Snowdrops and Raindrops

It is easy to believe that winter is a time when the chilly, grey landscape has no flowers at all.  At Sun Rising, though, primroses, little cowslips, gorse by the main gate, the occasional determined dandelion, ivy and hazel are all in flower.

Over the last week the snowdrops have begun to flower too.  The first you may have seen here are those that were planted ‘in the green’; these are flowering from the nourishment in their bulbs, bulbs which have not yet put down little roots to replenish themselves.  Flowering a little later and, for me, the most beautiful are those which are well rooted, having been planted a few years ago.  These tend to be scattered, rather than in clumps, the little white flowers peaking through the tatty winter grasses.  If you look carefully, you can spot their sturdy little leaves, darker and thicker than the grasses in which they are growing, before they flower.  They seem to me to have a quiet independence, a brilliant spirit.

Snowdrops in the Rain

Snowdrops in the Rain

Snowdrops don’t much like wet winters, struggling in water-logged soil, so the success rate for the little wild Galanthus nivalis snowdrops we are planting at Sun Rising is not as high as it might be if planting specially bred cultivars.  In the semi-wild environment of the nature reserve, our snowdrops can flower later than those in gardens too.  Each year more come through, though, and despite the recent rain and increasingly wet soil, let’s hope we have plenty this year.

Nor should we yet complain of the rain.  After such a dry 2017, it is lovely to have the moisture in the earth now.  Looking at the photograph here, too, the sparkling raindrops on grass beside the newly flowering snowdrops only adds to the delight and sense of hope: a first whisper of spring.

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The Snug Bedding of Tree Sparrows

One of our winter tasks at a nature reserve is checking the bird nestboxes.  Like many winter jobs that take more skill than energy, it’s one of cold fingers and noses, but with rewarding moments.

Some nestboxes may have patches of rotten wood or other damage – this may be caused by poor drainage (especially in poorly designed or badly made boxes), or because the box is quite old.  Now and then there is evidence of woodpeckers or other creatures tapping holes.  Where possible, these are carefully mended, ensuring anyone who takes up residence in the coming year can keep their clutch safe and sound.

The joy of the task comes when a box is found to be full of nesting material – mosses, dried grasses, wool, fur and feathers.  It can be such a very snug, thick wedge of material, all so carefully collected, it is a shame to empty it out.  We must do so, nonetheless, to minimise disease, the likelihood of parasites, and other problems in the old bedding.  The birds will find fresh new material and make their nests cosy again soon enough.

Nesting Material from Tree Sparrow Box at Sun Rising

Nesting Material from Tree Sparrow Box at Sun Rising

This year, 4 of our 6 tree sparrow boxes were found with good nesting material inside, confirming our observation that the boxes were being used by nesting pairs.  The other 2 boxes were damaged and have now been fixed.  If all 6 boxes are used this year, we’ll invest in some more, hoping to increase our population of this little bird. With a conservation status still at RED, it is estimated that its numbers reduced by 93% between 1970 and 2008.  Our little community is a vital part of its revival.

Note the white to beige pheasant feathers in the nesting material in the photograph. You can also see grey feathers, from a wood pigeon or stock dove. It could be that a fox killed onsite at just the right time, when the tree sparrows were collecting for the box.  There are long semiplume and soft down feathers here, ideal for keeping the nest warm and secure.

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For a moment I wondered what to call this post, but there is nothing more needed: snow.  We have snow.

View from the Main Gate at Sun Rising, 12 December 2017

View from the Main Gate at Sun Rising, 12 December 2017

Not many have made it, or will make it to Sun Rising when the snow is this thick, so we thought we’d show you what it looks like.  You’ll see a few lines of footprints, but there are far more nonhuman tracks – crows, pigeons, pheasants, deer, hare and others.  The birdfeeders have remained topped up, although it’s taken some work to unlock them to do so, and the smaller birds are filling themselves with seed to keep themselves together.

Yesterday morning it was a foot in places, 6 – 8″ covering everywhere.  That meant the little tree plaque posts were almost hidden, the tracks and paths completely obscured.  Thankfully, we have had no funerals these past few days, but for the first time in a good few years we had to cancel a day of tree planting – we are so sorry to the six families who couldn’t make it last Sunday.

With rain due, and the temperature rising, the snow is melting, and we doubt it will last more than a day or so more.  However, if you do come over, please be aware that little pockets of resilient ice may remain – watch your step.


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What a wonderful word: hibernaculum.  A hibernaculum is basically a winter residence, or somewhere where a creature can find shelter to hibernate, and at Sun Rising the creatures we are looking to help in this respect are the newts …

Which is why our new hibernaculum has been built by the pond.  Rich, Tim and David put it together using old bricks, essentially heaped in a pile, leaving nooks and crannies big enough for the little creatures to creep in and feel safe enough to snooze all winter.  The heap is covered in turf, to keep it warm and further protected.

Here’s the pile of bricks …

Rich Building the Hibernaculum

Rich Building the Hibernaculum

and the completed residence …

Tim with the Completed Hibernaculum

Tim with the Completed Hibernaculum

Although you are welcome to find it, please don’t investigate too closely.  When the little creatures have found their way in, they certainly don’t want to be disturbed.

