Author Archives: Tom Simon

‘Forest’ doesn’t mean a wooded area, but…

…that doesn’t mean we don’t have a few trees!

For the last month we have been thoroughly engaged in the removal and collection of trees from the Forest for different purposes.

Firstly, we have spent a good few weeks felling Alder (Alnus glutinosa) (which for those who didn’t know is a member of the birch family) from a carr (wet woodland) on the Forest.

TomAlderCarr1_tonemapped

Now, felling trees in a wet woodland isn’t easy and you do have to become quite good at finding where is safe to tread, but it is doable.

This alder carr that we have been working in is habitat for the notably scarce Marsh Fern (Thelypteris palustris). The woodland has been managed on a rotation cycle and this was the first year that the first ‘coup’ (compartment) to be managed has been revisited in 24 years.

The rotational cycle of ‘harvesting’ the wood from one area, then another, then another, and finally back to first is what is known as coppicing. This woodland harvesting management technique has been practiced for a very long time.

The idea is that you can have a near continuous supply of wood and this is good way of maintaining biodiversity in the woodland due to the different ages (which means different height of trees, age of trees and amount of light that reaches the ground).

TomAlderCarr2_tonemapped

In this photo, the managed alder carr is the denser line of trees in the background and to the right are taller trees that we are currently felling; the next stage down in height marks another coup that will be coppiced at a later point in the cycle.

That area we were working did give the opportunity to enjoy sights you get at this time of year such as this little patch of Candle-snuff fungi (Xylaria hypoxylon).

TomCandlesnuff_tonemapped

 

Even the bonfires were helpfully photogenic at times. This was after lunch, where the centre had burned out and left a little flame flickering in the middle of the burned twigs, which I should explain are from the felled trees and is how we ‘clear up’ the unwanted brush.

TomFlame_tonemapped

It is that time of year when, walking through our drying room in the Visitor Centre, it looks like we are under attack from Scots Pines:

TomShaunoftheDead_tonemapped

Yep, we’re out collecting Christmas Trees that we sell, for £2.50 a foot, at the Visitors Centre. The point of the exercise isn’t just to provide trees to sell, for £2.50 a foot, but for the benefit of the heathland. If left alone, the heathland could become dominated by these trees, which we sell at the Visitors Centre for £2.50 a foot.

On one of our last visits to find trees to sell (for £2.50 a foot), I noticed something lying on the ground. It turned out to be a piece of tank track, somehow left behind from when the Forest was used for army practice during both World Wars.

TomTankTrack_tonemapped

It is now back at the Visitor Centre, just to the left of the door into the Information Barn along with other finds of this nature, where we are currently selling Scots Pine Christmas Trees for £2.50 a foot.

That’s about it for me in blog terms for 2014 except to say that I have now completed my first year of working on Ashdown Forest and it has on the whole been a very rewarding experience.

I fear though that I may have started a tradition of when a person completes their first year they have to bring in a cake for the Ashdown Forest team. I was pleasantly surprised with the feedback I received and it was followed up (in not a begrudging way at all) by Steve, who started a week after me. We are all looking forward to the first week in June which will mark the end of Ash’s first year!

I’ve learned a lot and am still looking forward to seeing the Great Grey Shrike that is somewhere between Gills Lap, Camp Hill, Old Lodge and Poundgate. I would like to say how much I have enjoyed writing the blog and the positive feedback I have had from people – thank you very much!

I would like to leave this year with the undoubted highlight my year on the Forest, summed up in this digiscoped image. It was on a litter round, on the 16th of June 2014, seen from Gills Lap Car Park and over looking Wrens Warren Valley on what I have come to think of as ‘The Day of the (Short-toed) Eagle’.

TomShortToedEagle

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Tom, your friendly Countryside Worker.

Stop, go, stop, go…

Hello again!

Well, autumn’s here! Some may say winter, but I don’t like to think that way just yet.

