Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Midwinter life?

A walk round the Trail today required thick clothing layers in the freezing, stagnant air we have at present. Ice was not that thick on Dingle Lake but ice was even sheeted across the Park path below the springline. Very little stirred - except at the pond. High in the Alder trees were several Goldfinches - and something else. Nine little brown birds with cherry-red foreheads - Lesser Redpolls! Last winter there were Siskins here instead. But Redpolls are commoner this winter. And they and lots of other things are turning up in odd places in this weather. An hour after seeing them, I was opening the door of my own garden shed when a Snipe, no less, rocketed up from the flooded field by me. Hard times can alert us to remarkable sightings. Though perhaps none more remarkable or significant than the sight of that Baby in the stable - George

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Gold and pink

The Trail is full of golden leaves at the moment. Even to all the carbon-burning motorists who normally see little of the Trail along the bypass, the Norway Maples near the traffic lights are sunshine bright in their yellow clothes at the moment. Perhaps the sight is a special concession by the One whose (later nail-scarred) hands placed them there, to all those trapped in their noisy little boxes. Native trees are not outshone either; the Goat Willow by the Park pond was every bit as bright when I passed it. The other colour I noted along the bypass was pink, in the form of a Jay that flew down right by the traffic. I thought it a late bird: October is my Jay month, when they show themselves all across the countryside, flying to favourite oaks collecting acorns. After that they vanish again - except perhaps to Trail walkers at quiet times - see you there! - George

Monday, 3 November 2008

Liverworts and Waitrose

Most people equate liverworts with slime. The large ones are actually respectable and fairly attractive plants. A new find on the Trail today was the common Great Scented Liverwort, (Conocephalum conicum) - no, I don't know what scent. Its large fronds, with their six-sided cells, grow on the stream boarding by St Mary's Wood and a good colony lives under Brook Bridge. I preserved a pressed sample of one slimy frond to check later. However, I narrowly escaped a sensation an hour afterward at the checkout in Waitrose, where I remembered (just in time!) that the sample was pressed inside my wallet, on top of my debit card. How green would Waitrose have proved, I wonder? - George

Leaves falling

The recent frosts have encouraged many leaves to begin their fall. In St Mary's Wood, the Aspens were an odd sight, as all their lower leaves had fallen but none of the lower. In Brook Bridge Wood, strange white objects on the wood floor turned out to be fallen White Poplar leaves that had landed with their silvery faces upward. - George

In flight, though not ascending

Country birds often fly over even busy urban areas. Today I thought a Black-headed Gull was my lot (it then flew down to Dingle Lake). But then, as I had almost finished walking the Trail, just passing the Park bowling green, I heard a misplaced sound. A brief, liquid trill - seemingly from the empty sky. I know that sound - but it's not a Park bird - what and where is it? The answer was a repeat of the classic flight-call of the Skylark, as two speeding birds shot over me, heading north-west. With the low winter sun highlighting them from below, they were a breath of the countryside right in the town. - George

Autumn birds

On clear autumn days many birds can be observed by a walker. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was calling in St Mary's Wood, across from which a heap of Woodpigeon feathers revealed a Sparrowhawk's meal table. Bullfinches were calling at the Dingle. Near the Park Pond, Wrens and Robins called and perched, but most entertaining was a dunnock which shot with a startled peep out of the ivy on the tree by the boardwalk, perched by me then quivered in indecision for full thirty seconds before fleeing from me. - George

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Autumnal Trail

The first autumn colours along the Trail are those of Horse Chestnuts, sadly in some cases because the trees are diseased, with cracking bark, due to a killing infection. However, the brilliant colours of Norway Maples are entirely natural, as are the rich hues of berries on Rose Hips and Rowans. Not all colours are end of season ones, however. At the Park Pond, two new flowers for the Trail list are in flower - Water Mint and Water-Forget-me-not. Nearby, a small member of the Mayfly was in flight - all unseasonal sights. Finally, the Teasel colony at Point No 10 has 46 heads this year - George

