provided nectar in plenty and the day was warm and sunny so we were again mystified why there were such a dearth of insects. Last year there were so many during the same time of the year that we struggled to identify and gave up on a good number and every hogweed flowerhead had its cluster of bees, hoverflies, day-time moths and beetles and at least two moon daisies had crab spiders hidden under their petals. Walking along past ranks of hogweed, cow parsley and moon daisies, we searched empty flower head after empty flower head in vain for signs of life. The number of bees during almost the entire afternoon could be counted on both hands, hoverflies on one hand, a few flower beetles and that was it.
We ran into John Hansford half-way along the path, camera at the ready, trained on the broad stretch of open grassland with its scattering of small shrubs searching for the Grizzled Skippers which he spotted on this site last year. No luck today although, as seen at the top of the page, he did get a great photograph of a Large Skipper. It was so lovely to see him and to swap coronavirus news (John’s wife is on the front-line so risking her life every day caring for others) so he is scrupulous in keeping to the rules of lock-down, very aware of the need to protect his wife and by the number of neighbours, friends and acquaintances who have lost their lives. He alerted us to a nest of Garden Warblers close by and mentioned seeing a Red Kite (which we had also seen) a Buzzard and a Heron flying over and he also thought there were not that many birds about and had also noticed the lack of insects, before he had to hurry away to a meeting.
Having said that, we did see a few birds, a Marsh Tit, Common Whitethroats, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Blackbirds, Blackcaps, Chiff Chaffs, Robins, Wrens, Crows, Jackdaws and Wood Pigeons and we also heard a Raven.
During the course of the afternoon, apart from a good number of spiders hiding among the grasses, we also managed to see 9 Brimstone, 8 Small White, 2 Speckled Wood and 2 Small Copper butterflies and, fortunately to save the day, on our way back along the path we finally saw what we had expected to see all afternoon – two Painted Lady butterflies chasing each other and dozens of bees of every description it seemed, swarming over a dense thicket of brambles. Thank heaven for the good old common or garden bramble flower, just beginning to open, and preferred by so many insects who have spurned the more beautiful and colourful flower species.
20th May 2020 / Temp: 24.5 C /
The heat of the afternoon was more like mid-summer than late May which persuaded us to walk from Buckland Bridge uphill to the wooded and shady stretch of the cycle path. We stopped half-way up to lean on the five-barred gate to rest and admire the view across the fieds.
Idyllic and Sublime
Wonderful isn’t it? A gently sloping pasture, dotted with trees and edged with a good sized hedge of mixed deciduous trees, shrubs and climbing plants, leading up to Newbury Firs woodland edging the Iron Age hillfort at the top of the hill. A quintessential lowland rural English landscape, beautiful meadows filled lush grass scattered with buttercups and moon daisies in full flower, the glory of early summer arriving at last after the endless rain of autumn and winter. Feast your eyes!
But here’s the rub – among all of those flowers I found one insect – a soldier beetle (cantharis pellucida) waiting forlornly on a grass stem in flower for insects on which he can predate.
The poor soldier beetle waits in vain because there are no insects. The “Silent Spring” which Rachel Carson warned of hasn’t yet arrived because we have heard bird song, but its forerunner has arrived – in spades!
As we had walked along Colliers Way, we had become increasingly puzzled about the lack of insect life, a few butterflies, a few flower beetles, only two bees – why? Which is why I opened the gate and tresspassed onto the farmer’s field expecting to find the flowers full of insects, but there were none.
Crossing the track over the old railway bridge to look at the field on the other side of the cycle path, we saw a field full of a well grown cereal crop, looking vigorous and healthy. We examined the plants from the gate with our butterfly binoculars to see the same result – no sign of insects, butterflies, spiders, ladybirds, of all the creatures one would expect to find in a field, there were none at all.
Bordering the path a good many of the recommended trees for the ideal mixed woodland habitat, full sized Oak, Ash, Hawthorn, Hazel, Blackthorn, a few Sycamore, garden privet together with lots of Willow, Elder, Elm spp. dogwood, bramble, honeysuckle, black and white bryony, wild clematis, buddleia, dog rose, guelder rose and spurge laurel. In the thicker parts of the self-seeded wood there are a good number of fallen trees and branches providing home to fungi, moss and lichen, all of which provides good habitat for the roe deer, fox, badger, bank vole, wood mice, common lizard, grey squirrel which we see or see the signs when walking along.
So everything is in place for a good, healthy number of insects to thrive and multiply and if they are not, the only explanation we can come to is that the insecticide and pesticides being sprayed on the pasture and crops on either side of the path have blown over and caused this devastating impact on the insects along the cycle path.
At least the soldier beetle in the photograph above was rather more successful than the one in the pasture and, having caught a thick-legged flower beetle, he managed to hang on both to hogweed and beetle, despite both being blown this way and that by the blustery wind!
14th May 2020 / Temp: 13 C / 2.20pm
The cycle path was extremely busy with a constant flow of cyclists so walking was quite hazardous as very, very few people use their bell to warn us they are coming. This can prove to be difficult when we are glued to our binoculars following a bird above us or equally glued to our butterfly binoculars peering at a small beetle scurrying through the undergrowth, so focused that we are unaware of our surroundings. Good to see so many family parties and groups of friends out enjoying the sunshine, as well as couples and single dedicated racers.
Few walkers but Spiders… just about everywhere, tents and blankets, scattered with windblown flower petals, leaves and dandelion seed creating a collage which wouldn’t disgrace many an abstract artist, and the funnels – the Labyrinth spiders have arrived! It does seem very early as we don’t usually see them until June, but their funnels are unmistakable and they can sometimes be seen sitting on the top of their funnel… lurking and jus’ waitin’…..
Unfortunately the other spider photographs were inadequate to successfully ID the remainder we saw – so many tiny creatures, so difficult to name.
One creature we did succeed in tracing was the Hairy shield bug, below, which is seen all year round although in winter it is dark brown. We actally spotted it in a large bed of stinging nettles despite its larval food being white dead nettle which is also very widespread along the path all year around. The adult bug is often referred to as sloe bug even though rather strangely neither the adult or lavae feed on sloes but honeysuckle. Whatever, it is quite a handsome little beast and new species to add to our list.
On the butterfly front, we saw at least a dozen Whites, half a dozen Orange Tips (only 2 female) and a couple of Brimstones, lots of minute Cocksfoot moths feasting on the dandelion heads but not that many birds, Goldfinches, Robins, Blackbirds, Whitethroats, Wrens and Chiff Chaffs seem to dominate (but that may because they sang the loudest and made the most noise!) but we did spot a Magpie and, rather bizarrely a Moorhen! No Nightingales.
During the infrequent lull of traffic when we were peering into the tangled undergrowth of already seeding tall grasses, flowering red campion, cow parsley and reddening sorrel, feeling the hot sun on our backs and the breeze ruffling our hair, we experienced flashes of the delight of childhood days in May when winter viruses were banished by sunshine and the long holidays were at last in sight, just above the horizen and all was well with the world.
7th May 2020
John Hansford managed a quick exercise cycle along the path and captured this lovely photograph of a Green Veined White. The butterfly season is beginning to warm up, I wonder if we will see one of the joys of summer this year, the Silver Washed Fritillaries – do hope so. John also saw 4 Garden Warblers – a goodly haul, it seems to be such a good year for migrant warblers.
6th May 2020 / Temp: 17.5 C / 2.40pm
Brilliantly clear air and warm sunshine provided the first taste of summer, confirmation of which was a first sighting of the beautiful swollen-thighed flower beetle this year. Quite a number of Orange Tip butterflies, both male and female, a couple of Small White and at least 6 Brimstone. St Mark’s flies swarming over the may blossom and tree bumblebees and buff-tailed bees everywhere along the embankment but the lizards were out of sight, sheltering from the hot sun. It wasn’t long before we also caught sight of a brightly coloured insect, a new one for us, a Cinnamon Bug which, although the picture suffers from photographer’s wobble, it is still possible to enjoy the vibrant colour if not the dramatic pattern.
It was very busy with cyclists along the path, lots of parents with children riding alongside or hitched on the back, and the occasional walkers and runners. Everyone appeared to be in good spirits, out enjoying the warm afternoon’s sunshine and thankful to escape the lock-down for the day’s brief exercise. The air was full of drifting goat willow seeds floating on the breeze and the over-powering scent of may flowers which are in full bloom. This is not a scent I like and often find it slightly nauseating but some people love it. What I love is the start of the insect season proper! The warm sun has tempted them out to bask or wallow or feast on the pollen of the newly opened flowers.
We spotted another new species, the Cocksfoot moth, which we saw in numbers on both a buttercup and the first flowering hogweed of the year. These micro moths and tiny beetles are so difficult to see and even more difficult to get into focus on the camera but so worth while when we manage it.
We always wonder why we never seem to find any insects on the Cow Parsley which lines every path with profusion and yet there were already moths and beetles in the only two Hogweed which had come into flower.
So many insects that we were unable to identify, a rather beautiful hoverfly which may or may not be a Migrant hoverfly, small beetles, a ladybird which we think might be a 14-spot, an insect examining the earth which may have been a hairy hoverfly or a not very hairy bee. A relief then to see that the insect lying asleep in an incurving dandelion was a female common Earwig which even we could identify with confidence!
A confetti of small pimples scattered all over the wych elm leaves were revealed to be the eggs of the common elm gall which evidently turn red as the season passes – we must remember to check.
By the time we had walked up and down the path, we were relieved to sit and rest on the picnic bench. Since the clearing of the area around the apple trees there is of course only the occasional butterfly and no birds to watch but it is nevertheless pleasant to sit in the sun and we can always watch the cyclists and runners with their dogs racing up and down the path. One distraction was the small spider which landed on my leg, he also ran up and down a bit and then hopped off but when we reached home we eventually identified it as a jumping (of course!) Zebra spider. For such a tiny little dot on the landscape, he was surprisingly elaborately patterned, but maybe he needed it on the vast grasslands out there!
Plentiful birdsong with lots of Warblers in evidence, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat and Chiff Chaff – all our usual summer migrants but sadly of course no Nightingale. Other more common song from Chaffinch, Robin, Blackbird, Wren and Blue Tit together with the wonderfully longed-for summer sound of a trilling Skylark. In addition, there were Crows, Pheasants, Buzzards and of course Wood Pigeons.
1st May 2020 / Temp: 13.5-14.5 / 1.20pm
A sunny afternoon with cloudy spells and a cold, blustery westerly wind tossing the newly leafed branches of the trees and scattering apple and hawthorn petals up in the air where they fell like autumn leaves. Not the May-day weather we dream of during the long dreary days of winter, but welcome absence of rain for the first time this week.
Ambling along the wet and mossy stretch of grassland between the cycle path and the line of trees and scrub which forms the border, we suddendly caught sight of a white winged insect fluttering so fast it was impossible to identify it. When it rested, we saw a moth, unknown to us, but which we thought was probably a White Ermine. It proved difficult to photograph as it rested so briefly before it set off again fluttering non-stop. We checked our FSC moth guide which suggested a female Muslin moth. As we hadn’t seen either before and the only way of establishing the species was that one was bigger than the other we plumped for the Muslin moth for no other reason than wishful thinking!
The same area is home to lots of Barren Strawberry (another first) and the beautiful bacon & egg plants, bird’s foot trefoil. We never see them without feeling hot summer sun on our backs and dozens of feasting small blue butterflies – not today unfortunately but a promise that the summer is only just over the horizon. The cow parsley is now making a good showing amongst the red campion, bluebells, tall ground ivy, bird’s eye speedwell and white dead nettle. Plenty of cowslips along the edges of the path and the vetches, both bush vetch and surely rather early tufted vetch. The first sighting this year of red clover, herb bennet, hawkweed and dove’s foot cranesbill. We even spotted a clump of a garden escape, perennial cornflower, with their strikingly strong colouring.
Robins, Chiff Chaffs, Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Wrens aplenty but also a Spotted Flycatcher, a Blackcap trying to out-sing a Willow Warbler but challenged by several Whitethroats, also singing lustily. A Swallow was sighted but an outrider as we didn’t see any more although we did see a Kestrel, heard a Raven, saw lots of Phesants striding the adjoining newly ploughed field, caught a quick flash of a Magpie and of course the usual Wood Pigeons and Crows.
Not that many butterflies which we found surprising but possibly the blustery wind was proving too much for them. We saw a few Brimstones but mainly Orange Tips, both male and female and then spotted our first sighting of a Small White this year.
Having seen so many female Orange Tips it was difficult to be sure but the under-wing confirmed they were indeed Small Whites.
Finally, we rested on one of the benches and watched a Buff-tailed bumble bee, very frequent bees along the cycle path, completely oblivious to us as it concentrated on scratching and scratching at the earth between the plants. The patch was a very open, tree or shrubless area of rough grass, clover etc so it seemed an unlikey site for a nest but we couldn’t think what else the bee would be doing. The only other bees were the Tree bumblebees, hardly any honey bees and just the odd one or two hoverflies.
A walk along the cycle path wouldn’t seem complete without spotting a common lizard basking in the sun or sheltering among the grasses on top of any one of the dozen or so yellow meadow-ant hills along the embankment. And today was no exception, after a great deal of diligent searching we spotted this little fellow, almost completely camouflaged by the undergrowth.
To our great sadness, no sign or sound of Nightingales. Each empty season is harder to bear than the last as hope begins to fade and it has increasingly become almost like the loss of a loved-one, an aching loss which one is always aware of and still refuse to believe they have gone and have now been lost forever.
25th April 2020
Great excitement, John Hansford was out at 6.40am this morning and captured this marvellous footage of one of the two Roe Deer he saw. Our sightings have always been brief or too far away to get a good photograph let alone video footage, so we are thrilled.
By the time he left at 8.15am he had also seen 7 Skylarks (including 3 chasing each other low just above the ground) 22+ Common Whitethroat, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 3 Garden Warblers, 18+ Yellowhammers, 2 Willow Warblers, 4 Blackcaps, 5 Chiffchaffs.
To add icing on the cake, he had a message from an ornithologist friend who heard a Cuckoo along the path! John was understandably devastated that owing to lockdown he could not immediately go back and hear it but it’s just a matter of time…. What great news – the Cuckoo is a Red List bird and the first time one has arrived on the path – it now appears that the young man on the bicycle earlier in the month wasn’t teasing us with a recording after all and the Cuckoo we heard was genuine. Oh ye of little faith….
21st April 2020
A remarkable photograph and film footage of one of the three Garden Warblers John Hansford saw along the cycle path today. Garden Warblers are summer migrants who arrive in April and are such shy birds they are most likely to be heard rather than seen so we’re grateful to John for sending the footage. Follow the link below, you can see and hear the bird singing his heart out. [Two Willow Warblers also sighted]
16th April 2020 / Temp: 19.5 / 2.10 – 3.50pm
A beautifully warm, sunny spring afternoon with a south-easterly breeze keping the air fresh, how glorious to be out in the sunshine after 23 hours lock-down.
The path is very, very busy with at least 40 plus cyclists, about a dozen or so walkers and runners, several with small children. It was odd to see so many people after the quiet streets of the town which were almost deserted The sheer press of almost coninual passing chattering cyclists together with the rumbling sound of farm machinery spreading fertiliser from a spinner and a delivery tractor trundling up and down the field meant that it wasn’t the calm and quiet walk we have become used to during the quieter winter months.
The path is always much busier on fine weekends in spring and summer and particularly through the school holidays so its no surprise that coronavirus lockdown days should attract more visitors during exercise time. To have this traffic free path filled with birds, wild flowers, butterflies and bees threading through miles and miles of mostly quiet countryside is a boon everyone is justifiable grateful for.
Wonderful to see all the trees either in flower or displaying their fresh, pale green leaves. The Ash flowers which were in tight bud only a week or so ago have opened up their purple-red buds to display their golden green tassels plus, although the blackthorn and pussy willows are going over, their loss is more than compensated for by the beautiful wild cherry blossom, Wych Elm pale green seed clusters and cream Dogwood blossoms as well as more and more wild flowers blooming.
Our wild cherry blossom while may not matching those rightly famous Japanese trees but they have a quieter, more subtle, perhaps even less strident beauty scattered along hedgerows or mixed with other trees.
No sign of lizards today, probably hiding from too many people, but we spotted 4 or 5 Tree Bumblebees, 3 Beeflies, 8 or 10 St Mark’s flies (early) hanging about above the apple trees in the inimitable way, Drone flies, Honey bees, and 9 Brimstone (M) 1 (F) 1 Speckled Wood, 9 Orange Tip (M) 3 (F) and a single Peacock butterfly.
Lots of plants newly opening, Cowslips, Ground Ivy, Birds Eye Speedwell, Bluebell, Wood Spurge, Garlic Mustard, Arum Lillies, White Deadnettle, Dandelion, Cow Parsley, Dog Violet, Bush Vetch, Red Campion, Herb Rober, Primroses, Hop Trefoil, Stichworth, Field Speedwell, Groundsel and Ribwort Campion.
Chaffinches, Robins, Blackbirds, Whitethroats and Chiff Chaffs were all in good song, but the Yellowhammer was reduced to just single chirps, the Buzzard was wheeling overhead mewing forlornly and the usual Pheasants and Crows were skulking about. Sadly, still no sign of Nightingales – not singing because there too many people? Or is that just a despairing hope and they have still not returned.
16th April 2020Holly Blue c. John Hansford
John Hansford was also at the path today and he thought he saw us but hidden as I was under a navy-blue fisherman’s hat, and he was sailing past on his wife’s bicycle, he wasn’t sure enough to stop! He was as deft as ever with his camera, managing to capture a Holly Blue butterfly (above). We were so pleased because we thought we had spotted a couple together but it was such a fleeting sight and there were no hollies around, we thought we must have been mistaken. He also saw lots of Brimstones, Orange Tips and two Speckled Woods as well as the Holly Blues.
He spotted two Common Whitethroats and 2 Song Thrushes. He said “The song thrushes were ridiculous. A pair collecting food and at one point one was around my feet!”
Brimstone butterfly c. John Hansford
11th April 2020
John Hansford borrowed his wife’s bicycle and managed a short dash to the cycle path and captured this great photograph of a Brown Hare. He spotted 8 Brimstone, 9 male Orange Tip, 1 Comma and a Holly Blue butterfly and saw 2 pairs of Marsh Tits, a Willow Warbler, a Moorhen and also managed to capture this lovely photograph of a Song Thrush.
9th April 2020 / Temp: 14-17 C / 10.45 am
It is nearly 4 weeks since we have been able to visit the cycle path so we were determined to check it out today. Our exercise allowance time wasn’t sufficient to do our usual walk so, keen to check if the nightingales have returned, we started at the Mells Old Station end. It was the most glorious of spring mornings, full sun, light breeze, endless blue skies and the air so fresh and clear it was wonderful to be out, if only briefly. We hadn’t walked far when two things became obvious – an explosion of flowering plants and trees and lots and lots of birds singing!
A newly emerging horsetail, large purple dog-violets, primroses, the first cowslips, bluebells, field speedwell, red campion, lesser celandine, dog’s mercury, arum lillies, white and red deadnettle as well as dandelions en masse, a few bush vetch, wood forget me not (a new species) and ground ivy in profusion looking more striking than we had ever seen them, their blue flowers deep and bright. The deep red-purple Ash trees buds were bursting into flower, as were the delicate spring green Norway Maples, the newly displayed Horse chestnut leaves are almost autumnal in the vividness of their colour and the fragile white Blackthorn blossom and yellow Pussy Willow catkins shout spring from every hedgerow.
There seemed to be bumblebees everywhere, most buff-tailed but many too fast for us to identify, although we did manage to see a dark-edged bee fly. Drone and hover flies up in the tree blossom, a sweat bee feeding greedily on a dandelion which we think may well have been a bronze farrow bee, black ants also tucking into the dandelion nectar, several 7-spot ladybirds and one 14-spot ladybird, so tiny we almost missed it, sun-bathing on the leaves.
Lovely as all the bees and other insects are, what draws the eye of course, are the butterflies. The first sighting of several – Speckled wood and Comma – but the most common were my favourite butterfly, the Brimstones (both the beautiful clotted cream coloured male and the almost white female). In previous years they have always been the first to appear but we have been seening Small tortoiseshells for weeks before spotting our first Brimstone – how lovely they are. No Small tortoiseshells today but plenty of Peacocks and another first sighting of severl beautiful Orange Tips.
copyright – John Hansford
Finally, the birds! Our first Blackcaps of the season, Chiff-Chaffs, Blackbirds, Common Whitethroats, Song Thrush, Great Tits, Robins, Long Tailed Tits, Blue Tits (visiting the nest boxes with nesting material) Green Finches, Gold Finches, Rooks, Ravens, Buzzards, Wood Pigeons, Crows and Pheasants. Quite a haul, most making their presence hears at top, top volume! Sadly no Nightingales, but it may be a little too early here.
copyright – John Hansford
At least a dozen walkers and runners and more than two dozen or so cyclists catching their allocated sunshine and exercise, one of whom was rather amusing. He called out as he approached “Cuckoo! Have you heard the Cuckoo!” and cycled on when we clearly heard a Cuckoo’s distinctive call just after he turned out of sight. The first Cuckoo ever heard along the cycle path – a coup surely? Or a bit of a card with his recording playing on top volume? Hmm… we thought probably the latter!
Still, compensation in the form of a common lizard skittering off at top speed into the thick grass from the top of the yellow ant hill was satisfaction enough, even though we only caught sight of his back and tail – how they love the embankment, south-facing, warm and sheltered, it seems their perfect habitat.
16th March 2020 / Temp: 10-11.5 C / 1.45pm – 4.05pm
Glorious wall to wall blue skies and full sun which felt warm and springlike, encouraging the common lizards to come out to skitter between the coltsfoot and bask on the embankment, sweet violets (both white and purple) to flower and the pussy willows to pull on their brightest yellow fluffy pollen jackets.
Ground Ivy, the first Cowslips, a wooded slope scattered with Primroses, and Lesser Celandines lining the path with the occasional bright blue Bird’s Eye Speedwell brightened the walk and the first full flowering of the delicate white Blackthorn flowers The chill wind kept the air crystal clear and it felt marvellous to be out and walking away from all the dire coronavirus news and rest our eyes on awakening spring and our ears on bird song which to our delight included two Skylarks trilling and trilling high in the blue sky above. We had barely arrived before we caught sight of a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly which is our first butterfly of the season and spotted another when we reached Mells Station.
Half a dozen or so Hoverflies were noted, one exploring but most just basking, perfectly still on a leaf or stone unlike the fat noisy Early Bumblebees (probably queens) who whizzed past at top speed flashing their red tails, before examining the rough grass and tangled plants, never settling, too fast to photograph, and eventually disappearing into possible nest sites.
Half-hidden among the trees on a bed of wood chippings were a group of what might be brown cup fungus which Naturespot refers to as Piziza varia as evidently there are so many species it is impossible to identify without the help of a microscope. A relief then to spot Physicia adscendens on a gate which, although it is a first sighting on Colliers Way, is a familiar lichen to us.
It was encouraging to see and hear such a wide variety of birds, including hearing and seeing our first Chiff Chaff of the season and hearing several others as we walked. Lots of Blackbirds, Robins, Wrens, Wood Pigeons and Pheasants of course, a solitary Blue Tit and one Goldfinch, a Buzzard, a Raven and spotting two Red-Legged Partridges made a welcome change from the usual absence of any life at all on the adjoining ploughed field.
Quite a few people about both dog walkers, runners and lots of cyclists, including a group of eight or ten we had noticed sitting outside the Mells Cafe and a runner who stopped while I was examining Jericho bridge looking for lichen who thought I was looking for geocache. During the course of conversation he solved something which had been puzzling us since last July when we found the small plaque attached to the puzzle picnic bench by the orchard.
Evidently he was one of a group of 12 people who set off one afternoon to seach for a geocache hidden near Conduit Bridge by Ro-Sham-Bo whose puzzles were always fiendishly difficult to find; they were unsuccessful that day but two of their number did manage to find it later, and the plaque must have been put there by one of the group (or even Ro-Sham-Bo!). He hadn’t heard of or seen the plaque and as he was running that way said he would check it out; when I saw him later on his way back he said that when he reached the orchard a group of people were drinking tea sitting on the bench so he decided he would go back another time.
Good to have one puzzle solved!
And now for something completely different…
Living Willow Sculpture in the making
13th March 2020 :
John Hansford has passed on this twitter message from a walker whose car window was smashed while she was walking along Colliers Way.
Grace Hoskins says in the Coleford Echo : “My back windscreen was just smashed in whilst I was walking my dog on the cycle track. It was parked at the Mells site near the bridge. If anyone saw anything please let me know. Nothing was taken which makes me think someone was spooked. No stone in the car or anything that obviously broke it. Back parcel shelf was lifted so someone did look.”
This incident concerns us all as many people like us park and walk the cycle path, often for two or three hours, all through the year and of course our cars are left untended all the time we are gone.
John Hansford remembers : “Arguably the most sensational sound of the Somerset countryside. Beautiful still sunny East Somerset evening. The drama of the song of 3 Nigtingales, Cuckoo and Lesser Whitethroat. Pure Heaven. I’m now dreaming of Spring and the days getting longer.” Sound recording on main page.
12th February 2020
Somebody at Sustrans/FML has a sense of humour!
Route 24 Cycle Path
DEWILDING in Action
[These are the areas of scrub / grass / marginal land running alongside the tarmac path where the plants have been naturally selected to withstand stress]
Mells Old Station
27th January 2020
Prefiguring Isabella Tree writing in Wilding “…. emerging scrub is one of the richest natural habitats on the planet.” the Naturalist, Richard Mabey, in his book Nature Cure writes passionately in defence and celebration of native scrub :
“Scrub is the enemy of official nature conservation. Despite being an entirely natural habitat, the haunt of nightingales, breeding warblers, roosting winter birds, shy orchids and a multitude of insects, its removal – or at least control – is the priority on almost all nature reserves.”
This practice can be frequently observed in many nature reserves resulting in the breeding of monocultures, the replacing of the nursery protection to new trees by plastic guards adding to the already epic plastic pollution problem, and destroying the nesting habitats of birds like Nightingales, Whitethroats, Blackcaps and other warblers. It is also why light touch areas like cycle path margins can enable these precious habitats to establish and thrive and why they have often become such havens for wildlife.
Common Birds Foot Trefoil beds on Mells old station margins in 2017
Mells old station area is valued as the best habitat for warblers in Somerset. Garden Warblers breed in open areas with dense bushes, including thickets and woodland edges; shady areas and a bushy or herbaceous undergrowth are preferred. The Sedge Warbler which feeds mostly on grasshoppers, bugs, lacewings, moths, beetles and flies etc and breeds mainly in stands of moist, tall grassy areas and tangled thickets and in drier habitats, in tall crops, hedgerows or low bushes. Willow Warblers occur in many habitat types throughout the UK, woodlands, hedgerows, indeed any woodland type habitat with suitable scrub. The Willow Warbler and Garden Warbler also feed exclusively on insects.
20th and 21st January 2020
A message from John Hansford which although he says it was quiet bird wise, he saw a rather more interesting clutch than our visit on the 15th. How exciting to see a flock of Golden Plover! Years ago it was not infrequent to see Golden Plover feeding in the fields but now a rare sight and a new species to Colliers Way.
Pleasing that John spotted three Mistle Thrush and also a Chiffchaff so early – it must be spring! Although it’s more likely to be one of the growing numbers of Chiffchaffs who over-winter here. If the weather stays mild, they can find enough insect food to sustain them during the coldest months and the considerable clouds of winter gnats all along the path through this damp autumn should have been more than enough to feed them up. If do they survive, they will have the advantage of getting to their breeding grounds before the summer migrants and secure the best territories.
“My first visit of the year this afternoon to the cycle path, not overly enjoyable due to a very high number of dog walkers, most dogs off leads and no sign of any owner carrying a poo bag! Quiet bird wise, 3 Mistle Thrush, 2 Song Thrush, 6 Redwing, 15 Fieldfare, 5 Bullfinch, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Kestrel, 2 Buzzards. I didn’t count the number of Robins but there are plenty between conduit bridge and the disused railway wagon.”
“I forgot to send my second message yesterday, a flock of Golden Plover was a first for me at Mells Down”
15th January 2020 / Temp: 7.5 C / 2.30pm – 3.45pm
A brief interlude of sun between days of more relentless rain temped us out but the cold north-easterly wind was strong enough to drive us down into the woods to escape the full blast.
Winter days walking along between high banks dotted with very active badger setts topped with lines of ash trees allows little sunlight to fall on the path but it was so cheering to see it lighting up the bare branches being tossed by the wind.
The thick layers of years of dark brown leaf-mould coating the banks meant the signs of a fox’s kill, a scattering of colourful Pheasant’s quills blunted by the fox’s careless jaws are clearly visible and catch the eye. Farther down the path we saw two wood pigeon’s scattered feathers, some distance apart but also showing similar signs of fox – a splay of feathers, no sign of head or body.
Both Pheasants bred for the shoot and Wood Pigeons over populate these woods so it’s good that the foxes are active keeping the numbers down and giving themselves a good meal.
Everywhere in the same leaf litter are hazel nut and acorn shells, new and old and fallen hazel catkins surprisingly at least 2 inches long and already yellow while the catkins on the trees are for the most part small and brown and still winter shriven.
Most of the fungus has disappeared but the Scarlet Elfcup make for vivid splashes of colour among the moss and leaf litter . Most logs have their Turkey Tail or Hairy Curtain Crust bracket fungus as their decoration of choice and every surface and branch of nearly every tree is adorned with a choice selection of lichen and the bright, brilliantly emerald green moss coating everything which doesn’t move makes the woodland look more like deepest Devon or Ireland than Somerset.
Winter is also a time when small creatures look for safe and dry places to sit out the season, preferably in the case of this what appears to be a tree slug cosily tucked in to a crevice under the bark of a ash branch between the moss and couple of King Alfred Cakes or cramp ball fungus. There was a time when men always carried a couple of this dry fungus in their pockets to use as fire lighters. We often feel tempted to take one to try or even to cut one open to see the rings but always decide to leave them growing.
The surprise sighting of the afternoon was what looked like a ground beetle on the inside wall of the small bridge carrying the farm track over the disused railway line. The walls are always in shade so their very dankness provides the perfect conditions for Maidenhair Spleenwort, mosses, lichen and jelly fungus to thrive but although we often stop to check, this is the first time we have seen anything other than snails on the walls.
We very soon abandoned our attempt at naming the species, daunted by the sheer number of ground beetles and our failure to photograph the insect’s head – always a problem where possible identification is concerned, but he was certainly a handsome beast. Here is a close-up for the more knowledgeable amongst you to suggest a species name.