The weather that has been coming through the country recently has affected our work a bit, but it has given us some wonderful ‘cloudscapes’ as the weather crosses the Weald.

TomSkyscape_tonemapped

That being said, there is one thought always in my head when I see the clouds in this way; “that rain is getting very close”! It’s a good incentive to get moving!

This past week we have been assisting tree surgeons along the A22 in Nutley. We have mainly been helping them by operating Stop/Go boards and by most people’s admission, it is simply the dullest activity! When you are the one stood in the middle telling the people on the boards what to do, you are constantly looking left, right, left, right so much I liken it to watching tennis with a chainsaw helmet on.

Another side of the job is that you have to wear high visibility clothing. Now, I understand that it is a very important to wear this but I have never worn anything quite as loud as these trousers and it does take some getting used too! Or maybe I’m just overly sensitive…

TomHiVis

Also, just to put this question out there, can anyone else see a face in here or is it just me?

TomSpringFace

This is top of one of our traffic sign frames and I’ve always thought that there was something ‘facey’ about it.

Aside from that, it’s back to the time of year when the wood burning boiler is warming up the Visitor Centre and Offices. Tom Chimney

I am still learning how to use the boiler properly, such as the correct settings of the air flaps on the front of the door, but I think a smoking chimney is a good sign!

It is a good time though to acknowledge an often overlooked member of the team, the log trolley!

It gets bashed, is out in all weathers and carries a very heavy load but we couldn’t do what we do without it!

I do think though that after pushing it around the yard this winter, we would be in a good position to start bobsleigh training.

TomFirewood

This is the time of year when the bird autumn migration is underway and unexpected birds can drop in! The Short-toed Eagle from earlier in the year was more of a freak occurrence than something just passing through, but the 2 Ring Ouzels (which in appearance are large Blackbirds with white breast bands) that have been on the Forest recently are regular migrants.

I was very lucky to see one after work on Tuesday when I went to the Old Airstrip and after waiting for a while, heard a weird noise, looked up and a ‘thrush’ was flying over; I just managed to see the white band long enough to tell what it was!

Another bit of wildlife that is around at this time of year is the Pale Tussock Moth caterpillar.

TomPaleTussock_tonemapped

This one was found dangling from one of our vehicles, hence why it’s on someone’s glove.

It is named for the pale tufts of hair on its back but added to its luminous green (not as bright as my trousers though…) and the red tail it really is a spectacular thing! A word of caution, do not pick one of these up with bare hands! Those hairs will cause severe irritation!

I will finish this blog with fulfilling a promise I made a while ago when we were carrying out controlled burning on an area for the benefit of Marsh Gentian. This autumn flowering plant has a deep blue flower and is relatively rare in the UK. I said that I would put a photo of one up once they started flowering. Unfortunately, I missed the boat a bit but here is a Marsh Gentian nonetheless!

TomGentian_tonemapped

It’s just not that blue anymore…

Happy Autumn!

Tom Simon.

Where wheelbarrows float (trust me, I know what I’m doing!)

Okay, so this week we Countryside Workers have been attempting to remove a very invasive plant that is growing in the lower of Ellison’s Ponds.

Parrots Feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum) is a pond plant that can dominate areas of water, so much that it can form almost a mat across the surface of the water. When we first started, this was the extent of the Parrot’s Feather:

Ellison's Pond, before

Ellison’s Pond, before

The original plan was to use buckets to carry the pulled plant out and then leave it by the side of the pond to rot down and let any pond life that we may have inadvertently removed make its way back into the water. I then noticed the wheelbarrow we had brought with us and thought ‘that looks like a boat’. We found that not only did it float, but in some places the bank was sloped enough so we could just push the barrow out again!

TomWheelbarrow_tonemapped

There was a knack to it though, as you had to load at the front to start with to counter act the buoyancy of the wheel, but we found that it worked much better than awkwardly double handling the pulled plant.