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Bird and Beast

It was clear which birds nest early, today. Adult Blue-tits looked fresh, their brood-feeding days well past, while a weary hen Blackbird let me get within a yard before she tiredly shuffled under a bush perhaps still foraging for late nestlings. A Rabbit jumped on hearing a Crow, then settled where I could see the sun shining right through her delicate ears. I was admiring the many berries, of Elder, Rowan and Guelder Rose near Waterworks Farm corner, when I spotted a plump, pink hen Bullfinch as she piped peacefully to herself, well within view of a whole row of bedrooom windows (was anyone watching?). Do you keep a window "bird list" for your home? - George

Sunshine at last!

After so much rain, insects were few on the Trail in sun today. However, Brown and Southern Hawker dragonflies (including a stunning fresh male of the latter hanging from a nettle head) were very active, as were Hoverflies at the Dingleand lots of Common Field Grasshoppers. Sadly I can't visit often enough to make meaningful counts but I made it 9 Speckled Wood butterflies and 5 Green-veined Whites at trailside, though all the Large and Small Whites seemed to be hovering in gardens over cabbage patches! But the best was yet to be; a Holly Blue flickering over the Park pond and, even better, a stunning male Common Blue on Ragwort at Point No 10 - George

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Butterflies and Dragonflies

The walk at the weekend found lots of Gatekeeper butterflies along the Trail, along with some Speckled Woods and a Comma amongst others. Two Holly Blues were also seen over the weekend, suggesting a better year for this species. However, there continues to be a severe lack of the well-known coloured butterflies, probably due to our unstable summer weather nowadays. The walkers were treated to great views of a Southern Hawker dragonfly at Brook Bridge, while a Brown Hawker was over the Park Pond; elsewhere Common Field Grasshoppers were numerous - George

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Climate change . . .

Despite drizzle, the Dingle turned up a bright butterfly - not the local Speckled Wood but the first Gatekeeper of the year. Both species are strong indicators of global warming, having arrived in Cheshire in recent years - and would not have been recognised by my parents, being unknown in the district when I was young. A Chiffchaff was singing above (yes, they now winter commonly in Britain - another change). But the Rabbits nearby have been here since Roman times! Amazing design - with their eyes almost at the top of their heads, as befits such nervous creatures. The Psalmist calls us "fearfully and wonderfully made"; all Creation is too: let's look after it! - George

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Elusive birds!

I looked for the Peregrine on the church tower at 6am yesterday. It was not there, but white marks show where the bird (a year-old one) roosts occasionally - most often on the south side of the tower, apparently never on the west side. It has even been seen from the windows of the Royal Mail sorting office below. Another elusive bird was a female Black Redstart, spotted by Andy Goodwin on the wall of the Lower Chequer around the beginning of June. This was very late for a migrating bird, so it is possible Black Redstarts could be nesting on buildings somewhere in the town. A thorough search by Andy has so far, however, found nothing - George

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Bee Orchid pics






Taken by Roger Foden when the plant was in full flower.

Orchids visible from Trail

Not as unusual as a Bee Orchid but still nice, a fine colony of Common Spotted Orchids on private ground has been found to be visible from the Environment Trail! In full flower with over a hundred flowering spikes (one of them white), they can be seen on the disused Waterworks Farm site (no access) from the Trail near Point No. 9. Binoculars are needed; the colony is just visible through the hedge from the Trail but can easily be seen at some 50yds range by descending less than 20yds down the side path from Point no. 9 to a hedge gap and viewing the right side of the grassy area. (The descending path has public access until it reaches the private Dingle Lane) - George

Thursday, 3 July 2008

. . . And another big sighting!

- But this one is not at ground level! Local birder Andy Goodwin reports that in the last week a Peregrine Falcon has taken to perching on the main tower of St Mary's Church, a key landmark on the Environment Trail. Less rare than they used to be, Falcons use high perches even in city centres (and even nest there), perhaps mostly for peace and quiet. On second thoughts, perhaps this one likes the church bells! - George

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Somewhere . . . a big find!