Some adult ground beetles do over-winter and remain active, although they mostly come out to feed at night so it was surprising to see it in the afternoon.
Although the day was drawing in which made the light under the bridge very gloomy so perhaps the beetle thought it was night time and hunger persuaded him to forage early. Did he spend his days tucked into the crevice in the wall?
Lovely to spot a group of lords and ladies (arum lillies) leaves beginning to unfurl, and then to see the honeysuckle beginning to leaf, it’s the shrub we always notice first – both signs that winter may be loosening it’s grip, new growth carolling the coming season. Oh how we long for spring when maybe it will stop raining!
Very little bird life, but we heard a Raven’s croak echoing close by, a Jay’s screech, parties of noisy Tits and a Magpie. We saw the usual birds – Robin, Crow, Wren and several Blackbirds and of course the ever present Wood Pigeons and Pheasants.
As we began walking up the hill towards home we watched the marvellous winter scene of a flight of hundreds of Jackdaws flying up the valley towards their roost in Newbury Firs, no chattering or calls just the sound of their wings, nothing seemingly wanting to disturb the quiet of the day.
A little later from another direction we saw a large flock of Fieldfares also silent, also flying towards the Firs to be joined shortly afterwards by a smaller flock of Redwings heading in the same direction. The Firs woodland with its tall, mature trees, must become very crowded on a cold winter’s night!!
3rd January 2020
Sunshine at last!
Sun, cloud, rain shower, rainbow, stiff north-westerly wind and the usual mass clouds of winter gnats everywhere. A few birds but not at many as we expected – Blackbird, Robin, Green Woodpecker, Magpie, Great Tit, Wren and of course Wood pigeons and Pheasants.
Lots of dog walkers, children walkers, runners (Kilmerston and back, training for 50k Brecon Beacons challenge!) family cycling parties on the path so we decided to climb up into the woods. For such a relatively narrow stretch of woodland it always offers something of interest. Variable oysterling fungus decorating a branch, scattered Pheasant breast feathers caught in the moss of another branch, Buzzard or Sparrowhawk? Both are reguarlarly seen.
Wood Pigeon feathers scattered across the ivy choked floor, no sign of the body but the quills are intact so probably a Sparrowhawk. Clear signs of animal gnaw marks on a rotting log, in all probability a Badger searching out roots, worms and insect larvae hidden inside the logs. Another possibility is Roe Deer as we have in the past found discarded antlers around this spot, one of which when viewed under the lens showed the distinctive fine stripes of a small rodent’s teeth marks where it has gnawed at the bone, probably for calcium.
A pile of various berry debris and their stones; the seeds have been split in half to get to the kernel so probably squirrel but possibly a small mammal.
Finally a couple of lichen species, the first unidentified so we have appealed to Ispot for help.
6th January 2020 : Success! Phil from Ispot has written
“It looks very damaged, maybe something has removed/eaten all the outer lobes. It may be a Punctelia species, perhaps Punctelia subrudecta.”
When I compared my photographs with those of Images of British Lichens it certainly seemed to me to that this is the correct identification as the lobe edges do look as if they have been torn off – maybe something is eating it! According to IBL this lichen is commonplace, seen in southern England on a variety of trees so all appear to match. It also points out that what I think of as knobbles are known soralia, the reproduction structures of lichen. http://www.lichens.lastdragon.org/Punctelia_subrudecta.html
Sue White also from Ispot wrote:
This is very helpful advice which I shall try and follow, although given my height and the height of the branch I may not be able to avoid camera-shake! However, I very much take her point that a lot of useful features are underneath which I shall certainly follow in future. When I checked Physcia caesia with IBL it appears this particular lichen only grows on rock or paving stones so I will stick with Punctelia subrudecta and the second new species to our 2020 list.
Script lichen – the first new species recorded for 2020
31st December 2019
The end of another year Walking the Way. A sudden illness, protracted and severe, meant that some months of this year we were unable to visit the path and missed events like the Sustrans Wild Night Out Moth Event which was a great disappointment. However, we battled on and still enjoyed those times that we could manae to hobble along, more slowly, not so far but consoled ourselves that our hobble was a good deal better than not being able to walk at all.
There were many highlights throughout the year but the prize must of course go to the scarce and becoming rare Grizzled Skipper. It was the first sighting along Colliers Way, the nearest previous recorded sighting being near Ammerdown, and there was great excitement when John Hansford spotted this one on the 9th June. This area should be a good habitat and it would be wonderful if they began to breed here.
The Grizzled Skipper is one of the Priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and perhaps surprisingly there are many others from the list recorded along Colliers Way : Small Heath, Wood White, Song Thrush, Herring Gull, Spotted Flycatcher, Commmon Bullfinch, Marsh Tit, Skylark, Common Linnet, Hawfinch, Corn Bunting, House Sparrow, Common Starling, Common Nightingale, Yellowhammer, Lesser Blackbacked Gull, Grape Hyacinth, Brown Hare, Grass Snake, Common Lizard, Hedgehog and Slow Worm.
87 new species were recorded during the course of 2019 – 36 insects, 22 plants, 10 fungus and 13 liverworts, mosses and lichens, a few animals and birds. Come May the Hogweeds began flowering, by the solstice in June the Moon Daisies started blooming (a bumper year) and the insects exploded into life – for a time it seemed as it every bloom was visited by a bee, a hover fly, a beetle, a noon fly, ants, ladybirds and of course all of our butterflies and moths.
How can we forget the excitement of seeing a male White Crab Spider half the size of the female, almost hidden in the bower created by the female, totally motionless on her back, waiting to mate? Or the wonderfully patterned Yellow and Black Longhorn beetle, the Red and Black Froghopper? Or the day at the end of June when John Hansford counted 52 Marbled White and 18 Large Skipper butterflies? Or finding Yellow Rattle for the first time in mid-July and watching male Chalk Hill Blues mud puddling at the end of July? In late August John topped his June count by seeing a pretty staggering 60 Common Blue butterflies and in the same month reported 3 pairs of Spotted Flycatchers, including a juvenile.
As in every year we clung desperately to summer but we had to let go and autumn brought its own rewards – seeing an adult Common Lizard with 3 juveniles atop a Yellow Meadow anthill in September and welcoming the fungus season with tiny delicate Angel’s Bonnets, lines of Trooping Funnel marching up the banks towards the Badge setts, Donk clinging to the limestone bridge, Pixie Cups adorning a wooden post, Whitewash lichen splashed on tree trunks and in November Polypodies with buttercup yellow pores and spotting our first ever Picture Winged insect while December’s disappearing plants revealing so very many small entrances to small mammals’ dens.
25th December 2019 / 5.38am
“I heard a bird sing in the dark of December. A magical thing. And sweet to remember.” Oliver Herford
I also heard a Robin singing in the dark on Christmas Day morning – moving and magical. The photograph is of a Robin (the same one?) singing from a nearby tree later in the day.
9th December 2019 / Temp: 8.5 – 7 C / 1.55pm – 3.35pm
A perfect winter’s day for walking – cool, brilliant sunshine and clear skies. Once we dropped down in the lee of the embankment out of the blustery and icy north-westerly wind, our spirits rose and we set off along the path full of good cheer despite not much of interest to catch the eye, although the deep puddles along the edges of the fields certainly emphasised how much rain we have endured during this particularly wet autumn.
We disturbed a single rake-thin squirrel who skittered away, leaping from branch to branch and set off a couple of handfuls of all the usual birds, Bullfinch, Robin, Wren, Chaffinch, Blue and Long tailed Tits, chattering Fieldfares as well of course Pheasants, Wood Pigeons, Crows and Gulls.
All along the entire length of the path we kept coming across intermittent swarms and billows of midges, the so called smoke of winter gnats. Annoying though they are to walk through, it’s good to see food for the birds at a time of the year when there are so few insects about.
But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of walking through the countryside at this time of year is being able to see so many tracks across the grass and the many small mammal holes which the are exposed when the plants have died down. Most are about 3-4cm is size, beautifully round, often in the easily worked earthen banks of the winterbournes or along the main embankment, also softened by the incessant rains of this particularly wet autumn.
We were unable to establish whether they were created by the often seen long tailed or bank voles, possibly shrew or mice, although wood mice seem to prefer open fields, however it matters little, just good to see plenty of small mammals thriving along the path.
There were a few brave plants who had managed to produce flowers, the ever present white dead nettle, several yarrows and hawksbeards, red clover and a lovely hogweed, a bit drooping from the recent gales and incessant rain, but beautifully tinged with lilac-pink from cross-pollination, providing a nostalgic memory of hot summer days.
And finally, we spotted quite a number of clumps of liverwort both on the banks of the stream and around the roots of hawthorn trees on steep sided banks below the hedgerows.
Liverworts are always so vividly green, and like the mosses, most striking in the drab winter months where most of the ground and landscape is empty of colour. We also love their thick glossy leaves,
and their shapes, often frilled or forked or containing little cups. We pass them unnoticed for most of the year but they come into their own on winter days, particularly when like today the sun is strong enough to make them shine as if they are varnished, glowing from well shaded spots.
26th November 2019 / Temp: 11 C / 3pm – 4.10pm
We managed a quick dash out between rain storms with yet more black clouds threatening. It felt wonderful to be out in the fresh air, it was surprisingly mild and there was something rather fine in the late November afternoon light, despite a dark, damp dreary scene before us the sky was lit with patches of bright blue sky and peachy clouds. The ground underfoot was soggy, waterlogged moss, scattered with bleached empty banded snail shells and clumps of hard rush meeting puddles verging on small shallow ponds as we squelched along.
The remains of what looked like an old Blackbird nest was the sole decoration on a tree which only days before was afire with golden copper leaves; the rest of the shrubs and trees were equally desolate – it seemed that autumn had morphed into winter when we were busy looking the other way.
A very welcome diversion came in this otherwise lifeless aspect when a Sparrowhawk appeared, flying along the hedge and then hovering over the trees, swirling around in the wind which was fairly strong and soon we heard Blackbirds and Robins, Pheasants and Crows, Wood Pigeons and then a Raven croaking, which, given the darkening afternoon summoned up thoughts of Edgar Allen Poe. A flock of Fieldfares and Redwings rising and flying, landing and repeating the same manouvre, always some way in front of us, always extremely lively.
We scanned the bridge as usual looking for lichen or jelly fungus without success but spotted this little cluster of garden snails hibernating in a crevice between the cut stone. Evidently they look for shelter after the first frost, often hibernate in groups, and remain in the safety of their hideout until spring.
One of the local farmers caught up with us and stopped to pass the time of day. He was accompanied by a splendid Rhodesian Ridgeback bitch, lithe and beautiful, alert to his every move. He was able to remember taking the train along this now disused track from Frome to the small derelict station nearby with its double platform, ticket office and waiting room more than fifty years ago and taking the train from the same station on a day-trip to Weymouth with his family; nothing beside remains but a small shed and some way down the track the bare bones of an abandoned guards van.
The farmer also talked of ploughing his fields in September/October time and seeing a dozen or more Buzzards following his tractor, swooping down to feed on the worms as the earth was turned over. He thought the seeds from the many plants along the scrub and embankment blowing seeds over his crops were no problem, save that is for the large bull thistles and even larger woolly thistles which spread their seed so profusely. He was more worried by the incessant rainful of the past two months and the harm it was doing to his rain sodden fields but the impossibility of getting on the land to sow.
He walked on and we turned back as the dark clouds were moving closer and looked increasingly threatening when suddenly, exploding out of the trees, the sky above us was filled with a mixed flock of dozens and dozens of Fieldfares and Redwings – black sillouettes in the fading light but full of life and vigour and movement. Something at least was showing vitality in this otherwise dead world! They heralded the rain and as we hurried back along the path we got caught out by the first shower but avoided a thorough drenching of the full rainstorm by a matter of minutes.
13th November 2019 / Temp: 6.5 – 8.5 C / 11.-5am – 1.10pm
We decided to do our annual trek through the woods a little earlier than last year, but the wind was biting and the wood looked invitingly sheltered. All of the areas of woodland along the cycle path are navigable with care but as we penetrated deeper, the animal paths petered out, the fallen branches became thicker and more frequent, the dratted skeins of bramble caught around our legs, head and ears more and more fequently so it was quite a tiring battle with our own small jungle!
However, the adventure was worth the effort. A world of thick moss covered trees, innumerable species of lichen, liverwort, mushrooms and jelly fungus and our first sighting of polypodies which are pretty commonplace in other woods in the area but which we have never seen before here.
Most we have seen have been so high up in full sized trees it was great to be able to scramble closer to these and examine the spores, some brown and dull but several glowing buttercup yellow, lighting up the gloomy afternoon.
A young, small disc-like Leafy Brain jelly fungus, looking deliciously fruit like, bright strawberry pink unlike what was probably its parent plant close by, toffee brown and wrinkled.
There were lots of crustose lichen painted on the trunks of the trees and along the branches. The attractively coloured Bleeding Broadleaf crust below
shaded in tones of apricot and white set against the lime-wash splash of the sparkling white species below, as if someone has been along with a paint brush and decorated the trees.
The half hidden stretch of tan and buff looking like a discarded animal skin or crumpled suede lying forgotten on a moss and ivy covered log deep in the undergrowth made a complete contrast to what we think of as the classic lichen, grey-green, knobbly and leaf edged.
It was also lovely to catch sight of a fallen branch festooned with Variable Oysterling fungus growing on the dead wood. These had already turned buff coloured with age but were still like small shells – delicate and delightful.
By now we were tiring, navigating banks and ditches and small winterbournes while climbing over and under thick branches and tangled ivy as we battled through the choke point at the edge of the wood. Frustrating to see the tree line so close but having such a fight to reach it, but reach it we eventually did and even managed, with considerable cursing and difficulty, to climb over the fence to the open stretch of path before us.
We sauntered down the hill towards home none the worse for our exertions and pleased to have explored the wood and even more pleased that it would be another year before we need hack our way all the way through the entire wood again!
But the path had one more gift – a small insect perched on a large boulder which we believe might be a Picture Winged insect, given the time of year and it’s distinctive colouring. Unfortunately the distance and focus wasn’t sharp so we would very much welcome any other suggestions!
The Stinking Iris made another bright splash of colour, vying with the autum leaves still stubbornly clinging to the trees despite the frequent rain storms. The sun never really managed to fully break through the cloud although we often caught glimpses of its wan light through the branches. Woods are beautiful in every season of the year but autumn always gives them a particular charm.
3rd November 2019
Twitter feed from John Hansford :
Mells Down (Colliers Way) included 50+ Fieldfare at Dusk, 30+ Goldcrests, Kestrel, Treecreeper, Moorhen, Tawny Owl (Heard), Ravens, Song Thrush, Bullfinches, Linnets, Yellowhammers, Stock Doves etc.
29th October 2019 – Temp: 7 C / 9.50am – 11.35am
October. The clocks have changed bringing dark days and darker nights, the nights are drawing in, the days are growing shorter with mist covered mornings and rainy afternoons under overcast dull leaden skies – dreary, dank and chilly. But…
The winter migrants are arriving in numbers, a large flock of 40 plus Redwings flying over the trees along the woodland walk, heading no doubt for the Hawthorn trees, Guelder rose and Dog rose briars, heavily laden with berries this year – a bumper crop. As we walked farther down the path at least 20-30 noisy, chuckling Fieldfares took off en masse from an adjoining field and obliged us with a fly past.
The leaves are changing, flame coloured, and every shade through orange, pink, gold and red, showy flamboyant leaves are replacing the dull green of early autumn and even on a dull day like today with heavy cloud cover threatening yet more rain, they light up the hedgerows and glow in the gloom.
No sign of insect life apart from a few midges, very few flowers, the odd white deadnettle, a few umbellifers, a scattering of bright pink herb robert, nothing to see, but…
October is to fungus, moss and lichen as March is to daffodils and what a show they put on! From the tiny, delicate Angel’s Bonnets to the large and stately Trooping Funnel; the strangely shaped White Saddle which looks for all the world like a melted candle to the modestly tinted Lilac Bonnets and past beautifully patterned Turkey tail fungus, first in many shades of grey to another in every shade of brown.
Every branch seems to have its own small garden of lichens – Common Green Shield clinging tightly to the bark, Cartilage lichen blossoming in trails, Oak Moss (stag lichen) somewhere between the two and the wonderfully sunshine yellow Common Orange lichen (sometimes more aptly called Martime Sunburst, and the little discs are just like miniature suns). The fallen logs are covered with Swan’s-neck Thyme moss with their tiny stalks and bowed head seeds, stems of black footed chalk white Candlesnuff (often called staghorn) poking through the moss.
Even the old railway bridge, constructed as it is from blocks of quarried limestone, sports its own specialised selection of fungus and lichen alongside the tiny Maidenhair Spleenwort ferns, Wall Rue and ivy-leaved toadflax, like the splendidly named Donk, a jelly fungus and Opegrapha rupestris, a kind of black crust lichen.
By the time we had clambered up and down the steep bank, despite falling flat, to check the fungus and the Badgers (lots of activity around their setts and snuffle holes alongside the path), listened to the noisy chattering Jackdaws and Rooks, the screeching Jays and the mewing Buzzard circling overhead, it was time to turn back and climb the path for home. Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Bullfinches, Robins and Blackbirds twitterings and calls accompanied our walk, as did the Pheasant’s squawk and Wood Pigeons coo.
Did we say October was dreary, dank and chilly and devoid of life? Nonsense! Even though the promised sun didn’t make an appearance, the leaves glowed, the birds sang, the fungus glowed in the gloom and we were so warm we were obliged to unbutton our coats and unravel our scarves – October is the perfect walking month!
8th October 2019 – Temp: 12.5 C / 9.30am – 11.20 am
Welcome to the Brexit-free Zone which is a traffic-free path running through the heart of the Somerset countryside, far far away from the noisy bad-tempered clamour and stomach-sinking fear of the possibility of impending doom to the sound of bird song, swishing bicycle tyres, the mew of Buzzards wheeling overhead and the rumble of a distant tractor trundling over a stubble field!
A cool fresh breeze but the sun was warm on our backs and the sky cerulean blue with mackerel clouds (never long wet, never long dry) – a welcome break to days of rain with the promise of more to come. Good also to see shiny fresh conkers littering the ground which together with acres of freshly ploughed rich brown earth, fields partially ploughed and others planted earlier with winter wheat, already showing green, announces that autumn has well and truly arrived.
We expected to see lots of fungi but saw very few; we didn’t expect to see insects, but saw lots; Ivy bees buzzing around the newly opened flowers, although many were still in tight bud, joined by hover flies, wasps, flies, a fat loud bumblee and even grove snails all over the ivy and farther along the path, more bees and flies sunning themselves on the leaves of the old man’s beard.
There were also a surprising number of plants in flower – Hawkweed Ox-Tongues with their bright yellow-gold flowers brightening the verges were everywhere, there was also a good sprinkling of yarrow, red clover, white deadnettle, scabious, common hemp-nettle, greater knapweed, meadow cranesbill as well as a single scarlet corn poppy.
The trees and shrubs are thickly laden with fruit, berries and seeds this year – a bumper crop, the Hornbeam seed hanging in tassels, like upside down pagodas and some Field Maple seeds were deep rose pink. The cultivated apple varieties and the self-seeded crab apples have also cropped well, the grass surrounding them littered with windfalls, some already brown and rotting, a welcome sight for both wasps and hornets. Blackberries, sloes, hips and haws are all ripe, fat and plentiful – providing a good winter feast for wildlife and Redwings and Fieldfares alike and for all the other winter migrants which should be arriving soon.
Not a huge number of birds still, but many more singing than during our last visit. We heard a Green Woodpecker, Bullfinches, Chaffinches, Blackbirds, Robins, a Linnet, and saw a Raven being mobbed by Crows, a Buzzard, a Stock Dove, Jackdaws, Wood Pigeons and Pheasants.
So many cyclists but almost every one cheerful, friendly and ringing their bells! Such a help for us as we peer into the undergrowth or stand transfixed, binoculars clamped, totally unaware of anything around us as we watch a Buzzard circling or a distant Green Woodpecker. A fair few runners and several dog walkers – everyone is keen to catch a few hours of sunshine before the next front moves in.
25th September 2019 – Temp: 17C / 2.30pm – 3.40pm
The Autumn Equinox two days ago marked a dramatic change to the weather from a long spell of beautiful sunny days and clear blue skies to cloudbursts and torrential rain where just a bit farther east of us they endured a month’s rainfall in one day. Given the non-stop rain we were lucky to manage a quick walk through drizzle and gusty winds along the wooded section of the walk which sheltered us from the worst of the weather.
Very, very quiet with very few signs of activity, no insects apart from a few flies and a single Comma butterfly. Few birds, a couple of Ravens, the usual Wood Pigeons, Pheasants and Gulls, a solitary Grey Squirrel leaping precariously from branch to branch but quite a few fungi and berry laden trees and shrubs in profusion. The full panoply of autumn laid out before us in all its rich extravagance. Necklaces of scarlet, green and yellow Black Bryony trailed across almost every hedge, joining perfectly ripe blackberries, the pale, tissue thin heart-shaped leaves of Bindweed and Hawthorn berry clusters so thick they blotted out the branches and leaves, the orange rosehips glowing in the uncertain light, clouds of Old Man’s Beard cloaking trees and hiding shrubs and the cream balls on the Ivy almost ready to burst into flower in time for the Ivybees arrival, and fresh diggings around the Badger setts.
Uncountable numbers of Oak galls blown down by the wind, lying scattered along the path we walked, crunching over the fallen acorns and hazel nuts many of which had already been broken open by squirrels and woodmice and their shells disgarded, thrown onto the moss covered logs or thick rich and dark leaf mould to join the bleached snail shells and occasional pheasant feathers.
We came upon a newly killed Wood Pigeon, lying on its back, totally perfect with no signs of injury apart from its missing tail feathers, its soft white and peach-coloured breast feathers pristine and beautiful, but the only mourners gathered around were six or more green bottles, crawling all over it. We think we must have disturbed its killer, possibly a Sparrowhawk, but we saw no signs of one.
This is the start of the fungus season proper as was evidenced by at first troops of Shaggy Ink Caps along the sides of the path, either singly (one at least 9 inches tall) or in groups of five or six or in one place fourteen. Turkey tail bracket fungus on fallen logs and branches, a small clump of Conical Brittlestem and another of Stump Puffball and several other species, some nibbled, which we were unable to identify.
It was a couple of weeks earlier when we had our first sighting of the Meadow Saffron last year so it was more in hope than expectation that we returned to the same spot but to find no sign of them. We have to content ourselves with last year’s photograph and memories and hope for better luck next year.
As we began to walk home the sun came out at last and lit up the trees some of which have begun to change to autumn colour, many are still summer green, the Cherry leaves are particularly striking, as the same tree will show leaves from fiery orange to red to purple and some Oak and Ash, Birch and Hazel leaves are already touched with gold. To send us home with a song in our hearts was the sight of a small flock of Swallows swooping through the air – it’s autumn but summer isn’t quite forgotten!
13th September 2019Marbled White – copyright John Hansford
Good to get the results of the butterfly count which gives a country wide view of butterfly numbers and some indication of which species have increased/fallen/remained the same over this last year. Our concern has been two sites, Colliers Way and a two-mile stretch of the River Frome, the first of which has shown a fall in overall numbers since last year [Marbled Whites up Common Blues up (nationally down) woodland species like Brimstones, Ringlets and Gatekeepers down (nationally up) and the river numbers have overall remained the same.
The most striking finding is the crash in sightings of the Comma butterfly along Colliers Way not matched by the river site or the country as a whole which saw an increase of 23%. The other butterfly which suffered a drastic fall has of course been the Silver Washed Fritillary (which is not listed in the B.B.Count and has never been seen along the river) in previous years one of the glories of the cycle path and where no more than a handful were seen in the entire season.
As both of these butterflies are also predominantly woodland species, whose adults feed on bramble flowers, it is reasonable to suppose that the severe cutting back of trees and bramble early in the year reduced their habitat and so had an adverse affect on their numbers. Impossible to know at this stage whether either species will recover, but as there appears to be no plan to restore their habitat (and of course the time it takes for trees to grow) it seems unlikely.
4th September 2019 / Temp: 17.5 C / 2.30pm – 4.20pm
Cool, sunny intervals with a strong, gusty, south-westerly breeze, not the most ideal afternoon for a butterfly count, but we did manage to see a reasonable amount – again falling numbers and a disturbingly lack of Comma and Silver Washed Fritillary compared to previous years – but the final count of 2 Red Admiral, 5 Painted Lady, 2 Common Blue, 1 Small Tortoiseshell, 1 Speckled Wood, 2 Large White and 12 Small White was also a fraction of the number John Hansford sighted only about a week ago, so perhaps it was simply the weather which caused the small count.
Apart from this small burst of butterflies, mainly feeding on the buddleia, there were a few fat bumble bees and worker bees, a single dragonfly and a few moths but the most abundant flying insects were all the flies – hover flies (including the beautiful
Drone fly – possibly Eristalis nemorum on Yarrow head
Marmalade hover fly, drone flies, tachninid flies all feeding on the flower heads of yarrow, wild carrot, hedge parsley and thistle. As wild pollinators which include bumblebees and other bees (250 species), butterflies and moths (2200 species), and various other insects such as beetles, wasps and thrips, also include flies, an astonishing 6700 species, we thought we should perhaps give them a little more attention! Although the single Crane fly we spotted with its extraordinarily long, long legs, fluttering and tangling in amongst the grasses, always seems to us to announce autumn rather than seeing it as a pollinator, evidently even crane flies do have a minor place among the pollinators.
Crane fly – Tipula oleracea
A beautiful Dryad’s saddle fungus – rather appropriately mimicking a leather cycle saddle.
or a pull down / let down seat made of figured walnut or some other exotic wood on which to perch whilst admiring the view perhaps!
Plenty of Tachinid flies, of course there are two large and one small pond in the fields adjoining the cycle path where these, the occasional dragonflies and mayflies are breeding.
We always check the Yellow Meadow anthills, more out of habit than expectation, so imagine our astonishment when we caught sight of this beauty
Adult Common Lizard on anthill
and when he skittered off at top speed we were even more astonished to see three more small lizards, juveniles this time, unmoving, frozen still. extraordinarily well-camoflauged amongst the fine sandy soil and dried grasses. We have seen lizards in the spring and not infrequently in high summer, but never this late and if, as we understand it, the young are born in July, these cannot be very old.
Three juvenile Common Lizards
We reached Mells old station and what was probably the yard – a wide badly drained area of thin subsoil sprinkled with stunted willows, saplings, reeds and tall grasses which in winter is thick with squelchy moss but now, at the end of summer, is filled with many still flowering plants unique to this place.
The list is like a celebration of summer grassland: the delicate tiny flowered vervain, mayweed, red bartsia, common toadflax, common birdsfoot trefoil, wild carrot, meadow cranesbill, red clover, hop trefoil, herb robert, fat hen, white clover, agrimony, woolly thistle (in seed) rat’s tail plantain, flowering prickly sow-thistle, forget-me-not, great willow herb, teasel, ragwort, rosebay willow herb (in seed) centaury, melilots. As you follow the path between the shrubs the tall strawlike grasses are filled with hidden crickets and grasshoppers, leaping in every direction, fat bumblebees buzzing away, tiny moths, skittering black spiders, snails, aphids, beetles, gnats and hoverflies – all the insects our local breeding Warblers and Spotted Flycatchers love to feast on.
Along the boundary are the trees and shrubs laden with fruit, some already ripe and ready for harvesting, the long straggly branches of the blackberry brambles, heavy with black, red and green berries, rose briars flaunting scarlet hips and blood red Robin’s pincushion galls, skeins of old man’s beard and hops both in seed and flower, fat purple sloes, black bryony berries, green privet berries, pale hazel nuts, black elderberry and dogwood berries, scarlet hawthorn berries – an seemingly endless supply.
All the fruits and harvest of the summer ready to pick, boil, store for cold winter nights or Christmas feasts – thick treacly Sloe gin to fill the hip flasks, sloe and wild apple preserve for breakfast toast, hops to tuck inside your pillowslips to aid sleep, blackberry and apple crumbles to keep out the cold, elderberry or blackberry liqueur for after supper tipple, rosehip syrups for pancakes, and hawthorn jelly for cheese. But not from here – this is a designated Wildlife Site! All these seeds and fruits and berries are a treasure chest for the exclusive use of the local wildlife (I never look at blackberries without remembering how foxes eat loads – evidenced by their scat) to sustain them through the dark days of winter – we can always forage elsewhere.
30th August 2019
Latest sightings around the Conduit Bridge Area
Small Tortoiseshell – c. John Hansford
Amber Listed Stock Dove c. John Hansford
Red Kite – c. John Hansford
Painted Lady – c. John Hansford
27th August 2019
Juvenile Spotted Flycatcher – copyright John Hansford
Brilliant news this morning from John Hansford – he saw 3 pairs of Spotted Flycatchers along the cycle path yesterday – inluding this juvenile.
His sightings also included an astonishing 60+ Common Blue butterflies as well as 1 Silver Washed Fritillary, 1 Brown Argus, 20+ Painted Lady, 1 Meadow Brown, 1 Comma, 1 Holly Blue 5+ Speckled Wood, 8+ Red Admiral and 1 Gatekeeper. Quite a haul!
It is worth remembering that, according to the RSPB, the Red-Listed Spotted Flycatcher has seen a population decline of 89% between 1967 and 2010 and numbers have dropped across mainland England and Wales, south of a line between Windermere and the North York Moors, from 31% to 9% in the last twenty years.
These areas of undisturbed mixed woodland, scrub, saplings, bramble thickets and open ground thick with birds eye trefoil, centaury, ragwort, St John’s wort, wild carrot and hedge parsley, all great insect attracting plants, is such a precious habitat for warblers and other insect eating birds which are in drastic decline throughout Europe due to the crash in insect numbers.
8th August 2019 / Temp: 19.5 C / 11.5am – 12.50pmSilver-Washed Fritillary c. John Hansford
Warm sun and golden corn stubble fields greeted us as we arrived at Colliers Way. We were so concerned on our last visit at the dearth of Silver Washed Fritillaries and Commas that we decided to concentrate on butterfly counting so we were delighted as we walked down the slope towards the path to see our first Comma, sitting on a bramble leaf soaking up the sun. Over the next hour or so we saw 2 more Comma, 6 Fritillary, 21 Small White, 2 Large White, 9 Meadow Brown, 2 Small Tortoiseshell, 2 Red Admiral, 5 Gatekeeper, 3 Speckled Wood, 5 Small Heath, 9 Common Blue and 2 Marbled White butterflies. These aren’t huge numbers and the butterfly counts have fallen considerably compared to last year, however, there are Silver Washed Fritillaries and Commas so there is every reason to be hopeful.
