Notes from a field - Bob Sheridan
Langham in Rutland
April 2016 The mild winter has certainly confused things this year. By the middle of January the catkins of most of the Hazel bushes in the field were already heavy with pollen. Hazels are monoecious, having separate male and female flowers on the same plant. The catkins are the male flowers and produce huge quantities of pollen. If you have ever cut any for decoration you will have noticed the yellow carpet that soon appears around the vase! Such large quantities are needed as the plants are wind pollinated and it is by chance that the pollen will reach the female flower. The female flowers of the hazel are tiny and difficult to spot. They are little more than a bud with a short tuft of red hairs, the pistils, which collect the pollen. Although there was a profusion of catkins I had great difficulty in finding any female flowers. Apparently flowering is dependent on temperature; the male flowers are more affected than the female flowers and in warm spells produce pollen before the female flowers are ready. Many hazels are self-sterile
The hedges are now stripped bare of all the fruits and birds will be coming into gardens more frequently. Lorna Burger sent in a nice picture of a male great spotted woodpecker, identified by the red patch on its neck, on one of her bird feeders. Lorna also made the point about keeping feeders and bird tables clean. In damp conditions food can soon go mouldy. Bird tables should be regularly disinfected (use a 5% bleach solution) and, if they are portable, move them every month or so to prevent a build up of droppings beneath them. Trichomonosis is a parasitic disease which, it is thought, has led to a reduction in the number of greenfinches and is believed to be spread through contaminated food and water. Simple hygiene will help prevent its spread and keep our birds healthy. Another bird that that has seen a decline is the lapwing. I can remember, years ago, if you were driving to Melton and came out of Leesthorpe, as you descended the hill the sky would be filled with them. That sight ended some time ago. This time the decline was not due to disease but changes in farming practice in the 1980's. Crop rotation being abandoned and the move from spring to autumn sown crops played their part. Lapwings need unimproved pasture for their April nesting and improved pasture and arable crops are too tall by then. I have seen the odd pair in the field but I was pleased to see a flock of about thirty fly over in January; the most I have seen together for some time. When all the fruits are gone the fieldfares and redwings move from the hedgerows to the ground to feed. So far fieldfares have been scarce but large flocks of redwings are regularly seen in the field. Their brown backs provide excellent camouflage and they are often hard to spot until they are disturbed. Later they were joined by smaller flocks of starlings. A reminder from Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust. Birds are nesting early this and shrubs and hedges should be checked starting work. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act all birds are protected whilst nesting. This protection starts from the moment they start building the nest until the young have fledged. The Trust recommends that if there is any doubt then the work should be postponed until the nesting season is over, which is generally accepted as 31st July. It is not only birds that are venturing into the village, Caroline Webb reports a muntjac seen mid- morning in Well Street. Caroline also reported a little egret in the stream at the back of the church. I get reports of the more unusual sightings but we don't really know much about the common birds that are seen in gardens. Are the same birds seen in all the gardens or are some seen in certain parts of the village? It would be nice if as many people as possible could let me have a list of their feathered visitors, email me or drop your list in at 3 Ashwell Road. I will publish the results in the next news letter. It would be very interesting if we get as many as possible to participate. A pair of grey wagtails has taken up residence in the Severn Trent compound on Mickley Lane. They are often confused with yellow wagtails as they too have yellow under parts. However the grey wagtail has a longer tail and grey back and head rather than the olive-green of the yellow wagtail. As the yellow wagtail is a summer visitor any seen at this time of are most likely grey wagtails. The other, more common, wagtail is of course the pied wagtail which has no yellow on it at all. In Munday's Close I spent a few minutes watching a treecreeper spiral its way up a tree then fly to another to again work its way up. Also there were chaffinches and great tits. I read later that treecreepers are often found in the company of flocks of tits. The pair of mallard have settled on the pond and last year's lone moorhen looks as if it has found a mate. They too should settle on the pond. A pair of mistle thrushes were seen busy foraging amongst the grass in the field behind the house. The robins are now in full song laying claim to their territories and the owls have become more vocal at night. The sounds are made by two separate birds, the kewick of the female and the ho-hoooo of the male. More details and recordings can be found at The mention of Mickley Lane reminds me that dog fouling has suddenly increased in that area. Most people who walk dogs there are diligent in cleaning up after them. Recently I cleared up seven piles in a short area. It is unpleasant for walkers and a source of infection for other dogs. Please take a bag with you, you don't even need to take it home; there is a bin at the end of the lane. Don't forget to email me your sightings, comments or photographs on
and cannot fertilize themselves so it is usual to plant different varieties together to ensure a good supply of nuts. All should be well as at least one of the bushes was much later in producing pollen than the others. Interestingly the hazels in Munday's Close and Mickley Lane were at least three weeks later. Either they are a different variety or there is a local variation in temperature. The picture of the female flower on the website was taken through a microscope.