Winter moving in

After a mild autumn, the last few days have shown winter is not far off. With strong winds and rain lasting for several days, winter showed an early hand with a scattering of hail and sleet yesterday. Being stuck inside doing work this weekend didn’t seem so bad with the weather so awful. However, with the closing of my laptop came some brief sunshine. I took the opportunity to go for a short walk around Wybunbury Moss before the darkness drew in.

The scenery around the Moss is certainly now more wintery than autumnal. Most of the trees and hedgerows are now bare but for a last few oak leaves barely clinging on. The grass is fading away from its lush green and is now more waterlogged than usual, following the recent rains.

The wildlife is also more of the colder months with the redwings and fieldfares moving through and finches and starlings flocking in the fields. The sounds of the spring and summer months have long gone and a silence is falling upon the meadows and trees. I heard a true winter sound from the Moss itself – the staccato, tinkling whistles of teal, gathering to spend the season in amongst the small pools in the Moss-side woodland.

With the darkest days of the year to come, those summer months seem a long way off.

The signs of spring

On the way home from doing a bird survey this morning, I went for a walk around Wybunbury Moss. It’s a few weeks since I paid one of my regular visits and, at last, spring is really is starting to show.

Getting out of my car, the first sign was the sound of a chiffchaff letting out its distinctive call from high up in a nearby tree.  To me these diminutive little birds are a clear sign that the season has turned; some are long distance migrants while others stay and overwinter here, but when they start signing I feel spring really has arrived.

Heading up into the church yard, the daffodils are out in full bloom, their heads being buffeted in the increasing breeze.  Other birds are starting to make themselves heard, with greenfinches, goldfinches and gold crests all singing in the trees.

Walking around the outside of the Moss, other plants are showing their first growth of the year. Leaves are coming out on the hawthorn hedges and brambles bushes, dandelions are unfurling their first flowers, nettles are sprouting, the gorse is well out in bloom and the catkins are opening on the willows.

On the far side of the Moss, circling up in the strong winds, was a foursome of buzzards, calling and playing in the rushing air.  There was also a busy movement of jackdaws, crows and magpies all around the area as they prepare for breeding season.

However, the spring is yet to be in full swing; others are missing and yet to arrive.  The great movement inwards of our summer visitors has yet to really be felt but over the next few days and weeks, the woodlands, fields and hedges will welcome a great influx of avian life bring the spring to its rapturous heights.

 

CNCV: The first practical task of the year

It seems ages since I was last out with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers (CNCV); in fact, it was the Christmas task when I last attended a task.  Today, I was out with them at Wybunbury Moss, clearing trees from a wet pasture and burning the resulting brash. We also set about removing a fence that split the pasture in half.

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This task also signalled the end of the winter season for CNCV as it was the last time we could have a fire before the bird breeding season starts.  This is a sad day as far as I’m concerned – having a fire is one of life’s great pleasures!

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There were signs that Storm Doris had been passed as there were a number of trees felled trees dotted around the nature reserve.  It was still quite blustery and the cycle out to the task this morning was tougher than usual but the journey back when much quicker with the wind behind me!

Just before I left, there was a large mixed flock of starlings, redwings and fieldfares making a racket in nearby trees.  Perhaps winter hasn’t finished with us just yet.

A problematic fire

Today, I had another day out with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers on a task at Wybunbury Moss.  We continued with the job of removing trees and spent the day cutting down birch saplings and burning them at the edge of open Moss.

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The task was made more difficult by the problems we had getting the fire started.  We had a good base of old tree trunks and some cardboard boxes to keep the bottom of the fire dry while getting going.  With firelighters, kindling and a bag full of my shopping receipts, the fire started straightaway but we couldn’t get it roaring.  The brash from cutting down the saplings burned far too quickly and left only light ash, so we cut down a couple of medium-sized birch to give the fire some more substantial wood to go at but none of this would catch properly while the fire burned straight through the light brash.  The conditions seemed quite good for a fire – it has stopped raining and there was a light breeze to feed the fire with air – but we couldn’t work out why the fire wouldn’t roar as usual.  It was only when we got stuck into some larger saplings that the mix of brash and thicker trunks, after at least a couple of hours of trying, that the fire started to burn well.  It seems that each autumn we have to re-learn the techniques of building a good fire all over again.