Wild carrot plants are abundant at the moment, alongside the path and all over the meadow areas and we can’t resist the lure of a hunt for the single red/pink/purple flower which is often found in the centure of the flower head. Equally often it’s not there, sometimes on neighbouring plants one will have a purple flower and one will not. It is belived that the single red flower acts as a beacon to prospective pollinators, but there appears to be no explanation of why if that is the case, why they don’t appear in every flower head. In America the wild carrot is called “Queen Anne’s Lace”, the white flower suggesting lace, and the single red flower the drop of blood when Queen Anne pricked herself with a needle while making the lace.
It is always magical and quite enchanting to walk across a flat meadow scattered with wild carrot nests, egg yolk yellow birds foot trefoil, purple and lilac thistles, yellow starlike St John’s Wort which is thick with heavily seeded, waving sunburnt bleached grasses and set up meadow grasshoppers leaping and jumping in all directions at every footfall; ever better when micro moths and butterflies, mostly small heaths and meadow browns join in the fun. It is the experience of high summer we most long for and which is so delightful to enjoy.
If we were walking blindfolded or in the dark we would still know we were approaching the stretch of path which is heavily shaded by trees and thick undergrowth by the smell of apples. Long before we reach the crab apple tree the tang of windfalls on the damp ground drifts on the air and concentrated by the tunnel of trees, makes for a heady hint of autumn.
There were a good number of bees, particularly on the ragwort and the common valerian, mostly fat and furry bumble-bees – buff-tailed, red-tailed, and a sprinkling of worker bees. The most frequent insects, however, were the flies, both hover and the common soldier and other flies covering most of the flower heads, those busy pollinators who are not in the least deterred by grey skies.
The birds have finished breeding and are completing their moult making them more vulnerable, so they are concealing themselves in the trees making bird-song was pretty much absent making the path almost silent. However, we did hear Buzzard young calling for food to the adults circling overhead, a Magpie’s warning cry and a Raven’s croak as well as a the squawking noise from a flock of Lesser Black-Backed and Herring Gulls in a nearby field. We saw Blue Tits, Bullfinches, Goldfinches, Common Whitethroats, a Coal Tit, a single Swallow and a Kestrel as well as the ubiquitous Wood Pigeons, Blackbirds, Crows and Pheasants.
We were watching a bloody-nosed beetle on a mission, lumbering slowly across the path when, quite by chance, we saw Andrew who stopped for a long, enjoyable chat and catch-up on his latest sightings, the most thrilling of which was a Merlin in early July. He thought it was likely that one of the Merlins at Chew Magna lake, not a great distance away, may have been blown off course by the weather conditions at the time. He had seen a pair of Tawny Owls last week, and seen or heard at least five Green Woodpeckers this year, a great improvement on last year when we were all worried by their scarcity. He was most excited by seeing the Linnets returning to Kilmington – he had mourned their loss over the past several years and hoped they would soon move down the path to the Mells Down end.
So many cyclists of every age, type and condition passed us as we stood chatting and when we were walking along, parents with children enjoying the freedom of school holidays, groups of teenagers, groups in their mid-20s but also several separate groups of elderly men together and also groups of older women, possibly clubs, as well as lycra-clad racers – a busy path but only one other walker, a man with his dog.
25th July 2019 / Temp: 25.5-30.5 C / 9.45am-12.10pm
Hoverfly fanning himself to keep cool under the trees!
Very, very hot! We chose the woodland path so we could check the butterflies but also because the south-east breeze cuts across the tree shaded path – a blessed relief from the blistering heat of the sun baked town. We were not entirely lucky – whole stretches of the cycle path were fully exposed to the blazing sunlight and some were protected from the cooling breeze which together made walking hard work. We weren’t surprised to notice that despite the sheet lightning storm and torrential rain of two nights ago, the stream was bone dry. We noticed very few bees again during the whole walk – no beetles but there were a number of hoverflies both in the air and joining the numerous flies on the flower heads.
Woodmouse – copyright Stuart Blackman
We were surprised to see so many nut clusters littering the ground beneath the Hazel trees. It seems quite the wrong time of the year for the trees to be raided but of course unlike us, squirrels and mice eat green nuts. Examining the holes where the shells have been opened, there appeared to be signs of different species having eaten the nuts – squirrels evidently break the nuts neatly in half with their strong teeth to get to the kernel whereas woodmice attack the nut from the side and leave clear teeth marks on the inside of the nut. Both signs appear on the shells in the cluster below.
Woodmouse tooth marks on the right-hand hazelnut
Dormice however evidently make a neat round hole, also showing toothmarks, but so distinctive is the shape of the hole, it defines dormice in an area. No signs amongst the hazelnut shells we found, but given the rareity of dormice, not unexpected.
We had some success with our butterfly count: 4 Comma is a pretty dismal number compared to the abundance of previous years but at least there were a few but of Silver-Washed Fritillaries there was no sign, not even one to be seen, much to our dismay. We will be interested to see the results of the Big Butterfly count to see if numbers have crashed throughout the country or if it is only here, but these results are worrying.
Comma – copyright John Hansford
Overall numbers were down, matching the fall in number of butterflies on the more open, flower filled section of the path. Meadow Brown took the prize at 14, there were 10 each Peacock and Large White, 6 Red Admiral, 4 Small White, 3 Gatekeeper, 2 each of Small Heath, Small Skipper, Brimstone and Speckled Wood.
However a very exciting sighting as we were leaving the cycle path under Buckland bridge liften our spirits sky high. The area above this bridge is the start of the new path which Frome’s Missing Links have been working on and is hoped that one day will run into the centre of Frome. Surprisingly, the steep embankment here gives every impression of typical dowland and so, despite never seeing any, we have always hoped that Chalkhill Blue butterflies might breed there. The soil is mostly limestone and many characteristics are shared with the local downs – calcareous grassland kept short by a number of rabbits given the quantity of droppings, scattered yellow meadow ant hills, and quite a few typical downland plants. We have never seen any but the Somerset Environmental Group found Horseshoe Vetch here, the single plant which is essential to Chalkhill Blue butterflies, so we had reason to be hopeful.
Chalkhill Blue (male) copyright Gilles San Martin
The overnight thunderstorm and heavy rainfall had left muddy puddles that even the enormous heat had not completely dried and we suddenly caught sight of two small very pale blue butterflies fluttering and feeding on the mud. The size but most of all the colour could only mean they were male Chalkhill Blue butterflies mud-puddling, an activity only male butterflies engage in to take up salts. ‘Males seem to benefit more from the sodium uptake as it aids in reproductive success, with the precious nutrients often transferred to the female during mating. This extra nutrition helps ensure that the eggs survive’. At last – all things come to those who wait and it has certainly been one long wait! When the weather is somewhat cooler we must climb up the long flight of steps and venture out along the embankment and see if we can spot some Chalkhill Blues in situ, as well as, who knows, perhaps a horseshoe vetch.
It was so lovely to hear the Song Thrush, a Green Woodpecker and a Raven’s distinctive calls echoing across the quiet woodland. We heard a pair of Jays making a good deal of noise quarreling and arguing in the trees, a Wren’s teck teck teck alarm, a mewing Buzzard overhead, a party of complaining Jackdaws and screeching Crow all made themselves heard against the near constant coo of the many Wood Pigeons.
15th July 2019 / Temp: 21 C / 2.50pm – 5.05pm
Beautifully sunny mid-summer afternoon. The fields of ripened treacle coloured corn are edged with wide margins where tufted vetch, scarlet poppies, knapweed, yarrow,
meadow cranesbill, timothy and meadow grasses are flourishing and all along the old train embankment rose bay willow herb fights for space with knapweed, lady’s bedstraw, hedge bedstraw, yarrow, umbelifers, and clumps of yellow rattle – full of seed.
There is a great profusion of field scabious this year, attracting the butterflies, particularly large numbers of Marbled Whites which seem to love it. Lots of Meadow Brown, Speckled Wood, Large White, Brimstone, a few Silver-washed Fritillary and Red Admiral, only one Peacock are busy all along the verges but by far the greatest number on the bank are the Small Heath, their bright orange wings flashing in the bright sunlight.
We are between butterfly broods this week so the numbers are steady rather than massive so although the red and white clover and the birds eye trefoil are still in flower, we felt lucky to spot a couple of Common Blue. The bee and hoverfly numbers have also dipped as we move into late summer, although we did spot what we think is a Common Banded hoverfly, such a change from just a few weeks ago when every flower head seemed to contain one or the other species.
However, the Labyrinth spiders are everywhere – casting their silken nets across low shrubs and plants and lurking in the centre of their tunnel waiting to pounce on the unwary.
We caught sight of a freshly formed edible fungus, the quaintly named Dryad’s saddle fungus, which we have never tried eating, although it is said to be delicious – maybe one day. We always find the sight of them in the summer months unexpected, still believing, quite wrongly, that fungus only appears in autumn.
Lovely to see the delicate Vervain, Pale Toadflax and the tiny pink Centaury half hidden. Their unobtrusive pastel shades are so easily overlooked among the brash purple, pink and yellow colours of their tall and striking neighbours. First sight of several clumps of Evening Primrose along the edge of the path close by little tunnels in the thick grass of small mammals. A small collection of black animal scat on the path at the entrance to one such tunnel – hedgehog? The correct shape and colour but impossible to be sure.
Still Swallows to be seen thank goodness, along with Robin, Chaffinch, Willow Warbler, Whitethroat and Chiff Chaff. Goldfinches, Blackbirds, Wood Pigeons and Crows aplenty but no sign of any of our usual raptors – must be the result of slim pickings now that the nestlings have flown the nest.
2nd July 2019 / Temp: 20 C / 2.40pm – 4.15pm
Warm with periods of bright sunshine bringing out the Burnet moths which always seem to spend the summer perched on a scabious flowerhead and a good number of butterflies. The first Silver-washed Fritillary of the season as well as Brimstone, Large White, Comma, Painted Lady, Speckled Wood, Ringlet, Marbled White, uncountable numbers of Meadow Brown as well as our first ever sighting of a Small Skipper.
Surpisingly not that many bees – there were of course the usual Red, White and Buff-tailed Bumblebees and Honey bees together with the carpet of Mining bee holes, but they just weren’t in any great numbers. Lots of flies and hoverflies (including very many Lesser Banded, Pellucid and Marmalade) and moths around the flowers and a scattering of bejewelled Thick-legged flower beetles buried deep in the Ox-eye daisy flowers.
Not all is trouble free in our little stretch of Eden. The above photograph of a couple of Harlequin ladybirds recently hatched with their empty pupal cases abanded beside them highlights a problem which is increasing year on year – the ever growing number of the invasive and extremely aggressive Harlequin ladybirds. At this time of the year every leaf or flower seems to harbour at least one but often several Harlequin larvae in every habitat – riverside, woodland and here along the cycle path. Alongside the increased number of Harlequins is the falling numbers of native ladybirds which seemed to be around in good numbers in the spring, and have now become increasingly hard to see. A worrying state of affairs with no obvious solution.
However, it is the embankments, slopes and swathes of wild flowers, subtly beautiful in their simplicity which cannot fail to fill us with delight. The sheer profusion of plants, tall and stately, small and creeping, tiny delicate vervain and pale toadflax flowers nestling amongst large stands of rose bay willow herb, bladder and red campion, nodding scabious and knapweed above brilliant yellow creeping cinquefoil, all the deep tones of summer – multiple shades and drifts of purple and magenta, cream, yellow and white on green and more green with occasional vivid splashes of bright blue and scarlet.
Home for Nursery web spiders to build their tented nests, small field and bank voles with places to hide, slow, slow, slow worms and grass snakes, lumbering hedgehogs and lazing lizards, fat toads and tiny field mice as well as all the beetles and busy yellow ants, all have their place in these generous areas of undisturbed banks of plants, shrubs, hedges and trees.
Willow Warblers, Yellowhammers, Chiff Chaffs, Chaffinches, Bullfinches, Goldfinches, Blue tits, Dunnocks, Whitethroats, a tiny Wren, several Blackbirds and a wheeling Buzzard all entertained us with their song as we walked or sat and admired or stopped to chat to other walkers who were also enjoying the joy which is this path and the precious areas of the English countryside in summer.
Simplicity – Green Oak Bench – Yumiko Aoyagi
Plants: Pyramidal Orchid, Meadow Pea, Ox-eye daisy, Common valerian, White clover, Hedge woundwort, Tufted vetch, Yarrow, Hedge bedstraw, Cut-leaved cranesbill, Nipplewort, Creeping thistle, Agrimony, Lady’s Bedstraw, Ragwort, White deadnettle, Common St John’s wort, Herb Robert, Meadow cranesbill, Wild basil, Pale Toadflax, Vervain, Rose Bay willowherb, White bryony, Sainfoin, Bladder campion, Red campion, Melilot, Common Poppy, Creeping cinquefoil, Field bindweed, Dove’s foot cranesbill, Self-heal, Prickly sow thistle, Hop trefoil, Umbelifers.
29th June 2019 / Temp: 29 C / Full Sun
Summer has arrived on Route 24!
An email from John Hansford :
2 Red Admiral,
52 Marbled Whites this morning,
18 Large Skippers, 4 Brimstones,
7 Common Blues,
1 Painted Lady, 1 Silver Washed
Fritillary, 1 Green-Veined White,
1 Large White, 1 Small White and
a Speckled Wood.”
Joining in the celebration were two Red Listed birds the Song Thrush
and the Yellowhammer
plus that harbinger of Spring the ChiffChaff. John added “It was great to see 5 Red Kites together” Five! It wasn’t that long ago when we celebrated seeing just one!
27th June 2019
John Hansford managed a brief sortie along the cycle path yesterday and captured a wonderfully appealing shot of a Blackcap and great photograph of a Large Skipper, a butterfly we still have never spotted – maybe this summer we will be luckier.
Large Skipper – John Hansford
Marbled White – John Hansford
Painted Lady – John Hansford
17th June 2019 / Temp: 16.5 C / 2.30pm-3.50pm
A very overcast afternoon with a strong, blustery wind but thankfully dry, unlike most days these last weeks when torrential rain and periodic thunderstorms have blighted what should be the loveliest days of the year. Lack of sun means a total absence of butterflies and the insect bonanza of a couple of weeks ago has fallen to a trickle of odd specimens. This Black and Yellow Longhorn beetle is evidently extremely common but he is new to us and is rather a handsome fellow; we noticed both quite a few Thick-legged Flower beetles without thick legs so all females who presumably don’t pump iron, and a Red Soldier beetle, always eye-catching, there were quite a few 7 spot Ladybirds, a great fat and flashy golden yellow Hornet on the hunt.
What there were in profusion were bees, more bees and hoverflies – almost every flower head it seemed had its busy nectar ravenous bee, bumble bees (including Buff-tailed, Red-tailed and Common Carder) honey bees, hoverflies, (including a good many Pellucid as above) and even a Yellow dung fly which we initially mistook for a new species of bee.
What caused the greatest excitement was a cluster of common hogweed whose flower heads were covered in red ants. Could these actually be the wood ants so beloved of Nightingales for which we have searched and hoped to see for so long? Very regretfully, no. Despite peering at the ants, poring over the greatly enlarged photographs, we had to admit that they were Common Red ants and not our longed for wood ants. Ah well, maybe if the Nightingales do return they might be hungry enough to content themselves feeding on any Red ants the Woodpeckers leave behind.
We met a group of Australians, newly arrived in the UK, dashing through at top speed but stopping long enough to say they had seen a Brown Hare lolloping along the path in front of them and a couple of grey squirrels in the trees. Quite a few cyclists but no other walkers. Very few birds either – Chiff Chaff, Robin, Blackbird, Common Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Crow, Buzzard and several Song Thrushes singing beautifully but not full on song.
Plants: Common Spotted Orchid, Meadow thistle, Hedge Bedstraw, Meadow Cranesbill, Bush Vetch, Meadow Pea, Ox-eye Daisy, Red Clover, White Clover, Red Campion, Common Hogweed, Herb Bennet, Herb Robert, Common Valerian, Bird’s-eye Speedwell, Forget-me-not, Ribwort Plantain, Common Chickweed, Hedge Woundwort, Hop Trefoil, Crosswort, Creeping Cinquefoil, Dog Rose, Wood spurge, Ground ivy Field Bindweed, Stinging nettle Buttercup, Goosegrass, Butter -burr, Harts Tongue, Agrimony, Prickly Sow thistle, Black Bryony, Wintercress, Wild Strawberry, Bittersweet, Bramble flowers, Elderflower, Hairy Tare, Cut-leaved Cranesbill.
9th June 2019
Email from John Hansford with news of his enjoyable 90 minutes hunting along Colliers Way today, coming back with First Prize – the very first sighting of a Grizzled Skipper in the area – what a coup! And managing to get such a good, clear photograph of it for the record – brilliant. Grizzled Skippers are scarce throughout the country and one of three threatened species of butterfly here in Somerset, so this is a really exciting find.
His beguiling photograph of a Common Whitethroat with fat caterpillar surely earns its share of the laurels, which together with the Brimstone and Common Blue butterflies
and the Cinnebar Moth made for a pretty satisfying Sunday afternoon’s stroll by anyone’s standards!!
6th June 2019 / Temp: 17C / 2.30pm – 4.30pm
Although the temperature looks reasonable, the surprisingly chill, very blustery wind took the warmth out of the afternoon air when the sun disappeared behind the clouds. However, when the sun shone, the tangled riot of tall grasses, generously scattered with matching tall hogweed, cow parsley and ox-eye daisies, the embankments and verges between the cycle path and the boundary tree and hedge line is June at its most verdant.
Dog roses intertwined with the star-like flowers of the white bryony clamber over hedge and tree, the elderflower in full bloom scents the air and although the June lull in butterflies meant we only saw a handful of Brimstones, a couple of Common Blues and a few Speckled Woods, it is more than compensated by the insects. In a recent survey, common hogweed was found to be in the top ten of nectar producing plants and it seemed almost every flower head contained at least one but often two or three different bee species sharing the space with wasps, daytime flying moths (including what we thought might be Strawberry Bright and a Yellow-barred Longhorn moths) hoverflies, or other pollinators.
The ox-eye daisy seemed the preferred flower for beetles, clusters of tiny black beetles, lots and lots of the ubiquitous thick legged flower beetle, and even female white crab spiders, one enjoying its prey, nearly twice its size, and another copulating with a male spider. We knew that the male tied the female with its silken thread before copulation but we were intrigued to see that half a dozen or so petals had been bent down and secured to form a small but effective hiding place. As this same phenomenon was evident on both flowers, they must have been constructed by the females; so effective were they that we had to lift a petal with extreme care before we could see the spiders hidden in their dens.
Male White Crab Spider mounted on a Female White Crab Spider
A Marmalade hoverfly and Red & Black froghopper were amongst the insects we were able to identify but there were so many furry flies, long legged flies, indistinguished looking brown moths and beetles which we couldn’t begin to sort out, despite flicking through books and scouring the internet. However, named and unnamed, in view of the frightening fall in numbers of pollinating insects across the whole of rural Europe, it was good to see so many different species in such prolific numbers.
Plants: Yellow Rattle, knapweed, white deadnettle, scabious, creeping cinquefoil, herb robert, herb bennet, bee orchid, bird’s foot trefoil, ox-eye daisy, hogweed, cow parsley, buttercup, white clover, red clover, dove’s foot trefoil, hop trefoil, daisies, sorrel, bird’s eye speedwell, bush vetch, pale vetch, red campion, bladder campion, field bindweed, chickweed, bramble, dog rose, forget-me-not, cut-leaved cranesbill, meadow cranesbill, dogwood, goose-grass, white bryony, black bryony, ground ivy, goats beard, winter cress, smooth sow thistle, prickly sow thistle, hairy tare, arum lily (in berry) common poppy all in flower.
Red & Black Froghopper
It was so lovely to see a common lizard basking on the meadow anthill at the foot of the embankment again – possibly the same one we saw a few weeks ago and several white lipped snails clinging to tall grass leaves swaying in the breeze. The Broad-bodied Chaser Dragonfly is a wonderfully colourful unusual visitor from the large tree surrounded pond in the midst of the adjoining arable farmland and the squawk of a moorhen which we heard is probably from the same place.
Hardly any bird song but a good number of warning churrs, presumably from parent birds warning their young, although we did spot Yellowhammer, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Goldfinch, Chiff Chaff, Wren, Great Tit and a Blackbird who seranaded us with is beautiful song as we passed by watching a Buzzard circling and circling overhead.
Lots of lycra clad cyclists, most with heads down and pedalling at speed, a few dog walkers and a couple of older women, Nordic walking who stopped long enough to exchange memories of childhood walks with grandmothers who taught them the name of the plants.
8th May 2019 / Temp: 8-10.5 C / 2.15pm-3.30pm – Heavy rain storms with a brief sunny interval
Fortune favours the brave! We arrived in a drenching rain storm which fortunately stopped soon enough for us to manage an all too brief walk, but when we caught sight of the looming slate coloured clouds, we quickly headed back and managed to make the car just before the next storm hit.
Hardly May weather but although there were no basking lizards or warm sun to lure us to laze on the grass, the rain didn’t seem to deter the birds, many of whom were singing their hearts out at top volume. Fewer than last week but Robins, Chiff Chaffs, Chaffinches, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Wrens, both Common and Lesser Whitethroats tried to match the sublime notes of the Blackbirds and the beautiful rich clear song of the Song Thrushes serenading or more likely challenging each other from their fiercely defended territory despite the rain. Neither the Pied Wagtail streaking past nor the Swallows swooping over our heads made a sound but that may have been because they were too busy listening to the Raven gliding over the trees continuously croaking.
The may blossom was in full extravagant flower on the hawthorns and although the flowers along the verges and banks looked a bit rain battered, they still made such cheerful splashes of colour – bright sunshine yellow cowslips, buttercups and hop trefoil, every shade of blue from the almost purple Spanish bluebells, bugle, ground ivy, birds eye speedwell to the pale blue forget-me-not, the zinging pink red campion, dove’s foot cranesbill, herb robert, red dead nettle to the gentler hues of wood spurge, green and white cow parsley, may and dogwood glowing white in the gloom. May is such a beautiful month – every leaf and flower so fresh and newly opened – what joy!
30th April 2019 / Temp: 16.5 C / Cloudy, sunny periods
Two common lizards basking on two meadow-ant hills on the embankment, the second with a two-spot ladybird as a companion! A St Mark’s fly hovering around the newly opened Hawthorn flowers, legs trailing. Red tailed bumble bee, several Black honey bees, many unidentified bees, a single Wasp.
It was very quiet and peaceful. While walking home we sat down on the grassy bank surrounded by cowslips and listened to two Song Thrushes challenging each other across the valley, the one in a tree beside the cycle path leading, and the other down by the trees edging the pond answering; Blackbirds and Robins joined in, Chiff Chaffs and finally a Skylark, high, high up in the sky above us twittering his non-stop song and above the trees two Ravens croaked to each other as a Buzzard mewed above them. All the birds of Somersetshire……
Chiff Chaff, Blackbird, Robin, Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Wren, Yellowhammer, Skylark, Magpie, Goldfinch, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Crow, Raven, Buzzard, Jackdaw, Woodpigeon, Pheasant.
Brimstone, Orange Tip, Peacock, Speckled Wood, Holly Blue.
Bush vetch, Meadow vetchling, Common vetch, ground ivy, bird’s eye speedwell, field speedwell, hop trefoil, common birds foot trefoil, cowslip, white deadnettle, red deadnettle, meadow buttercup, creeping buttercup, cow parsley, red campion, common horsetail, dandelion, dogs mercury, garlic mustard, dove’s foot cranesbill, primrose, cowslip, herb robert, forget-me-not, groundsel, wood spurge. Apple trees, Hawthorns, Cherry trees, Norway Maple and Dogwood all in flower.
16th April 2019 / 2.45pm-4.10pm / Temp: 13 C
Another cloudy, dull day with threatening rain which fortunately never materialised. We climbed up the flight of steps to the top of the embankment to check on the grassland slopes above the railtrack. This small area is in some ways quite extraordinary, presenting as it does like a mini chalk downland habitat, clumps of domed ants’ nests, rabbit droppings, primroses, cowslips, and early purple orchid (not yet flowering) scattered across the slope so we weren’t surprised to also find field woodrush in flower in the grass, previously only seen before on the Wiltshire Downs.
All of the large Yellow Meadow Ants’ nests have been torn open and almost completely demolished, possibly Green Woodpeckers, 80% of whose winter diet consists of ants, or maybe Badgers. On the positive side a few smaller ones appear to have remained intact, each crowned with its small pile of rabbits droppings; it would certainly be a shame, not least for the chalkhill blue butterflies, if the ants’ nests were completely wiped out.
A bushy Red Fox trotted down the slope, crossed the track and disappeared among the trees on the opposite embankment just before the first of the two long slow lumbering quarry trains arrived, clanking noisily along the rails. We have often noticed fox scat here but this was our first sighting of one in this area and it’s always exciting to see a fox and even better to see such a healthy looking specimen.
Lots of small bird activity, the usual Blue, Long Tail and Great Tits, Robins and Blackbirds, which is probably why the Red Kite was drifting around high above us and why we could hear a Raven croaking somewhere in the woodland. We had our first sighting of the year of a St Mark’s fly much earlier than expected, hovering, legs dangling, below the hawthorn leaves, and lots of Garden Banded snail shells in amongst the hazel nut shells which were scattered everywhere we walked, all neatly halved by squirrels.
We followed a very well worn Badger path through the trees, snapping dead yellow lichen covered branches, until the new saplings, flowering blackthorn and tangled undergrowth of brambles made it impossible to follow it down the embankment to the railtrack, to explore he embankment on the other side which was littered with large holes formed by the slabs of limestone rocks. If they were fox dens or badger setts or just gaps in the rocks we were unable to gauge from this distance.
Walking back we passed clumps and clumps of dog violet, forget-me-not, stichwort, field speedwell, grape hyacinth, white dead-nettle, ground ivy, lesser celandine, chickweed and even a single buttercup so although the skies remained leaden and dull, the flowers were full of colour, and cheered the scene.
20th April 2019
c. John Hansford
John Hansford’s latest sightings on Colliers Way : 11 Common whitethroats, 4 Willow Warblers, Tawny Owl heard, 3 Song Thrushes, 8 Buzzards , 4 Goldcrests inc this one.
9th April 2019Marsh Tits Steen Drozd Lund birds4u.mzzhost.com
A noted local ornithologist has become aware of the devastation inflicted by the recent work on the trees and undergrowth along Colliers Way [see 18th March post below] and has written to Sustrans as follows:
“Just to let you know I am contacting the RSPB and other organisations to put a stop to the Vandalism that you are overseeing on Mells Down.
“Fun Days Out” it says on the Wesbite [Fromes Missing Links]. Where is the fun in destroying vital bird habitat for Common Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroats, Garden Warblers, Willow Warblers, Marsh Tits, Yellowhammers, Nightingales, Linnets, Bullfinches etc etc
I could not believe my eyes when I visited Mells Down cycle Path on Sunday. Heartbreaking. Who on Earth has authorised the mass destruction of probably the finest Butterfly/Bird Ecosystem across Somerset?
That’s what you have done and are doing. Its so shameful beyond description. Many thanks”
We understand that Sustrans thanked the ornithologist for drawing their attention to this issue and that they are looking into it. We will post their explanation in due course.
Sustrans wrote again on the 10th April 2019 with the result of their inquiry as follows : “Thank you for your patience. The orchard restoration work at Mells involved pushing back encroaching bramble and scrub to retain and restore the grassland habitat here. Orchard is now back to its original state after years of under management. The meadow area will be left to grow long over the summer to provide wildflower habitat.”
3rd April 2019 / 10.30am-12.20pm / Temp. 4.5-5 C
Cloudy, overcast and chill – more like January than April but fortunately the trees protected us from the worst of the northerly wind. Although the promised sun was reluctant to appear, so we only saw a single Brimstone and no other butterflies, we still enjoyed seeing the spring flowers – dog violets, white and purple sweet violets, primroses and cowslips all making a good show under the apple trees and along the ride and a fat buff-tailed bumble bee checking them out. Not as many birds as we had expected but we were extremely pleased to hear a Greater Spotted Woodpecker incessantly drumming away for most of our visit as we didn’t hear one during the whole of last year. The Chiff-Chaffs were also a welcome sound as, together with the spring flowers, proved winter must be over despite the weather.
We turned up into the wood in the hope of seeing a few early purple orchids and found just one in flower. Perhaps it is a little early for the main crop, but the single bloom was another welcome harbinger of spring. We were also pleased to see a spurge-laurel, an under shrub which we had not noticed before, not surprising as it is a pretty undistinguished looking plant, neither spurge nor laurel. A pity we missed seeing (and smelling) the highly scented flowers by a month or more, something we should try and remember to look out for next winter. The cream berries had already formed and the plant certainly looked very healthy.
Checking around for signs of roe-deer we were out of luck, simply scattered boughs of well-gnawed wood and trampled ground; a spread of feathers under a canopy of creepers near the favourite haunt of the local Sparrow-hawk hinted that he might still be around. What we did spot were two adjoining wonderful collections of shells, one (below) beside a boulder which looked well used as a thrush anvil and the others scattered over a limestone slab. Most looked like Banded Garden Snail shells with their lovely rose, yellow, red, humbug treacle brown stripes and mottled colours, which make them easier for the Song Thrushes to spot and catch in the drab or no colours of autumn and winter but keep them well camouflaged for the rest of the year. As Red Listed Song Thrushes have declined markedly in farmland as well as towns and cities it is heartening to see evidence that the Song Thrushes we hear singing have well-established territories here in the wood.
Walking on up the hill, watching two squirrels chasing each other across the path, we clocked the golden saxifrage in full flower making a welcome splash of colour and noted the snuffle holes, scratchings and diggings in the soft bare earth at the side of the path showing the Badgers are out and about looking for food. As there might well be month old cubs among numerous occupied setts on the top of the embankment on both sides of the path, the mothers are almost certainly hungrier than normal. The bleached bone at the entrance to one of the setts is more likely to have been the remains of carrion as it was too big to be the remains of a small mammal which is part of their normal prey.
Good to spot a few King Alfred’s Cakes or cramp ball fungus attached to both dead and living Ash branches simply because they are such fun. The black ones always remind me of the charred chestnut remains which we always found amongst the ashes of bonfire night – the burned up remains of the ones which always got away – exploding off the shovel due to a carelessly slit skin.
