Author: James Meikle (Amateur photographer)
The Vyne is well-endowed with trees and there are specialist birds which exploit them for food, refuge and nesting sites.
Two woodpeckers are present in numbers – the Great Spotted and the Green. Despite its title, the former is only the size of a Blackbird and is named to distinguish it from the sparrow-sized Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which is rarely encountered at The Vyne (or anywhere else for that matter) – hence no photo.
In early spring the Great Spotted Woodpecker proclaims its territory by ‘drumming’ – a second-long series of rapid taps on a resonant branch. When feeding in trees, it taps irregularily to dislodge grubs and insects. Its call is a loud ‘quik’, accelerating in frequency when alarmed. It drills nest holes in trees.
Its flight is characteristic – direct and undulating- its wings often closed.
The timid Green Woodpecker is more often heard than seen. Its call is like raucous laughter. Although it also nests in holes in trees it feeds mainly on the ground and has a predilection for ants. It drums more quietly that the Great Spotted Woodpecker. Its old country name was ‘Yaffle’ – the inspiration for the woodpecker which starred in ‘Bagpuss’.
Some birds travel large distances on migration or in search of food but Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers spend their entire lives within a few miles of their birthplace. They seem to be averse to crossing expanses of water.
Other woodland specialists are the Nuthatch (14cm long) and the Treecreeper (12.5cm). Despite their different plumages and habits, they are often confused by inexperienced birdwatchers. A dapper and dashing bird, the Nuthatch moves randomly through the branches when feeding. It also feeds on the ground. Its loud, ‘fluty’ call accelerates manically if alarmed. When nesting it will often adopt an existing nest-hole and if necessary, use mud to make the entrance smaller.
In contrast, the Treecreeper (12.5cm) is mouse-like and unobtrusive. When feeding, it starts at the base of a tree and spirals upwards, pressing its body to the trunk. After reaching the top it repeats the process on a nearby tree and unlike the Nuthatch, its movement is invariably upwards. Often oblivious to human presence, it relies on its streaked brown-grey back for camouflage. Its ‘tsee-tsee’ call is so high-pitched that it is beyond the hearing range of some people. It nests in holes or cracks in tree-trunks.
This perennial herb is also known as Abraham-Isaac-Jacob and part of the family Boraginaceae. This family of plants include Borage and the Forget-me-not. Trachystemon is derived from the Greek trachys, meaning rough, and stemon, a stamen and is native to south eastern Europe and western Asia. In Turkey Oriental borage is used as a vegetable and is also considered to have medicinal properties.
As an early blooming and nectar yielding plant it is good for bees. It grows vigorously and because it is shade tolerant it makes a good groundcover plant. This plant can be found in abundance at the corner entrance to the walled garden and surrounding the foot of our Hundred Guinea Oak close to the Summer garden.
Author: James Meikle (Amateur photographer)
This year, Fieldfares and Redwings missed out on the berry crop and apart from solitary Redwings feeding on Yew, only Blackbirds and Mistle Thrushes ate the berries. Redwings and Fieldfares have been present though, feeding in the field to the right of the entrance road and in the field on the other side of the watermeadow.
The rains of early 2014 topped up the water table ensuring this stayed high all year. Additonal heavy rain in January meant that the watermeadow flooded quickly, bringing ducks close to the hide. Mallards often stayed close; wary ducks such as Teal, Wigeon and Shoveler only came close if the path to the hide remained clear.
One visitor which took advantage of the flooding was a Little Egret and a drake Pochard was a brief visitor to the ornamental lake.
The flooded watermeadow has also attracted geese. Large flocks of mixed Canada and Greylags have been flying overhead – their loud cackling and honking is audible from some distance as they approach.
Because it is shallow, the watermeadow has frozen over for a few hours on several occasions. The ornamental lake has frozen over almost completely once, leaving waterfowl confined to a small area of clear water.