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It was quite a gloomy and moody day for most of the task; we still have a month to go to the shortest day but it seemed like we were already there.  However, the day was brightened by two skeins of pink-footed geese flying over the Moss, probably on their way east to Norfolk for the winter.

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Back to birch

Today was another spent at Wybunbury Moss with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers.  We were out in the very centre of the Moss clearing birch trees and then treating the stumps left behind.  With the fair weather and no sign of rain, it was one of the first chances we’ve had to take advantage of the newly acquired skills in the group for applying herbicide.  Without treating the stumps, the birch would simply regrow and we would end up with even more trees to clear in a few years time.  The herbicide is painted onto stumps and is therefore very localised and only affects the individual trees rather than the wider environment.

Whilst we had fewer people than usual, we still managed to clear a good-sized area of birch but unfortunately there is a huge area to go at and we’ll not doubt be back at the task over the next few months (and probably years!).

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Back to burning trees!

I spent this morning with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers (CNCV) out at Wybunbury Moss doing a task for Natural England.  I missed the last task two weeks ago, and with the early weather looking sparkling, I was keen not to miss another.

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The group is a frequent visitor to the Moss and we have worked in today’s particular spot a few times over the past couple of years.  We were removing trees to soften the edge where the woodland meets wet pastureland on the outside of the Moss.  The strip that we have cleared so far has transformed over the summer, turning from a big patch of mud to an area of lush reeds and regrowing coppice.  This regrowth of the understorey plants will provide good habitats for breeding birds over the coming years but we will no doubt have to return to the cleared areas every so often to cut it back again.

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Unfortunately, I could only stay for the morning – I had work to do – but at least I could go out for part of the day and enjoy the first fire of the autumn, it had been a while!

It’s still summer!

I spent today with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers at Wybunbury Moss working for Natural England.  The Moss is one of the group’s usual haunts and this visit was the first for a while.  Soon it will be time for bonfires but today we spent our task clearing undergrowth that had encroached on the boardwalks around the outside of the Moss.

Before…

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After…

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The weather was perfect with bright blue skies and warm sun making the approaching autumn seem a long way off. In fact, with a chiffchaff singing in the woodland, it seemed more like late spring than late summer.

Whilst we often volunteer at the Moss, we usually don’t spend much time out on the central part of the Moss itself. It’s out-of-bounds to the public due to the danger of falling through the thin peat surface into the lake below. Today, however, we had a walk around this part of the nature reserve and it doesn’t stop giving the feeling of being in the wilderness miles from anywhere.  Despite being close to the village and overlooked by one or two houses, the Moss has an atmosphere of the northern wildernesses – all that’s missing is a bear or moose.

When the trees growing on the Moss get to a certain weight, their roots fall through the peat layer into the lake and they drown. This action has left a number of standing dead trees and they make wonderful photographic subjects (although the shot below isn’t all that great).

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Spring has sprung!

I spent today with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers on another task at Wybunbury Moss working for Natural England.  Heading out this morning, it felt that finally spring is here, with a clear blue sky, strengthening warmth from the sun and birds starting to sing at the top of their voices.

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However, the task today was still very much a winter one, with more trees to fell and burn.  The task we have been doing for the last two visits has been focussed on softening an area of woodland edge by removing some of the smaller trees. This should encourage regrowth of the understory which should in turn provide improved habitats for scrub nesting birds.  After working in the same area last year, the signs of this regrowth are already there.

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With bird nesting season upon us, this could have been the last fire until autumn, a pity as I enjoy them so much, but having a fire in the sun does seem a bit wrong. At the end of what has seemed like a long, dark winter, I’ll quite happily swap having fires for more nice, warm sunny days!

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From brash to ash

Another day spent at Wybunbury Moss with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers burning brash left behind by Natural England’s tree clearance activities.

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It was a lovely spring-like day with blue sky and white fluffy clouds.  The woodland was full of bird song, not quite at it’s full strength but certainly starting to build.