Lots of walkers and runners, more than we usually see including an old gentleman busy sawing up the lengths of wood discarded by the tree cutting contractors and carefully adding them to the well-ordered stack of logs in his cycle-trailer – the weather is cold enough for a good fire and even freshly cut Ash burns well. A handful of cyclists, including a couple of Babington Belles on Bikes, careering down the hill with shrieks of laughter and groaning good humouredly as they laboured back up the steep path back towards Bab.House for lunch. We stopped to lean on the five-barred gate to rest up a bit and check the farmer’s fields. Several pheasants, a single crow and a single rabbit scampering along the edge of the field in front of the hedge, a sprinkling of daisies and some dandelions, so there is life on farmland.
Along Colliers Way there is also life, even on a cold day at the turn of the season: primrose, early purple orchid, cowslip, birds eye speedwell, dog violet, sweet violet, grape hyacinth, lesser celandines, ground ivy, white deadnettle, dog’s mercury, hop trefoil, herb Robert, groundsel, chickweed, blackthorn, pussy willows, red campion all in flower. Blackbird, Wood Pigeon, Jackdaw, Rook, Chaffinch, countless Wrens, Robin, Magpie and Great Spotted Woodpecker on a quiet morning with fewer birds than normal.
18th March 2019 / 9.30am – 10.30am / Temp : 8.5 CCommon Nightingale Edmund Fellowes / BTO
What we must accept is that Colliers Way is a Cycle Path. It is not the haven for wildlife it was in the past. It is not a nature reserve. It is not a wildlife corridor through lifeless, pesticide-sprayed fields, the green deserts which comprise modern farmland. It is a Cycle Path. Managed for the benefit of cyclists.
Once we can accept this fact, it is possible for us to bear what we have witnessed today. The chain saw attack on the blackthorn/bramble/hawthorn thicket from where we have been fortunate enough in past seasons to listen to the Nightingales’ song throughout the breeding season.
Despite appealing to and receiving categorical assurances by email from Frome’s Missing Link, Planning & Conservation and Sustrans on 31 July 2018 that this stretch of woodland scrub would be left intact and no work would be carried out, and despite providing detailed descriptions of the Nightingales’ nesting sites with precise map references so that there could be no mistake or confusion, this vulnerable habitat has nevertheless been attacked by chain saw and flail with possibly devastating results.
Nightingales are shy birds which are rarely seen and have very precise needs, the first being dense thickets in which to breed. Isabella Tree in her 2018 book “Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm” relates how it took twenty years to create a thorn thicket dense enough to attract Nightingales to nest there, and how delighted she was when they eventually arrived. The dense, impenetrable thorn thickets which provide nesting sites for our Nightingales along this stretch of Colliers Way have grown up and developed naturally over the space of the fifty years this area was left wild.
Nightingale numbers in the United Kingdom have suffered a 90 per cent decline in that same 50 years and a BTO report in 2018 declared that the bird is facing extinction, due in the main to Nightingale habitats having been cleared away, thickets tided up or grubbed out so that their nests and bare earth ant and beetle feeding ground beneath become prey to muntjac and roe deer. Noting that the number of Nightingale numbers have crashed and are now in the region of merely 6,000 male singing birds, Chris Hewson of the BTO said: ‘Understanding how many Nightingales we have left is vitally important if we are to save the species here in the UK, as it enables us to assess which sites are nationally important. The relevant bodies can then look into protecting those sites that exceed critical thresholds of importance, hopefully ensuring that future generations can hear the beautiful song of the Nightingale for themselves.’
Such is the concern for their preservation, they are on the BTO Red List and protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Read more at https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/nightingale/#p2w8plm4R8BUtjrK.99.
The Colliers Way Nightingales have been a very precious summer delight which may not be enjoyed again. However, we have to accept that cyclists, for whose benefit the path is maintained, neither see nor hear nor care.
18th March 2019 / 9.30am – 10.30am / Temp : 8.5 C
A chilly morning with grey, scudding, threatening clouds and a strong, cold, north-easterly wind with intermittent rain showers. Not the most inviting of days to walk the path unless of course one has been confined to the house for five long wearying weeks with winter flu. So despite the inclement weather, we stepped out with a will, pleased to see so many plants in flower: long drifts of both purple violets in large, spreading clumps along the tops and sides of the embankment, amongst the grass verges beside the path and hundreds and hundreds of individual white violet flowers scattered under the trees, lighting up the dull day with their delicate beauty. A solitary primrose, but massed beds of dogs mercury, red and white dead nettle, birds eye speedwell, and odd plants of egg yolk yellow dandelion and coltsfoot. Most of the blackthorn blossom is still in tight bud but here and there in branches well protected from the wind there were sprays of opened flowers and these, together with the yellow pollen-coated pussy willows showed spring was well on its way.
Robins, Wrens, Blue Tits, Long Tailed Tits, Blackbirds, Dunnock, Pheasants, Wood Pigeons, Rooks, Crows and Jackdaws we expected to see, even the three Buzzards were not unexpected, but to see our first Yellowhammers (wearing vivid caps of mating plumage) and then to hear the first Skylark of the year were sights and sounds to really lift our spirits. So when we saw not one but two big fat bumblebees buzzing around at top speed, we just knew spring must be here!
28th February 2019
Silver Washed Fritillary feeding on buddleia – c. John Hansford
We have been contacted by a couple of keen entomologists who regularly cycle this stretch of Colliers Way to photograph the rare butterflies recorded among the trees, shrubs and flowers alongside the cycle path. Regular readers of this Blog will recall our reports during June and July each year of the sheer mass of butterflies of all the different species which is the glory of every summer along the Way.
Our correspondents were therefore utterly devastated to see the huge numbers of trees and shrubs which have been cut down alongside the path, particularly around the picnic bench close to Conduit bridge, and especially the brambles and buddleia which feed so many of the 25 species extant along the cycle path.
We contacted Frome’s Missing Links who are responsible, under the direction of Sustrans, for the management of the path, and received the following statement from their spokesman:
or feedback via email to email@example.com
27th January 2019 / 1.15pm – 3pm / Temp. 5.5 C
Another cold mid-winter afternoon, another bitter wind, so we decided to climb up the embankment to check the Frome’s Missing Links’ progress along the old railway line where we hoped the line of trees would cut off the worst of the icy northerly wind. More work has been done, more trees cut down and a number of wooden wedges have been knocked out of the sleepers and some of the huge bolts undone, although the wooden sleepers are still in place. The good news from the FML Trustees’ report is that Network Rail have finally agreed to their proposals and have given them ‘engineering clearance’ to proceed with work along this stretch of the old railway line ( beyond Buckland Bridge). They will still need to complete negotiations with a local land owner but for now Phase 2 looks set to start up again at last! The trustees have also commissioned a second feasibility study looking at options for the whole of the missing link between Whatcombe Fields and Buckland Bridge. The results of this work should be ready in time for the AGM at 7pm, April 2nd at Frome Town Hall.
For the first stretch walking along the sleepers where it was more exposed by the thinning of the trees the wind was bitter, but those trees remaining were alive with whole parties of tits, Long Tailed, Great, Blue and Coal Tits as well as Blackbirds, Robins and Wood Pigeons, which proved distraction enough.
Once we reached the shelter of the stand of trees at the top of the escarpment we examined the field of anthills which we think maybe the work of the Yellow Meadow Ant. They are closely associated with the butterfly species Chalkhill Blue, which we haven’t yet seen along Colliers Way. Impossible to tell if these are active but it is warming to think of butterflies on this icily cold day in January. The large tussocks, about 3 or 4 times as big have almost all been demolished, possibly by badgers, but it was good to see each of the remainder had a sprinkling of fresh rabbit droppings on their tops. Since we found a dying rabbit suffering from either myxomatosis or rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus type 2 (RHDV2) last year, they appear to have disappeared from their usual field and the nearby burrows look to have been abandoned, so we were pleased to see so many signs of rabbit, a good sized warren with a number of active burrows here, about a mile away. There have been worrying reports from many parts of the country that RHDV2 has mutated from rabbits to hares – a very sad development as our sightings of hares are regular but pretty infrequent now.
There is a good mixture of deciduous trees here, predominently Silver Birch, Ash, Hawthorn, Hazel and Blackthorn, a few good sized Oaks, a good number of Buddleia, as well as brambles, a stately forty-foot Lawson cypress beside the railway track, and even a garden-escape contoneaster sheltering the chunks of sand stones from the welcome splash of warm sunlight so that they have retained their coating of ice.
Suddenly, for no apparant reason, great flocks of a hundred plus Jackdaws and Rooks took off from the trees and fields around us, rose up above the trees and passed over us calling and croaking. One flock swirling around, the second flock flew straight over and the straggling third group ambled about the sky in no hurry to go anywhere. Too busy watching to catch a photograph of the main mass, I just managed a snap of the few stragglers playing in the air.
We made our way back along the path made of crushed stone ballast which made walking slow and awkward, while noticing the stream at the foot of the embankment full and fast, creating little tumbling waterfalls as it wound its way over moss covered roots between thicky ivyed, dead leaved and harts tongue fern filled banks. When we reached the picnic table we met with a couple of extremely fit looking young women who were heading via the McMillan Way and on towards Kilmersden, following the ordnance survey map one had downloaded onto her iphone. They were interested in Colliers Way, intrigued by the boulders with their apple named plaques and the history of the railway line.
We pointed out the memorial bricks on the flight of steps at our feet and the Rectory on the horizon across the valley where Leonard Woolf had stayed and when they asked told them that we were logging the fauna and flora of the path whilst we walked. One of the women then told us about a regular favourite walk she made with her whole family, children, grandparents, brothers and sisters with their broods where there was a box on legs with a waterproof wood and transparent lid containing an old black book with lined pages and margins with a pencil on a string inside where visitors can leave notes with the date and what they had seen that day. It immediately occurred to us that such a book would make a welcome addition to the bird hide which Sustrans will be setting up along the path this year. She said they all managed to remember having seen something noteworthy and her nephews had delighted in writing that they had seen both a pterodactyl and a tyrannosaurus rex!
They went off to complete their walk and we turned down the hill for home through clouds of midges and warm sunlight watching the tits criss-crossing the path in front of us, a tiny Wren flitting along the ditch, Chaffinches, Crows and Pheasants, yet more Jackdaws and Rooks and a final flurry of Fieldfares just before we reached the car.
21st January 2019 – 1.30pm – 3.30pm / Temp. 5.5 C
Pale wintry hazy sunshine seeping through thin cloud cheered the fields and bare trees even though the cold wind reminded us that it was still mid winter and not a day to linger so we set off with a brisk pace, trying, unsuccessfully, to outrun the wind and the mist dampening our faces.
It was very quiet, the fields empty of life and the trees stark and looming, which made the wild sound of honking Geese drifting across the hedgerow even louder. We searched the skies, hoping for a sight of them, but caught sight instead of a pair of Buzzards wheeling and mewing overhead. As we walked we heard and saw several parties of Chaffinches and Tits feeding in amongst the branches, Robins, Blackbirds, Crows and Wrens and Jackdaws and Rooks galore – “The Field of Blackbirds” indeed.
Lots of Midges and lots of fungus still – the beautiful Velvet Shank growing at head height in an ash tree, Conical Brittlestems on the verge, Bracket and Nettled Crust adorning the fallen branches, and Stagshorn fungus standing proud among its carpet of moss.
We were so pleased to meet Andrew half way along the path. He hasn’t been too well and so was doing his usual ten-mile hike from Frome to Radstock along the Way, having walked from aqueduct to Bath along the two path yesterday! He thought it was all very quiet and had been for the past two or three weeks but he had arrived at the Great Elm turn off in time to see 50-60 Fieldfares feeding in the adjoining field, a Kestrel hovering on the edge of the wood, a Nuthatch and a Tree Creeper.
We were pleased also to hear that in mid-December he had seen both a Green Woodpecker at one end of the path and a Spotted Woodpecker at the other on the same day when we mentioned we hadn’t seen either all year. A great relief to know they are still around. But his most exciting sighting was during the strong winds and heavy rain storms in November, he had seen a Marsh Harrier flying low near the Mells turning. He thought it must have been blown off course by the tempestuous weather probably between Blagdon lake and the Somerset Levels. After a good chat setting the world to rights we parted ways, energised by the news of good sightings.
A scattering of plants in flower, both red and white dead nettle, a few dandelions and pussy willow catkins already showing white through their brown winter sheath. One hazel tree was thick with pale yellow, fully grown catkins and was making a cheerful splash of colour, while within 10 yards two other hazels had catkins which were short and stubby, still winter shriven and tinged red. No sign of primroses in bloom, when this week last January they had already been in flower for a month. Possibly mild enough but not enough sun – some days this winter season the days have been so dark it felt like a permanent gloaming.
11th January 2019 / 2.30pm – 4pm / Temp. 8 C
Overcast and mild enough for midges to hatch and swarm in clouds along the path, so numerous and bothersome around our heads we were glad to leave the path and climb up into the woods to escape them. But there were birds everywhere, Blue and Great Tits, Bullfinches, Robins, Blackbirds and Pheasants, a solitary Buzzard mewing overhead, and a Jay screaming somewhere in the wood.
The wood in winter is a killing field, just about everywhere we look there is a scattering of wood pigeon feathers, a circle on the ground or caught in the thick moss along a horizontal perching branch – the remains of a well chewed pheasant wing, a skull, a pheasant’s ribcage or the discarded claws – raptors (possibly Sparrowhawks as most of the feather piles were wood pigeon) and foxes having eaten their fill had discarded the blood stained bones for scavengers like corvids, rodents and stoats to devour and leave picked completely clean.
Our exploration of the wood continued by clambering carefully through thick undergrowth, between the trees, following a faint path and trying to avoid whippy branches and trailing rose briar and brambles catchinging our hair and ripping our coats. We noted what appeared to be hare and roedeer gnawings on the bark of fallen branches where close by we caught sight of a shed antler of a young roebuck, possibly around two years old by the size of the coronet and the pearling on the shaft of the antler. Regretfully the tines had been broken off so not as good a specimen as we have found elsewhere.
The first tiny Scarlet Elf Cups have appeared, making vivid splashes of colour among the drab dead leaves as did a beautiful patch of bright green lichen on one tree and a huge brown dusty polypore fungus causing trunk rot on another. Everywhere there were raptor castings, a few filled with snail shells, scattered everywhere among the trailing ivy and the creeping feather moss coated stems of dead plants creating tiny trees in between the broken sticks, leaves, snail shells and detritus of the forest floor.
We eventually got through to an easier path and headed back downhill noting as we did so the surprising number of fungi fruiting alongside the path. A dozen or more glistening inkcaps with their dusting of salt like granules, a single wood blewit, a fringed mushroom and a tree sprouting a magnificent tier of turkey tail fungus climbing up its trunk. Various reports have highlighted the extension of the fungi fruiting season this year and it is certainly unusual to see inkcaps and elf cups fruiting at the same time.
The tree studded hedgerow down this stretch of the path is impenetrable but we could hear the overpowering sound of the Rooks and Jackdaws close by. When we reached the five barred gate into the field, we had a clear view of the huge flock of more than a hundred birds feeding on the grass, flying across the fields or roosting in the mature trees at the top of the hill. The calls of Rooks and Jackdaws is always one of the most treasured sounds of winter, when the numbers are at their greatest, and their cries and squawks ring in our ears long after we have left the cycle path and headed home. Our scramble through the woods was such an interesting and rewarding exploration on such a damp and cheerless January afternoon, and we loved every minute of it, feeling alive and invigorated by all the signs of wildlife we had seen.
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31st December 2018
Happy New Year!
Very exciting news from Sustrans Greener Greenways who have sent a message to say that they are hoping to erect a hide along our stretch of the Colliers Way when they have chosen a suitable spot.
Both John Hansford, a well-known ornithologist from Coleford and we are very enthusiastic supporters of the idea. A welcome Christmas present for the cycle path and and an promising prospect for the New Year!
– Winter Solstice – 21st December 2018 –
17th December 2018 / 2.40pm – 4pm / Temp: 9C
Cold and dank and drear, blustery icy wind and heavy threatening dark clouds, it was not a day for lingering but one for a brisk walk to see what is around in mid-December. Not a lot was the short answer.
The path through the woods was suddenly silent, away from the sound of the wind on the more exposed path and devoid of people, just a one solitary runner and a sprinkling of birds – the odd Blackbird and Chaffinch, a single Bullfinch, Wood Pigeons and Pheasants in abundance and one Buzzard, circling and mewing, his call plaintive and lonely as the rain started to fall. The only sign of life was a flock of fifty or more Rooks and Jackdaws gathering around their roosting trees in the fading light. What a wonderfully evocative sound their calls make, echoing across the sodden fields.
On such a dark winter day the discovery beside the path of three separate clumps of White Saddle fungus, glowing amongst the red and copper oak leaves was a really welcome sight. They are such weird shapes with their wrinkled and folded cap, like a screwed up piece of parchment thrown down amongst the leaf litter, but it’s their pure white fresh ivory glow which draws the eye. Many tree stumps were coated with chalky white Stags Horn fungus, poking through thick carpets of emerald green moss, there was a solitary 12cm high Shaggy Inkcap its black sprinkled dome looking proud, tall and stately and, half hidden in the leaf litter, there were still small clumps of Common Inkcap to be seen. Most of the branches were coated with green shield lichen and festooned with oak moss and the trees were thick with feather moss creeping up their trunks,
Despite the recent rain, the stream which was still trickling over the stones at the top of the slope had petered out by half way down leaving the bed completely dry. We edged and scrambled our way through the whipping saplings and clinging brambles to where the stream had formed a black pool so that we could examine a wide scattering of golden shapes which we had thought were fungus but which instead we were delighted to find a carpet of bright golden yellow crab apples, glowing in the dark water where they had fallen. Extraordinary to think how many times we had passed this spot and never noticed the tree or the apples and as this is only the second crab apple tree which we have discovered along the path, at least a mile away from the first – it is a great find!
As we turned back up the hill we saw the usual flocks of gulls heading for their evening roost through the gloaming of the gloomy afternoon, coming earlier due to the heavy cloud and falling rain. Time for us also to be heading home for a cup of tea in the snug warmth of our sitting room, out of the dank chill of a midwinter afternoon only days away from the shortest day when the sun will begin to return and brighten our lives. We had been disappointed not to see a single Redwing or Fieldfare, but it is still winter, there’s still time and there will of course be other afternoons.
30th November 2018 / 2.30pm – 4.10pm / Temp: 8C
When we arrived at the path, the strong wind whipping across the fields felt icy even though the sun was shining, so we turned down the path under the bridge towards the stretch of woodland either side of the path. The tk tk tk of Fieldfares made us look up and we stood and watched as a sizeable flock streamed over our heads first across the path then back again, collecting Redwings on the way. It is so cheering to see thrushes in such numbers during the autumn and winter, a lovely addition to the flocks of noisy Rooks and Jackdaws we usually see crossing and criss-crossing the path. Parties of finches and tits busy themselves in amongst the branches, Pheasants squawk in an adjoining field, a Buzzard and Raven sail past and several male Bullfinches perch show off their pink chests to a nearby Blackcap.
Apart from a handful of pale yellow leaved field maples, the rest of the trees are now quite bare so the clumps of witches broom high up in an alder tree catch the eye. The only colour are the few remaining fungi beside the stream and on the rotting logs and the bright vivid green of the moss and ferns, like the delicate fronds of the common spleenwort clinging to the stone on the bridge or the splashes of orange of the common jelly spot fungus and even the small white spikes of the stags horn fungus make welcome interest as we walk along.
When the Sustrans forestry team worked on thinning out the trees along this stretch in the spring, they left small hummocks of wood chippings at intervals along the disused rail. Several had been pulled apart, possibly by badger or roe deer searching for grubs, and the scatter of remains of a Norway spruce cone on the top of one of the mounds showed a squirrel had been busy with a prize he must have carried all the way down from the small plantation of conifers at the top of the embankment.
We walked on down the path, giving way to lots of cyclists and runners with dogs, until we reached the newly cleared area by the puzzle bench. The Sustrans team have been very busy clearing and cutting down lots of self-seeded ash and hawthorn trees to open up this rather gloomy stretch to more light. Some of the branches had been piled up beside the track but many had been threaded and laid to form a new hedge.
It had been drizzling for some time and we were getting increasingly wet but just as we reached the top of the hill, the rain stopped and the cloud on the horizon lifted enough to allow a golden sunset to flood the fields. Time to go home for tea!
25th November 2018
Happy Birthday Leonard Woolf
“It is the journey not the arrival which matters”
21st November 2018 / 2pm – 3.25pm / Temp: 6-6.5 C / Blue skies, chilly
We climbed the steps up to the path of railway ballast which has been prepared by the Frome’s Missing Links’ team for the planned extension of the cycle path from Great Elm to Frome. Along this section, the railway tracks have been removed and the concrete sleepers used to create a picnic bench, with wooden planks adding extra comfort. As we stood on the path admiring the view, blackbirds and parties of finches scattered from every direction, a couple of pheasants squawking loudly took off down the old railway tracks, and a great flock of some 40 to 50 Redwings and Fieldfares flew over our heads, like a cloud of autumn leaves in high winds. We were so enchanted by the sight of them that instead of walking along to the stream where the clinker path meets the cycle path proper, we decided to explore the area they had all come from, the old railway track.
It was possible to follow the track for some distance until it became far too overgrown to push through but a narrow path lead away from the railway to the steep sides of the embankment which formed a small area of rough grass with just a scattering of saplings, at the foot of which ran the track of the railway used for transporting stone from the nearby quarry.
This small area, probably due to slope and the half a dozen ant hills with their obligatory carpet of rabbit droppings on the top, reminded us so much of chalk downland which as the underlying rock is limestone may also account for type of vegetation. The whole area was strewn with empty, bleached and weather worn snail shells which may be caused by shells not decaying very fast in lime rich places, and so they may have accumulated over many years.
In one of the abandoned ant hills, which looked as if it had been scraped by a badger, some small mammal, possibly a field mouse, appeared to have fashioned a warm and safe shelter – a hugely desirable home with its fashionable green roof! We look forward to exploring this area more regularly in the spring and summer to chck on what flowers have colonised the grassland.
We walked back along the path past blackthorn trees thick with fat purple sloes, scarlet rose hips and burgundy coloured haws which the winter migrants had yet to raid, close by shrubs of fleshy guelder rose and skeins of black bryony berries. It was good to see such splashes of colour as the autumn fireworks display of turning leaves has now finished and the trees are beginning to take on their stark skeletal winter appearance.
A few clumps of decaying fungus, the odd flowering dead nettle and the vivid orange seed berries of the stinking iris are the only plants to catch our eye as we walked back, noting the stream bed, bone dry again after its brief cascade of only a few weeks ago.
As the sun dropped behind a thick grey cloud and the wind picked up, it was far too chilly to sample the comfort of the throne so thoughtfully provided by the FML volunteers, but it was so well sited before a striking view, we promised ourselves a revisit when some warmth begins to return with the passing seasons.
8th November 2018 / 2.45pm – 4.pm / Temp: 12 C
Bright and blustery, with a murky, dreary look to the far hedges and a icy, wintry edge to the wind so we set off at a brisk pace. Good to feel the air, fresh and invigorating as it played havoc with our hair and filled our lungs and thrashed the top most branches of the trees as we passed.
The autumn colours are quite spectacular this year – pale golden yellow field maple leaves, lipstick pink cherry leaves fluttering like prayer flags above scarlet wood spurge, dark purple-wine coloured bramble leaves and the deep, deep yellow of the large sycamore leaves – vivid splashes of bright colours to brighten our afternoon.
As we walked down onto the path a great flock of fifty plus Fieldfares across in front of us, a marvellous fly past to announce their new arrival on the Greener Greenways – our first sighting this autumn.
There was a scattering of fungus, predominently Wood Blewits, there delicate colour a welcome splash amongst the dead leaves. We climbed up the embankment and followed a deer track through the undergrowth, bending down under low hanging branches towards the newly filled stream swollen by the recent torrential rain, water hurtling down the watercourse bone dry only a few weeks ago, and spotted a large clump of Common Inkcap, but in the main dead leaves and the occasional plant still in flower was the sum of it. There were lots of walkers and cyclists, all like us dashing out between showers in a week of Atlantic squalls flying across the heavens, and none with any tales to tell.
Great flocks of gulls, Black-headed and Herring, were flying around in the fields on both sides of the path, pausing briefly to check out the ground, before lifting and spiralling the fields yet again. A party of Long Tailed Tits winged through the trees on either side of us, Blue Tits, Bullfinches and Robins were also busily working the branches, a couplf of Blackbirds shouted their alarum calls while in the distance the ubiquitous Crows and Pheasants made sure everyone was aware of their presence.
A quiet walk down a quiet damp path past damp quiet hedgerows, trees and fields from which we headed home with tired legs and glowing faces looking forward to our afternoon tea.
24th October 2018 / 1.30 pm – 3.20pm / Temp: 15.5 C
A delightful afternoon spent walking though the woods searching out mushrooms and listening to birdsong. When we arrived the farmer was on his tractor in an adjoining field drilling and sowing his winter wheat, dribbling the seeds from a hopper on the back while blue wood smoke from two bonfires drifted over the fields behind him and the bright sunlight lit the scene.
As we checked on the common funnel, sulphur tuft, fairy champignon, fairy inkcap and shaggy inkcap where we had seen them last year, we were pleased to see a good healthy crop of each despite the prolonged heat wave and a particularly dry autumn. Searching for mushrooms in autumn reminded us of of Gunter Grass ” strolling among the mushrooms with Sophie and you and with you…. ” when he found all of them irrestistible and took them home to cook with cream sprinkled with parsley.
As we walked, we kept spotting Common Inkcap in the grass verge alongside the cycle path as well as three or four species of fungi on dead wood which, apart from the three or four spikes of Pale Stagshorn, unfortunately we were unable to name. Despite our best efforts, we were unable to identify with absolute certainty the yellow ochre coloured fungus on the log photographed below, which we believe to be Hairy Curtain Crust fungus but are not totally sure. Lots more research needed!
When photographing the Common Funnel mushrooms we found the substantial part of a pheasant wing and on the same bank the long tail feathers of a male pheasant.
We often find signs of predation in this area but have never been able to ascertain whether the remains have been left by birds of prey or foxes. This bank is scattered with badger setts and is on the edge of Newbury Firs so we wonder what creatures lurk in their depths – or maybe it is merely poachers or sportsman out with a gun for game losing their prey.
It was along this stretch that last year we saw a large flock of Redwings and Field Fares alongside trees filled with the extraordinary noise of twittering Gold Finches – one of our favourite memories of the woodlands.
Although we din’t see any signs of Redwings today, there were lots of parties of small birds including Marsh Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Bullfinch, Robin and Dunnock, as well as Jay, Blackbird, Crow, Wood Pigeon, Buzzard and as we were leaving, a Red Kite flying down to land first onto a hedge and then into the field before lifting and flapping off to try his luck farther down over the fields and cycle path.
18th October 2018 / 2.15pm – 5pm
Ash trees with Dilated Scalewort (liverwort) – Bioindicators of clean air
Weather Conditions: Sunny, cold north-easterly wind, some cloud / Temp. 15 C
Redwings!!! At last. Having searched the skies and tree tops in vain for weeks, finally as we sauntered along in the sunshine, a flurry of wings and there, a small flock of a dozen or so Redwings crossed the path in front of us! Real autumn is announced for us by the arrival of the Redwings and Fieldfares as much as the turning of leaves and the scent of bonfires. John Hansford – Redwing
Although there was a decidedly cold edge to the wind and thin autumn mists clung to the edges of the fields sown with winter wheat and hedgerows, once we dropped down below the embankment we were totally sheltered so we were able to enjoy the warm sunshine whilst watching the trees exposed to the wind tossing and thrashing pretty wildly.
It’s such a lovely time of the year when the lethargy of late summer is well past and there is an energy and busyness in the bird population as they gather in their flocks and dash about! We saw two quite separate large flocks of Jackdaws, uncountable parties of finches feeding in the field, Chaffinches, Bullfinches, Great Tits, Long Tailed Tits, Blue Tits twittering as they whizzed through the trees, Robins shouting, Magpies and Blackbirds warning, as well as a flock of Starlings – a first sighting of those once most common birds now appearing in the trees abongside the cycle path. Pheasants aplenty, a small clutch of Red Legged Partridge and a couple of Buzzards down on the groud, hungrily eyeing the game birds!
Good crops of fungi on the grass verges and under the trees, wood blewits, yellow fieldcaps, conical brittlestems, fairy ring champignons and two small delicate mushrooms which we think are hare’s foot inkcap. The flowering ivy coated trees and shrubs are thick with feeding wasps and dozens of bees are exploring the leaves on the upper branches, and there are already catkins an inch long on the hazel trees and new buds on the willows.
We suddenly saw two roe deer leaping across the adjoining field towars us, looking over their shoulders. We moved to the hedge to look for what had spooked them when the first deer caught of us and changed direction, the other one kept coming, leapt the hedge like a gazelle and stood stock still staring, posing beautifully on the cycle path only yards away. The most perfect photo-op if my camera hadn’t chosen this most annoying moment to jam and freeze. By the time it cleared, the deer had sprung away, and soon lost to sight in the woods.
We sat on the puzzle bench, soaking up the sun, and assuaged our disappointment at lost opportunities by watching two Red Admiral butterflies sun bathing on the trunk of an apple tree.
Their colours were so bright and vivid in the sparkling sunshine as they rested and preened before they fluttered down close to a pair of bright yellow Hornets feeding on a half eaten windfall. Although they were close by, they made no attempt to join the hornets but waited patiently until the Hornets flew off to examine another rotting apple before they took their place. The sun was hot, extraordinarily so for late October, and what could be more pleasant on a hot afternoon than watching Hornets and Red Admirals feeding in the quietude.
5th October 2018
Results of the Big Butterfly Count 2018 show mixed fortunes for many butterflies. The Small Tortoiseshell, which has lost three-quarters of its UK population since the 1970s, suffered its worst big butterfly count on record, worse even than in the wash-out summer of 2012. Small Tortoiseshell numbers were down by a third compared to the same period in 2017 across the UK as a whole, The Red Admirals which over-wintered here were caught out by the sudden cold snap early in the year and their numbers fell by 73% from the bumper year in 2017. Big Butterfly Count
3rd October 2018 / 1.30pm – 3.45pm
Weather Conditions: Strong wind, cloudy bright, clearing to full sun and endless blue skies; hot in sheltered spots. Temp: 17.5 C – 19.5 C
Autumn is here, as is made clear by the turning leaves, the fruit laden apple trees, the juicy blackberries and purple sloes, the scarlet hips and the dark, blood-red haws. If it has to come, let it be like this – warm enough to draw out the scent of the hot grasses and tangled undergrowth, warm enough to encourage a scatter of flowers to bloom, filling the air with bees and wasps, 7 spot ladybirds, a few butterflies, Robins singing lustily and let the the sunshine fall hot on our faces and remind us of summer.