A member of the Sandbach Clean Team, tidying up the town area (in awful weather!) received an excellent reward for her dedication yesterday. Jackie F. was litter-picking, when she made a great find, not on the Environment Trail itself but in a nearby area we also survey occasionally. The find was nothing less than a beautiful Bee Orchid, one of the most remarkable members of that famous family. The spike was in full bloom and great photographs of it taken by her husband Roger will be posted on the blog in due course. Bee Orchids are opportunists quite ready to seed themselves on bare areas, and are becoming more common with climate change, but this is still a great find for the Sandbach area. The location of this one will not be made known here, and is rather precarious; it may not survive in the longer term and it remains to be seen if it will set seed. If anyone wants to see the plant in the next couple of days please phone me (my email is down at present). Oh, and the first Meadow brown butterfly of the year was flying nearby - George

Young life

Standing by the Park pond a week ago, I spotted two tiny Moorhen chicks, despite the first nest having vanished. The chicks were auidble but in hiding today. A family of small birds sheeping nearby turned out to be Wrens, each fledgling with a pale bill edge that made it look like it was smiling. Parents searching for food can be very tame at this time of year; Robin, Blackbird and Chaffinch all let me approach closer than my own height. The Pond has a fine display of Watercress - George

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Light

Writing in 85 or so AD, the apostle John said that "Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil." [John 3 v19 (NIV)]. Of course, the light John was referring to was Jesus, but in any case, walking around the Trail early or late on a sunny day, it is impossible not to realise how much God loves ordinary light! This close-up shot of one of a stand of Red Campion was taken beside the Trail a couple of weeks ago, almost directly into the sun, so that the petals are nearly transparent. This is how the Creator's work appears - and perhaps how we should, too! But we can protect it as we should only by loving His Light more than our own comfort, wealth, selfishness and environmental recklessness. John would undoubtedly have seen our love of all those as being among the darknesses in our lives today - George

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Wrong yet again!

Creation is full of complications as well as beauty! The new fern turned out to be Hard Shield Fern, not Soft. Look closer next time!

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Unusuals

Unusual notes from the walk today included finding the uncommon weed Henbit again by the Town Pump like last year, and discovering Common Birdsfoot already in flower at Post No. 10. One surprise for me was when I was pointing out the ferns along the old retaining wall in Front Street. "This is Male Fern, and this one is Black Spleenwort (I count seven plants of that one, though there seemed to be more ealier in the year), and that one is - oh, no it's not. Hey, what's that doing here?" A further post on this discovery will appear shortly but a later trip back confirmed that the little fern in question is yet a new discovery for the trail, and is probably Soft Shield Fern. Oh, and Lady Fern was also growing nearby as well, along with Common Polypody. Clearly a fern hotspot (which is odd, as they prefer cool places . . . ) - George

Guided walk

A small but cheerful party defied the weather forecast (successfully) today for a walk around the Trail. Wind and cloud meant the focus (apart from a few singing chaffinch etc, and one flyby Great Spotted Woodpecker) was mostly on flowers. The group was on form, and did not miss the inconspicuous Common Vetch and the unusual white-flowered form of Herb Robert that grows around Brook Bridge. They eagerly enquired if the Watercress in the Park Pond was edible (only when small) and one of them remembered from childhood a man who dug up Pignut roots for sale. The invading Japanese Polygonum attracted their displeasure, and they discovered that they had been walking past Field Maple without knowing it. All good learning - George

Not plastic!

The herons on Dingle Lake, which can be seen from the Dingle, always attracted attention and more than once I have come across a mother pointing them out to her children. I have not had the heart to tell them that the one she was pointing at was plastic! The anglers put it there to frighten away the real ones. However, I was taken by surprise today when one I was looking at spread its wings and flew off! So look closely next time. There are real herons around! -George

Saturday, 24 May 2008

NEW CHECKLIST

A checklist of Plants found along the Sandbach Environment Trail has now been added to the Resources section of the website along with the other checklists already there.

