Saturday, 21 November 2009

Unwelcome visitor?!!

A brief dry walk at the start of a very wet forecast weekend saw the Trail grey, cold and windy. Only warm-blooded creatures were active. A Mole has moved into the lawn of Brook Court, but a much more unexpected sight met me on looking over Brook Bridge down at the high stream. Very dark brown in the water, very active swimming leaving chains of bubbles on the surface behind it as it swam below, was a young Mink! No doubt here, it was little bigger than a stoat, far smaller than any otter. A worried Grey Wagtail perched briefly by it, as it worked rapidly downstream, the best view I have had of one hunting. Mink are aliens here, killers of waterbirds as well as destroyer of their nests; but it was still a beautiful killing machine. In the wood two Wrens sang. Further on, over Dingle Lane 25 Redwings flew over to the pond, which was alive with birds. On high twigs two Goldfinch were hunched against the rising gale, which also lifted 25 Jackdaws over the town centre and ruffled 37 Starlings on television aerials. I went home while I was still dry - George

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Even here!

This observer has had little time to look at the Environment Trail recently, but at least one nature sighting was possible today - at the Eco-Fair in Sandbach Town Hall! Folks standing at the A Rocha stall at the event were treated to the sight of a sparrowhawk actually soaring in circles past the building! Perhaps it actually wanted to attend the fair but could not find an open window to fly in! - George

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Season changes

A short walk today showed me how the Park is changing with the season. Perhaps the most unexpected was a singing Chiffchaff near the Pond, perhaps a bird on migration or the local one singing (as they seem to) when it is about to migrate. Also the first Nuthatch I have seen for some time was in song in an Alder there. At the Dingle, a wasp was hovering over something that turned out to be the corpse of a young Short-tailed (or Field) Vole, easily recognisable by its stubby tail and hardly visible ears. Finally and somewhat belatedly, here are some summer pictures taken near the Park Pond. They are 1) a Woodpigeon, and 2) and 3) a young Rabbit that I photographed there. Picture 3) came as quite a shock! It came when as I crept up close to the Rabbit and took the shot: my flash fired unexpectedly! Evidently rabbits have orange-eye where humans have red-eye! - George

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Wagtail in Boots!

I rarely have anything to report from the High Street section of the Environment Trail. However, I couldn't resist describing the juvenile Pied Wagtail that I met pottering around outside Boots. I was actually standing inside the shop door when it pattered towards me and, skidding on the polished floor, nearly shot right into the shop!. It was quite unfazed by the people on the pavement and picked at specks on the pavement right under people's gaze, before flying up to the roof above, whence it would doubtless be down again soon. - George

Saturday, 29 August 2009

When the sun shines!

Insects are having a difficult summer, but when the sun does come out many appear. In the last week a walk round the Trail found seven species of butterfly, notably 7 Painted Ldies and 1 Large Skipper (near Post 10), and four of dragonflies, with Southern Hawker as well as brown Hawker at the Park Pond. At the latter site Water Mint is in full flower as is Hemp Agrimony, while a female great Spotted Woodpecker was showing off in the tree above the platform. At the Dingle a Buzzard was calling unseen - George

Monday, 27 July 2009

A wet walk

A wet walk round the Environment Trail on Sunday produced just a couple of bumblebees from the insect world. However, birds included Bullfinch and a bored looking young woodpigeon, while the flowers included completely new ones for the Trail. Lesser Reedmace (Lesser Bulrush) was a new find at the Park Pond, as was a plant of Celery-leaved Buttercup in the new culvert there. Common St John's Wort was another new record both on the Trail and the side of the bypass, where it may have been sown but has not been recorded before. Finally the walk party was shown the Hard Shield Fern in Front Street, where the Mosses were also noted to be in unusually good health for the time of year because of the sadly wet summer! - George

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Summer days

All sorts of wildlife is to be seen at the moment. Last week along the Trail, both Sparrowhawk and Buzzard flew over me. A Brown Hawker dragonfly over the Park Pond was the only one of this insect, but butterflies were widespread. Gatekeepers were in evidence at Post No 10, with Speckled Woods and Commas in several places, and the odd Green-veined White. In two places I was delighted to see Holly Blues, one of which appeared to be drinking presumably mineral-rich salts from the moist sandy soil of a recent molehill. In the hedge around the old Sandbach Waterworks site, a clucking hen Blackbird was about to feed a couple of Peacock butterfly caterpillars to her brood. One Moorhen was on the Park Pond, but no chicks in sight. - George

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Sunny patches

Many places are shaded (am I the only environementalist who feels that we may be planting too many trees?) but along the bypass there are glorious open banks of wild flowers, many sown when it was built. Sown or not (and most introducees, apart from the ineradicable Ox-Eye Daisies, usually die out fairly soon) they are all wonderful for colour. Today I found blue Meadow Cranesbill, a newly traffic-sown Common Mallow, and - to my surprise, a small clump of a new species for the Trail, the lovely yellow Imperforate St John's Wort. Sadly the dull weather meant few insects apart from Meadow Browns every metre of the way, and the odd brilliantly colourful red-and-black Cinnabar Moth. What fun to have a Creator who likes bright colours! - George