We are quite used to people coming up and asking us what we are up to and passing comment when we have our mid-morning tea break or lunch, and the funny thing is that I felt disappointed how few people seemed curious at the sight of two wheelbarrows floating in a pond and being very effective.

Anyway, our first day of pond life was interrupted by a call to help find a sheep that had been attacked by a dog. This has been mentioned on the Facebook page and when we found the sheep it was a harrowing sight. We do need to thank the riding group who knew where the sheep was and led us to it. Those of us involved in that incident did feel affected by it and we had a reflective lunch next to Airman’s Grave and the low cloud added to that atmosphere.

TomAirmansGrave

The Airman’s Grave

Later that day though, a bit of lighter relief happened when a couple of horse riders came past Ellison’s Pond and asked what we were doing, got chatting and told us that the previous weekend a Kingfisher had been seen here but that they hadn’t seen one for 20 years.
With perfect timing, they then rode off, got round the corner and a little blue flash shot past and up the ride they had just come from! The Kingfisher was gone but I got out of the pond as fast as one can in waders and even though they were closer to the top of Camp Hill I shouted after them that the Kingfisher was there and I heard a very distant ‘OH NO!’.

It wasn’t the last time we saw that Kingfisher. Late on Wednesday afternoon, Ash was emptying his barrow and apparently the bird flew about 4ft in front of his nose and arched up towards the upper pond. We rushed round and quickly found the bird perching under the large Silver Birch that grows out of the bank.

TomKingfisher_tonemapped

It was there long enough that I could take this not very clear digiscoped picture but at least you can see the blue streak down its back. It was also there long enough that we could show some passersby, when the bird dived for a fish and then perched on a gorse bush right out in the open.

Wildlife that we were perhaps expecting more to find was Raft Spiders. What we weren’t expecting to find were quite so many of them. This is the largest and most brightly coloured individual that we found but there were many more, smaller ones all over the place.

TomRaftSpider
We did find a few odd things in the middle of the pond on the Parrots Feather, including this Buff-tip Moth caterpillar. How it got out there is a bit of mystery!

TomBuffTip_tonemapped

This is what the pond looks like at the moment but we know that we haven’t got all of the Parrots Feather, as there are many roots still in the silt and further removal will be required. But it was all worth it to show just how amphibious the wheelbarrow can be!

Ellison's Pond, after

Ellison’s Pond, after

 

Tom Simon

Countryside Worker

Jacobaea of all trades

While people back at the Forest Centre have been enjoying Purple Emperors (not that I’m jealous in the slightest!), myself, Ashley and Katy (a work experience student with us for 4 weeks) have been controlling the spread of Ragwort over the Forest.

As things stand, we have visited every car park on the Forest and tried to remove as many plants as we can from the roadside. There may be stands of Ragwort on rides which we have not got to yet but hopefully we will in due course.

Most of the Ragwort we are pulling up is Common Ragwort, which can grow to about a metre and has yellow flowers. Common Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris) has the potential to spread over disturbed or poached soil and can become dominant. It is not a plant that has been introduced the British Isles and Ragwort and Groundsels are members of the Daisy family.

TomRagwort1_tonemapped

Common ragwort

Common Ragwort contains toxins (pyrrolizidine alkaloids), which, if ingested in large enough quantities (it varies from animal to animal), can damage and, in some cases, fatally damage an animal’s liver.

Ragworts are an important food source for insects and for some species, most famously the Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae), it is their main food plant. Cinnabar Moth caterpillars are black and yellow striped with little hairs and touching them can cause a rash. The caterpillars store the toxins ingested from the Ragwort in their bodies.

Because of the Ragwort’s close association with insects such as this we are leaving some Ragwort for them.

TomRagworms1_tonemapped

Cinnabar moth caterpillars

It is worth knowing what is not Ragwort, as there are plants that we have left that do look similar.