Birds are able to predict weather changes. One of the pictures shows Teal standing on the frozen watermeadow, waiting for the ice to melt. During a long cold spell, waterfowl leave for the coast or the warmer climes of southern Europe. They have to leave while they still have enough fat reserves to provide energy for the flight and getting it wrong can prove fatal.
Diving birds such as Tufted Duck and Little Grebe cannot feed when water freezes over for days at a time and have to leave to find open water but they remained at The Vyne in good numbers.
Hard frost didn’t prevent Canada Geese enjoying a grass sorbet on the lawn in front of the house.
A nationally uncommon visitor to The Vyne was a Firecrest which fed near a ditch in the car park. Tiny, like its close cousin the Goldcrest it is however an altogether brighter and more colourful bird.
A covering of snow in early February provided an opportunity for photography. Robins in particular are very tame at The Vyne and pose well.
Meteorologically, spring begins on March 1st and within weeks The Vyne will be welcoming its first summer migrants.
In the third week of February a pair of Shelduck began visiting the water meadow. This is a species not seen here for some three years to our knowledge.
The purpose of a wassail is to awake the apple trees and to scare away any evil spirits so that (hopefully) we will have a good harvest of fruit in the autumn. The health the trees is ‘toasted’ using a bottle of apple juice and cider. On this occasion the attending princes and princesses (children) soaked toast in cider and placed these amongst the boughs of the orchard trees.
The wassail concludes with a lot of noise such as firing guns (or in our case party poppers) into the trees and banging on pots and pans to ward off bad spirits from the orchard and encourage the good spirits to provide a bountiful crop for the following year. Trust me it’s a lot of fun so do pop a note in your diaries for 2016 and next years gathering.
Nothing quite signals spring like the appearance of snowdrops and daffodils. Our snowdrops carpet many areas of the gardens having multiplied many fold over the last few years. Sharply on their heels some daffodils bloomed last week with more colourful heads popping up around the gardens by the day.
Author: Alan Parfitt (Volunteer garden guide)
It is well into winter now and the hustle and bustle of gentler seasons is a distant memory. The number of visitors we get varies much with the weather. On a winter’s day when its cold, windy and overcast, visitors often enjoy a brisk walk to the woods followed by the discovery of the house, shop or cafe; a few hardy souls do join us occasionally for garden tours even in this weather. For the most part I wonder lonely as a garden guide on our quieter days.
There is always plenty to do in between conducting tours. I walk the estate making sure our visitors feel welcome, answering questions, helping lost souls struggling with a map, watching out for possible problems, checking the chickens and ensuring any children playing with the toys within the walled garden and our Hidden Realm are enjoying their time with us.
The gardens and lakes have obvious charms when the sun is shining. However even on a cold day I take in the beauty of the bare trees and shrubs with their wonderful architecture exposed, standing about the green sward of the grounds. The weeping willows, leafless now, drape more delicately down to the water round the lake; the mighty cypresses stand proud in their green mantle either side of the north lawn.
It is magical to see the gardens gradually change throughout the seasons and at this time, rain or shine, the snowdrops, the first awakening of the year, excite us with their promise of the spring. Visitors come to stretch their legs and embrace the beauty of the gardens. Young mums bring their little charges to run, chat, play and have adventure with our ride-on toys. Young and old hold hands as they wander through The Vyne, a special and peaceful place to enjoy for everyone.
Koelreuteria paniculata (Golden Rain Tree) also known as Pride of India has graced the Summer garden for many years. In spring the leaves are pinkish, turning a wonderful glowing yellow/orange in autumn. The high winds this winter proved a little too much and lead to the trunk being sheared off at it’s base.
It is a sad loss and I’m sure our regular and local visitors will miss the fabulous colour and spectacle it provided to this part of our gardens.
Although there is damage to the Yew hedge as you can see in the bottom left image, this will quickly grow back and fill in over the course of the coming season.