Summer birds

It's always difficult to see wildlife in summer when the foliage is thick. However, sneaking round the Trail with a camera I was able to get a close view of a hen Blackbird, clucking worriedly as she paused before feeing her young. Interestingly, my picture, when blown up, also showed what she was carrying - a couple of the black, spiny caterpillars of the Peacock butterfly, probably plucked from a colony of them in s a nearby sunny nettle patch. Other than that, few birds were actually insight today, although I could hear Long-tailed Tits at the pond, a Bullfinch near Waterworks Farm, singing Blackcaps, and even a Great Spotted Woodpecker - George

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Fern count

A count of the Black Spleenwort colony in Front Street found 9 good (or fairly good) clumps this year, also one of Hard Shield Fern. However, both were outshone by the Germander Speedwell growing above. Another species on the Trail that looked a treat was the Bulbous Buttercup at the Dingle, which was an attractive show after our litter-clearing there early in the season! - George

May Serendipity

In May one never knows what one might find along the Sandbach Environment Trail. A bit like the Christian life, I suppose. At St Mary's Wood, several Small White butterflies seemed for some reason to adore the Wild Raspberry there. At the Dingle I was surprised to find two Buff-tailed Bumblebee queens together, one of them excavating a deep hole for no obvious reason in some (I think) Brachythecium moss. At the Park Pond, three spikes of what appeared to be orchids by the water were obviously not but instead a new species for the Trail, pink Bistort. Near Waterworks Farm, looking in vain for ladybirds I found instead a Common Green Shield Bug, another new species. Finally at Post No 10, yet another new find was a Brown-lipped Banded Snail (no, not in a garden!!) - George

Shrill birds!

Starting a walk down the trail, shrill birds were the order of the day. Several Swifts were screaming high over the High Street. below the Post Office, a Goldcrest was singing in a garden by the path. Opposite St Mary's Wood, far more shrill sounds revealed a hugry family of Blue Tits in the tree tops. And then a Wren joined in. Further on, Blackcaps were singing; I counted four, in St Mary's Wood, at the Dingle, by Dingle Lake and (across the bypass between cars) in Filter Bed Wood. - George

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Spring Butterflies

The warm weather until now has been good for butterflies. Orange Tip, Speckled Wood and various Whites have all been seen. There have been no reports of Brimstone yet - watch out for this large palish yellow butterfly, a lovely sight for the observant spotter - George

New flowers

A cheerful walking party on Sunday 26th April had a very pleasant tour of the Trail. Highlights included the discovery of a couple of new plants for the Trail. The attractive Large Bittercress, a far nicer plant than its fast-seeding small garden relatives, was observed flowering by the stream in Brook Bridge Wood. It is known to grow in Offley Wood but this is the first viewable location along the Trail. An odd sighting was an established colony of the garden escape Tuberous Comfrey beside the Park Pond. - George

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Tawny Owls

Tawny Owls have been vocal even near the town centre area this spring. At least one male has been heard hooting along the edge of Sandbach Park. Apart from that, this observer has been too busy to record summer visitors along the Trail yet - has anyone any reports to send in? - now is the peak season! - George

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Park drains

Work in Sandbach Park to lay land drains will alter some of the wildlife. The marshy slope at the bottom of the open grass will dry out more, so there may be fewer Lady's Smock in flower there come May - but I was pleased to see the work had carefully left in place the beautiful Marsh Marigold just starting to flower there. But the combined new drain will increase the water flow through the Park Pond, which can only be a good thing. And the marsh will be back, little by little! - George

Birds in order!

A cold day today - so I walked (briskly) the entire official Sandbach Environment Trail. And I decided to record the singing birds in the order I heard them. Some suprises! What would be first? Robin? Blue Tit? NO . . . . Old hollies below the Post Office - Goldfinch! Solitary car park Scots Pine opposite Brook Court (I'd never noticed it before) - Coal Tit! Both St Mary's hollow and Front Street - Wren. Churchyard - thought I heard a Mistle Thrush, but could not locate it. Old Tudor Cottage - Greenfinch. Park Pond - Robin, Blue and Great Tits (also two drake Mallard on the pond, now nearly all the rubbish has gone). Dingle - Chaffinch. Ravenscroft Close - er no, no ravens!! Adlington Drive - Starling. Waterworks Farm - House Sparrow. Opposite Filter Bed Wood - no singers but a fine Jay nipping across the road between vehicles. Post No 10 - Blackbird(s). Post No 11 - Dunnock. Upper Park - Woodpigeon. Commons - no singers but a Pied Wagtail flying fast downwind! High Street - no birds yet- only Easter Eggs!! But perhaps the message of Jesus' resurrection on the first Easter Day is the most important and wonderful thing any of us can hear - George.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Badger