The first one, which looks most similar in my opinion, is Perforate St. Johns Wort (Hypericum perforatum). This is a fairly common plant on the Forest and can look very similar to Ragwort but the stamens on the flower protrude a lot further and only have 5 petals, whereas Ragworts have many more!

TomHypericum

Perforate St John’s-wort

Also similar is Common Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica), which just to be terribly unscientific, looks like little sunflowers on stalks. Common Fleabane also has a lighter green stem and leaves than Ragworts.

TomFleabane

Fleabane

Common Groundsel, which is also in the Daisy family, has deeply serrated and hairy leaves. This is possibly the most Ragwort-like looking plant of the lot and can also be a food plant of the Cinnabar Moth. I haven’t knowingly found any on the Forest yet but if I do I’ll take a photo of it!

Another plant to that looks similar is this, Goldenrod! This grows about the same height as Ragwort but has pointed leaves and narrow, drooping flower heads.

TomGoldenrod

Canadian goldenrod

Finally, we have something that can look surprisingly like ragwort from a distance: dead Bracken!

TomBracken2

That’s all the yellow flowering plants I can cope with for now!

Should have some good insects for the blog!

Your friendly Countryside Worker,

Tom.

Short-toed Eagle – what a week!

As some visitors to the Forest may have noticed, over the past week there have been a lot of birdwatchers around, mostly at either the Old Airstrip and Black Bog or at Gills Lap.

What has attracted a lot of them is a Short-toed Eagle, a nationally incredibly rare bird of prey.

So, what exactly is a Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus)? Well, it’s a medium sized bird of prey, slightly bigger than a Common Buzzard. The bird here at the moment is a young bird and so has light brown upperparts and dark edges to the upper wings which can look like it has pale ‘shoulders’. Its underparts are very pale and have very faint markings. It has yellow eyes and a bit of a crest so when its settled the head can look quite big. It feeds on reptiles, which is one reason why it’s settled on Ashdown Forest as there are plenty of reptiles around!

(Photo: Bob Pask/Ashdown Bird Group)

(Photo: Bob Pask/Ashdown Bird Group)

 

I had seen on one of the birding websites that this bird had turned up in Dorset about 2 weeks ago and had been flying around southern England since, but I didn’t really think it would turn up here!

Why is it here? By complete accident is the simple answer. Short-toed Eagles usually come up to halfway up France and may just creep into Germany from the east. For one of these to come the UK is a very rare event. This is only the 3rd ever Short-toed Eagle seen in the UK and A LOT of birdwatchers will want to see it.

Unfortunately, not all bird watchers are as responsible as they should be so some may try to get a bit too close to get that perfect photo and could cause unnecessary disturbance to other wildlife, so please be careful!

I first tried to see the bird early on the morning of Monday 16th June while it was at Black Bog. After the first person I asked had told me to look in entirely in the wrong place for the eagle, I joined the group of bird watchers who had just been watching it perched in tree in the open.

I then prepared to wait for the bird to reappear but unfortunately, for me, I had to go off for our Monday Morning Meeting, with one of the birders telling me to “get my priorities straight”.

I knew that I and our new Countryside Worker, Ashley, were due to do a Forest-wide car park litter pick, which was fine with me with this thing flying around!

STE3

STE2

(Photos: Bob Pask/Ashdown Bird Group)

We had our mid morning tea break in Broadstone Car Park where a birder pulled up and said that the eagle was headed over to Gills Lap, happily the next car park we were due to visit. Just as we arrived, the Short-toed Eagle was hanging in the air. I grabbed my telescope and rushed over to get a good view and watched on as the eagle plunged down and landed on something, but this time it didn’t come up with a reptile.

Not only did this bird attract a lot of birders, it also attracted all of the Ashdown Forest Conservators staff out at lunchtime to look for it! Sadly, no photos of this rare event exist for prosperity.

It is worth noting that we did carry on with the litter round and on this crazy day I ended up giving an impromptu talk about the eagle to a school trip next to Friends Clump!