Round about a dragonfly

By the lower Waitrose roundabout, Arclid Brook plunges under the road through a culvert below a sunny grass bank and railing. That railing is both one of the noisiest and best nature spots on the Trail! Leaning over it today, I was looking at a Green-veined White butterfly when I saw something much more unexpected. Two dragonflies - a green-bodied female Banded Demoiselle and (which I never saw last year) a stunning male, with his cobalt-blue body and (unlike the female) black-banded wings. They appear to fly awkwardly - I once momentarily mistook a male for a big blue butterfly. But they are wary! - George

Buzzards high

Soaring right over the Sandbach by-pass this afternoon, a quarter of a mile from the motorway junction, were no less than four buzzards together. A family party, or two pairs sorting their territories?

Unexpected!

What's that doing there? Walking onto Brook Bridge at the traffic lights, an odd sight was that of a fine cock Pheasant walking across the bridge road. Do Pheasants wait for little green men, we wonder?

Signs of summer!

Many flowers are out around the Trail at the moment. Flowers have their seasons; the Dandelions are over, this is the Buttercup and the Cow Parsley season (that big white feathery stuff). Also Comfrey and Red Campion are at their best at the moment. At the bottom of the Park look for pink Lady's Smock or Cuckoo Flower, the food plant of the Orange-Tip butterfly.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Late reports

Apologies for not reporting these earlier. The first Large Red Damselfly was at the Park Pond on 26th April, with a Chiffchaff and the Moorhens building a nest. Nearby, a Grey Squirrel was making loud cawing sounds in the big Lime tree. A Peacock butterfly was at the Dingle, while at Post No. 10 and near the Park estate entrance Common Storksbill was just coming into flower. Last year's Teasel heads were counted at Post No 10, to provide a comparison - there were 32. What else should we count? - George

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Flowers beside the Trail

Coltsfoot flowers below the footpath between the traffic lights and the roundabout. Wood Forget-me-nots are forming thick blue carpets of bloom by the path up to Ravenscourt Close. The Marsh Marigolds are past their best near the Park Pond but the carpets of Lesser Celandines near the brook are still beautiful. Add a comment to this blog or e-mail the website at sandbachenv@gmail.com if you spot anything interesting - George

Woodpeckers

Great Spotted Woodpeckers can be heard drumming along the Trail this month. A bird is often present near Dingle Lake, sometimes audible across the lake. I have even heard one across the bypass from Offley Wood, over the noise of the traffic. But be careful: this time last year the rare Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was also to be heard, for one was definitely identified drumming in trees near Offley House - George

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Mosses

This is a good time of year to look at the colourful mosses which coat walls and surfaces around Front Street and the retaining wall of St Mary's Churchyard. Even the humblest things in Creation deserve our attention and protection. On one occasion, a Treecreeper was watched climbing through the moss on the churchyard wall as if it was a tree trunk! - George

Monday, 14 April 2008

Spring flowers

This is a good time of year to lean over Brook Bridge and admire the golden yellow Lesser Celandines along the banks of the stream above the bridge! - George

Summer birds

The first birds of the summer are singing along the Trail. Chiffchaffs are singing in St Mary's Wood and at the Dingle, while a Blackcap has taken to singing in an ivy-covered tree just across the bridge from the traffic lights. However, although there are Swallows and Martins in the area we have not heard of any near the Trail or over Dingle Lake yet. Resident birds are also busy: a pair of Jays were showing interest in another of the ivied trees not far away - could they have nesting in mind there? - George

Butterflies and Bumblebees

A walk along the trail yesterday revealed the first Speckled Wood butterfly of the year at the Dingle. Quite a few big queen bumblebees were flying around, too. These included a couple of White-tailed Bumblebees and one stunning Large Red-tailed Bumblebee, the sort which is all black except for its fiery red tail. But most appeared to be Buff-tailed Bumblebees, which is interesting because I thought these were scarce last year. - George

