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.