That was the last I saw of the eagle until after work on Tuesday 17th June at Black Bog again. When I got down there I was amazed to find that someone had found its perch, deep in the Scots Pine trees, and for the next two and half hours my and the other 30 birders view of the eagle was this:

STE4

Yep, one of those pale blobs is the eagle!

Eventually, as I’m watching it takes off and everyone is treated to a wonderful circling flight over the woodland. The bird then loops over and up towards the airstrip and out of sight.

(Photo: Neil Fox)

(Photo: Neil Fox)

As a collective group, everyone is looking at each other to see who will go first. In the end, it was me! I headed up the track towards the Old Airstrip, with a look behind me to see the majority of the people following in a cloud of dust and tripod legs at all angles.

We got to the top of the slope and can’t see the eagle but in my mind I’ve had some fantastic views and as I’m on the airstrip in the evening sun I’ll wander back happy.

I am all alone at this point as everyone has stayed to see if the eagle comes back. When I get about a third of the way back up the airstrip I can see through a gap in the trees a white thing on top of a lone Scots Pine. Sure enough, it’s the eagle!

(Photo: Neil Fox)

(Photo: Neil Fox)

I am still by myself so I start waving to attract someone’s attention and soon the same tripod filled dust cloud comes hurrying up the airstrip and before long there is a line of birders lining the whole airstrip!

STE7

As I write this the Short-toed Eagle is still on the Forest and seems quite settled so it is unknown how long it will stay here for. There is a chance for this bird to find its way back to where it should be when it comes to the time of year it should migrate back to Africa.

It is worth pointing out that this all happened in Ashley’s first week of working here and not only that he found a £5 note on the litter round! Apparently he did buy a lottery ticket but I’ve yet to hear how that turned out.

AshFiver

One crazy week!

Tom.

(Thank you to the Ashdown Bird Group, Bob Pask and Neil Fox for the photos).

 

Question Time, of sorts…

For this week’s blog, I thought that I would try to tackle some questions people may have about the work we do, while at the same time telling you what we have been up to.

So to start with:

How many horns can Hebridean sheep have?

TomHebridean

Well, as I found out when I helped the grazing team with spraying the shearlings with an anti-blowfly, err, spray, it can vary a lot! Most have two, this one has four (and it might be this one which is called Dark Star but one of the grazing team would know) but some in there do have five!

 

 

How do you choose the right litter picker?

Well, it’s not as easy as it looks! What you want to do to start with is look along its length, much like you would when selectingTomPicker a snooker cue, so check that your litter picker is straight and not twisted (this one is prime example). Then it gets tricky because I am quite tall but prefer a shorter litter picker! Bizarre I know, but it really is down to an individual’s taste.

 

Why are some Bluebells white?

TomBluebell

Either:

a)      Because they are albino versions of normal Bluebells and are lacking the necessary pigment to be blue.

b)      Or because they are ones that have been touched by moonlight.

I know which one I believe!

What does the view from Stonehill Car park look like if you stand on your head?

Ta-dah!TomUpsidedown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is the best technique for sweeping out the tractor shed?

Well, opinion on this does vary but I like what I call ‘The Hawth’ technique (named after the way the stage is swept at The Hawth Theatre in Crawley). You sweep from the sides of the shed, make a line of sweepings, if you will, in the middle and then sweep up the line.TomSweeping

I find it quick, efficient and it gives you time enough to take a photo of it :-)

What are these spiders?

TomSpiderlingsI found these spiderlings on one of our bins at our dump last week and just by looking on some social media a few other people have too!

They have yellow bodies and black rear ends (politest way I could describe that anatomical area!).

I had to look it up but these are Garden Cross Spiders (Araneus diadematus).

 

 

How do animals get out of cattle grids if they fall in?

Simple! Sort of… There are holes in the ends of the girders that support the cattle grid and a ramp for the animals to climb out! This is looking through the holes with the ramp at the end after we had just cleared this cattle grid out. TomCattlegrid

That is all of the questions that I can think of for now!

