Pictured above: Anthriscus sylvestris, commonly known as cow parsley, wild chervil, wild beaked parsley, keck, or Queen Anne’s lace
Story by Albert Nolan
The week has disappeared with a mixture of school lunches, homework and odd jobs. The need for some nature therapy is very strong and I continue my walk out towards Westfield’s Nature Reserve. Autumn is often viewed as the season where nature starts to wind down but hints of next year can be found along the path. The fresh feathery leaves of cow parsley are already up and these contrast with the withered stems of last summer’s growth. I find a few black seeds clinging to the stems but the birds have devoured the majority of them.
The habitat here is mostly wet woodland but a large area of water has remained open. A pair of mute swans nest there each year and they often remain there during the winter. Swans are very territorial and will not tolerate another pair in their territory. As I watch the swans a slight movement catches my attention. After a few seconds I focus in on a grey heron who is perched on a tree stump. He blends in perfectly with the surrounding vegetation and only his occasional movements give him away.
The wind rustles through the leaves and I continue on my walk. Creeping thistle, red clover and bindweed are all in flower and provide nectar for late flying bees and butterflies. A Robin is singing. They will continue to sing throughout the year although their song lacks the vibrancy of early spring. He is joined by a Dunnock whose gentle calls echo out from the undergrowth. These are shy and retiring birds and shuffle their wings and tail as they forage in the leaf litter.
On the Hazel and Alder trees next year’s catkins have started to grow. The hazels are green and the alders a mixture of purple and yellow. The seed cones are still on the Alder and these are eaten by many species of tits.
I cross the busy road and head towards the viewing platform at Westfield’s. Wetlands are vital habitats for wildlife and having one on the edge of the city is a major asset for its people. Children come here to experience nature for the first time and greying adults bring grandchildren to rediscover the birds of their youth.
I lean against the timber railing and let nature come to me. The reeds are very tall and funnel the birds towards me. A grey heron is hunting and each of his limbs moves in slow motion and hardly a ripple betrays his presence. The large bulky coots are less subtle and move like battleships through the water and attack all birds in their path. Moorhens are more timid and one is busily eating the water plants at the edge of the pond. My presence does not go unnoticed and soon I am surrounded by mallards and a family of mute swans. They have four cygnets (young swans) and they jostle for the best begging position.
Mating damselflies skim low above the water and they are locked together in their only nuptial flight. If they are not careful they will end up drowning or becoming food for the hungry birds. The saying love is blind holds true to this dancing couple. I leave the platform and walk around the edge of the pond. Figwort stands over a meter tall. It was once an important medicinal plant.
Other birds use the wetlands and I hear a grey hooded crow and magpie calling and the diminutive wren singing. I see a woodpigeon flying into a tall beech tree and I wonder if they are eating the nuts. The maple trees have beautiful autumn colours and a robin perches on a branch to sing. He is suddenly chased by the resident male and the angry ball of feathers disappears into a bush. These birds guard their territory all year round.
Oak is one of the best trees for wildlife and even the young tree here in the wetlands holds a few natural surprises. On the underside of the leaves I find spangle galls and these are caused by a tiny fly. On the same branch there are clusters of oak apple galls. These look like marbles and they are very tough. This protects the developing larva and when they are fully grown they drill a small hole and head off to restart their lifecycle. As I leave the wetlands a common carder bumblebee is looking for the last of the nectar on the flowers of valerian. At the pedestrian crossing spiders webs are swung between the railings marking the frontier between the world of nature and man.
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You can read more nature stories by Albert Nolan here!