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  • Bubble gum? No, pink slime mould.

    Miranda Hodgson on 22 Jan 2011 at 05:16 PM

    One of the apple trees succumbed to honey fungus late last year. It was cut down and the branches put in an adjoining field prior to being cut up and burned. Then we had all that snow, so they waited for some weeks.

    We finally got round to dealing with them last week and found something very interesting along the way. In amongst the beautiful lichens growing along the branches were tiny patches of what looked very much like pink bubblegum. If it wasn’t bubblegum, what was it and how did it get there?

    Most blobs were about the size of a pin head whilst others had grown to about 1cm (approx 0.4’’) across. I’d seen something similar, but that was orange and not pink, though also growing on damp, decaying wood. Going back to my books, I looked up the orange blobs and reminded myself that this strange substance is known as a Toothpaste slime mould and apparently they don’t only come in bright orange, but pink as well. They are actually very common, living on dead and decaying wood, and are not considered harmful to living things


  • How many birds can you spot without leaving home?

    Miranda Hodgson on 07 Jan 2011 at 12:35 PM

    You often imagine bird watchers as being dressed in drab green, sitting in hides in the middle of a marsh, crouched in woodland or crowding together in a church yard to see a rare visitor. You don’t imagine them to be sitting in a small, paved back yard, but it is from just such a yard that the keenest bird watcher I know, Mr John Davison, surveys the bird world. John has been watching birds for over 70 years now and, whilst he may not get about so well these days, it hasn’t prevented him from paying attention from his home in north Lincolnshire - looking out of the window, watching the trees, shrubs, hedges, neighbouring gardens and the skies above. Some are easier to spot than others, of course.

    Male pheasants seem to move about with a curious stealth, as if they believe they are invisible


  • Wildlife highlights - review of 2010

    Miranda Hodgson on 05 Jan 2011 at 01:47 PM

    Looking back over the last year of watching wildlife in the garden, 2010 was a fascinating year with much to be seen, learned from and puzzled over.

    Last January at this time, the ground was covered in snow and ice and we were experiencing the coldest winter for about 30 years. Despite this cold, pigeons were already cooing and bobbing their heads at one another in an invitation to mate. They seem to be the first and the last birds to nest, which might explain why there are so many of them. As winter slowly turned to spring, the activities of mice, birds, frogs and worms became more noticeable. We found stashes of cherry stones in the garage, the woodshed and even in the car engine, whilst the worms in the soil woke from their lethargy and started to move about more. In March, I watched long-tailed tits flying at windows and pecking at them. As they stopped doing this once mating had finished, it was thought to be connected with territory, with the birds maybe seeing their reflections as invaders.

    As the weather warmed, wild honey bees emerged and started to forage on cherry and apple blossom; bumblebees were searching for wall cavities to make nests in; toads and frogs returned to water to mate and I saw many of the strange little bee-mimics called bee flies, which parasitise the nests of solitary bees of the ground-nesting bees by laying eggs in their nests.

    By May, I started seeing birds nesting in hedgerows and in the undergrowth, followed by the discarded shells, carefully dropped by the parent bird a distance from the nesting site. Pigeons, as ever, were the first to hatch and their white shells were spotted in many places. We had a pheasant nesting at the edge of the garden but, although I kept a watch, her eggs hatched when I wasn’t looking and we never saw the young birds. That disappointment was eased by discovering that we had newts at the vegetable garden. They would have been prey to the grass snakes also living there, but the presence of both species shows a healthy environment. 

    Summer saw me watching and recording the building of a wasps’ nest in a shed close to the vegetable garden. It was fascinating to observe the new layers being added to the delicate nest and see the changing behaviour of the wasps. I got chased away by the guard wasps, but didn’t get stung. Ladybird larvae finally arrived in big numbers by mid-July, just in time to get stuck into the multiplying aphid population. Crickets and grasshoppers also showed up in July, around the same time as a great many young birds, who sat cheeping petulantly under shrubs. At the end of July, the wasps’ nest was discovered by what may have been a woodpecker and a big hole appeared in it. The nest was no more and the remaining wasps dispersed.

    In early autumn, I found the strangest thing of the year: a dried out crayfish, high up in a rambling rose, far from water. It must have been dropped by a bird because I simply cannot figure out how else it could have arrived there. By late autumn, the hedgehogs were looking for places to hibernate and the spiders’ webs were drenched with dew in the mornings. Then the dew became frost, the spiders disappeared, the hedgerows became quieter and winter began in earnest at the beginning of December, bringing snow and freezing temperatures. And now a new wildlife year begins – what surprises will there be this year, I wonder?