A sad sight on the bypass yesterday was a dead badger, between Filter Bed Wood and Dingle Lake. Sad and a tragic indictment on our roaring traffic, but nevertheless an illustration of how much wildlife can be found near the Environment Trail and the town centre. In wildlife, as in faith, there is much that is far closer to us than we realise, and there are many things we should pay far more attention to in the Bible's picture of the Creator's work than we do. There are no badger setts currently in the Environment Trail area (that we know of) and this was probably an animal moving through from setts beyond the motorway or further down the valley of Arclid Brook. But its presence, and its loss, are equally poignant in our human world-zone. - George

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Litter but no rider!

A valiant assault on the litter round the majority of the Sandbach Environment Trail was made by members of the A ROCHA group - kindly aided and equipped by Dick Macaulay (& sponsors) of the Sandbach Clean Team. It amassed a huge volume of bags, cans, bottles, two footballs, one giant water pistol, one table, and even a bike and helmet (but thankfully no rider!), the latter being dragged out of the Park pond. Six group members "got their eyes in" very well as the excellent equipment helped them to make short work of a huge amount of mess obscuring several parts of the beautiful world we have to care for. The project was timed before spring flowers came up and birds (including the moorhens at the Pond) could be nesting. - George

Bees and Barbel!

The anti-litter expedition today, although not a wildlife trip, incidentally turned up nice records of Grey Wagtail (along the stream), Bullfinch and possibly Blackcap, Snowdrops still in flower, a couple of queen Buff-tailed Bumble-Bees (at the Dingle) and even a (dead) fish (caught by me while chasing a floating can in the river) which turned out to be a young Barbel - a new species for the Environment Trail and a good sign of the health of the stream. - George

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Bullfinches in town!

A nice sighting comes from Andrew Bailey, who heard Bullfinches (at least two) calling in the thick hedge bordering the service road to Waitrose and the Post Office, a little below the post boxes, on Wednesday 18 Feb. He does not remember hearing them near the town centre before. If you are not familiar with the call of the Bullfinch, it is a soft piping that is very often all you will see of these beautiful but shy birds. Both in the natural world God created for us, and in God's inner handiwork in our lives, there are many treasures only to be discovered in secret places - George

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Mosses

The humblest things in Creation are not to be overlooked. Indeed, as geneticist JBS Haldane commented, the Creator obviously delights in them: “If one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of his creation it would appear that God has a special fondness for stars and beetles”! Even more, humble, perhaps, are Mosses; but the ones coating the walls near St Mary's Church are just becoming really gorgeously hued at present, particularly the mixed russets and greens of Twisted Wall Moss which coats nearly everywhere. In Front Street, look out for the beautiful cushions of Grey-cushioned Grimmia on the pillar tops. Some mosses do not even have names; below the bypass roundabout by the stream, I think Eurhynchium praelongum is the moss that coats every stone edge - but don't quote me - George

Winter Greens

February is not thought of as a plant month. However, the evergreens in St Mary's Wood show off nicely when they are the only high greens. Scots Pines with their mid-length needles and salmon pink upper bark are familiar, but I had never noticed the impressive (I think) Corsican pine, dark-trunked with very long needles, that stands near the top corner of the wood. Holly and Ivy (especially Ivy!) were also attractive. Flowering plants were scarce, though I found whiteShepherd's Purse and a Bittercress near the Post Office and, oddly, a plant of Red-Dead-Nettle in flower on the high wall below the church - George

Spring Birds

With the sudden end of the cold weather, Sandbach Park was full of noisy birds! Greenfinch, Starling, Robin, Blue Tit, Dunnock, Chaffinch and three different Song Thrushes were all in full cry. Less attractive noise came from the male Blackbirds, which were chasing each other around with angry determination. Elsewhere on the trail, near Front Street, another bird call caught my attention; when I looked up a Great Spotted Woodpecker was flying over the houses and over me. The sharp "kik" call of Great Spots, once you know it, reveals that these popular birds are far more common that most people think - George.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Rare bird reported

An entry in the bird sightings log at Sandbach Flashes (which also logs other local sightings away from the famous Flashes) indicates that a rare Marsh Tit has been visiting a garden bird feeder since December in the Bechton Close/Old Mill Road area (near Post No 10 of the Environment Trail), with the last recorded date being 9th January. Marsh Tits are rare in this area and are easily confused with the similar (also rare) Willow Tit and possibly the common Coal Tit. However, the bird was reported by an observer who regularly watches Willow Tits at another local site, so the identification must be presumed correct. It probably visits the gardens across the bypass from Offley Wood, and could well be seen again - watch out! - George