The wild cherry trees are a blaze of colour with russet red leaves, challenging the soft golden bronze leaves of the field maples and wych elms and the near purple leaves of the dogwoods (contrasting to their nearly opening white flower heads) through which drape necklaces of the bright red berries of black bryony through the blankets of pale golden green clematis leaves with their powder puff seeds heads which coat so many of the hedges and trees.
The path is very quiet, the surrounding ploughed fields empty of any signs of life, even birds, so it is good to still see a handful of Large White butterflies, a Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Speckled Wood among the trees and banks but what lifted our spirits was catching sight of a single bright colourful Common Blue, its wings reflecting the cloudless azure sky, visiting the sprinkling of flowers along the Warbler Walk. This broad thicket of mixed shrubs and deciduous trees fronted by an open grassy area, moss strewn and birds eye trefoil filled which is believed to be an extremely important habitat as it is acknowledged to be the best area in the whole of Somerset for warblers.
Buzzards, a solitary Raven, Pheasants, Crows, Rooks, Wood Pigeons, Robins, a calling Jay, a Blackbird, Chaffinches, Bullfinches and a party of a dozen or so Blue Tits working their way along the bushes and trees and both Herring Gulls and Lesser Black Backed Gulls “going home” were the birds we caught sight of today amongst many others unidentified flying at speed or chattering noisily whilst deeply hidden in amongst the hedges and tree tops as we pass.
The crab apple tree is still laden with fruit, despite the carpet of windfalls on the ground beneath. Although this gives every appearance of being a wild crab, with its small, green apples, lichen encrusted branches and gnarled and twisted limbs, these trees are notorious for being cross pollinated and could equally be the result of an apple core being thrown from a carriage of a passing train sixty odd years ago.
A few pairs and single cyclists, a couple of walkers with dogs.
23rd September 2018
– Autumn Equinox –
16th September 2018 / 12.40pm – 2.45pm
Weather Conditions: Sunny with some cloud, strong south-south westerly breeze, hot in the shelter of the trees / Temp: 20.5 C
The day felt unseasonably warm and the promised rain held off but the wind was so strong and blustery, we chose the woodland walk. The find of the day was discovering six separate plants of Meadow Saffron (locally named naked boys, pop ups and go to sleep at noon!) in two different locations which we had never noticed before.
It’s delightful to catch sight of these exquisite flowers at a time of the year when most plants are dying off, with their delicate white stems so fragile they have difficulty supporting the beautiful crocus-like flower head which glow in the shade of the trees. Extraordinary to look at this lovely flower and remember that every part of it is highly poisonous.
The fungus season is upon us, and sure enough we came across a scattering of Shaggy Inkcap fungus alongside the path.
It always amazes me how site specific so many plants and fungi are, in this case a fair number in this place but none at all on the entire stretch of woodland. Again, there was one solitary Beefsteak fungus growing inside a hole in a tree, and a spread of Poplar Fieldcap in the grass near the apple trees but nowhere else.
There are of course many exceptions, for example bracket fungus, mostly Turkey-tail, is growing on lot of trees in the wood.
A quiet time of the year, a few butterflies in evidence, mostly Speckled Woods and the ubiquitous Large White but also a few Meadow Browns, a few fat bumblebees and crane flies. The stream bed is desert dry, just bleached stones, rushing water a distant memory and when we see the fresh diggings around lots of the badger setts, we do wonder how they are managing in their search for water. Being up on the top of the hill must be a bit of a problem and they must have to go much farther to quench their thirst.
The birds for the most part are silent, Bullfinches, Blue Tits, a Jay and a Buzzard make their presence known and the welcome sound of Rooks and Jackdaws, nowhere near the winter murmurations, but still, a promise of that most delightful and evocative sound of winter not so far off.
The blackthorns laden with purple sloes and the heavily fruited brambles and windfalls remind us that although we have enough sloes for our Christmas sloe gin and have made several apple and blackberry pies, it might be a good idea to pick a few more blackberries to use up the windfalls so that we might feast on a few pies over the Christmas holiday.
The ending of summer is also the beginning of the harvest season, with fresh fruits of the hedgerows, the first milky nuts and delicious wild fungi to pick and enjoy. We forage over the widest possible spread of countryside so we take little and leave the major part of the autumn food for the wildlife, remembering that it won’t be long before the Redwings and Field Fares arrive and even foxes like blackberries!
The cycle path was busier with cyclists than we had seen for some time, lots of black lycra clad, head down, seriously racing men, but also family groups, often accompanied by dogs, the children in high spirits shrieking as they hurtled downhill, groaning as the laboured back up. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood, enjoying the sunshine, glad of a traffic free space to cycle in. We wondered though what had become of bicycle bells – of the 30 odd cyclists who passed us, not once were we alerted to their approach . This is difficult when we are standing in the path looking through binoculars or peering at fungus, we would have welcomed a ringing bell to change our focus. Several runners, one or two other walkers.
9th September 2018
Hornets – John Hansford
Wonderful photographs from John – the Hornets advancing from their nest is particularly striking. He found the Hornet’s nest in the disused railway carriage which he says was an exhilarating spectacle (not quite the phrase I would have used when confronted with a nest of Hornets!) As the queen and drones emerge in September/October they have become very noticeable just recently but we have never seen a nest and this is the first time we have heard news of one along Colliers Way.
John reports seeing FIVE Red Kites (surely multiplying in this area) of which two showed very well, quartering the field in front of where he and his family were standing.
Comma Butterfly with Closed Wings – John Hansford
His Butterfly sightings included a Small Tortoiseshell, 2 Common Blues and a Comma. This superb shot of the Comma showed perfectly its “dead leaf” camouflage.
7th September 2018 / 3pm – 5.10pm
Weather Conditions: Sunny, blue skies, strong fresh breeze / Temperature 18 C
The wind was surprisingly strong and blustery, susurrating through the branches of the oak, ash and sycamore trees, still heavy with summer leaf, but it was good to feel the fresher air after the heat of the summer. The Hawthorns, thick with beautifully bright scarlet berries, and the glowing Rosehips catch the eye, which together with the blackberries which are looking fat and juicy and inviting, should provide a good feast to await this year’s winter visitors.
Common Blue – John Hansford
Good to see so many of the summer flowers still in bloom, sparse but reminding us that summer isn’t quite over – clumps of brilliant yellow birds foot trefoil to interest the male and female Common Blue butterfly, pale toadflax, meadow cranesbill, vervain, common st john’s wort and buddleia, to feed the numerous Large Whites
several Small Coppers and single Painted Lady. Speckled Wood butterflies seem everywhere among the trees.
It was very quiet along the path, a party of Great Tits, Blue Tits and Longtailed Tits flitting silently through the trees and the only birdsong a single Chiff Chaff and a Robin, the loud chatter of flocks of Jackdaws and Rooks feeding on the newly turned ground, the mewing of a circling buzzard and the deep croak of a Raven.
The warmth of the sun in sheltered spots felt like summer, the wind had a definite autumn chill and the vegetation, birds and butterflies seemed a hint, and echo or perhaps a reminder of both seasons together. Whatever the season, our pleasure and enjoyment was the same, delight and contentment at the peace and beauty of our surroundings and deep gratitude of the hard work that so many people give to make it possible.
7th August 2018 / 2.10pm – 4.30pm
Weather Conditions: Hot sun, fresh southerly breeze / Temperature: 24.5 C
Very busy with cyclists, walkers and families as it is the school holidays with the children enviably energetic, lively and cheerful despite the burning sun. The same could not be said of the birds which were noticeably silent and mostly absent. Apart from several Buzzards and a Raven circling hopefully, squawking pheasants, busy Blackbirds and the ubiquitous Wood Pigeons, the rest were keeping in the shade.
Fortunately the butterflies were out, if not in force, at least numerous enough to liven up the afternoon. The Large Whites at 21 took the top prize, followed closely surprisingly enough by the Small Blues which we have barely seen this year at 15 – their numbers and new locations may have been due to the spread of lots of flowering Common Birds Foot Trefoil. None of the other species reached double figures, only 5 Meadow Browns, 6 Speckled Woods, 3 Green Veined Whites, Silver Washed Fritillaries and Red Admirals, 3 Common Blues, 2 Gatekeepers, a single Small Heath, and a single female Brimstone flying up among the branches of the trees and down amongst the flowers and hot grasses under which the grasshoppers and crickets are munching away at any green fodder they can find.
It was good to see so many flowers in bloom despite the heat – masses of purple Buddleia, common valerian, great willow-herb, scabious, knapweed, many fat thistle flowers, each with at least one feeding bee and great swathes of the small cream flowers of the wild clematis clothing the shrubs and trees.
The delicate fronds of the slightly more unusual male hop flowers were just visible, scrambling and climbing up through the leaves of the Wych Elm
and even a blue globe thistle which must have escaped from a garden making a welcome offering to a passing bee.
However, autumn it knocking on the door even in early August, the elder berries glistening deep blood-red, the sloes already purple, the apples fat and rosy and the hawthorns displaying every shade from green through pale gold to orange and finally deep scarlet, not dissimilar to our complexions by the end of the afternoon!
John Hansford has managed to capture this superb shot of a beautiful, healthy, glossy-haired stoat in full flight – wonderfully full of speed and movement.
27th July 2018Blood Moon
25th July 2018 / 10.20am – 11.45am
Weather Conditions: Thin, whispy, milky cloud cover, pleasant breeze, cleared to full sun / Temperature: 21.5 C – 22 C
Very quiet and still under the trees, very little birdsong beyond the mew of the Buzzards, the croak of the Raven and the repeated sharp metallic note of the nuthatchs’ alarm calls and surprisingly few butterflies at the beginning of our walk despite buddleia, common valerian, great willow herb and most of the thistles being in full flower.
We spotted a Shaded Broad-bar moth in the shrubs beyond the grass filled bridge, a good site for moths, and a Southern Hawker dragonfly on the path above the large pool beloved of the Nightingales but very little of note.
As we walked back the sun came out and the day warmed up and suddently there were butterflies everywhere, 8 Large Whites, 16 Meadow Browns, 3 Green Veined Whites, 1 Peacock, 1 Brimstone, 11 Silver Washed Fritillaries, 1 Comma and 10 Gatekeepers. It is always good to see the Fritillaries, they are so delightful both in their patterns, shape and colouring and also their fast flight – a wonderfully pleasing sign of high summer.
As we neared the end of our walk we came across the scattered feathers of a recent wood pigeon kill which wasn’t there when we passed an hour or so ago. We recalled that Andrew had told us that there was a Sparrowhawk nest close by so hopefully a hungry chick had a good feed!
20th July 2018 / 2.30pm – 3.45pm
Weather Conditions: Cloudy, sunny periods, hot dry wind / Temperature: 26.5 C
We were alerted by John Hansford to an arson attack on two of a farmer’s fields over the weekend and when we eventually managed to get to the cycle path to examine the damage, even though it was now nearly a week later, a heavy smell of burnt wood smoke still hung in the air around what appeared to have been the seat of the fire. The remains of a line of charred and burnt posts at the foot of the steep bank, three good sized Wych Elms, a couple of Hawthorns and cinders and ash were all that remained of the hedge and undergrowth. Most of the 14 odd acre wheat field adjoining the path was burnt to a cinder and its crops destroyed. This was evidence enough of the severity of the fire.
John had a long conversation with the farmer who owned the fields on Sunday night, who told him that five fire engines arrived and the firemen had fought the blaze and managed to prevent the fire spreading into the other fields. John thought that there was no doubt that young Yellowhammers and Whitethroats will have perished as well as many insects.
Young Goldfinch – John Hansford
Wych Elms are our only native elm trees and many birds eat their seeds; lots of birds also feed on the Hawthorn berries, particularly the Field Fares and Redwings who arrive in numbers in late autumn, early winter every year. This wanton destruction of wildlife and valuable crops is mindless vandalism at its most deplorable, which without the help of the fire brigade, could have been so much worse. John said he never thought such a thing could happen so close to home.
Silver Washed Fritillary – John Hansford
On a more positive note, it is the first day of the Butterfly Count and during the course of our walk we counted 1 Brimstone, 3 Speckled Wood, 3 Ringlet, 5 Gatekeeper, 6 Meadow Brown, 9 Silver Washed Fritillary, 9 Green Veined White and 18 Large White butterflies!
Gatekeeper – John Hansford
The Rose Bay willowherb flowers all along the top of the embankmet and the Spear and Woolly thistle heads were thick with swarms of Red and Buff Tailed Bumblebees sharing the pollen with dozens of Honey bees. The hazel nuts are already fattening alongside the blackberries, some of which were ripe, black and rather sour and the seed head of the Lords and Ladies were already turning orange. At the height of one season nature sends a message from the season yet to arrive.
As we left the cycle path and began driving towards home, we noticed the charred remains of two other small fires – one where a wooden gate and posts had been burnt and another one close to a hedge. A sickening outbreak of arson in the area, which may have been why we saw a young roe deer crossing the road in front of our car and disappear into the hedge of fields which are well away from the burnt fields.
10th July 2018 / 2.10pm – 4.30pm
Weather Conditions: Mixed sun and cloud, light breeze / Temperature: 24.5 C / 75 F
Yet another hot day but cooler than the past fortnight during which the daytime temperature has rarely dropped below 28 C already climbing towards record temperatures for June/July.
The verges are filled with dried, straw coloured grasses and the trees are already displaying brown dying leaves which illustrate more than anything the arid conditions of the past weeks. The moss beds which only a matter of weeks ago it seemed were completely sodden and inches deep in rain water as we squelched through were now brown and bone dry and sounded more like dead autumn leaves as we crunched along. The thick mass of Bird’s Foot Trefoil which carpets this area and feed the swarms of Small and Common Blue butterflies, so many it’s impossible to count, is a distant memory for which the few Large White butterflies cannot possibly compensate.
Even though the bramble flowers which always seem to attract the most bees and butterflies are almost over, thankfully the thistle season has arrived with Spear, Woolly and Creeping thistles opening their petals and revealing their pollen. Buddleia, Scabious, Knapweed, as well as Meadow Pea and Birds Foot Trefoil also throw out enticements and all were successful in drawing countless other species of butterflies and bees. All along the path there were very good numbers of Ringlets, Marbled Whites, Gatekeepers, Peacocks, a single Brimstone, Small Coppers, Commas, Meadow Browns, Small Heaths, overwhelming numbers of Green Veined and Large Whites and even a handful of Silver Washed Fritillaries – our first sightings this year.
One other noticeable phenomenon was the sheer number of funnel webs spun by Labyrinth spiders. It seemed every clump of bleached grass, every stretch of hedgerow had its elaborate concoction, filled with dead flies, moths, butterflies to feed the baby spiders when they hatched.
The number of birds seemed at first to be few but as the afternoon moved on more and more began to appear. We had heard a Yellow Hammer, Bullfinches and Chaffinches competing with the sound of farm vehicles in a distant field busy harvesting and then saw first Coal Tits and Blue Tits darting amongst the branches followed by Whitethroats, a Willow Warbler, Blackbirds, Chiff Chaffs, a Buzzard circling overhead, a pair of Swallows and of course lots and lots of Wood Pigeons.
The path was very quiet, only a few cyclists and one other pair of walkers, apart from which we had the path to ourselves, which we shared only with Red Tailed and Buff Tailed Bumble bees, Honey bees, a single Hawker dragonfly and a profusion of butterflies.
BANKERS / QUARRY MARKS
The abutments supporting the bridges along Colliers Way were dressed in stone which the masons marked, probably before the stone left the quarry. These examples are taken from Jericho Bridge.
26th June 2018 / 3pm – 4.40pm
Weather Conditions: Hot, sunny and breezy / Temperature: 28 C / 82 F
Another hot day with cloudless blue skies but thankfully a wonderfully fresh breeze to make the temperature bearable.
The stream was utterly and completely dry and there were hardly any birds, Blue Tits, Blackbirds, Chiff Chaffs, Robins, Wrens and a solitary Song Thrush the only ones singing apart from the croak of a passing Raven. We wonder how they are faring with so little water around.
It’s very many years since we have had such a prolonged period of unbroken sunshine and lack of rain and it is very noticeable in the sun baked paths, bleached crop fields and drooping plants. In cooler summers the flowers linger longer but this year they are blooming, fading and dropping in the heat in what seems a blink of an eye. We had hoped to see the seasonal mass Meadow Brown cloud over the privet hedges but the flowers were almost all over and although there were lots of Meadow Browns, nowhere near in the same numbers.
This was also true all along the Way; lots of butterflies including Speckled Wood, Large White, Green Veined White, as well as the brilliantly coloured Comma and Small Copper. It was quite lovely to sit on the puzzle bench on the edge of the Butterfly Glade and watch two Commas chasing each other high up on the tree canopy before fluttering down to feed on the last of the elder flowers. We had our first sighting of a Brimstone Moth this year and first ever sight of a delicate looking Small Emerald Moth which we disturbed as we clambered around in the undergrowth checking on the numbers of Common Spotted Orchids.
Sadly, due to the pretty savage spring cut along the verges of the cycle path, we could only find one solitary Pyramidal Orchid, a huge change from last year when the Orchids lined the path in some profusion. The management team have the pretty unenviable task of ensuring the path is safe for cyclists, including many young children, and allowing undisturbed edges for wild flowers. The sheer number and diversity of the plant and insect species along the Way, especially in contrast to the barren acres of the adjoining arable land, shows that they are succeeding very well, but of course there are difficult choices which have to be made and some species will inevitably suffer loss.
Great excitement as we walked down the path heading for home we suddenly caught sight of a Brown Hare walking nonchalantly across the adjoining pasture land towards the thickly wooded hedgerow. This is the first hare we have spotted for over a year and although it was on the opposite side of the cycle path to previous sightings, it was still only about 200 metres away as the crow flies. As it is also a completely different season, this does indicate that the hare is almost certainly resident in the area.
24th June 2018
John Hansford has successfully captured a fast moving Common Lizard on Colliers Way, brilliantly highlighting its extraordinary skin and claws. Although these lizards are the most common reptiles in the British Isles they are nevertheless protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, and classified as a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. It’s good to see more evidence of the thriving colonies along the Way.
21st June 2018
– Summer Solstice –
13th June 2018 / 1.15pm – 3.10pm
Weather Conditions: Cloudy, cool, a few bright intervals / 21.5 C – 19 C / 70.7 F – 66.2 F
The path was strewn with immature field maple seeds, petals and summer leaves due to the strength of the breeze so we we hurried to reach the protection of the trees, although the sound of the groans and grunts from the rubbing branches made slightly alarming hearing!
A post from John Harris of the Mushroom Diary alerted us to what he believes to be the best of the bracket fungus, the Dryads Saddle (Pheasant Back Mushroom), which appears in woods around this time of the year so we were pleased to spot a good healthy looking group on a dead tree stump on the old railway line at the foot of the steep embankment beside the path. He even posts a link to a great simple recipe for the gastronomically adventurous.
The cloudy day didn’t make for a bumper butterfly display and true to form there were very few. Five or so Speckled Wood, a Meadow Brown and a Small Tortoiseshell, not a great haul when there are so many flowering plants, although the privet on which we saw such a memorable display last year was not quite in full bloom.
The stream bed was bone dry throughout its length but fortunately there are lots of gaps made by animals (probably badgers) pushing through the hedges into the fields beyond where there are two sizeable ponds and a spring fed stream. The badgers have also been very busy, leaving lots of snuffle holes in the earth and amongst the undergrowth and have, as usual, trampled down all of the roast-beef plants sometimes called stinking iris which we have yet to see in flower. It is said that the foliage is acrid and sweetly foetid when crushed so although we didn’t check to find out, maybe badgers just love the smell.
Most of the birds including Whitethroats, Chaffinches, Bullfinches, Magpies and Wrens were sheltering from the wind and we were only aware of their presence from their calls and songs but the Raven and a couple of Buzzards could be seen braving the skies as did a solitary Swallow, skimming low over a field.
We met a young woman with a pair of twin boys of about three years old and two dogs. She said that she and a friend had been walking the path since the children were babies as it was one of the very few places which could accommodate a twin buggy and dogs even in the boggiest, wettest, snowiest days of midwinter. The boys were entranced and intrigued by the dry river bed, even though they were deprived of their usual soaking paddle.
3rd June 2018
John Hansford has reported sighting a Nightingale in a new area – very exciting to think that this may be a follow on from successful breeding last year. He heard a Sedge Warbler singing strongly from the reed bed and 4 Garden Warblers (there are five Garden Warbler territories on this stretch of the cycle path which is very good and one of the best stretches in the whole of Somerset for this species). John also captured the caterpillar filled web of the Small Eggar Moth.
Small Eggar Moth caterpillars – c. John Hansford
The Small Eggar Moth, formerly quite common, is now a scarce and local species, due mainly to the gradual destruction of its favourite habitat, hedgerows. The adults, which fly in February and March, are seldom seen, but the larvae, when present, live gregariously in silken webs on the foodplant, hawthorn (Crataegus) and blackthorn (Prunus spinosa). It is now restricted to a few scattered colonies in England and Ireland, and a few localities in Wales. http://ukmoths.org.uk/
2nd June 2018
Brilliant photograph from John Hansford of a male Broad-Bodied Chaser Dragonfly. In his email he says: “I managed a 45 minute visit to the Cycle Path today and highlights included 1 Red Kite, 2 Garden Warblers on feeding runs, 2 Spotted Flycatchers, 2 Orange Tip, 5 Male & 1 Female Common Blue, 5 Speckled Wood, 1 Brimstone, 2 Large Skippers.” Highlights indeed – a goodly haul in such a short time.
Spotted Flycatcher – c. John Hansford
30th May 2018 / 3.15pm – 4.55pm
Weather Conditions: Heavy low cloud, dank, chill, north-easterly breeze, poor visibility. 16 C / 60.8 F
Much to our chagrin, unavoidable commitments and poor weather conditions meant we missed the optimum time for hearing the Nightingales along the Way so it was with some trepidation that we approached last year’s site on one of the few days this week when it wasn’t raining or thundering and lightning.
Fortunately amongst the trills of Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Whitethroats, Chiff Chaffs and Willow Warblers we were excited to hear the distinctive notes of the Nightingale. A little muted (and who can blame him given the weather) and only one (there were two last year) but we counted our blessings, relaxed and listened again to the enchantment of the Nightingales song – magical. The delight we felt in hearing the Nightingale slightly off-set our disappointment that there appeared to be no Goldfinches, Greenfinches, no Blackcaps or Garden Warblers, no Swifts, House Martins or Skylarks and not one raptor, all of which we noted in numbers in previous years. We can only presume the chilly rain, high winds and thunder storms have seriously reduced the number of insects – confirmed perhaps by a dead bee caught in the stem of a plant – starved of nectar from late flowering plants?
The other striking observation along the path was the sheer abundance and overwhelming lushness of the undergrowth. Grasses nearly five feet tall, tangled thickets of wood sorrel, cow parsley, bladder Campion, hedge mustard, clumps of moon daisies and shocking pink Campion, falling strands of dog rose and both white and black bryony, their tendrils curling up stems of plants. Golden buttercups and tiny bright blue bird’s eye speedwell fight for space with yellow archangel, hop trefoil and the bright purple-magenta dove’s foot cranesbill and common vetch while the creamy elderflower and pink hawthorn blossoms scent the air but a complete absence of a single butterfly during the whole of our walk. There were bees and midges in plenty (although not as many as one would expect at this time of the year) but this is the time when one would expect to see clouds of butterflies all along the verges and up in the trees and not to see even one is yet a further comment on the truly awful unseasonal weather we have been experiencing for most of this spring and early summer.
It was no surprise to spot the red-headed cardinal beetle lurking in the undergrowth, hungrily watching for prey, they usually appear about now, but a Mayfly – ephemera danica – rising from rivers and streams over the last fortnight but appearing here, above a tarmac path about 100 yards from the large tree lined pond? Unlikely to find a mate over here!
One good discovery was the sight of three large clumps of Spring Fieldcap fungus growing on the bed of wood chippings which we had been checking over the year in the expectation of finding some sort of fungi growing there and on the point of abandoning the search. We had, quite wrongly, expected to see fungi on this spot in autumn; a timely lesson – in nature, always prepare for the unexpected!
15th May 2018 / 2.20pm – 4.50pm
Weather Conditions: Hot summer’s day with clear blue skies and burning sun. Delightfully cool under the shade of the trees in full leaf / 21 C / 69.5 F
An explosion of blossom along the Way. The unseasonally cold weather of April and the beginning of May had held back the flowering of most plants but several days of summer-like heat encouraged the trees to throw out quite spectacular displays of blossom.
The apples, wayfarings, field maples and hawthorns were heavy with flowers, and the grass verges were filled with the still flowering cowslips and violets of spring which merged with the early purple orchids, twayblades and summer drifts of red Campion, deep blue birds eye speedwell and clouds of white cow parsley whose sweet perfume almost drowned out the rank scent of the hawthorn blossom.
Peacock, Orange Tip, Speckled Wood and Brimstone butterflies were joined by an unexpected visitor from a nearby pond in the shape of an immature male Beautiful Demoiselle damselfly with its stunning combination of brilliant metallic blue body and copper coloured wings, and later by a huge queen Hornet busily zooming around the undergrowth searching for a suitable nest site.
It was quite shocking to see the carefully constructed compost site formed by a large square of logs had been set alight since our last visit reducing all the compost to ash and the logs to charred remains. The vast majority of visitors respect the hard work of the volunteers but it only needs one hooligan to destroy weeks and weeks of effort. However, the resilience of Sustrans and its volunteers was restated by the new name signs on many of the trees (the common and Latin names) which is a welcome addition to the woodland stretches and particularly helpful in winter.
Another shock was the gruesome sight of a badger carcass draped over a tree. Possibly the remains of an old badger thrown up into the tree for foxes, raptors and carrion crows to feed on before the insects can also begin to feast. The tree trunk just below the carcass was bare of the moss which coated all the surrounding trees and which might be from foxes scratching the moss with their front paws as they supported themselves while tearing at the meat.
The stream was reduced to a mere trickle falling over the stones, the woods were very quiet apart from that lovely summer sound of droning hover flies and birdsong from Chiff Chaffs, Blackbirds and Whitethroats and as a final reward on the last few hundred yards down to the road we suddenly caught sight of a Red Kite wheeling and circling overhead. Such excitement – our first sighting around Colliers Way of this spectacular bird! A fitting end to a wonderfully sunny afternoon.
6th May 2018
John Hansford managed to capture two brilliant photographs (one shown here) of Lesser Whitethroats – they are so difficult to see as they skulk half hidden, let alone photograph. He was also lucky enough to spot a stoat (surely the most appealing of our small mammals) bounding along the path in front of him as well as a Holly Blue butterfly, Common Whitethroats and Garden Warblers – a great day!
Common Whitethroat – John Hansford
Male Orange Tip Butterfly – John Hansford
Weather Conditions: Strong blustery cold wind, intermittent sunshine on an otherwise cloudy afternoon / 12 C / 53 F
It was complete serendipity to meet Lydia Blake and Andrew Marchant who were assessing the next section of the path to be monitored just as we arrived at the entrance to the cycle path. Lydia is the Greener Greenways Project officer for Sustrans and her remit covers a huge area of the South of England. She brings a massive amount of experience, expertise and knowledge of ecology and environmental concerns to her job (her MA is in Environmental Management) together with a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm and Andrew Marchant is the indefatigable co-manager of the Great Elm Embankment and one of the founder members and a leading light in the Frome’s Missing Links programme.
It was so interesting to catch up with them both and hear about Lydia’s plans for a whole series of surveys on the Greener Greenways path. The very successful reptile survey which was carried out last year is to be followed this year by a Moth survey, a Bat walk, and both a Hedgehog and a Dormouse survey. Surprisingly Lydia said that there are very few hedgehog surveys and although there is widespread belief that their numbers are falling drastically, there is no baseline in this area from which to judge.
We were intrigued to learn that for the dormouse survey, an ink pad and a sheet of paper is laid down so that when the dormice scamper across both, they leave a good line of tracks. The drawback to this system is that vegetable ink has to be used for the safety of the dormice but if the papers are not collected quickly, slugs come along and eat all the track prints!
By far the most exciting prospect perhaps is the planned series of trips with local schoolchildren (and their parents and teachers) to the path. They will be bussed out to the site and spend a couple of hours exploring the environment. We were all shocked by a recent revelation that many children are so removed from nature and the countryside that they can no longer recognise even the most common plants and butterflies and Sustrans Greener Greenways project is one of the few organisations to immediately address the problem and come up with a solution. Lydia mentioned that Alistair Millington (Sustrans Land Manager for the South of England) who had been working with them had spotted what he suspected might be a species of brome rape which caused great excitement due to its exceptional rarity, although they will not know for sure until it flowers. He had also thought that there was a good possibility of Dormice and Hedgehogs in numbers along this section of Colliers Way.
Fewer birds than the same day last year but not surprising perhaps given the unseasonably cold winds and overall wet spring, no sign of Skylarks, Garden Warblers or Blackcaps but we did see other migrants like Willow Warblers, Whitethroats and Chiff Chaffs and heard the beautiful notes of a Song Thrush.
Many of the plants are late flowering – it is particularly noticeable with the apple trees which are still in tight bud even though the wild cherries are in full flower and the cherry plum flowers are already over. Sad to see the end of the violet season which has given us so much pleasure but lovely to see so many deep yellow cowslips lining the path and the birds eye speedwell and red campion heralding summer.
A really hopeful note of warmer weather coming some time is our first sight of a Speckled Wood butterfly another summer delight, both male and female Orange Tip butterflies (and lots and lots of garlic mustard plants for them to lay their eggs and a good few beautiful Brimstone, my favourite butterfly, although not as many as one would expect at this time of the year as a result of the cold dull weather.
18th April 2018 – 2pm – 4pm
Weather Conditions: Very hot sun, strong warm breeze, cloudless blue skies / 22 C / 71.6 F
Extraordinary change in the weather from the heavy clouds, cold air, incessant rain and strong winds of the past month which delayed the spring flowering and led to water logged fields and acres of impassable mud for farm vehicles to the explosion of heat from the sudden soaring temperatures of today. The sun was as hot and burning as August as it seems this year the seasons have contracted – winter bypassing spring to move straight into summer.
Signalling the recent cold spell, compared to this day last year, many plants have yet to bloom and very few butterflies have appeared. Although it was lovely to see so many Brimstones and several Peacocks, they are very late and there were no Speckled Woods, Holly Blues, Tortoiseshells or Orange Tips. The apple tree leaves are only just opening when last year the flowers were in full glorious bloom, all the trees were in full leaf whereas today they are just beginning to open and the fields last year were covered in a haze of green shoots but today the fields are still brown and bare, just rows of wet clods of drying mud.