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Around now

The long tailed tits are still around, and their nest is now complete (so let's not disturb it). The first showy flowers of the year, nearby, are some fine Marsh Marigolds. Finally, I was noticing the cobbles. A blackbird was pulling a worm from between two of them - actually, cobbles are a much more environmentally friendly surface (except for the worm!) than we realise - George.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Long tailed tits nesting

I won't say exactly where but if you are near the bottom of Sandbach Park you might just spot a pair of long-tailed tits building a nest. Last Wednesday they had built only the foundation, but by Saturday the nest was half complete. The nest is made of lichen and 2000 or more feathers - watch for the birds carrying these. The pair are actually old friends; last year they built in the hedge on the lane close by, though sadly (probably) a cat or a magpie pulled out the nest. Hopefully they will do better this year! - George

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Snowdrops

If you haven't seen the snowdrops at the front of St Mary's church they are lovely. Below them, the church wall is literally covered with snail trails - the whole wall shines when the sun falls on it. Obviously, snails do not eat snowdrops! - George

Birds singing

No time to walk off road today! But the birds live among us: a cheerful pied wagtail was singing, in the sunshine, from the parapet above the entrance to Boots in the High Street. Outside the library, a long-tailed tit was chirruping in the tree above the phone box. And by the river bridge, in a hawthorn ten paces from the traffic lights - a treecreeper, singing so loudly I could hear it many yards away, even over the traffic. They all live in the same busy world we do - we must care for their needs too! - George

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Bird surprises

Two bird surprises near the traffic lights today! A grey wagtail flew up from the stream - but this one flew over the road and over the Palmer Road housing estate. Where was it going? Then a big brown bird flew low over the stream towards the Waitrose roundabout. Not a duck, or a heron. Funny, surely not a tawny owl in daylight? No - it was a young buzzard. Then it flew back again, yards from the traffic. What was it looking for along the stream? Creation, just like the Creator, can be mysterious at times! - George

Monday, 28 January 2008

Arclid Brook


Despite all the roaring traffic at the roundabout below Waitrose, I stood there watching a long-tailed tit cheekily hopping around just above where Arclid Brook flows under the road. I was watching to see if the bird was carrying feathers to a nest, but not just yet: everything has its season, as the Bible says. Click on the link above to see a photo (on the blog) of Arclid Brook here in winter - George

Goldfinches

Goldfinches were everywhere I looked in the park on Saturday morning. I think they must be one of the commonest birds around the Park at this time of year. They were certainly the noisiest when they all broke into song as a female sparrowhawk drifted over! - George

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Fern


At one point on the Trail (I won't say exactly where, you must look for yourself!) grows a very neat little Fern with the odd name of Black Spleenwort, an uncommon species in Cheshire. Click on the link above to see a picture of it (on the blog) taken on the Trail in January - George

Jackdaws

On the chimney pots of the town centre, large black birds were much in evidence. Jackdaws are often to be seen and often to be heard against the skyline. The Swan Hotel is one favourite, but most of the taller larger buildings have their resident “daws” - George

Saturday, 19 January 2008

St Mary's Wood

St Mary's Wood has a colony of Snowdrops growing attractively amonst Ivy on the woodland floor, that can be glimpsed from the Trail near the traffic lights in January and February. It's also worth looking for birds starting to look at the nextboxes which the "Friends" of the wood worked hard to make and put up! - George

Climbing birds

I have seen both treecreepers and nuthatches at St Mary's churchyard. Treecreepers normally climb up tree trunks - but one was climbing up the high moss-covered retaining wall of the churchyard at the top of Church Street, looking like a brown and white mouse! A nuthatch sings its "pebble-tapping" song sometimes in the churchyard near the Town Pump. Perhaps they are visitors from St Mary's Wood across the road. Did you know that nuthatches can climb up and down trunks but treecreepers can only climb up? - George