I will try to think of some more questions for next time or write something completely different,

Tom Simon

 

Adders, udders and Exmoors

Tom PoniesWell, it has been a while since I’ve done a blog (hopefully no one’s noticed but I have been on holiday!) and I’ve had a few days with the grazing team, in between more litter picking and other estate management related jobs. TomPonies2

I was involved with moving our 6 Exmoor ponies from the grazing enclosure at Arden’s to an enclosure at Lone Oak.

Here they are at Lone Oak, drinking from one of the pools and mingling with the Woodlarks.

Going out with the grazing team does mean that I get to a few places that I otherwise wouldn’t, including Windy Ridge. The other day we came across this striking male Adder! TomAdderThis is the first Adder I’ve seen on the Forest (still waiting for Dartford Warbler!!!) and this one is trying to climb a garden wall – he did eventually find a hole to shoot into.

The Adder was at Windy Ridge and that is where our Hebridean Lambs are. They are still getting to know the world and here are some finding out what a twig is. TomLambsThey are still reliant on milk from their mothers (hence the udders reference in the title of the blog) and after the ewes have eaten their pellets there is a period of loud bleating from all the sheep as they are reunited.

I am trying to get to know my moths a bit better and not one to pass up an opportunity, here is a Maiden’s Blush TomMaidensBlush(thanks to iSpot for identifying it for me) that landed in the wheel of one of our tractors while we were having lunch.

In another unlikely spot, here is one of the more colourful day-flying moths, a Cinnabar Moth! This one was just at the entrance to our dump on a dock stalk. I always think it’s worth reiterating if you find a black and yellow stripped caterpillar it’s probably one of these and DO NOT PICK IT UP! You will get a rash from it! This moth extracts the toxins from its food-plant, Ragwort, and uses them as a defence against predators. TomCinnabar

All good fun as we continue through 2014 (how are we halfway through May already?).

That’s all for now,

Tom Simon

Countryside Worker

 

 

Fencing, more fencing and a lot of rubbish!

Recently in our funny 6000 acre world we have been focusing on the fences around the main grazing area. For the most part, we don’t need to replace the wire, just replace stakes or posts, and missing fencing staples. Still, it is a nice excuse to be out and about on the Forest, although Dartford Warblers still evade me!

TomFence_tonemappedWe have also erected the electric fence for a smaller grazing area in Black Bog for our Galloway cattle. The lines through the taller vegetation had already been cut and it took us a couple of days to put up the fence. It isn’t electrified yet but warning signs will go up when it is!TomCone_tonemapped

This is the same area where we cleared the rhododendron earlier in the year and the Scots Pines in that area are a favourite of Crossbills, picking seeds out of fir-cones. Just as we were finishing the last stretch of the fence, one bird was feeding and dropping its discarded fir-cones so rapidly I was able to catch one! Here it is and you can see how all the spines on the fir-cone have been opened by the Crossbill.

I also saw in this area a Green Tiger Beetle, a heathland specialist, on the bare ground just above where we had been fencing.  These only appear at this time of year and if you can get close enough (this one didn’t hang around for long) you can see it has some very impressive pincers!

TomTigerBeetleThe job isn’t all fun, working in nice places and writing blogs, as we are in the middle of the Forest-wide litter pick. Needless to say, there are much more worthwhile things that we could be doing so could everyone please take their litter home with them!

There have been some highlights though, like when I was emptying one bag into another and found a female Great Huntsman Spider (Micrommata virescens) on the bottom. It was quite alright and it scurried away but I was really surprised by the vibrant, bright green!

TomMicrommata

That’s all for now from your friendly Countryside Worker,

Tom.

Light my fire

It’s been a little while since my last blog and we’ve fitted a lot into that time!

TomHail2

First of all, here’s proof that we do work in all weathers, including this hailstorm which was almost a daily (and not always forecast!) occurrence.