However, the blossom on the cherry trees lining the hedgerows has opened if not fully, the primroses are thick with flowers, the cowslips are opening, the delicate white and the large dark purple dog violets are showing a bumper year so thickly are their plants colonising the embankment. Large mounds of meadow ant nests are scattered amongst the thick grass, great fat bumble bees are lumbering up and down the slope among the violets, honey bees are on the nectar hunt and on the bare well trodden earth around the picnic bench the mining bees are emerging in numbers for the first time this year.
The Chiffchaffs, Common Whitethroats and Willow Warblers have arrived to join the Great Tits, Blue Tits, Chaffinchs, Wrens, Robins and Dunnocks in the hedgerows and the strong smell of woodsmoke drifting across the path from spring clearing of dead plants shows very clearly that winter is finally last over.
Standing below the cherry trees and watching the mating dance of four male Brimstone butterflies with a single pale female was delightful. “Fluttering and dancing in the breeze” was a rather more accurate description of these butterflies than of the poet’s daffodils as they chased and tried to attract the female but then dropped off one by one when unsuccessful, eventually leaving just one solitary male. When he also lost interest and also flew away, he was immediately pursued by the female, fluttering her wings. He engaged for a few moments but then abandoned the courtship altogether, deciding food was more important, and the female was left alone.
3rd April 2018 – 2.20pm – 4.05pm
Weather Conditions: 12 C / 53 F / Brisk, blustery southerly breeze, sunny intervals.
Despite the blustery wind tossing the bare branches and newly emerging leaves, the sun was warm and the air mild and the first scents and sounds of spring filled the air. The plants, bees and birds seemed to be shaking off the winter chills so the white Dog Violets sparse only ten days ago were now plentifully scattered all along the verges, the primroses are flowering in profusion on the banks and at last the pollen has begun to appear on some of the pussy willows. The extraordinary number of Bumble Bees, two Honey Bees and the two Peacock Butterflies were such a welcome sight – confirmation at last that spring really is here and summer does exist.
Lots of bird song, including the first Chiffchaff of the year and the first Swallow which although it doesn’t make a summer it’s another herald of spring. We also heard a Skylark, another first for us this year, although Andrew heard a couple of Skylarks as long ago as the end of January.
Abandoned brake van
The path was very busy including a group of half a dozen horse riders, probably from a riding school, the little girls perched high on their fat grass bellied little white ponies, evoking fond memories of Thelwell’s famous cartoons, many cyclists and runners and lots of walkers who were eager to swap sightings. Catherine and Geoff from Peasedown St John heard their first Chiffchaff two weeks ago and saw a pair of Nuthatches and a Brimstone butterfly on the same day; more recently, as they walk the path each day, they’ve been watching a pair of Great Tits creating a nest at the top of a hollow pipe.
We chatted to a man walking his dog who recently came upon two Roe Deer as he rounded the corner, actually on the path which was unusual; immediately on sighting him, they leapt the fence and bounded away across the fields in the direction of Babington Woods. Another couple we often see were really excited about seeing what they were sure was a Hawfinch over a week ago – if it was, it’s the second such sighting this year so far.
The warm sun and mild air cheered everyone we met as much as us. Let’s hope for all our sakes, people, birds, butterflies and animals alike, that the last of the cold wintry weather is behind us.
23rd March 2018 – 2pm – 4.15pm
Weather Conditions: 11 C / 51 F / Cloudy, hazy sun, mild, cool breeze.
It was quiet along the path, particularly in the shelter of the trees. Very few signs of nest building among the small number of birds we saw, very little bird song and still no sight or sound of a Chiffchaff. Although lots of the early spring plants were in flower, their display seemed tentative and rather sparse compared to earlier years and it certainly felt more like late Winter than early Spring. This thought was reinforced by the bank of snow still lining the north side of the field boundary hedge above Newbury Firs – the old country saw that seeing lingering snow was a sign of more to come seemed, in view of the long term weather forecast, a very strong possibility.
However, the bells of Mells Church were ringing out across the fields, the clumps of spotted leaves of the early purple orchid were well grown and it was good to see the golden saxifrage’s tiny delicate flowers in full bloom, forming a sprinkling of yellow over the carpet of green under the tall trunks of the ash grove.
The ecology group of volunteers were busily engaged in their last cut of the year due to the onset of the nesting season. They are hoping that by cutting and clearing away the thick undergrowth and brambles and pruning the trees, it will allow more sunlight onto the banks to encourage more wild flowers and extend the dog violet season. If successful, the plan is to lure other species of fritillaries to join the Silver Washed Fritillaries which currently bring so much delight to warm summer days.
Andrew Marchant, who is managing the Great Elm embankment area, also mentioned that the watercourse formed from the seepage and field run off at the top of the hill had deposited tufa (or calcium carbonate) on the bed of the stream down most of its length. We have seen wonderfully shaped flowstone formed from a similar deposit in one of the tributaries to the River Frome some 3 or 4 miles away.
Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Blackbird, Robin, Jackdaw, Rook, Crow, Wood Pigeon, Pheasant.
Shepherd’s Cress, Golden Saxifrage, Cowslip, Primrose, Grape Hyacinth, Wood Anemone, Dog Violet, Dandelion, Lesser Celandine,
13th March 2018 – 2.30pm – 4.20pm
Weather Conditions: 12-13 C / 53-55 F /Clear and sunny, floating clouds, fresh stiff breeze.
Although the stiff breeze still had the chilly edge of winter, in sheltered spots the sun had a welcome spring-like warmth, a sign that this long, sapping winter is drawing towards its close. The clumps of purple dog violets along the south facing embankment looked a little bedraggled and the white violets, restricted this year it seems to one area, are only just beginning to open and very much fewer in number. The primroses are also looking battered from being buried under the recent blankets of snow, drifts of which are still visible under some of the hedges. Only the occasional blackthorn spray is flowering and the pussy willows are showing white but looked small and cramped rather than the explosion of fluff and yellow pollen we expected given the very early spring growth before the snow. Like us, they needed to be flooded with days of warm sunshine to give of their best.
We squelched through thick layers of sodden moss, avoiding the deep puddles as we searched for awakening life but, apart from a bee emerging from the shelter of the tufts of long grass, we were unsuccessful. Even the bee’s tentative foraging was brief and he soon returned to the warmth of his hole in the ground.
The stream was deep and calm, with barely a ripple disturbing its surface, the fields were filled with noisy Rooks and Jackdaws feeding on the grass, joined by the occasional strutting Pheasant squawkingly announcing its importance while a pair of Buzzards circle lazily overhead, searching for action.
We sat and rested on the oak bench facing the fields between Cranmore and Mells Church towers which was sheltered from the wind. Lifting our faces to soak up the warmth of the sun, our minds gradually quietened and stilled and all life’s difficulties slowly ebbed away.
4th March 2018 – 2.35m – 3.55pm
Weather Conditions: 8.5 C / 47 F / Bright intervals, patchy cloud, blue sky deteriorating to icy sleet.
A sudden rise in temperature signals a quick thaw together with heavy rain from late afternoon yesterday and overnight and the world is transformed! The impassable roads are open, the gutters are full, streaming and clearing dirty, slushy heaps of fast melting snow. All the ditches alongside the path are half full of gleaming black water from which the thick emerald green moss and blades of harts tongue ferns stand newly washed and glowing. The sound of rushing snow melt fills the otherwise quiet scene as the run off from the fields flood down the embankments and joins the tumbling waters of the stream.
What had been a path through the woods has now become a new stream, carefully following the twists and turns of the track around trees and shrubs and forming boggy patches in the sodden ground. No sign of roosting raptors, merely the remains of an old kill, the pheasant feathers bedraggled and torn, and three Buzzards rising slowly, glorious and sublime, from a low hedgerow at the edge of the wood, gliding across the field, displaying their beautiful wing markings – huge, powerful and impressive.
The distressing sight of the mangled trees and shrubs bordering the path show the depressing signs that the contract hedge cutters have been busy, dragging their machine’s robotic flail through old birds’ nests and newly sprouting leaf buds alike, leaving the raw remains of broken snapped branches exposed to the elements and the cycle path thickly strewn with small sharp cuttings and twigs, catastrophic to bicycle tyres and dogs’ paws.
As we turned for home the dirty sooty looking clouds released their load and we hurried through the sudden squall of yet more icy sleety rain listening to the jackdaws and rooks call as they fly overhead, followed by the croak of the raven.
A few fresh and perfect Primrose flowers rising pristine above the soggy ground, a few battered looking Dog’s Mercury and the occasional splash of vivid Scarlet Elf Cup were welcome signs of nature’s resilience to last week’s unseasonal return to winter.
Lots of parents and hoards of children, shrieking, dancing and gambolling along the path, cycling, pushing scooters, each other – jubilantly celebrating their release from nearly a week of sub-zero temperatures and frozen snow. Many walkers, a couple of runners and cyclists.
28th February – 3rd March 2018
Sub-zero temperatures followed by snow making roads impassable and villages and the cycle path cut off. Testing times for the wildlife along the Way.
20th February 2018 3pm – 4.30pmClustered Brittlestems (Psathyrella multipedata) – Many thanks to John Harris for identifying this fungi for us. Visit his brilliant website for further information – mushroom diary
Weather Conditions: / 9-8 / 48-46 F / Sunny, fair weather clouds.
The path was bathed in warm sunlight and protected from the wind so it felt quite spring like walking along the dappled path and standing watching the hordes of Tits, Robins, Wrens and Bullfinches trilling and chattering as they streamed through the trees, back and forth across the path with their non-stop twittering.
The stream, full, gin clear and surprising deep in places, confirming that we have had a period of high rainfall as well as cold days. As we walked deeper into the wood, we were surrounded by birds in full voice, echoing between the trees, heralding the spring, accompanied by the gurgling and bubbling of the stream. From the beautiful rich melodic songs of the Blackbird and the Song Thrush to the squawking Pheasants and penetrating clacks and wheezing and calls of the Rooks and Jackdaws, that wonderful winter sound. Lovely to see the first of the spring flowers, Primroses, Lesser Celandine, Dog’s Mercury and even Dandelion and White Deadnettle beginning to open and to watch a Buzzard swoop down and join its mate roosting dozily on a low branch, before it rose majestically into the sky and continued its hunt. Unlikely sighting of a Heron hunting the stream, rising slowly with leisurely flaps of his huge wings as we arrived and being joined by a small flock of Field Fares who had been searching the field for food.
A few cyclists, one runner, no other walkers – quiet, peaceful and serene!
15th February 2018 – 1pm – 2.40pmWaterlogged Fields
Weather Conditions: 7-6.5 C / 44-43 F / Intermittent sun and scudding clouds darkening as we walked; bitter wind.
Cold and sunny with a strong south westerly wind driving the rain clouds closer until we caught the edge of a hail storm, the icy drops cutting our faces and making our ears hurt. How heartening then to see first a single flower on a Violet plant, its purple bud just on the point of opening, a brilliant yellow bud of a Celandine, one spray of pristine white flowers on the Blackthorn, lots of Dog’s Mercury green-yellow flower heads filling their stems and a blood red female flower on the Hazel about to burst – despite the weather, Spring cannot be far away.
We were met by three ravens playing in the wind as we arrived on the path, calling out as they flew over, flocks of Jackdaws and Rooks hunted across the sodden fields and a single Song Thrush welcomed the brief spell of sunshine by singing lustily from a stand of trees. A party of at least a dozen Chaffinches flashed past, Bullfinches busied themselves amongst the emerging leaf buds and Great Tits and Blue Tits were constantly flitting from branch to branch among Blackbirds and Robins. As the weather worsened, first one, then two, then three flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares streamed across the path above us and disappeared into the fields beyond, chuckling as they went.
It is Half Term so there were small boys on bikes and small girls on scooters with parents and grandparents, lots of walkers with dogs, runners and cyclists all attempting to catch a spell of dry weather after yesterday’s torrential rainfall.
We chatted with an older couple from Coleford who were surprised not to hear any Great SpottedWoodpeckers as they had been hearing them drumming away every morning for nearly a month close to their house. We had certainly heard both Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers along the path in the first week of February last year.
We met another couple from Peasedown St John who had an app on their smart phone and so were able to distinguish a Mistle Thrush farther along the path and who also saw lots of Long Tailed Tits near the puzzle bench. They showed us pictures on their phone of the small lake towards the Kilmersden end of the path and recommended the village pub there, the Joliffe Arms, as a good stopover for lunch. This is the pub with the brass plaque in the shape of a shield attached to the wall displaying the phrase “IN 1832 ON THIS SPOT NOTHING HAPPENED”
As we trudged back along the path, cold to the marrow from the driving, freezing, cutting wind, we watched the huge black menacing rain cloud being blown across the sky, revealing the sun at last. Just before we reached the end of the walk, as the sky became a deep Reckitt blue and the whole scene was bathed in bright winter sunshine, we began to feel some sympathy with the writers of the 1832 brass plaque.
7th February 2018 – 10.45am – 12.15pm
Weather Conditions: 1.5 – 4.5 C / 34.7 – 40.1 F / Full sun, biting wind, crisp with clear blue skies and thick hoar frost.
Brilliantly clear, cold and crisp – a perfect winter’s morning walk. The icy wind cut our faces ensuring a brisk pace in an attempt to keep warm.
A couple of men from Sustrans were hard at work shovelling and clearing the edges of the cycle path. Over the past weeks they have been steadily working their way from Great Elm; it’s a back-breaking job which according to the men will only last a couple of years before the earth and grass begins to edge farther and farther onto the path, eating up the space left for cyclists and walkers. Their work covers large areas of the South West but they have a particular liking for this stretch of Colliers Way as everyone they meet is so friendly, including the local farmer from Mells Down who had offered to help by clearing the edges with his JCB. All of us who use the path are very grateful for their hard work keeping the path cared for, none more so than the Robins, Dunnocks and Finches hopping around, pecking at the newly turned earth, searching for juicy morsels on such a freezing cold day.
As we arrived, a huge cloud of several hundred Rooks, Crows and Jackdaws rose from an area of standing corn where they had been feeding, soared and swirled en masse, flocking across the fields towards the mature trees strung along the hedgerows where they spiraled around before settling to roost and preen.
The birds were very busy today hunting and foraging amongst the branches. Parties of finches including several pairs of Bullfinches, Chaffinches, a Goldfinch flashing his beautiful scarlet faces and yellow wings, lots of Blue Tits (several pairs) and pairs of Great Tits, and a few Wrens. Every few yards it seems a tree supports a Robin, shouting lustily at each passer-by, Blackbirds and Wood Pigeons were busy among the trees and we could hear the Pheasants squawking whilst strutting the adjoining fields, hopefully avoiding the frozen puddles. The same clumps of primroses which have been flowering since Boxing Day are still in full flower as is the occasional Dandelion.
The bank above the shallow watercourse is pitted all along its length with rabbit holes which are hidden most of the year by thick plants and undergrowth but are exposed during winter. The farmer’s field beyond the hedge at the top of the bank is where we see dozens of rabbits feeding in spring and summer although they are nowhere to be seen at this time of the year.
The hedgerows which line the path and embankment the length of Colliers Way with their mixture of deciduous trees and shrubs are a haven for wildlife and luckily appear to support a good number of hedgehogs from what we have been told. This is very heartening as a report published today shows a pretty catastrophic decline in hedgehog numbers in rural areas, a plunge of 97% since the 1950s and plummeting by more than half since the year 2000. It is astonishing how far they roam according to the same report – a single hedgehog travels as much as 1-2km a night in search of food and usually ranges over an area of 10 hectares (24.7 acres). The 23 mile long hedgerows, banks and scrub of Colliers Way must offer rich pickings for hungry hedgehogs!
1st February 2018 – Imbolc
31st January 2018Blue Moon?
28th Jauary 2018 – 2.15pm – 4pm
Weather Conditions: 11.5 C / 52.7 F / Grey overcast skies, strong wind, fine drizzle, lightening to occasional bursts of weak winter sun.
A large flock of wood pigeons appeared high over the path, tossed like autumn leaves across the sky by the strong south westerly wind and we were glad to reach the protection of the trees, away from the wind which, despite the mild temperature was pretty chilly. We heard two Jays arguing vociferously and noisily as we passed, perhaps over prey, whilst numerous Robins shouted their defence of their territory, Chaffinches pinked, a Nuthatches sharply called, a Blackbird sent out his alarm call, alerting all to our presence, while Buzzards mewed constantly overhead announcing it was mid-winter in the woods lest we had forgotten.
On the ground in amongst the trees on both sides of the path there were many clumps of clover and lords and ladies, (arums) poking through between repeated groups of scattered feathers, mostly wood pigeon, showing where birds of prey had enjoyed their feasts and one clump of hen pheasant feathers on the bank below the badger setts, possibly a fox’s leavings after he had eaten his fill. Many, many more new plants, nettles, herb robert, ground ivy appearing on the edges of the path and new leaves bursting out all along the trailing honeysuckle.
It was extremely disturbing to see a large thick branch, some 7 to 8 feet long, thrust into one of the Badger setts and boot prints and skid marks descending the bank. Even though there have been calls by the police in some parts of the country to repeal it, the Protection of Badgers Act is still in force (notwithstanding the licensed Badger culls presently operating) and it is still illegal to kill or injure them.
Many of the animal scats of fox and badger contained tiny bones and some squirrel, bank vole and rabbit droppings were pale from ingested wood bark, the exposed yellow heartwood on logs and tree trunks clearly showing signs of their hungry winter gnawing and depredations. More and more scarlet elf cap fungus seemed to have appeared almost everywhere this week, looking like splashes of new blood, vivid amongst the dun coloured gloom of the rotting leaves and moss covered fallen branches.
As we walked farther down the hill we came to the meadows bordering the cycle path where the rooks, jackdaws and crows noisily caw and chatter as they swoop from one field to the next, up to the line of trees and back, constantly on the move. Magpies and Blackbirds swoop across the path and two Song Thrushes, the first at one end of the walk clearing his throat and singing rather diffidently after the silent months of winter, the second at the other end of the path in good voice and performing lustily. The sky began to clear revealing pale blue skies, peachy clouds and rays of sunshine shedding a golden light on the bare branches of the trees – a beautiful winter’s afternoon.
A good number of walkers, a few cyclists and runners.
22nd January 2018 – 1pm – 2.30pm
Weather conditions : 7-8 C / 46-48 F / Very breezy and dry with occasional bursts of sunshine.
Fresh and clear with sunny periods and rain clouds building on the horizon, it was good to get out after days cooped indoors by incessant rain. The ground was sodden, with standing water in most fields and the stream was full and fast flowing.
There seemed a good number of birds about, uncountable numbers of Robins being very talkative from their field posts and perches along the Way, Chaffinches, Blackbirds, a Crow, Raven and Buzzard and a great flock of Jackdaws, Rooks and Wood Pigeons flying overhead. The primroses were still blooming, half a dozen plants of white dead nettles in bloom, one hogweed and a single dandelion were the only flowers, although the hazel catkins were now more than three inches long, showing yellow but with no sign of pollen. Extraordinarily, the Botanical Society’s New Year’s Day Plant Hunt survey found 532 plants in flower (75% of which were late flowerings) although about 80 less than the bonanza of last year, still a huge amount.
Lots of windfalls under the crab apple tree, a good feast for animals, birds and insects now that food is growing scarce. Interestingly a wood will often have just a single crab apple tree as they are solitary when growing in the wild. Next to the crab apple an ivy smothered elder tree and fallen branches close by were strewn with jelly ear fungus.
Jelly Ear Fungus
We luckily chanced upon Andrew, a keen ornithologist from Frome who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the industrial heritage of the area. He had walked the path from Frome to Radstock and was on his way back after enjoying a good morning’s sightings, having seen all the finches including Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Bullfinches, flocks of Greenfinches and a rare sighting of a Hawfinch. Great to hear of flocks of Greenfinches given the Greenfinch is one of 28 species showing significant population declines of more than 50% over long-term periods of 31–48 years according to the recent BTO survey outlined above.
Andrew thought that the increased number of finches was as most of the Redwings and Fieldfares have moved on due to the scarcity of berries, this has allowed the finches to move in and hoover up what remained. We all noticed the early fruiting last summer and that many of the berries, in particular the haws, had shrivelled and dried before the Redwings and Fieldfares arrived, providing poor autumn and winter pickings.
He had also seen a pair of Skylarks singing high overhead, unusually for this time of the year, but the incident which struck him most was the sight of two Magpies trying to rob a Sparrowhawk of a Blackbird it had caught and was in the process of eating. The Blackbird was alive and trying to escape as the Sparrowhawk held it, still pecking at it, while fending off the attacking Magpies; when he walked on they were still squabbling and fighting it out and the poor Blackbird was still alive. He thought the Sparrowhawk must be one of the resident pair nesting in the woods near the bridge and was most likely the same one who left the woodpigeon feathers in the tree which we had seen last week.
A most enjoyable afternoon’s walk, the blustery wind banishing our megrims and the cold quickening our step to brisk! Busy with lots of cyclists and walkers and one runner.
14th January 2018 / 2.20pm – 4.03pm
Weather Conditions: 4.5 C / 40 F / Cloudy, cold – quiet and still
A misty, gloomy afternoon, damp and chill and as we walked up the section of the cycle path between the high hedges and the embankment, we were inundated by thick clouds of midges, far more than we have ever seen before.
We explored the small wood between the deep, fast flowing stream and the rough pasture which was dotted with trees full of bullfinches, blue tits, wood pigeons, fieldfares and a song thrush. Half hidden by the ivy cloaked trees in the wood, we watched a party of blackbirds feeding on the field floor, sorting through the leaf cover, impatiently tossing the dead brown leaves over their shoulders in their constant search for grubs and insects. One tree, slightly apart, looked as if it might be a favourite Barn owl roost as the ground beneath was carpeted with splashed white droppings and white feathers.
The trailing ivy, low branches and shrubby undergrowth form natural shelters or lairs, offering snug protection against the gales and icy nights of midwinter. Alongside one such den, on sturdy horizontal branches just above head height, were dozens of what looked like grey woodpigeon breast feathers caught amongst the moss and ivy leaves, possibly the remains of a Sparrow-hawk’s feast – a welcome hoard for long tailed tits searching for nest material to add to the spiders webs and moss which they use to create their expandable nests. Close by, half hidden by the leaf litter was the first scarlet elf cup of the season, a brilliant splash of bright colour amongst the dark green and brown ivy and dead leaves.
We walked up the wide grass tractor path leading from one five-barred gated field across the stone bridge through the wood to another. Next to deep snuffle holes beside the fence into the wood were clumps of the distinctive grey and black tipped hairs of a badger. As this is a considerable distance from the main collection of setts high up on the top of the embankment we wonder if there are yet more setts here, hidden in the depth of these thick woods.
No sign of the large flocks of Jackdaws and Rooks of just a week ago – a mere handful of Rooks and Crows, a few noisy Pheasants and Robins and just a single Goldcrest. Lots of walkers, family parties, groups of parents and children enjoying the fresh air, couples with dogs, some cyclists, a few runners.
The sky eventually lightened on the horizon, enough to see the flame-coloured sun sinking in a blaze of fiery orange. Noticeably colder – time to head home for tea.
7th January 2018 1.20pm – 3.10pm
Weather Conditions: / 4 – 3.5 C/ 39 – 38 F / Bright, sunny, clear blue skies, very cold north-easterly wind
We walked up from Buckland Bridge on a gloriously sunny afternoon, cold and bracing but exhilarating to feel the sun on our faces after so make weeks of dull, leaden skies. Everywhere looked brand new – bright green fields, sunlit branches and splashes of colour from the shiny deep red bark of the wild cherry trees and the St John/s Wort leaves.
The volunteers from Frome’s Missing Links have been working hard and the freshly cleared cycle path looked strikingly clean, all the fallen leaves and encroaching earth and moss removed making walking but most of all cycling so much safer and easier. They have also completed a good deal of work on the embankments, clearing undergrowth, removing trees and stacking the clippings in piles as winter shelter for the wildlife living along the banks. The unblocking and freeing of the gin clear water in and around the streams enable the field runoff to tumble and rush downhill, the sound of its splashing torrent competing with the train like sound of the wind whooshing through the bare trees.
Lots of birds, including parties of Blue Tits, Great Tits, Long-Tailed Tits, Bullfinches and Chaffinches with Robins and Dunnocks dart in amongst the branches and flit from tree to tree; the ubiquitous flocks of wood pigeons are constantly on the move, particularly when the two buzzards are circling above them and a raven appears, imperiously kraa kraa-ing.
In a pasture beside the track just below Newbury Firs a huge uncountable number of rooks and jackdaws were feeding on the grass. In an almost casual leisurely fashion the birds rose together, a mere few feet from the ground and almost immediately resettled in what appeared to be a never ending rolling wave. There was also a constant traffic of birds leaving the field, flying over the path and fields up towards the line of beeches on the horizon, some settling, some turning and flying back to land again in the field, the air alive with that most atmospheric sound, the constant ‘tchack, tchack and kaah kaah of jackdaws and rooks as they flock in winter.
We came across tufts of fox hair on the edge of the path, possibly torn off by a parasite infected fox, rubbing itself against the bark of a tree. A little farther on a brown-purple jelly ear fungus which usually grows on dead elder lying in the middle of the path – presumably disturbed by the path clearing.
Very busy with lots of walkers, a number of cyclists and the occasional runner out enjoying the sunshine, well-wrapped up against the cold wintry air and strong wind which even drove the sheep to huddle together around a large oak in the middle of the field.
31st December 2017 – 1pm – 2.15pm
Yesterday we celebrated my husband’s 80th Birthday with family and friends and today we completed our “Year of Magical Walking” and our weekly recording of the flora and fauna we have seen along the Cycle Path since the 1st of January 2017.
There have been so many wonderful sights over the year but some of the most memorable was our excitement back in January at several sightings of a brown hare and later the same month when we watched a flock of 200-300 lapwings wheeling and feeding in a ploughed field alongside the path.
Our delight at the sheer profusion of clumps and clumps of sweet violets both purple and white along the steep south facing embankments and under the trees in March which also saw coltsfoot, primroses, crocus, blue speedwell and beautiful white blackthorn blossom, yellow pussy willows, and the blush tinged flowers of the English elms all in full bloom. It was also in March when we saw the first butterflies of the year, a Comma and a week later the Brimstone and in April the wild cherry and apple trees came into full blossom, such a wonderful sight, lit by the strong sun against deep azure skies.
By May, the fields alongside the path were carpeted hedge to hedge with golden buttercups and islands of white moon daisies and the verges edged with clouds and froths of cow parsley. It was also in May when we first heard the Nightingales, hidden in the dense undergrowth, singing seemingly forever in the warmth of late afternoon sun. Is there anything sweeter or more magical that the song of the Nightingale?
Come June the carpets of birds-foot-trefoil were quivering, so thick were they with so many bees. There were masses of butterflies, bees and burnet moths swarming and feeding over blossoming trees, shrubs and flower filled banks and on the long skeins of white bryony and dog roses climbing, entwining and cascading over trees and shrubs. And a quite extraordinary number of small heath butterflies everywhere, swarming and feeding around the meadowsweet and the privet hedges above us so we were walking through clouds of butterflies!
During the perfect warm tranquil and peaceful summer days of July the butterfly profusion continued, dancing and fluttering everywhere we looked, quite magical, which made the unseasonably wet August with its dearth of butterflies hard to take.
The turning leaves were particularly striking during September and the August rain seemed to have encouraged second flowering of very many plants. October brought the fungus, including the stately funnel fungus all along the badger sett bank, the tiny fairy inkcaps and the bright yellow waxcaps.
November saw the exciting return of the Redwings and Fieldfares and the tiny, scampering short tailed vole and we enjoyed the cold, frosty, bright and sunny mornings before the wet and dreary December was thankfully enlivened by watching the large flocks of Redwings, very many Buzzards, Ravens and even a Kestrel and a solitary Sparrowhawk and of course the finches and tits, busily dashing about from tree to tree and among the branches.
It has been a wonderful year logging our record which we are sad to see end but we have the coming year to look forward to. We will still probably post our observations but only log unusual or new sightings.
31st December 2017 – 1pm – 2.15pm / 9.5 – 10 C / 49 – 50 F / Strong cold wind, overcast skies, spitting with rain which later turned heavier and icy.
Waterlogged fields, standing puddles and streams in full spate after 15 hours of overnight torrential rain. Bare branches being tossed about in the strong wind. Male ferns and Hart’s Tongue ferns’ dark green prominent amongst the dead grass. A mixture of emerald and golden green moss carpeting the boggy area around the old station.
24th December 2017 – 1.25pm – 2.55pm / 9.5-11.5 C / 49-51 F / Milky, overcast sky, smudged grey clouds, strong blustery wind; intermittent drizzle – clouds growing heavier as we walked.
Chistmas Eve We stand on either side of one of the commemorative stones and raise a toast to the day with a tot of sloe gin from our hip flask.
The afternoon was grey and dead looking with very little sign of life but the wind fresh and envigorating. Few birds apart from at least a dozen bullfinches feeding amongst the branches and two large flocks of 100+ fieldfares flying over.
We were surprised to see three or four primrose plants in yellow bud and a couple in full flower – a clear sign of the mild weather of the past week. Rootlings and diggings, scrapings and scruffle marks all along the grass verge and many small nesting holes among the roots below the hedgerows.
Lots of walkers, cyclists and a few runners.
Long Eared Owl – John Hansford
21st December 2017
– Winter Equinox –
Fieldfare – Winter – John Hansford
12th December 2017 – 11.05am – 12.35pm / 1 – 4 degrees Celsius / 34 – 39 degrees Fahrenheit / A bitterly cold morning but sunny; spreading contrails forming hazy cloud, thick hoar frost, still, no wind.
After the coldest night of the year (minus 4 degrees C here but minus 14 C farther north) the air was bitter but the sun was bright, lighting up tiny ice crystals in the tarmac which glistened and flashed like diamonds as we walked towards them; our boots crunching and crackling through solid icy puddles and scrunching over frost covered grass and leaves – it’s winter. It was so cold there were no signs of the usual foraging signals, diggings or scrapings in the grass alongside the path, the ground just too frozen, as hard as concrete despite the warmth of the sun.
We saw quite a lot of birds, but mostly in ones or twos, apart from a small flock of Redwings flying over and an extraordinary number of wood pigeons and rooks feeding on the stubble of a maize or millet crop which had been left, part cut, part still standing in seed on the side of a field. There were hundreds and hundreds of birds, feeding, rising, wheeling, sillouetted against the low sun, and settling again on the stubble, with more and more arriving as we watched, forming an almost unbroken sea of grey and black birds.
We don’t usually notice the distant Mendip Hills but the snow which fell two days ago was still lying in thick layers across the hills and drew the eye. It was interesting to contrast the snow covered hills with the fields surrounding Cranmore Tower, still high but low enough for the snow not to have settled but cold enough to coat the fields with thick white hoar frost.