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Molehills

There were lots of molehills near Post No 10. Most were soil brown, but in one hollow they were almost pure sand. That's exactly the spot where the sand-loving flowers grow in summer - George

Morning

Small birds were everywhere at the bottom of the Park. A Coal Tit was in the treetops, a Nuthatch was calling loudly from the side of a Willow by Dingle Lake, and two Dunnocks were singing competitively to each other at the side of the track below the Park pond. So many people miss the birdsong because they turn out too late in the morning. The Bible says that God’s faithfulness is new every morning, too. Why do we so easily forget the best time of the day? - George

Grey Wagtail

I took a slight diversion from the Trail, to see whether global warming had already brought any of the Snowdrops below the front of St Mary’s Church into flower. Indeed it had – before Twelfth Night! But even more elegant, to my surprise, was something on the pavement below the blooms – a beautiful Grey Wagtail, its yellow rear underbelly positively glowing in the low sunlight. When a car pulled up by it, it flickered easily across the road and landed in the centre of the Old Hall Hotel car park, surely as elegant as any visitor that ever arrived there - George

Hazel

Near Post No. 11, amongst a bank of leafless shrubs, one still had leaves – but only at the tips of its slightly downy twigs. It was a Hazel, with just one or two of its big round, bright green leaves on each stem, as if it were holding so many flags out. I’ll know Hazels in winter from now on - George

Woodland in winter

Lots of areas are now getting sunshine that were shaded all summer. This is particularly obvious in and near St Mary’s Wood, where in spring there will be large colonies of Snowdrops and Lesser Celandines. They will benefit greatly even from the weak winter sunlight and exposure that allows warmth and nutrients to reach the floor of the wood - George

Siskins

Pausing near the bottom Sandbach Park gate, above some Blue and Long-tailed Tits in a bush I noticed two different birds in an Alder tree. I realised they were winter visiting Siskins feeding on the Alder seeds. Then I spotted another. Amazingly, as I ‘got my eye in’, more and more just appeared from the mass of Alder seeds, not new birds but ones that had been there all the time, camouflaged perfectly against the tree. Fourteen Siskins in one Alder – a much nicer sight for the season than a partridge in a pear tree! - George

Worms

I’ve never seen so many worm casts as were covering the grass in the Park yesterday. Even on the bowling greens! - George

Courting goldfinches

I was walking down the pavement at the rear of St Mary’s Church, below the wall, when I heard a strange, squeaky bird call. When I looked up, I was fascinated to realise that right above me was a beautiful cock Goldfinch in the middle of displaying amorously to his hen! Again and again, he fanned his tail feathers right out, then wagged his tail slowly from side to side. Well, perhaps it wouldn’t be every girl’s thing. And she did seem a somewhat flighty madam. But she didn’t fly away, at least!

Overheating!

On a house roof, one rather hoarse Crow was announcing its presence with a particularly chesty-sounding Caw-caw-caw-caw. Could it have perhaps caught a bug from the occupants of the house below? Probably their house is overheated just like the planet. If so, will the crow keep them awake? However, no infection would be caught by the plastic herons at Dingle Lake whose presence is supposed to deter the real herons from fishing in the same spot - George

Silver Birch

Near Post No. 11, a Silver Birch caught my eye. When I studied it, I saw how truly elegant a tree this is, with its white bark catching the sunlight and its partly pendulous tracery of purplish twigs quite stunning against the blue sky. Each twig ended in a tiny forked tip made up of two or three small catkins. Perfectly made - George

Bullfinch

Chaffinches have a piping note rather like that of a Bullfinch. I passed several piping chaffinches along the Trail today (Jan 5). Then near Post No. 8, something made me pause and look up. The sound was almost the same, but . . . a fine hen Bullfinch looked down at me disdainfully, then flew shyly away. Isn’t the Creator’s work wonderfully subtle? - George

Teasel heads

The Teasels at Post No 10 are long dead now. But they are still standing in January! I counted 36 of the brown, spiny seed heads. I wonder if there will be more next year? - George