Thursday, 24 April 2014

Ashenbank - A Walk in the Woods !!!

A walk through the woods is a great way to start the day, having a dog to exercise is a good excuse, although to be honest, 
I don't really need an excuse these days.

The whole feel of the woods has changed these last few weeks, the trees seem alive with bird song,
Thrushes singing from the treetops,Woodpeckers drumming, Chiffchaff and Blackcap have been arriving adding their songs to the chorus.

 Trees are bursting into life with new leaves, Bluebells are carpeting the forest floor , and wild flowers bursting through the undergrowth, adding a new interest, my ignorance of wild flower identification is staggering, so I have started to improve this by learning and identifying each new wild flower as they appear, starting with the more common woodland flowers.

 Our children have all "flown the nest" as the saying goes, so my wife and faithful dog enjoy the peace and quiet of our country walks in our own company.
Occasionally you experience that perfect moment, for me its a Sunday morning walk through the woods, with warm sunshine on your face, Skylarks singing above you, church bells ringing in the distance, wife and dog beside you and the knowledge that all is well.

Bird sightings have revealed all the normal woodland birds, Great Tit, Blue Tit, but no Marsh Tits as yet, Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay, Magpie, Dunnock, Wren, Chiffchaff, Stock Doves,  A brief  sighting of a Woodcock as it flew over a clearing, Blackbirds seem very numerous as do Song Thrushes.

 Jackdaws doing well in their nesting tree.

The Little owl is still being seen quite regularly, although I have only seen two together on one occasion,
 so I'm not sure if breeding has taken place.

I have also witnessed a Tawny Owl being mobbed by the local Crows, unusual daylight sighting, and a first in these woods.

I have not seen that many Butterflies here yet, although I did spot for the first time, this Bee-fly.

Saw some of the local Carrion Crows collecting nesting material I presume, the cows did not seem to bothered as the crows systematically plucked hair from them.

So back to the wild flowers, these are what I have identified so far, all quite common, most flowering between April to June, but nice to see.

Bugle Ajuga repans    This was growing along the border of the woods on grassland. Flowers between April and July, its supposed to be attractive to many insects especially White Tailed Bumblebees & Green Veined  White butterflies, Silver Y moths and Common Carder bees. In Archaic times it was used by herbalists to treat  a variety of afflictions, infusions of the plant was said to be useful at stopping hemorrhages and spitting of blood, due to its astringent properties, a decoction of the leaves and flowers taken in wine was said to dissolve congealed blood and inward bruising .

Greater Stitchwort  
"Poor mans button-hole" another common wild flower, found along the borders of the wood, 

Wood Spurge 

Found this one growing within the woods, another common species found growing in the south of England. 
Slightly scary this one, when the stems are broken it oozes a white milky latex type substance which has a caustic nature, said to be corrosive to human skin, and as such was used to treat warts, in days gone by, although inadvisable to try.

Cowslip -  From the Anglo Saxon cowyslepe which roughly translated means cow slop.
The plants were thought to grow among cow pats, which strangely enough where mine were found.
  In the past it was picked for Mayday celebrations, dug up for gardens, harvested to make Cowslip wine and herbal medicines.A declining flower due to intensive agriculture methods and the increased use of herbicides.

Lords & Ladies - This seems to be shooting up all over the woods mostly in the shady areas. The purple spadix is enclosed in a pale green spathe, the flowers are hidden from sight at the base of the spadix, a ring of female flowers with a further ring of male flowers above them. Above the male flowers are a ring of hairs which form an insect trap, the spadix said to have a faecal odour which attracts insects which pollinate the flowers by brushing against them.

In autumn the female flowers form bright red berries , these are extremely poisonous, the berries contain oxalates of saponins which contain needle shaped crystals which irritate the skin, mouth and throat.
 The throat can swell causing difficulty breathing, burning pain and upset stomach.  However, their acrid     taste and immediate tingling sensation usually means that very little is consumed. 
Another one to avoid I think.

Red Campion - these rose red flowers give a splash of colour  to the hedgerows, seem quite common and widespread. There is also a white variety.

Yellow Archangel  this one comes from the dead nettle family, leaves do not sting, very attractive yellow flowers, said to be indicative of ancient woodland, found growing in sunny woodland borders.

White Dead nettle - like other members of the dead nettle family, the leaves do not sting, quite widespread. Found growing all over the woodland. Can be used in some medicines to reduce swelling and skin inflammation

Cuckoo flower or Lady's Smock found growing in the woodland, likes damp areas, ditches and riverbanks.
 Believed to be given this name because it flowers between April and June coinciding with the arrival of Cuckoo, another possible reason is that the plant's leaves are often covered in "cuckoo spit"
a  substance used to conceal the nymph of the froghopper.

The flowers have a peppery taste, and can be used to decorate salads.

Ransons - Another ancient woodland indicator usually found where bluebells are flowering.
 Known to foragers as wild garlic the leaves can be used for flavouring salads.The stems and bulb  have a mild garlic flavour. It is also said that it can be used for rheumatic pain 

And the Primrose which I think most people can recognise .

So thats a good start on woodland wildflowers in the spring, interesting to see what insects and butterflies are attracted to the various plants.

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