THINGS AROUND US

Things Around Us
Having lived here for 40 years, and in the first of a series, we welcome Peter Lockwood’s inspiring observations on the world around him at Lea Bailey. A reminder if we needed one of what a truly wonderful part of England we live in.

A VIEW FROM HILL

Grey squirrels look such charming little fellows but really they are a terrible threat to so much of our nature. Every late summer their damage to trees shows up in the form of dead leaves on branches. Trees of all sizes suffer, sycamore, silver birch and maple seem to be among their favourites. 
Around June, when food appears short, squirrels turn to stripping bark from tree trunks and branches which results in parts of trees dying, also allowing disease to enter the tree. There are a vast number of damaged trees to be seen in and around the forest. I have lost mature silver birch and maple trees to squirrels (not to mention apples, pears and walnuts). They are not cute little creatures, they are vermin damaging trees, red squirrels and plundering birds nests. At a time when we are trying to offset carbon emissions by planting forests (and our Queen is asking us to plant trees) one should consider the size of our grey squirrel population. 

It has become very difficult, in many places, to grow trees to a mature size as they have their leaders eaten and their bark stripped. Something to consider before too much money and effort is given to carbon offsetting by tree planting.

A VIEW FROM HILL
This last summer was not especially special from a weather perspective but it did provide some days when it was suitable to sit out on the lawn and enjoy a drink. On such occasions I take pleasure in watching the robins feed. I keep our lawn close cut which seems to expose to the robins worms and creepy crawlies for them to feed upon. The robins like to perch, often in a rose bush, overlooking the lawn and then fly down whenever they see something move which they fancy eating. There can then be a tug-of-war to extract a worm from the ground. Now, I have sat for hours on that lawn, in a chair, and I have tried to spot worms or other live things that may be of interest to a robin. All without success. My conclusion is that a robin has far better eyesight than myself, they can see targets yards from themselves, although I have not, as yet, tried looking whilst perching in a rose bush. And where would I put my drink if I did?

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A VIEW FROM LEA BAILEY – NATURE’S BALANCE
Recently, outside the window where I am sitting, a robin perched on a rail with its beak full of nest building material. It looked up, then down, to the left and to the right before deciding it was safe to hop into an adjacent bush. Building continued, on the second day which was rather windy, the robin hung onto the rail with a large leaf in its beak doing its safety watch when a strong gust of wind forced the leaf from its hold. However, the nest was soon built and the pair moved onto the next phase. They made love, twice!, right there in front of me and looked very pleased with themselves. The eggs would have been laid and incubated for then the feeding began. What a busy time that is but with every beak full of food a safety check was made before delivering their morsel to the nest. Then, one morning when I looked out of the window a jay, in beautiful plumage, sat on top of the robin's bush. The jay had done its part in maintaining the balance of nature. I hope the robins have tried again and were successful with their second brood.

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A VIEW FROM LEA BAILEY – BLACKTHORN
Did we have a blackthorn winter? So called because the white blossom can look like snow or frost and it was very cold with frosty mornings. The blackthorn blossoms before its leaves break so there is nothing to impede its snowy impact. It is a bush not to be messed with. I learnt this as a lad, its thorns are long and very sharp and they will tear you and your clothing apart. Mother also warned that their jabs could become septic and if you had one jab you in your eye you could be blinded! Nasty stuff indeed. 
But, it looks beautiful and there seems to have been a great deal of it in the hedges this year. My concern is whether or not this cold weather will allow any fruit to set. Will there be plenty of sloes this autumn to pick and add to our gin?!

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A VIEW FROM LEA BAILEY – THE DISAPPEARING YAFFLE

The Green woodpecker, or Yaffle, is easily recognised by call (it yaffles), its undulating flight and its amazing colours. With these highly distinctive traits how can a Yaffle disappear? They are very much a ground feeding bird and have a great liking for ants which they harvest by using their sticky tongue. From outside our cottage rises the other side of our valley. It is laid to permanent pasture and is grazed by both sheep and cattle which keeps it relatively short. Permanent pasture contains a collection of different grasses, meadow plants and moss which leads to a colour spectrum of greens and yellows. So, when a Green woodpecker, identified by its flight pattern, lands on the permanent pasture it seems to immediately disappear. I have often had this happen to me, even their red crest does not give them away. You may, at this very moment, have a yaffle on a mossy part of your lawn so well camouflaged that it cannot be seen. When they can be seen, they are a wonderful bird to observe. Go forth and seek!

A VIEW FROM LEA BAILEY - DEAR DEERS

Whilst walking along a forest ride on a cold frosty day, with still a sprinkling of snow on the ground, I was awoken from my thoughts by the sight of two Sika deer crossing my path about ten yards ahead of me. I stopped abruptly and stared, they (the deer) continued on their way back into the cover of the forest without being at all startled by my close presence. They made to put a holly bush between me and themselves. I turned into the forest in pursuit and found them standing together behind the holly bush about twenty yards from me. We looked at each other, they were not spooked by me, and after a while they continued quietly, together, on their way as did I. Why were they so calm I wondered? Perhaps they are like ourselves as youths, all loved up, without giving a care for anyone else. Remember those heady days?

A VIEW FROM A ‘LEA BAILEY’ HILL
On Monday 26th of January, with snow still on the ground and the temperature just hovering above zero, I went for a walk in the forest. The sky was blue, and the sun was shining (but it did feel chilly) when suddenly from somewhere above me came this most beautiful sound. Moving slowly and looking up I eventually found the source of this exultation. At the very top of a tall pine tree was a song thrush giving its all.  I then began to think that this is early in the year for a songbird to be claiming a territory. So, was it trying to impress a lady song thrush, one it had just seen in the area, or was it just a practice for the coming mating season? Or, as I believe, it was sung just for me? I loved it. So, leave your indoor lockdown cocoon and see if you can find a bird to sing for you. 

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