We were clearing hardwood tree species and taking the product back to burn in our wood burner back at the Visitor Centre. The main reason, though, was to restrict the spread of trees into heathland, which in the long term would become woodland. However, we do leave Alder Buckthorn (Frangula alnus) as it is the food plant for the Brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni).

We have been seeing the first butterflies emerge in the past 2 weeks, as well as some summer visiting birds, such as our heathland specialist, the Dartford Warbler (Sylvia undata), and Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita).

TomSeahorse

A lot of the trees we remove are Silver Birch (Betula pendula) and some of the stumps are interesting shapes, like this one which I think looks like a seahorse (but that could just be me…)

I have also been trying using my Bushnell Trail Camera which I have used to record wildlife in previous roles and used it for the first time on the Forest the other day. Not surprisingly, the first thing it recorded was a pair of Fallow Deer, but it’s a start!

To see what was recorded, please follow the link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBOoTuNGBgY

One of the management practices that I have most looked forward to carrying out here has been controlled burning of areas. The first place I was on the scene of a burn was not far from Millbrook East car park and we were burning this area for the benefit of Marsh Gentian (Gentiana pneumonanthe). Hopefully I’ll have some photos of this lovely little bright blue flower in July, which is the start of its flowering season.

TomBurnIn the meantime, here’s what ‘the burn’ looked like. One of the advantages of this management technique for removing vegetation is that no nutrients are being put back into the soil, which is key for plants that like low nutrient level soils.

TomBurnAfter

When we have a controlled burn, we have means of putting the fire out should it spread, with 2 water tanks totalling 800 litres of water mounted on the back of one of our trucks and on one of the trailers towed by the tractor.

There are also fire breaks which are usually cut areas so there isn’t vegetation for the fire to use to spread to another area. In this case however, there was a very wet margin and you can see in this photo the limit which the fire spread to.

That’s about it for now. I’ll leave you with a photo of what the Forest looks like from Gills Lap Clump in the fog.

Tom SimonTomFog

A week in Black Bog

TomBlackBog

This past week we have been working in the area that probably has many names; Black Bog, the bottom of the old airstrip or Braberry. Since most of what I was walking through felt like a bog, I’ll refer to it as Black Bog.

TomStrimmer

When the sun has been out, the light through the Scots Pines has been lovely and its really nice to take a moment to enjoy the view, but before anyone thinks that’s all I do here is what my view of the week has mostly been (see right).

I should mention that the brush cutter wasn’t on when I took this photo, but I have just flattened a stand of rhododendron with it!

Rhododendron ponticum, to give its full title, is one of the most invasive and dominating introduced plants in the UK. We are in the process of removing it from this area to prepare it for the grazing animals that will be used on this bit of land.

Once it is cut we gather it up and burn it on site. It’s not the easiest plant to burn and you can end up with a sort of un-burnt core to a rhododendron bonfire, hence this sort of horse-shoe shape.

TomFiredemonAnyway, that part of the Forest has been of interest for another reason this week as one of the Forest’s most notable birds, a Great Grey Shrike, was seen near there (thanks to the Ashdown Bird Group!) and as I was due to take a friend of mine around the Forest yesterday, I thought it would be churlish not to have a look!

TomCrossbill

Common crossbill

We didn’t find the Shrike but the first Scots Pine we walked under was full of Common Crossbills!

This is a male which is red and the female is green. For those who don’t know, the mandibles of their bills cross at the end to enable them to prise open fir-cones to get the seeds.

The flock we saw were very settled and gave great views but left at about 3:30 to go another part of the Forest. It turns that a member of the Ashdown Bird Group arrived at that spot about when we left and found the Shrike so we probably had our backs to it the whole time! Oh well! There were some lovely Woodlark at Poundgate which more than made up for it and the sunset wasn’t bad either!

Until next week,

Tom.

Tom Sunset