About a dozen walkers, some with dogs (the golden and black Labradors racing around and play fighting) three runners but only one cyclist – probably the frosty path too treacherous for bicycles.
6th December 2017 – 1.15pm – 2.40pm / 9-12 C / 48-53 F / Overcast, cloudy, gloomy. Rain, strong cold wind.
Typical English winter’s afternoon, dismal and bleak with lowering charcoal grey clouds and spitting rain which, as the afternoon wore on, became a persistent and steady smirr (a singularly apt Scottish word for soft rain blowing in from the west straight off the Atlantic Ocean) driven by the strong winds, cloaking and obscuring the distant hedges and trees in a thick white mist. The brown teasel heads stand proud amidst the shrivelled plants and the hedges and trees are cloaked in elaborately tangled lengths of the fluffy seed heads of old man’s beard.
Not many signs of life. A couple of cyclists, a couple of walkers, the siren sounding long and loud from the stone quarry across the valley near Chantry and the sound of the guns from the local game shoot splutter in the nearby fields. Flocks of long-tailed tits and finches busy themselves amongst the bare branches of trees stark black and skeletal against the wintry sky, a couple of buzzards wheel and drift on the wind and pheasants scurry along the field edge away from the guns.
Lots of scrapings and diggings along the grass verge and innumerable animal pathways showing up clearly now that winter has come, their tunnels and worn tracks leading through the rough overgrown grass and up the embankment until lost from sight as they disappear into the thick undergrowth beneath the hedgerows.
As we walked back we could see the lights coming on in the un-curtained windows of the isolated farmhouses half hidden across the fields, welcoming dots of yellow glowing in the deepening gloom. Despite the inclement weather, it was still good to be outside and exhilarating to walk, feeling the cold wind and rain on our faces, away from the fug of the over-heated rooms of home.
29th November 2017 – 11.15am – 12.40pm / 4-6.5 C / 39-43.7 F / Cold, full sun, northerly wind, frosty ground, a film of ice on the puddles
Glorious cold and frosty morning, brilliant sunshine, crisp air, our footsteps crunch, crunch, crunching through the thick hoar frost clinging to the grass and painting the plants and fallen leaves snowy white. Sailing clouds sent flying across the bright azure blue sky by strong winds, the soughing so strong and loud through the leafless trees it sounded more like a muffled train engine than gusting wind and rivaled the farmer’s tractor engine in a distant field and the rumbling, clattering and clanking of his farm machinery.
Vigorous, deep diggings in the grass verges all along the side of the track showed clear signs of desperate searches for food after a freezing night. Lots of small tits and finches flashing about, a mewing buzzard circling overhead, the wonderful winter sight and harsh Kaah sound of flocks of rooks along with the chyak chyak jackdaws wheeling above the fields, the unexpectantly close cracking kra kra of the Jay and suddenly, out of nowhere, a flock of Fieldfares flying over at speed.
But by far the greatest joys of winter, along with the bare trees and rare days of strong sunshine, are the unexpected flashes of colour; the groups of beautiful goldfinches, strikingly marked – bright crimson, white and black faces with flashes of yellow on the wings, so many, flitting about the branches; more and more bullfinches in the trees, a couple of males, flying fast, their rose-red breasts glowing in the sunshine, vying with the clashing deep pink and bright orange berries of the spindle tree are pleasures surely to rival the best days of summer.
Lots and lots of cyclists, some in groups, many runners, one other walker.
23rd November 2017 – 10.15am – 11.53am / 8 – 10 C / 48-55 F / Strong cold, blustery wind, full sun.
As we began our walk, stepping out briskly with the clear, cold air on our faces, we heard a full peal of bells from Mells church ringing out, carried across the fields on the rough winds. There wasn’t very much to see as even the birds were keeping close to the undergrowth, well protected from the stiff breeze. A large flock of rooks rose up in the air cawing loudly, disturbed from their feeding amongst the fields of kale.
A few trees, an oak, several willows and a small leaved lime were the only ones with their dry and shrivelled leaves still clinging to their branches, save a domed hawthorn glowing gold against a blue sky under an arching rainbow, the rest of the trees bare and grey. The lack of leaves revealed the shining slate grey branches and trunks of the blackthorns with their sharp lethal looking thorns, the purple black sloes but a distant memory.
We met a delightful couple from Shepton Mallet with their small Airedale. They told us they walked the path most days, delighting in the wildlife. They had once seen a fox and frequently see roe deer actually on the path, and a badger close to the large sett near Kilmersden. They often lifted voles and slow worms off the path and back into the long grass to protect them, but when one day in early summer when there were lots of cyclists they moved a shrew, they were amused to glance back to find that it had returned exactly to the middle of the path where they had found it. They had also seen a stoat and weasels several times near the rusting old railway brake van and wondered if the weasels had a lair there.
One group of walkers with a guide and a good number of others, singlies or pairs, most with dogs, two horse riders, several cyclists and two runners.
16th November 2017 – 9.30am – 11.40am / 9-13 C / 48-55 F / Chilly. Thin hazy cloud, clearing to blue skies and full sun.
A cold wind and, once the cloud dispersed, warm bright sunshine – like ice cream with hot sauce – delicious! Splashes of cheerful colour from the golden leaves still clinging on to some of the trees, the beech hedge alight with fiery bronze, the strings of scarlet black bryony and the deeper red of the rose hips and hawthorn berries light up a scene which is almost entirely dull buff and brown.
We meet a men from Buckland Dinham who has been walking this stretch of countryside long before the cycle path was created. He said that the deer used the old railway line as a track-way and, following their path as he did, felt like entering a tunnel formed by the trees with the branches meeting overhead. He saw more birds in those days as it was much quieter and less frequented but far, far fewer flowers and butterflies. Most of the cowslips and the beds of purple and white violets only appeared after the clearing for the cycle path allowed more sunlight to reach the woodland floor. He talked about the great pleasure the area has given him over nearly fifty years, culminating in the precious sightight last year of a Grey Shrike catching bees and impaling them on a thorn, the first time he had ever seen that particular bird!
Stone with embedded enamel signs of Old English Apple Varieties by Bristol artists Liz Turrell and Imi Maufe marking the Linear Orchard of apple trees paying homage to Joseph Beuys’ 700 oaks.
As the morning moved on, the bright, warm sunshine attracted more and more runners, cyclists and walkers, many with dogs. A group of 6-8 or so quite elderly women, a walking party from the nearby village of Mells, came striding briskly along, the tap tapping of their Nordic poles announcing their presence long before their arrival and long after they had passed.
The warm sunshine seemed also to attract the hunters (or maybe attracted their prey to emerge from their nests and begin foraging). We watched two buzzards soaring high, high up in the sky whilst another circled gracefully, slowly, low down over the woods, mewing constantly. Then the Ravens appeared, three of them, soaring and floating, with only the occasional insouciant flap to keep them in flight, drifting effortlessly, playing on the wind, barking and croaking, communicating to each other about who knows what.
8th November 2017 – 1.20 pm – 3.30pm / 9 C / 48 F/ Bright and sunny; crisp air, blue skies, cold NNW wind.
Beautiful day, full warm sun, air fresh and crisp. We almost immediately met up with a keen birder whom we often see. He had been on the path since 9 o’clock and had enjoyed a very good morning’s sightings, seeing Kestrels, Redwings, Fieldfares, most of the tits and finches and even a skylark! He had also seen a Little Owl when out on Monday.
We all watched a young buzzard flying over, its markings striking in the bright sunlight, and talked about last year’s judicial decision that refusal by Natural England to allow shooting buzzards to protect game bird was illegal. The cycle path is surrounded by farm land partly managed for game shoots and soon after he arrived that morning he had seen the gamekeeper and his team of beaters driving the pheasants towards the guns on their pegs by the hedge. As the shooting season started on the 1st November we will be able to judge by the end of the season whether there are still any raptors left in the area; we love our pot pheasant but love to watch the buzzards more.
We said goodbye as he went off for lunch and walked on watching the occasional flocks of finches and groups of tits dashing around the trees and hedges, noting the almost complete dearth of flowers and absence of fungus. We watched a pair of Jackdaws flying over, one carrying what looked like nesting material in its beak and then suddenly caught sight of a grey field vole (short tailed vole) skittering and scampering at top speed from the edge of the grass verge where we had disturbed him through a gap in the tufts of long grass. We waited and waited and then spotted him again, scurrying along the side of the old rusty iron rail at the top of the embankment before he disappeared into the clumps of tangled grass and plants. He looked very fit and healthy with glossy coat and clear eyes and probably welcomed foraging in the hot sun after the cold and frosty night.
As we walked home along the path, the sun began to sink and lose its warmth, the sky was turning to a soft pale blue and milky white from the diffused clouds when a flock of 40 odd redwings flew across, silhouetted black against the pale wintry sky probably driven away from the pheasant shoot several fields away, the sound of their shotguns having peppered most of otherwise quiet afternoon walk. Amusing to think that less than a week ago we were desperate for a glimpse of the winter migrants and now they are everywhere!
2nd November 2017 – 2.15 pm – 4.10pm / 12-13 C / 53-55 F / Heavy grey cloud, intermittent sunny spells.
For weeks we have been searching the skies and trees and thickets hoping to see either Fieldfares or Redwings all to no avail until this afternoon and there they were – both species have at last arrived along the cycle path! The latest BirdTrack newsletter notes “Reports of Fieldfare have been lagging behind the historical average so far this autumn, but have started to arrive in numbers in the last week” although John Hansford tweeted as long ago as the 20th October that 5 Redwings had flown past his house and another 40 on the 28th! Whatever, it is just lovely that they are here to brighten up our autumn and winter walks and help compensate for lack of flowers and butterflies.
We crunch through dry leaves underfoot in every shade of copper and gold, enjoying the lively scarlet splashes of rose hips and the pink/purple guelder rose leaves whilst clouds of midges float around our heads and the scent of wood smoke hangs in the air. A tractor in the adjoining field rattles and rumbles along, pulling a line of small rollers, their linking chains clanking and chinking but not loud enough to drown out a pair of argumentative ravens on the edge of the wood or the mewing of two buzzards overhead being barked at by crows rising from the trees. The unseasonably warm weather has transformed the bare earth of the spider web field of only a week ago into a carpet of new green winter wheat.
As we returned back along the track the low pale autumn sun water-colour washed the sky with soft milky light, sillouetting flocks of gulls, jackdaws and rooks circling and gliding, following the plough in another field and the group of gulls forming a V as they headed south.
The late afternoon mists were beginning to form and hang low along the hedgerows and distant woods while the low sun lit the nearby bare trees with copper coloured light and turned the small puffs of cloud peachy-pink amongst the dark grey rain clouds almost cloaking the sky.
Half a dozen or so walkers and a handful of cyclists passed along the path.
25th October 2017 – 2.15 pm – 4.20pm / 19 C / 66 F / Beautifully warm, sunny, fine weather reportedly blown in from the Azores. Light breeze – mackerel sky.
It was an extraordinarily warm afternoon for late October. We noticed slightly increasing numbers of birds but they are still not plentiful and no sign of winter migrants, although redwings have been spotted close by. More plants still flowering on this more open, less shaded, stretch of the path and lots of fungus.
The afternoon sun in autumn seems to create a phenomenon which we have only noticed a couple of times before on grassland – uncountable numbers of tiny spiders webs stretching transversely from clod to clod of earth across the entire ploughed and harrowed field. Highlighted by the angle of the sunlight, the gossamer threads looked like a shifting, glittering cat’s cradle, a pathway of brightness across the dun coloured field – quite magical.
The unseasonably warm weather encouraged people to stop and chat – a couple of young women, one with a five week old baby tucked up snugly in a sling across her chest, Natasha Littlewood with friend and dogs (which sniff out the hedgehogs) who had a wonderful photograph of a roe deer spotted from the path which regretfully I was unable to transfer successfully to this page. The cycle path was busy with walkers, children on half term, cyclists of all shapes and ages, and we were struck by what a social space it is when listening to one walker telling us of a group of older people she knew who ring each other and meet up by the Mells Road station and walk together along the path.
22nd October 2017 – 1 pm – 3.10pm / 12c / 53f / Cloudy, strong cold wind, bursts of sunshine.
A blustery, invigorating walk along the path bordered by trees whose wind tossed branches were being thrashed by strong winds, the remains of the previous day’s storm blowing itself out. Occasional bursts of bright sunshine light up the turning leaves of gold, copper, bright Spring-like green and magenta against racing clouds of an ominous dirty grey, filled with rain, chasing rags and wisps of white silver-light edged puffs across deep blue skies. It felt good to be alive.
The water course, the bone dry bed of which we had walked down only ten days or so ago, was now flowing full and fast for the first time since the Spring, tumbling over small waterfalls, pushing past wodges of sodden leaves and fallen sticks, racing downhill. The sound of the water together with the wonderful chattering of jackdaws, cawing of rooks and crows and ravens and the trails and clumps of fungus signalled autumn was well and truly here.
We were surprised to see such an extraordinary number of vibrantly coloured Red Admiral butterflies and wondered if these were newly arrived migrants rather than a late brood.
We chatted to one couple who alerted us to the funnel fungus on the banks below the badger setts. They were saddened that the bee orchid (one of the tallest, many flowered they had ever seen) had been slashed down by the machine which keeps the sides of the cycle path clear and we talked about the Medlar which we had noticed had suffered a similar fate. A few cyclists but lots of walkers and runners.
Fairy Ink Caps
10th October 2017 – 10.30am-12.35pm / 16-17c / 60-62f / Cloudy, overcast, chilly bursts of sunshine, fine rain showers.
Leaves turning, billows of white smoke from a large bonfire rising above fields barren of any signs of life, drifting and lost in the upper branches of the trees, a blustery wind soughing through the oaks and hawthorns, hazel, ash and maples, showering us with a confetti of golden leaves swirling around our heads and laying a copper carpet at our feet.
A considerable number of snuffle holes along the path side verges below the banks of badger setts, several grey squirrels scampering about up and down the trees, and flocks of tits flitting through the trees tweeting vociferously. Clumps and scatterings of fungus lie amongst the leaf litter, a single butterfly and a large hornet spotted as we walk along. The hornet is probably a queen given its size, possibly drinking the nectar of the ivy flowers which we understand hornets like as well as feeding on caterpillars. Mature ivy, prolific along the Way, must be one of the few wild plants to flower in the autumn, a boon for bees and butterflies and many other insects.
We saw a dead pheasant’s head on the path with no sign of its body or any feathers close by. Some people say this is a sign of foxes, others owls or birds of prey, yet others mink but who can tell. A dead squirrel thrown into the ditch at the side of the path – no sign that any attempt had been made to eat it.
Two horse riders. clip clopping, ambling along, a sprinkling of cyclists, several walkers with dogs. We chatted to a man in his 70s who had cycled over from Peasedown St John via Radstock – a return journey of some 14-15 miles. He urged us to take our bicycles to the park and ride at Bath and take the cycle path along his favourite ride, from Bath to Bitton, and sometimes on to Bristol.
Common Lizards – John Hansford
8th October 2017 It has been a brilliantly clear sunny autumn day with temperatures between 13-15 C / 55-50 F and there’s new email from John Hansford with some really interesting sightings and a wonderful photograph of two lizards (we have never seen more than one at a time or managed to photograph one!) Exciting to see the flocks of sky larks and bullfinches and to see the meadow pipits arriving for over wintering – a real autumn scene. We have also been noticing the increasing numbers of ladybirds just recently. John says :
“I attach a photo of 2 of the 3 Common Lizards seen from the cycle path this afternoon. Butterflies – 1 Comma, 1 Peacock, 1 Large White, 2 Speckled Wood, 6 Red Admirals. Birds – Winter flocks of Sky Larks building up with a group of 18 seen flying over the path as well at least 12 Bullfinches. The first Meadow Pipits of the Autumn have arrived. It was also noticeable that there were many Ladybirds around today, more than I have seen for a long time.”
Common Darter Dragonfly
3rd October 2017 9.50am-12.05pm / 12-14 C / 53-57 F / Bright, sunny morning. Cold wind, blue skies, the sun hot in sheltered spots
Although the cold wind and crisp air signalled autumn, the sun was warm enough to make the walk along the path wonderfully invigorating. The cheerful song of the many robins marking their territory and shouting at all the other robins to “get off my land” accompanied us along the way reminding us of the season as did the kaah and jack jack of the crows, rooks and jackdaws and the rusty croak of the raven.
A surprising number of plants still in flower, which must be very welcome to the bees and several butterflies we spotted, although the butterflies looked rather forlorn, flying all alone, the comma settled on a buddleia leaf as if waiting for the flowers to appear, although more likely to be just soaking up the sun.
Lots of cyclists (including a party of 8-10), lots of runners, and lots of walkers, all enjoying the bright, crisp sunny morning.
26th September 2017 2.05pm – 4.10pm / 17-18 C/62-64 F /Hazy sun, very humid, the air still and quiet.
The aromatic scents rising from the sun-warmed damp plants, flowers and mosses and filling the air as we walk along are quite heady, a sweet flower perfume intermingled with the sharp scent of wood smoke and the deep intense scent of wet grass and herbs – quite wonderful. The last remaining summer flowers are still lingering on, some with a second flowering, but apart from two or three small whites and a small tortoiseshell, there were no butterflies. It’s difficult not to mourn the final passing of summer when the memory of hot sun, warm air filled with butterflies and banks and glades full of flowers is still so alive and vivid.
The field maple leaves are almost entirely yellow now, the hawthorn leaves splashing ruddy-red like the wild cherry and the hornbeam seed-heads, hanging like upside-down-pagodas, have turned dark gold.
We stood watching a flock of chaffinches and buntings flying between the trees and bushes, acting almost like flycatchers, darting and swooping out of the branches snatching the tiny insects swarming in the still air, while a buzzard circles overhead and a raven’s deep throaty croak echoes across the autumn fields.
Lots and lots of cyclists, mostly oldies, a couple of women with their dog, a keen ornithologist from Radstock taking photographs with a plate camera on a tripod and a young woman, baby in sling, were the only other walkers. She was searching and calling for Flossie her English pointer who had disappeared into the thick undergrowth and despite us all shouting and whistling Flossie seemed determined to hide! She was found eventually – a beautiful bitch, white and cream.
Commas on Buddleia
19th September 2017 10.40am-1.10pm / 12-15 c/53-50 f / Sunny, light breeze, cool in the shade.
These days leading up to the Autumn Equinox signal the change of seasons – the sun is still hot but the air cool, there are butterflies around but fewer and the banks of flowers, trees and hedgerows have a decided autumnal feel – seed heads, berries and nuts replacing flowers, leaves on the Wych Elm turning pink and yellow, the Wild Cherry splashing orange and deep crimson and the borders of rose bay willow herb turning scarlet red, while the drone of a farm machine cutting the field hedges, tidying up before winter, drifts across the path and the contrast between the brown earth of the newly ploughed fields and the green grass lines cutting through the golden stubble is most striking. Black bryony’s skeins of yellow, orange and red berries are draped across the hedgerow like garlands of early Christmas decorations and the hips and haws are flaunting their profusion, sure to attract the Fieldfares and Redwings, due to arrive any time soon.
A dense mass of flowering ivy had attracted lots of wasps, one of whom was caught in a spider’s web but eventually managed to extricate itself and fly away. A delicate white downy feather lay beside a path winding through a stretch of moss, grass and low growing plants, drops of dew still clinging and sparkling in the sunlight. Occasional scattered clumps of feathers showed that some predator had managed a good meal.
A steady stream of cyclists in mufti and a few bikras, lots of runners with dogs and several walkers, enjoying the last traces of summer.
Simplicity – Oak Bench by Yumiko Aoyagi
12th September 2017 – 11am – 12.45pm: / 15-16 C / 55-60 F: Cloudy, light shower, chilly north-westerly wind and bright, sunny intervals.
We had not expected to see many, if any, butterflies after the cold winds, heavy rain and thunder storms of recent days but were even more astonished to see the comma, small copper and silver washed fritillary. Although there were speckled woods and whites all along the path, the remainder of butterflies were feeding amongst the flowers in an open glade, almost entirely enclosed by tall trees and shrubs, where the brief spells of surprisingly hot sunlight warmed the clearing which was completely sheltered from the blustery winds.
The cycle path under the trees was strewn with hazel nuts, acorns and small twigs blown down by the wind, the acorn cups fresh and clean, the acorns white through green to brown and the hazel nuts milky cream in their sheathes of bright green. Among the acorns, an aborted brown knopper oak gall, a small hole showing where the hatched lava emerged. Interesting to think that an English Oak doesn’t produce acorns until it is 40 years old.
Many considerate cyclists and only one other walker – the young man exercising his silver grey Siberian husky. When I said it was the first time I had seen the dog running free without pulling him along on his skate board, he said it was much too hot in summer but also that he was training him at the moment to be off the lead – he needed to be extremely watchful now there were pheasants about. He is a magnificent looking dog with striking colouring, piercing blue eyes and immensely fit.
Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar – Rebecca Muirhead
9th September 2017 – 9.10 – 11.30am / 13-16c / 55-60f / Sunny, fresh, blustery.
Newly harrowed earth neighbouring golden stubbled fields, a church tower rising proud among green, heavily leafed trees and hedges, lines of stately poplars quiet in the warm sunshine despite the blustery winds and rain clouds building on the horizon threatening the clear blue sky, the air fresh carrying the merest hint of the chill months to come. A classic English autumn scene.
The plants are heavy and bowed with brown seed heads, the shrubs laden with fruits, scarlet and purple berries, skeins of green, red and yellow black bryony winding through the branches. Before us the cycle path, winding and stretching for mile after mile, disappearing into the distance. The perfect morning for an amble.
Some bees and a few butterflies are still busy although the blues and bees have thinned out drastically. A Surprising number of plants are still in bloom, including some second flowerings, with many shrubs and climbers showing flowers, buds and fruit on the same plant but the profusion and sheer abundance of the summer flowers all along this particular stretch of the cycle path is becoming a distant memory. Half a dozen swallows fly low over the newly harrowed fields where a flock of jackdaws, rooks and wood pigeons are feeding. Many more birds around, some we see more are hidden and we only catch their song. It was good to see the elephant hawk moth caterpillar for the second year running although we have yet to see the moth.
A huge number of runners and cyclists (including bikras and the increasingly rare bell-birds) during the first hour or so with the occasional walkers, some with children and pushchairs, all enjoying the welcome sunshine after days of sullen skies and rain storms.
2nd September 2017 – 9.30am – 11.45am: / 15-19c / 59-66f / Fine, hot sun, air fresh, cloudless blue skies. Later cumulus clouds floated in
A beautiful late summer/early autumn morning – the sun hot, the air still and fresh. A buzzard began bothering rooks in the poplar trees around the pond, setting off a huge cacophony of annoyance from the rooks – he gave up and flew on. We heard a good deal more bird song and for the first time for months saw lots of mostly juvenile pheasants.
All along the path the trees and shrubs are showing that this is a bumper year for fruit and seeds: fat ripe elder berries, sloes, haws, rose hips, blackberries, hazel nuts, seeds thick on the hornbeam and field maple, thistles and rose bay willow herb, the dogwood branches scattered with unopened flower buds and black berries. There were honey bees and bumble-bees, heads down, tails in the air, feeding on the flowers of the scotch thistle, scabious and white dead nettle and butterflies, mostly whites and speckled woods, still hunting amongst the trees and the diminishing number of flowers.
Lots of cyclists, bikras, mums, dads, children, youths, and runners singlies or in groups, many quite elderly, several walkers, some with dogs.
Garden Warbler – John Hansford
27th August 2017 An email from John Hansford who writes: “At least 2 broods of Garden Warblers were successfully fledged along the cycle path this Summer although they are never easy to see. Reed Bunting and Sedge Warbler again held territories on Mells Down this Year.” This is really exciting news as although we have seen Garden Warblers earlier in the year we have never seen Reed Buntings or Sedge Warblers.
25th August 2017 – 3pm – 5.10pm / 23c / 73f / Fine, hot sun, cumulus clouds
A beautiful summer’s afternoon, the sun hot and worthy of late August. Fewer butterflies but there seemed to be slightly more birds than of late, flitting through the shrubbery.
It is the fag end of the flowering season although a surprising number of plants are still in flower and there are great tracts of flowers like the rose bay willow herb and the thistles gone to seed and every gust of wind brought a drift of thistledown through the air.
Initially lots of cyclists, a pretty constant stream, some bikras – heads down going hell for rubber, some mums and dads and children, some couples and several pre-teenage boys cycling unaccompanied. Later fewer cyclists and more walkers.
We chatted to the ornathologist John Hansford who had spotted several butterflies we had missed, including a Brown Argus which we had never seen. He had also seen three red kites flying across the path going south towards the wooded Cranmore Tower direction. Frustrating to think that while we are peering down and attempting to identify a flower no larger than the head of a pin, red kites, goshawks, hobbies etc could all be flying overhead totally unnoticed!
Red Kite – John Hansford
Now the fungus season is upon us, it might be worth mentioning again the Field Study Council’s charts which the environmentalist from the Somerset Environmental Records Centre in Taunton recommended to us and which we have found them so useful. Identification charts
19th August 2017 – 2.15pm – 4.05pm: 18c / 64f / Sunshine and cloud – very strong westerly wind
We chose the woodland walk up from Buckland Bridge, whose trees offer protection from the strong wind, so there were few flowers. Most notable were the vivid splashes of colour of the fox and cubs (orange hawkweed) golden corn marigold, red legs, pink mallow and the beautiful fall of the deep red and cream Himalayan honeysuckle, whilst lilac coloured teasels and white enchanters nightshade flowers lit up the dark undergrowth.
Long skeins of black bryony berries, like small fat glossy grapes lit from within, clung and entwined through the shrubs and the incredible wild clematis some of whose plants climbed to an extraordinary height, 30 feet or more, high up into the tree tops, scenting the air with their faint subtle smell of almonds.
Walking through the ash grove (that most beautiful of trees, tall and graceful, whose pinnate leaves give flickering sunlight rather than dense shade) we crunched across fallen twigs and hazel nuts brought down by the high winds mixed with the empty shells of last year’s harvest and looked up at the ash leaves, 50 feet or so above us, beautifully lit by the full sunlight against a clear blue sky, being tossed and thrashed by the wind.
When leaning on the five barred gate watching half a dozen or so swallows skimming inches from the grass meadow, feeding on insects and performing their usual extraordinary aerobatics, a small herd of 25-30 black and white heifers climbed up through a gap in the hedgerow to check us out. So curious they came within inches of our faces, pushing and shoving each other to get a closer look. Beautifully healthy looking beasts with good strong sturdy bodies, their glossy black coats looking as if they were freshly brushed. Very few butterflies – meadow browns and speckled woods – the stream bed completely dry despite weeks of rain. Lots of fungi, including shaggy ink cap and common earth ball.
Grain field being harvested
15th August 2017 : 1.45pm – 4.20pm / 20 c / 68 f / Fine, sunny, brisk south-westerly wind
Fewer flowers in bloom and far fewer butterflies. Lots of honey bees busily feeding. The farmer arrived with a cheery wave to continue harvesting the barley field which had been left, presumably due to rain, half cut.
It felt wonderful to stroll along in the hot sun after so many weeks of rain and cold with only the occasional bright spell. The banks of tall rose bay willow herb now mostly fluffy with seeds with just the tips still showing their bright magenta spikes of flowers and the huge, fat heads of the thistles, some like pin cushions about to flower, some already also sending their seeds onto the wind. Wandering along the path which winds through the low shrub and grassy area, scattered with bright pink centaury, purple self-heal, yellow hawkweed and bird’s food trefoil disturbing the dancing common blue butterflies flickering around beneath our feet, fluttering from flower to flower. And finally taking our rest, sitting on the oak puzzle bench watching the silver washed fritillaries, red admirals, peacocks and small white butterflies chasing each other through the branches laden with rosy red apples, alighting on the nearby buddleia to feed on the last remaining half a dozen or so flower heads. Such quietude.
Reasonably steady stream of cyclists – lots of single men and a few family groups. Good number of walkers, parents with children, couples and singles, some with dogs. Chatted to a regular cyclist who was walking today about the huge grass snake he saw last year (at least 3-4 ft long) by Conduit bridge and how few cyclists he thought there were today compared to yesterday. He also commented on the group of visitors from Babington House we could see reading the Sustrans guide – he said he always recognised them by their bicycles. Chatted to a keen bird watcher we often meet about the nightingales we heard in May/June along the Way.
10th August 2017 : 10.45 am – 1.15pm / 17 c / 62 f / Fine and sunny after a succession of lows and heavy rain.
Most of the rose hips still green, but some are already red, the haws bright red, elderberries black and ripening fast, sloes purple and fattening, apples larger and redder, the berries on the wayfaring tree both red and black, hazel nuts ripening. Lots of plants still flowering although very many fewer than a few weeks ago.
Lots of cyclists: groups of racing lycras mixed with single and couple potterers, a good many walkers including a man who had cycled from Frome to Château-Gontier in France (raising £1,500 in support of Frome’s Missing Links) and his wife. We chatted about the number and huge variety of plants, butterflies and birds to be seen along the Way and how very much we all hoped that one day sufficient funds can be raised to complete the missing link between Buckland Bridge and Frome.
Leaf Beetle (bloody-nosed beetle?)
31st July 2017 – 10.30pm – 12.10pm / 17 c / Cloudy, sunny intervals, chilly wind.
Cool with a very decided feeling of autumn arriving in July in the air and on the ground. The flowers are going over rapidly and the fruits are already ripening. The number of butterflies has dramatically reduced since last week but increased slightly as the sun came out. Large puddles on the edges of the fields, still wet in places underfoot from constant rain storms; rain soaked oak benches and apples trees so laden with red blushed fruit the branches were drooping under the weight; the dogwood berries green and fattening.
Almost every head of scabious and thistle has its fat red tailed and buff tailed bumble bee or honey bee buried nose down, bums in the air feeding voraciously.
A steady number of walkers and cyclists caching a brief spell of fine weather between the frequent rain storms of the past weeks.
24th July 2017 : 2.30pm – 5.50pm / 21-23 c / Cloudy and humid but with bursts of dazzling sunlight. Strong wind battering the treetops above the protection of the path. Some fields have already been ploughed.
We were surprised, as always, by the sheer number of different species of flowering plants, trees and shrubs along the short section of the path from Conduit bridge to the oak picnic bench. Not so surprisingly, they were swarming with butterflies and bees – particularly the stately woolly thistles, some as tall as 5 feet or more with over 20 blooms. Each flower head had a bee feasting on the pollen, burrowed so deep it was almost lost to sight amongst the petals. Not surprisingly, the thistles have outstripped the oak saplings. One sapling, a mere 2 feet high, was already supporting 15 or so marble galls.
