Fancy a wildlife spectacular this weekend?

Bluebells on Cam Peak
Bluebells cloak the slopes of Cam Peak near Cam, Dursley. Credit – C Aistrop

Despite us still being in a state of shock at the news that this coming bank holiday will be both sunny and warm (when did that last happen?!), a bit of planning means that you could make the most of this and see quite a few wildlife spectacles. May is the month when nature seems to awaken with a start and bound out of bed. It’s May that’s busting out all over, not June. Bluebells, wild garlic and orchid meadows are at their best; nightingales and cuckoos are singing; the dawn chorus is at full crescendo; migrant birds are arriving back from southern climes by the thousands; and hawthorn hedges become coated with the ‘white icing’ created by the profusion of may flowers.

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A delicate harbinger of Spring

Wildlife april - group of Cuckoo flower Canal Cainsx rd Caroline Aistrop
Masses of cuckoo flowers growing alongside the Cotswold canal near Stroud. Photo – Caroline Aistrop

One of the less well-known hargingers of spring, and one of my favourites, is the dainty cuckoo flower. Our ancestors gave it this name to acknowledge it as a sign of the cuckoo’s imminent return to the UK from its African wintering grounds. The pale lilac or pink flowers appear en masse in damp places during April and if they seem vaguely familiar, this may be because the cuckoo flower is one of the cabbage family and has the characteristic four petals arranged in the cross-shape shown by most members of this group. To be honest, if it was a bright yellow colour, it’d look a dead ringer for oil seed rape which is its close cousin. However, cuckoo flower is shorter in height and is a soft shade of lilac or pink so the overall impression is of a refined relative used to the good things in life compared to a brash relative that likes to shout its presence and stomp about a lot.

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Forest of Dean’s daffodil weekends – a real harbinger of spring

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The wild daffodil splendour of Gwen and Vera’s field, Forest of Dean (copyright Caroline Aistrop)

If you fancy seeing a real riot of nature this weekend or next weekend, the Oxenhall and Dymock Daffodil weekends are a must. They’re a celebration of the wonderful sign of the coming spring which we all love to see – the daffodil. In this case, it’s the wild daffodil which grows in profusion through the woods and fields around three villages – Oxenhall, Kempley and Dymock. Never mind those hosts of golden daffodils in the Lake District, Wordsworth could easily have been writing about his walk through the countryside in the Forest of Dean.

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Cheerful snowdrops at Cherington Pond

Cherington Pond - bank of snowdrops Feb 2018 Caroline Aistrop

Cherington pond is a jewel of a place, hidden away at the bottom of a secluded valley not many miles away from Stroud but feeling like it’s in its own world. It offers a variety of different wildlife in one small area – the water birds that live on the open water plus those that prefer the seclusion of the woodland that wraps itself around the pond; the shallow stream leading into the pond where once a pre-occupied water shrew bumbled along looking for food, quite oblivious to my great bulk standing just inches away. But in February and early March, it’s the spectacle of the snowdrop carpet gracing the woodland floor that makes this an ideal place for a Sunday (or any day come to that) stroll instilling a feel-good factor that far out-weighs a bucketful of prozac.

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Winter cheer from snowdrops and aconites

Conygre Woods - snowdrops + aconites close-up Caroline AistropThe noticeably lengthening days are letting a little ray of sunshine break into my winter grey gloom, but the thing that really cheers me up is a wander through Conygre Wood near Kingscote village. During February, the woodland floor hosts carpets of snowdrops along with a lovely cheerful flower called winter aconite. The latter is a little, bright yellow flower which opens up in the sunlight creating a patch of mini-suns shining back at that elusive ball of fire which we don’t see enough at this time of year.

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Walking to a heavenly waterfall

Heavens waterfall long view - Caroline Aistrop

This constantly wet, miserable weather may not be great for the seratonine levels or make you want to abandon your dormouse impersonation curled up in a warm corner somewhere, but it is ideal for one thing – waterfalls. It’s little known that Stroud has a waterfall – OK, it’s not a niagra falls-type waterfall or even a ‘stand at the bottom and get covered with spray’ waterfall. But, nethertheless, a waterfall it is. And it’s found near a place with a name that makes you want to walk there – The Heavens.

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A winter bird spectacular at Slimbridge

WWT - wild bird feed on Swan Lake copyright WWT
Wild bird feed on Swan Lake, The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, Slimbridge. Photo by Nick Cottrell

The stars of the winter show in the Stroud area, and also around Gloucestershire, are definitely wildfowl. Whilst we assume that birds head south for warmer climes to avoid the coldest season of our year, as they leave there’s a huge group of birds who come here on their summer holiday. Swans, geese and ducks do fly south for the winter, but they end up around the UK having left the artic circle and the adjoining harsh, frozen lands such as the tundra of northern Russia, Greenland and Iceland.  As you might imagine, these places freeze solid during our winter making food impossible to find so wildfowl migrate here where it’s relatively balmy by comparison. These are birds that need to be by water so they head for our shores and coast plus inland lakes and marshes.

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Wildlife-friendly gift ideas for Christmas

Snow and baubles - Trixieliko

You might be more organised than me in the whole matter of Christmas present buying (I only let this annual festival of frenzy start to perculate into my brain on Stroud’s Goodwill Evening), but if you’re still searching for a present that’d be really valued by someone who’s keen on wildlife, I’ve put together some ideas in the selection below. I, personally, feel that ‘experiences’ or presents that last well beyond the festive season are a much nicer anyway, and the profits raised get ploughed back into helping protect our local wildlife. Continue reading “Wildlife-friendly gift ideas for Christmas”

A walk to Paradise and back!

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So winter has finally started – at least according to the Met Office for whom the 1st December marks the beginning. For astronomers, we’re still autumn until the winter solistice (21st December) which seems a bit late to me. Whatever date you choose, I have to admit to being a bit disappointed with autumn this year. I’d been planning to post a series of blogs highlighting the best places and walks where you could appreciate the full majesty of the glorious seasonal colours. Instead, the trees seem to have gone from green to bare branches in almost one fell swoop. Yes, there has been a degree of colour change, but the usual yellows, reds and oranges have seemed muted. I feel you’ve cheated me, Mother Nature! I find these riotous colours are one of the autumnal delights tempering the thought of winter’s cold, short days. That, plus the wonderful bounty of berries and fruit, and the comforting chutney-making.

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The devil went down to Strawberry Banks

Strawberry Banks Comma + db scabious - Caroline Aistrop

Hurrah! Another opportunity to write about one of my favourite places in Stroud district. I visited Strawberry Banks a couple of days ago and discovered a profusion of devil’s bit scabious creating a purple tapestry weaving through the grassland of this beautiful, hidden valley. Its delicate, lilac pom-pom flower nods on the top of stem about 2-2.5 feet high, and is primly arranged in pairs (though my wildlife-watching companions disagreed and said it was blue. I often have this argument with people ‘It’s purple’, ‘No, it’s blue’, ‘Don’t be daft, it’s obviously purple’…anyone else go through this when discussing flower-colour? No? Must be my funny eyesight, then. I magnanimously agreed on lilac).

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