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Monday, February 23, 2015

Loss of an iconic tree

Combe St. Nicholas has always been proud of the two Copper Beeches, which have graced The Lawns in the centre of the village for probably 150+ years. This view, with the dark tree on the right of the picture,  taken from the top of the church tower, is the one on the left side of The Lawns, in full leaf a few years ago.

Last autumn villagers in Combe became aware that this iconic tree on the Lawns had, almost overnight it seemed, been surrounded by a fungi, which turned out to be Meripilus giganteus, a kind that rots the tree roots and would ultimately result in the destruction of the tree. Professional advice was sought and sadly the decision was taken to fell the tree as the extent of the internal damage could have meant the tree could fall down without warning, especially if there were high winds, and cause injury to someone.

The tree, without its leaves still towered over the surrounding buildings when the tree surgeons arrived at the end of January to carry out its felling and removal. The work took about 3 days to fell and clear away the debris ( helped by people turning up with vans, trucks and trailers and helping themselves to the wood for burning).

Work started with removing the lower branches, then the top branches and it was such a sad sight when the main trunk, finally came down!

Stump is all that remains
Now we are left with just the stump and we won't know till next autumn if the remaining Copper beech on The Lawns has also been attacked by the same fungus. If so, it will mean the tree surgeons will have to return to deal with it. Let's hope not!

Unexpected visitors

Here are a number of sightings I have noted over the last few weeks which have been more unusual and whilst not unheard of, may be of interest.

Whilst walking back from Chard via the lanes earlier in the month I glanced into a field and saw 40+ Lapwing, along with a few Black-headed gulls. The weather was cold and bright but had been frosty in the morning and the field was being warmed by the sun so the birds were taking advantage of the conditions and were feeding hungrily on any worms etc that they could prise out of the ground. Every now and again a gull would harry one of the Lapwings and the flock would take to the air, flapping with their distinctively rounded wings, before settling again and continuing to feed. A lovely sight and not one we get very often round here, though once they would have been a regular visitor to farmland. I have seen small flocks of Lapwing passing through overhead occasionally but they are more often found on marshy areas such as on the Somerset Levels where some of the highest UK concentrations are to be found in the winter months.

On another cold but bright morning I saw two foxes out in the open in a field near Combe Wood Lane, copulating . They were some distance off but clearly "locked together" and remained so for a considerable time, seemingly oblivious to anything else about.  

Fox in the garden
Last week there was another fox in the open, this time in our garden sunning itself under the bird feeders. Grabbing the camera my husband got time to take one picture as it walked away and we quickly warned our neighbour to watch out for it as they keep chickens. It seemed to have an injured leg as it limped and may not have been able to catch much even if it tried.

Black swan  at Chew Valley Lake
Last weekend we had a trip to Chew Valley Lake, a reservoir near Shepton Mallet which is well known for visiting winter wildfowl and various rarities. Unfortunately the weather was atrocious, making waves on the water seem like you were at the coast. We had hoped to see a Great northern diver which had arrived a few days before, somewhat off course from its normal coastal environment! The weather was against us though and we had to content ourselves with a view of this somewhat unexpected Black Swan!

Finally, as I sat down to type up this blog post, I was somewhat surprised to glance out of the window and see that it was snowing heavily, though thankfully it didn't settle, such weather was an unexpected visitor that was definitely not welcome!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Owls are hooting!

The birds must know it has just been Valentine's Day. The Tawny owls have been calling to each other in the evenings, ( NB. a Tawny Owl never calls "twit twoo". In fact the "twit" or more accurately "ke-wick" is a Tawny Owl's contact call and the "twoo" or again more accurately "hoo-hoo-oooo" is the male's territorial call. Consequently, if you hear "ke-wick hoo-hoo-oooo" it is most likely a male answering a female (or another male*). Both can be heard in the recording on the Garden Birds site here  

Blue tits have also been continuing to  inspecting the nest boxes in SSW.

There are more birds singing this week, such as the Dunnock which, whilst quite drab in appearance, has a beautiful song when vying for a mate.

I havealso heard even more Song thrushes around the village singing this week too, which is always a welcome sound as, apart from the lovely song, their numbers are sadly still declining.

With 2 days in a  row of frosty, clear nights followed by lovely sunshine I have also been pleased to see both Peacock and Tortoiseshell butterflies on the wing, as well as a huge Bumble bee.

The Tortoiseshell and bee were both taking advantage of the flowering heather in my mum's garden, but unfortunately were too quick to get a photo of. Let's hope they manage to survive if the weather gets wet or colder again.
Fingers crossed for more sun as the evenings slowly begin to draw out!

* Thanks to the "British Garden Bird" site for this helpful explanation