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Pond Work

What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon in late November than up to your waist in muddy water?  Volunteers Tim and Richard, alongside Sun Rising manager David, were working on the wildlife pond last Sunday, in gloves and waders, and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying it.  Here’s the pond before the work began,  and then with Rich and Tim in the cold muddy water.

The Wildlife Pond - before work began

The Wildlife Pond – before work began

Rich and Tim Clearing the Wildlife Pond

Rich and Tim – clearing the pond

If a wildlife pond were left to its own cycles, it wouldn’t take long before the vegetation would take over, leaving no open water at all.  In nature, such ponds come and go, but at the nature reserve we want to maintain the pond and its habitat.  In order to do so, it is necessary to clear some of the bulrushes, bur-reed and broad-leaved pondweed each year.  This is done in late autumn, when the water is cold and many creatures have started their hibernation.

The harvested vegetation is left on the pond bank for a week or so, allowing any little pond creatures that were inadvertently removed at the same time to slide and wriggle their way back into the water.  These include newts, dragonfly larva, tiny shrimps and water beetles.  The vegetation will then be taken to the compost heap.  Here’s a photo of the pond cleared for the year.

The Wildlife Pond -  after the work was done

The Wildlife Pond – after the work was done

Thanks so much to Tim and Rich for their hard work!  Until next year …

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Winter Moths

What might be called a ‘weather window’ happened upon us earlier this week: the wind paused and the temperatures rose, offering a perfect opportunity for two events at Sun Rising.

The first was a last minute moth survey, and being later in the year than we’ve managed before, it was an exciting chance for our friendly mothers (moth-ers) to find moths not recorded at Sun Rising before.

In the event 19 species were recorded, most of these being new for the site.  They included the December Moth – isn’t it a beautiful creature, with its black fur and golden markings?

December Moth, photographed at Sun Rising Natural Burial Ground and Nature Reserve, 14 November 2017

December Moth, photographed at Sun Rising Natural Burial Ground and Nature Reserve, 14 November 2017

A late common darter dragonfly was also found, roosting near the pond.

The other event was that we were able to complete the sowing of Michael’s Meadow, the new area of wildflower meadow between the roundhouse and the pond.  It’s up to nature now …

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The Butterfly Bank

On Sunday, 5 November, a sturdy dozen volunteers helped us weed and plant up the butterfly bank.  It was a beautiful day, with periods of golden sunshine but a chilly sharp wind, and a huge amount was achieved.  Thank you so much to all our volunteers, those with muscles, those with gardening skill, those with resilience and those with cake!

It’s a challenging project: the bank is windswept and can be dry, and over the few years of its development we’ve tried a number of approaches.  Our aim is to populate it with plants useful to a few key butterflies, especially the small blue which is struggling to survive.  It was just the western third of the bank that was our focus on Sunday.  Clearing the grass, thistles, and a few dandelions, we planted out dozens of little pots of kidney vetch, birdsfoot trefoil, rock rose and cinquefoils, most of them grown from seed.  We then laid out some stones along the bank (although many more are needed) – specifically for the butterflies to bask in the sun and show off their incredible beauty.

Planting up the Butterfly Bank

Planting up the Butterfly Bank

Thanks to the volunteers who also helped plant more daffodils, prepare the hedge bank for seeding, and build and burn the brush in a beautiful bonfire.

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Support Sam’s Marathon

Sam Moore is running a half marathon on Saturday 11 November, with funds raised being split between Katharine House Hospice and Sun Rising, in memory of his dear dad Noel.  Do please log on to his fundraising page and support him.  Just a little from everyone makes a huge difference!

Sam Moore

Sam getting ready for his marathon

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Creating Wildflower Meadow

Here at Sun Rising the development of a new area of wildflower meadow is now underway.  This new area will add another acre and a half of wildflower meadow to the nature reserve, making an enormous contribution towards the ecological importance of the site.

At the moment, the area has been ploughed and harrowed, and we’re waiting for some perfect damp still days in which to sow the seed.  That’s a long and painstaking job to be done by hand.  Then all we can do is wait …

Michael's Meadow Ploughed and Harrowed

Michael’s Meadow Ploughed and Harrowed

We’re using a special seed mix, customised specifically for Sun Rising, which means this area will have a slightly different feel from the wildflower areas that area already established.  However, it could take a few years to get there: the seeds that will germinate first will be the arable weeds that have been sitting quietly in the soil waiting for a chance to come through, the charlock, fool’s parsley, fat hen, thistles, willowherb and the like.  Once it settles down, though, this view from the pond, looking up towards Sun Rising Hill, will be absolutely glorious!

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Wildlife Hospital Talk

This is a post to support a trio of local charities: Stour Valley Wildlife Action Group, who are hosting a talk about the Vale Wildlife Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre, in aid of Shipston Home Nursing.  Here’s the information …

SVWAG Talk Poster

SVWAG Talk Poster

Do head along if you can.  Not only will it be interesting, but all in a good cause.

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