We chatted with a couple from Peasedown who cycled this stretch of route 24 on a regular basis. Although the Strawberry Line was a particular favourite, they had over the years cycled most of the rail trails in the south west and we talked about the sheer number of butterflies and the newly opened Brean Down Way which they were keen to explore.
Schools have broken up for the summer holidays so there were several groups of children with mums and dads. A gaggle of girls racing along excitedly swaying on their flicker scooters and four boys around 8 to 10, bicycles abandoned on the path, chasing crickets and grasshoppers and searching for lizards in the long grass beside a stretch of rail high up on the bank. The boys told us they had captured several common lizards, including a baby, and one boy came up and showed us a bush cricket perched, apparently contentedly, on the back of his hand. Heart-warming to see their interest and animation and imagining that these may be the naturalists or biologists of the future.
We were extremely distressed to notice a rather mangy looking rabbit in the grass beside the path, obviously blind, although not weeping or suppurating around the eyes. It was seemingly unaware of our presence, just half-heartedly nibbling on the grass, so possibly deaf as well. Presumably suffering from myxomatosis – horrifying to think that it could take up to 14 days to die.
If it wasn’t for the hot sun and number of butterflies, it felt more like the end of August than the end of July, with conkers the size of golf balls, apples red-blushed and ripening, sloes fattening and purpling and blackberries ready to be picked. Everywhere looked a little dusty and frowsy, despite the recent rain.
Passing fresh deer prints and following a butterfly into the undergrowth, I just missed stepping on a slow worm which disappeared with a speed which led me to think that he had been grossly misnamed!
Lots and lots of cyclists. Three other walkers (apart from groups of children and parents) one with a dog.
17th July 2017 – 2.30pm – 3.50pm / 23-24 c / Hot, humid, still, with occasional light breeze. Hazy sun, some thin cloud.
We walked with butterflies – dozens and dozens – uncountable numbers of them, fluttering around our heads as we strolled along. The bramble flowers, buddleia, trees and wild flowers swarmed with hunting and feeding butterflies. Quiet. An almost complete dearth of birds.
A small oak sapling, about 6 feet high, with at least 24 marble galls. The stream completely bone dry, despite heavy rainfall less than a week ago. Overall it has been a very dry spring and summer so far this year.
A reasonable number of cyclists, two horse riders (woman and boy) the fine looking, beautifully groomed horse and pony’s hooves were having difficulty maintain traction on the steeply descending tarmac path and every so often were slipping. One other walker with dog.
Silver-washed Fritillary on buddleia
14th July 2017 : 2.45pm – 5.10pm / 19c / Warm and sunny, cloudy skies, gusty fresh wind.
The most striking sight was the sheer quantity and variety of butterflies. So many silver-washed fritillary, red admiral, peacock, gatekeeper, ringlet, small blue, comma, large and small white swarming and feeding on the clumps of buddleia and banks of flowers all along the Way making the walk in the warm sun and sharp scent of wood-smoke a delight. We also saw what might possibly have been a female silver-washed fritillary of the form valezina, which has the same pattern but is differently colour. As we have never seen one of these before and didn’t take a photograph, it was impossible to be sure.
Long skeins of cream star like flowers and green berries of the white bryony cling and climb up the hawthorn trees and form long tangles amongst the brambles. Ripe blackberries, green blackberries, red blackberries and blackberries in flower, apples ripening and showing red, hazel nuts well formed, lords and ladies orange red berried hints that even in midsummer autumn is not far away. The fields of barley which range in colour from green through straw and buff to dark sienna are whirled and tossed by the gusty wind. Barely any birdsong now that the breeding
Lots of cyclists, couples, singlies, all in summer casuals – no lycra – just all ages out enjoying a leisurely summer afternoon’s ride in the sunshine. No other walkers.
3rd July 2017: 2.45pm –5.20pm/ 20 c / Sunny, strong breeze, blue sky, some clouds.
A tractor is cutting silage (two buzzards circling overhead) in a field hidden by thick hedges, sending a wonderfully sharp scent of newly cut hay wafting across the fields and filling the air all along the Way; unbelievably quiet when the engine cuts out. Massed clouds of meadow browns swarming over the brambles and hedgerows, clouds of hoverflies in a sunny clearing.
St John’s wort berries turning apple red, elder berries just forming, fat green berries on the black bryony, green-yellow acorns swelling, green and orange berries on the lords and ladies. Dearth of bird song, very noticeably quieter than even a few weeks ago.
Two environmentalists from the Somerset Environmental Records Centre, Taunton, were surveying the plants and butterflies from the Conduit bridge to Buckland Bridge and one recommended the Field Studies Council publications** for ease of identification. Four walkers (a couple with baby, 1 with dog), steady stream of single cyclists, one pair.
Sitting on the oak puzzle bench under the apple trees soaking up the warm late afternoon sun, wonderfully tranquil and peaceful. It’s a perfect summer’s day, quiet with only the sound of occasional bird song, watching butterflies and moths flittering across the plants and up into the trees and all is well.
Marbled white butterfly feeding on scabious
26th June 2017: 9.55am – 11.30m / 20 c / Fine, clear blue sky, contrails spreading and covering wide areas of the sky, cumulus clouds building on the horizon. Hot, burning sun, fresh cool breeze.
Perfect, idyllic summer morning. Fresh, fine and sunny, flower filled banks, clouds of butterflies after the dearth of only a few days ago. Lots of birds dashing around the bushes and tree tops, frequent alarm calls so the increased number of birds could include this year’s fledglings.
Hawthorn berries, rosehips, apples and blackberries all fattening and showing red. The banks are filled with pale straw coloured grasses ripening in the full sun, mixed with white moon daisies, violet blue meadow cranesbill, mauve scabious, yellow agrimony, drifts of cloudy white hedge bedstraw, clumps of purple knapweed, all swarming with a great variety of summer butterflies.
A steady stream of cyclists – singlies, pairs, small groups; a couple of other walkers.
Moth feeding on bladder campion
– Summer Solstice –
21st June 2017: 0.55am – 12.30pm / 29-30c / Hot. Slight cool breeze, thin hazy cloud.
Extremely hot – burning sun. There were fewer butterflies overall as typically happens in the June dip, a noticeable exception was seeing so many marbled whites for the first time. The June dip always seems counter intuitive as the summer plants are flowering at their peak. We spotted a small colony of mining bees burrowing around in the sandy soil by the picnic bench and watched bees diving in and disappearing while others flew out of separate holes.
The archive article on the wildflowers on railway embankments in 1914 made interesting reading, particularly noticing how many of the species like poppies, rock rose, horse shoe vetch, fennel etc are absent from our very similar positioned south facing embankment.
A great relief that the embankments here are not subjected to falling cinders from locomotive fireboxes which was a common summer problem then when the cinders used to set fire to the dry grasses all along the embankments during hot the weather, causing widespread devastation and leaving the embankments burnt black and bare. [See Cuttings Footnote 7 at the bottom of the page]
Dozens of cyclists, pairs and singlies in their racing lycra as well as couples (several of the girls in summer frocks and straw hats perched on sit-up-and-beg bicycles). A couple (the man in a mobility scooter) and young son only other walkers.
18th June 2017: 2.20pm – 4.00pm / 27-28 c / Hot, humid, partial shifting clouds, occasional cool breeze
A prodigous number of small heath butterflies everywhere, particularly swarming and feeding around the privet and meadowsweet, often 5-8 butterflies on each clump.
A strong, sweet herby scent of sun warmed grasses and flowers drifts on the air from the meadows and banks, the heat also strengthening the scent of privet blossom, elder flowers and meadowsweet. The green berries on the black bryony are already beginning to fatten. Only two other walkers and two cyclists – extraordinarily quiet.
The sleeper picnic bench by the flight of memorial bricks is wonderfully positioned under the dappled shade of the ash and oak trees to catch every breeze wafting through the 15 feet or so gap in the hedge. A perfect place for summer picnics. The gap also opens up an idyllic view on the horizon of the old Rectory where Leonard Woolf stayed whilst visiting his friend the Rector of St Mary Magdalene Church, Great Elm.
A great deal of thought has been given to the positioning of all the single, puzzle and sleeper picnic benches along the Way. The oak puzzle bench under the apple trees near the entrance from Great Elm is positioned to catch the full sun in the spring and autumn, whilst others offer welcome shade on hot summer days.
Burnet moth feeding on scabious
13th June 2017: 2.15m – 4.50pm / 20-22c / Hot sun, very warm, blue Magritte skies with floating white clouds.
Beds of birds-foot-trefoil quivering, so thick are they with so many bees. Butterflies and bees swarming and feeding over blossoming trees, shrubs and flower filled banks. Lots of burnet moths, three together on the newly opened head of a knapweed flower. Long skeins of white bryony and dog roses climbing, entwining and cascading over trees and shrubs. The path busy with cyclists and runners; 3 other walkers.
7th June 2017 : 11.30am – 2.20pm / 15-16c / Fine, cool but sunny, gusting strong wind
Several fields beside the path thick with deep yellow buttercups and rusty red sorrel, waving grasses and swathes of moon daisies, mixed with deep blue meadow cranesbill and purple self-heal under sunny, cloudless blue skies – views which shout that summer has arrived! A female roe deer, having found a sheltered spot beside a hedge, is basking in the sunshine, her head popping up above the buttercups to check on us.
A steady stream of cyclists swish and whizz past, almost entirely singlies; 3 walkers. Strong, gusty winds but quiet between the hedgerows and very warm in the sun, fresh and cool in the wind. Wonderfully quiet. Increasing numbers of many varieties of fungi.
Meadow Brown feeding on Moon Daisies
1st June 2017 : 12.05pm – 4.20pm / 22c / Fine, breezy afternoon, mostly sunny, intermittent cloud.
We were so heartened to hear the nightingales again, still in the same area on either side of the path, filling the air with their song. As we stood listening, cyclists passed, the swish of their wheels making a soothing accompaniment to the birdsong and not at all disturbing we imagine to the birds. This stretch of the path is cocooned between dense trees and scrub so all sound is enhanced and echoes. The plants and shrubs are coming into summer flowering and innumerable numbers of bees of every size and colour are everywhere, wherever you look, swarming over hedges and banks and verges, burying their faces into the masses of newly opened flower heads.
One other solitary walker but lots and lots of cyclists. A large party of 15-20 cyclists (oldies with foldies), parents with young children (some cycling independently some being pulled or atttached to a parent’s bicycle) singles, couples, some stopping to picnic, all enjoying the peace and the welcome sunshine.
Nightingale [Kev Chapman]
23rd May 2017 : 2.15pm – 5.10pm / 22 c / High cloud, drizzle, strong breeze, clearing to cumulous clouds in blue skies and hot sun
The highlight of our day and year so far, was listening to the nightingales. We were walking back in the late afternoon, foot weary from having walked really too far, the sun hot on our backs and measuring the distance to the next picnic bench, when we heard first one and then two nightingales on either side of the path. The first was quieter and stopped soon after we arrived but the other, hidden in a dense thicket of bramble backing onto a deep hedge, surrounded by shrubs almost covering the path, singing his rich and varied song, non-stop, loudly and quite magically.
We walked stealthily up and down the path searching the undergrowth but we didn’t even catch a glimpse. It seemed impossible not to spot the bird when he must have been so close, but the thicket was wide and the undergrowth was so tangled we couldn’t see anything at all. We listened, quite enchanted, for more than ten minutes until a couple of walkers arrived with their dogs and as soon as the dogs barked, the nightingale stopped singing and we reluctantly moved on.
22nd May 2017 : 11.30am – 2.30pm / 19-22c / Sunny, breezy, high cloud clearing to full, hot sun.
Beautiful May day, hot sun, cool breeze, the air filled with birdsong and the scent of wild flowers. Slight flow and trickle of water in the stream after days of rain. Fields carpeted with golden buttercups and islands of white moon daisies, clouds of cow parsley edging the path. Hawthorn flowers almost all over, no apple blossom – the season so very fleeting.
We lost count of the number of cyclists there were so many – in ones, twos, groups, tandems, all ages (although mostly 20s-30s) and sexes (pretty evenly between men and women). Two walkers.
Early Purple Orchids
9th May 2017 : 1.55pm – 4.15pm / 12-13c / Full sun, light cool breeze – hot in sheltered spots
Still no rain, the stream completely dry apart from a few puddles. Apple trees still in blossom, still scenting the air. Noticeably greener and thicker leaves on trees and hedges, dappled shade making the paths look wonderfully summery.
Some dozen or so cyclists, including a couple riding a tandem with a baby trailer attached and a dog running alongside! A couple of walkers. Very, very quiet and tranquil.
Heritage apple tree blossom
2nd May 2017 : 10.30am – 12.10pm / 12-14 c /Mainly sunny to patchy cloud. Light breeze.
Hot in the sun – a perfect May morning.
Still very dry. The apple trees are thick with blossom and swarming with bees, the hot sun deepening the heavenly, heady scent, perfuming the air. Noticeably greener and thicker leaves on the trees and hedges.
Very busy with lots of cyclists, runners and a few walkers. A young graphic artist who worked from home said he thought Colliers Way was as good a stretch of countryside as anywhere. Although he enjoyed competitive distance running, he still tried to take a break from his computer to walk along the path, to enjoy some fresh air and exercise and clear his mind. Another walker who came every day said he particularly loved the long stretch of the embankment towards Radstock where there were so many rabbits and the smaller bank towards Geat Elm which in the summer is a mass of wild flowers, butterflies and bees. He had noticed an increasing number of deer.
25th April 2017: 1.50pm – 3.30pm / 8-9 c / Full sun, cold northerly wind, warm under the protection of the trees .
Very quiet, the bitterly cold, strong northerly wind deterring cyclists. Still very dry. The stream reduced to barely a trickle, completely dry by Newbury Firs. Most trees in leaf, field crops haze of green.
A few walkers, including an older couple from Midsummer Norton and a woman from Warminster walking with her rescue dog who chatted enthusiastically about the cuckoos she listened to regularly in the woods near Warminster.
All three said how much they envied Frome for having such a quiet haven for wildlife so close to the town as there was nothing similar anywhere near where they lived, nor close to Salisbury where a daughter lived. The couple said they had seen yellow hammers and tree creepers and met a local ornithologist earlier in their walk who had seen a Goshawk flying above the trees. They also talked about the number of badgers and foxes along the banks and one of the women remembered her father talking about the badgers along this stretch and all agreeding about how long the badgers had been there and how they were using the same setts.
18th April 2017 : 12.45pm – 3.50pm / 10-12 c / Full sun, blue skies, hot sheltered from the wind.
Particularly beautiful as most of the flowering trees are now in full blossom, basking in the hot sun and scenting the air – wild cherry, blackthorn and heritage apples trees all along the way. Very dry. Most trees in leaf, fields a haze of newly emerging green crops.
Lots of cyclists and walkers enjoying the hot sunshine. Mums, dads, children, as well as singles, pairs and groups. A husky – pulling the young man skateboarder – as eager and fast as ever.
We passed two young men who, having travelled from Bristol to Bath by train, were now walking from Bath to Frome along the Way. They talked about the increase in red kite sightings in the south west and hoped one day these would match the close quarters views of them seen whilst walking in Wales. An older couple (the man newly retired) from Paulton had joined the Way at Kilmersden and had seen several yellow hammers today and a magnificent roe deer stag by the pond the last time they walked the path.
We were lucky enough to meet Rob Beale by the puzzle bench. He had also seen yellow hammers, common white throats, lesser whitethroats, linnets and blackcaps although he thought it was quite a quiet day overall for bird sightings. He recommended a very useful and free Bird Sounds app which can be downloaded from Google: https://play.google.com/store /apps/details?id=com.luminousapps.ukbirdssounds&hl=en_G
We were then joined by an old ornithologist friend of his, Dan Lupton, and enjoyed a most interesting exchange of birds seen, where and when in the area of the Way. Whilst chatting and soaking up the sun a dunnock perched on the apple tree beside us, several swallows flew over and a skylark sang as it soared over the fields!
Dan will be leading a bird walk in Frome on May 6th in support of F.R.O.G.S. Check out their website for details: http://www.fromefrogs.org.uk
Buff tailed bumblebee
11th April 2017: 11.45am – 1.30pm /12-13 c / Sunny intervals, cloudy – cold, gusty breeze.
Stream sluggish at the bridge, a trickle by the steps, dry at the top. Hare field ploughed and harrowed.
Easter Holidays so lots and lots of cyclists, young men, pre-teens, older men, cycling alone or in pairs; dads and sons, mum and children with bicycles picnicking at the bench by the steps.
Young woman lunching at Mells Café having cycled from Bath, before cycling back along Colliers Way. She regularly cycled the Bath-Bristol path.
5th April 2017 : 11.05am – 12.45pm / 11-12 c /
Quiet and peaceful spring morning, the cool air full of birdsong and the scent of wood smoke. After a dry month of March, the stream is parched in parts, trickling in others, but the lack of rain means the soggy bottom bench is completely dry!
Easter Holidays. Lots of cyclists, walkers with dogs, couples, mums with push chairs and mums with children.Sat soaking up the sun on one of the oak puzzle benches, watching the butterflies, chatting to a young couple (originally from Devon) who have moved back to the West Country after some years working and living in London. Having just discovered Colliers Way they are enjoying exploring the path on foot while they look for suitable bicycles.
3rd April 2017 : 10.30am – 12.45pm / 12-13 c / Sunny. Strong, cold, southerly wind.
Banks and banks of blackthorn, wild cherry and pussy willow in full flower, a wonderful sight against the blue skies lit by the strong sun.
We had a long chat with two keen and knowledgeable ornithologists from Coleford (John Hansford and Rob Beale). They had seen linnets, marsh tits, blackcaps and kestrels, etc etc this morning and had in previous summers seen firecrests, yellow hammers, white throats (as many as 80 in the fields) hobbies (breeding nearby) wheatears, lapwings and spotted flycatchers, and many others, including nightingales.
They also mentioned that the broad thicket of mixed shrubs and deciduous trees fronted by an open grassy area between Mells Road and the bridge was, they believed, an extremely important habitat as it was acknowledged to be the best area in the whole of Somerset for warblers. In addition they said that in the summer they have seen lots of silver washed fritillaries in the area of Buckland bridge. There are certainly a huge number of violets all along the edge of the path for the lava to feed on. Another birdwatcher we met, from Frome, had also seen blackcaps and willow warblers for the first time this year.
First day of the school Easter holidays so very busy with walkers, runners, cyclists, children (cycling and walking both on their own, with groups of friends or with parents) dog walkers and bird watchers.
28th March 2017 : 2.25pm – 4.05pm / 10 c / Sunny, light cloud turning overcast signalling approaching weather front.
The wind is cold, very strong and blustery. The stream bed quite dry in the upper stretches, low near the steps.
We were very surprised to see three more species of fungus. The common morel (morchella esculenta), pale winter polypore (polypors brumalis) and a group of russet brown fungus in the grass beside the track. Possibly entoloma clypeatum or more likely UBF (unknown brown fungus!).
Lots of cyclists including a young man cycling one-handed, the other holding the leads of the two dogs running alongside; a few walkers. Although we have only once seen a horse and rider, we always see copious mounds of dung all along the path so we assume it is a regular route for horse riders. A very welcome sight for rose growers and silver washed fritillaries!
21st March 2017 : 10am – 12.10pm / / 6 c / Full sun, blue sky, bitterly cold. Sharp hail shower and strong south westerly wind.
Much colder. Lots of trees showing their leaves, particularly hazels and elder. The volunteer Ecology group of Frome’s Missing Links have been busy and have added wooden seats to the sleeper picnic bench by the flight of steps and on the path above Buckland bridge. They have also built steps and a sleeper bridge across the stream near the bridge. The stream is still dry in the upper stretches and low near the steps.
Colliers Way cycle path
15th March 2017 : 2.20pm – 4.10pm / 13-14 c / Full sun, light breeze
Tree and hedge-lined cycle path past ploughed fields, some stubble, some rough pasture. Glorious warm Spring day, sunny and fresh.
The sheer exhilaration of freewheeling along, wind in our hair, sun on our faces, the clear air echoing with almost continuous birdsong, glimpsing clumps and banks of purple and white violets and the cloudy mass of pale yellow pollen covering the pussy willows and hazel catkins. This is a delight for us to remember, treasure and savour during the rainy days promised by the weatherman in the week ahead.
Stop Press! Wonderful news – Dr Sarah Bradbury has announced in today’s Sustrans newsletter that, owing to an award from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, the Greener Greenways project, which has been running in some parts of the country for three years, will now be extended to take in more routes, including our own stretch of Colliers Way.
This news makes us more determined than ever to log the birds, plants, animals and insects which we see when walking along our stretch of the path. We are so curious to see what naturalises in undisturbed ground during decades and decades of neglect and what insects, birds and animals colonise the area. An exciting prospect ahead!
13th March 2017 : 1 pm – 2.50pm / 13 c / Full sun, blue skies, cold stiff south westerly breeze
The stream is calm – medium flow – absolutely gin clear.
Chatted to a keen birdwatcher who had heard a chiff chaff and a willow warbler (at least two weeks early) among the trees between soggy bottom bench and Brick Kiln Farm bridge.
He said that in previous years he had often seen firecrests in the same area and yellow hammers, corn buntings and linnets on the track near the old station. He usually walks through at around 8-8.30am at this time of the year or after 5pm in the afternoon. Lots of cyclists, some walkers.
Blackthorn (Sloe) blossom
9th March 2017 : 2.20pm – 4.10pm / 12 c / Hazy sun, cold wind, slightly overcast, fresh breeze.
Hundreds of rooks and jackdaws feeding in a field of stubble and across the ploughed fields; pheasants in the rough pasture
Clumps and clumps of sweet violets both purple and white along the steep south facing banks and under the trees; coltsfoot, primroses, crocus, blue speedwell and beautiful white blackthorn blossom, yellow pussy willows, and the blush tinged flowers of the English elms all in full bloom.
Busy with lots of walkers – LOTS and LOTS of cyclists!
7th March 2017 : 11.25am – 12.45pm / 7-8 c / Hazy, clearing to full sun, blue skies; Spring like.
The stream in full, good flow. Bands of long tailed tits, blue tits, great tits, marsh tits, coal tits chasing insects, robins, song thrush, three buzzards hunting above the stand of trees on the edge of the hare field, green woodpecker calling, jay, rooks, jackdaws, pheasants, great spotted woodpecker drumming, tawny owl hooting (11.45am) wood pigeons, wren.
Bold splashes of more and more scarlet elf cup fungus scattered under the trees; mauve wood blewits (lepista nuda), celandines, wild chives, rose briars in full leaf.
Lots of cyclists, walkers (some with dogs) and runners. Another frequent sighting of the running husky in a harness pulling a young man on a skate board, about 8-10 miles an hour, uphill!
Stop Press! Frome’s Missing Links (FML) has won just over £48,000 in funding to help it build phase 2 of a traffic-free route to connect the Colliers Way cycle path with the centre of Frome. Patients at Frome Medical Centre could soon find themselves prescribed cycling as a treatment.
Scarlet Elf Cap fungus
1st March 2017 : 2.10pm – 4.05pm / 7 c / Overcast, cold, intermittent drizzle.
Rough pasture, some winter wheat. Stream (winterbourne/field run off) very low.
Noisy flock of 30-40 twittering gold finches mixed with a handful of field fares and redwings disturbed by two buzzards hunting low above the trees. Party of 4-5 blue tits flying over. Heard a song thrush in full song, robins singing lustily, a jay and a tawny owl (3.30pm). Flocks of jackdaws, rooks, wood pigeons, crows and seagulls, most flying westwards.
Scarlet elf cup fungus (sarcoscypha austriaca) sprouting on dead wood; sycamore seedlings pushing through. Three roebuck in the winter wheat field by Newbury Firs. Fine, healthy specimens.
Lots of walkers (most with dogs) and a solitary cyclist.
Long tailed tit’s nest
28th February 2017 : 9.20am – 11.30am / 5 c / Full sun, cold wind, clouding over later.
Stream above the flight of steps deeper, fast flowing. Ovoid shaped long tailed tit’s nest high up amongst the old man’s beard (wild clematis) in the blackthorn hedge.
We came across a group of five people (men and women) digging at the entrance to a badger sett. They had lost their dog at 5pm the previous afternoon when she had disappeared into the sett and, although they heard her whining, she didn’t come out. They returned this morning with spades to try and dig her out but had so far been unsuccessful. One of the men said the sett appeared to be unused with no freshly dug spoil heap or discarded bedding at the entrance. He thought it smelt, possibly of fox, so could have been a fox’s lair.
Lots of runners today (at least 11) some paired, some with dogs. Very many cyclists. No other walkers.
21st February 2017 : 11.30am – 2.10pm / 10 c / Grey overcast skies, intermittent mizzling rain.
The stream is shallow, just a trickle falling over the sleeper bridge. We watched a kestrel flying back and forth across the path then landing on a wooden fence near the entrance. Four pigeons in a row perched on a fence beyond until kestrel lifts off the fence and they scatter. Three buzzards soaring on the wind above the trees on the edge of the hare field. Heard the sharp bark of a vixen red fox in the field beyond Fussell bridge. There were fresh badger diggings around setts and lots of muntjac prints on several paths up the banks and into fields.
Talked to a dog walker from Oldford who said he had occasionally seen deer grazing in the fields in the valley between the path and Great Elm and muntjac on the edge of Newbury Firs.We found a hidden geocache box with several badges a pencil and notebook with 30 signatures over 2 years and added our signatures.
17th February 2017 : 2.45pm – 3.45pm / 11 c / Hazy, sunny, light thin clouds
We had a long conversation with the Missing Links’ volunteer Ecology Group who were clearing brambles, some blackthorn and undergrowth from the banks above the path, laid some to hedging and burning the cuttings about their plans to extend route 24 into the centre of Frome and the problem they would need to overcome.
One talked about the animals and birds he has seen over the years he had been working on the path. Bank voles, slow worms and common lizards on the banks, lots of local bats, peregrines flying over, deer in the fields around the bridge and frequent sightings of an otter in the stream which starts at the top of Newbury Firs and runs down the hill to join the Buckland Brook and the Mells River.
Fern in flower
15th February 2017 : 3pm – 4.30pm / 11 c / Sunny, fresh.
Song thrushes singing, buzzard mewing loudly as we arrive, green finch calling,
Beautiful walk in the sun after cloudy start and days of heavy overcast skies. First sightings of deer prints in the muddy opening into the field leading up to the woods. First primroses in flower, furry catkins of the pussy willow pushing through, arum lilies about 5 inches tall clumps of snowdrops.
Lots of walkers with children (half term) and dogs; only 3 cyclists.
7th February 2017 : 11.15am-1.10pm / 10 c / Streams in full spate, deep and fast.
Buzzards, blue tits, great tits, long tailed tits, robins, wren, blackbirds, rooks, jackdaws and crows. A greater spotted wood pecker drumming, green woodpecker yaffling, pheasants, wood pigeons, a song thrush singing and two mallards on the edge of a flooded field!
All of the hazel trees covered in bright yellow catkins, buddleia in new leaf.
31st January 2017 : 3.30 – 4pm / 9 c / Overcast, very fine drizzle, southerly breeze
Winterbourne in full, noisy spate – lots of small waterfalls over dams formed by fallen leaves and branches blocking the flow.
Heron, magpies, raven, robins singing, song thrushes singing, wrens, pheasants, rooks, jackdaws, crows, wood pigeons, at least 10 long tailed tits chasing each other through the branches.
22nd January 2017 : 2.30-3.30pm / 5 c / Fine, sunny, light wind, very cold.
The stream or winterbourne run off from the fields above the flight of steps showing just a shallow trickle.
Hedgerow and trees opposite the steps have been cut down to allow good view across the fields to the church and rectory at Great Elm on the skyline.
Notes on New Trail
The new path will link to the old Dorset & Somerset canal and two new bridges will need to be built, one over Jacks Lane (Murtreye) and the other utilising the aquaduct over the Mells River on towards Frome.
Quotation from Missing Link: The second phase, between Great Elm and Elliotts Lane, Hapsford, has been designed, and a planning application has been submitted, and the land permissions are in place. We are now seeking funding for the construction and working on developing the plans for future phases.
Brown Hare by Bleaklow John
10th January 2017 : 2.55 – 4.20pm / 8-9 c / Dull, overcast, light wind
Uncultivated pastureland, deciduous mature trees, many self seeded saplings (mostly ash, hazel and hawthornes). Heritage apple trees.
The rose briars are in leaf, some rose hips left but all the haws stripped from the hawthorns, some apples rotting on the ground for the redwings.
A brown hare eating then running through the rough pature among the pheasants on the edge of the wood. Lots of squirrels doing their usual aerobatics in the trees.
A representative of The Hare Preservation Trust writes: “According to their map, this is a good spot for hares with very little human intervention. Hares do well where land is managed or attracts pheasants so I am not surprised to hear that there are hares around here. There seems to be plenty of areas where wild plants can flourish, and although hares keep themselves going on farm crops they do prefer to nibble weeds and move on.”
Lapwings – Chris Rose, Four Marks, Hampshire
1st January 2017 : 11.30am – 12.30pm / 7 c / Steady rain, brisk NE wind, overcast skies
Cycle path past mixed hedges, trees, pasture, some winter wheat. Flocks of rooks and jackdaws circling above the tall beeches which form a boundary at the top of the ridge; well spaced crows and magpie nests among the upper and middle bare branches of the trees.
Redwings, blackbirds, robins, wood pigeons, flying amongst the branches as we walk along and a solitary song thrush sings loudly, repeating and repeating his phrases over and over.
Flocks of 200-300 lapwings and several herring gulls feeding in a ploughed field alongside the Way. Hen pheasants skitter into the safety of the undergrowth and cock pheasants strut across the fields.
As a good sign of a mild autumn and winter, hazel catkins showing yellow and new leaves are unfurling on the honeysuckle. Fresh diggings and snuffle holes below the badger setts on the bank alongside the path. Clouds of midges.
Beginnings….. Out of disaster comes opportunity.
An unfortunate ankle injury which was proving achingly slow to recover meant our preferred walks which often took us across uneven, tussocky ground were no longer possible, so walks along the level cycle path of Sustrans route 24 became the new destination of choice.
The casual nature diary kept over many, many years with dates, birds, plants and butterflies we saw out walking, now became more specific and from New Year’s Day 2017 focused on the cycle path. We had become extremely curious to see just what species of plants had colonised land left uncultivated for a number of years (in this case since the railway closed in 1968 – nearly fifty years) and what birds, butterflies and insects fed on them. This blog and the accompanying notes is the result.