Sunday, 17 January 2016

New Year at Quinta

After an exceptionally mild and wet start to the winter, it seems at last the weather is cooling down and perhaps some normality (for the time of year) will return. Where I am in Cheshire we have certainly had more than enough rain, but have been fortunate to have not suffered with flooding here. Thoughts are of course with the people who have been afflicted by flooding, but also with the wildlife affected - for many in these areas this winter will have been their last.

Wednesday 6th January, on a rare afternoon of sunshine, I went over to Quinta arboretum and wildlife reserve to see how things were faring, particularly if wildflowers were emerging with the mildness of the winter.  The first thing I was struck by was the amount of birdsong - it was a refreshing 6/7C but with the lengthening days and the pleasant sunshine, the sound of birdsong was all around. A charm of Goldfinches flew overhead uttering their gentle tinkling song, a volery (the collective noun apparently...) of Long-tailed tits flitted through the branches of a miriad trees in the arboretum. Mistle thrushes, Crows and Nuthatches called, Jays screeched whilst Robins, Blackbirds, Song thrushes, Blue, Great and Coal Tits sang. I attempted a 'soundscape' recording using my camera which includes several of the above;

Perhaps the most striking sight was that of what I presumed to be spiderling silk, perhaps left behind from 'ballooning' (i.e. when dispersing, they climb to a higher point and release silk which is caught on the wind and carries them to another location). Though I thought it a little late in the season to be seeing this if that's correct. Smaller spiders can also use a similar [albeit risky] technique when they want to relocate, and I couldn't help but wonder if perhaps there had been a mass movement of spiders perhaps as a consequence of/in response to the endless rainy weather. (Any suggestions welcome!) The sun lit the tiny strands everywhere I looked - it covered the grass, on every bare branch they were blowing in the light breeze... a veritable sea of gossamer. I spent a little time playing around trying to photograph this (with mixed results!);

Spaced every few centimetres a strand of silk was caught by the light breeze

What I had really come to see however was how the wildflowers were faring with the mild conditions. Usually I wouldn't expect to see Snowdrops in flower until early/mid February (their usual flowering period is February to March) however here they were already in early January, just starting to come into flower - early but of course a welcome delight to see. Wild Primroses too had their first buds - the varieties sold in garden centres of course come in an array of vibrant (some might say gaudy) colours, but I always come back to the pale yellow of the native wildflower as my favourite by far.
Primrose coming into bud
Green Alkanet
Other wildflowers I suspect weren't so much early, as late, and just continuing to flower throughout the relative warmth of the early winter included Periwinkle and Green Alkanet and the occasional daisy. Green Alkanet, whilst native to Western Europe, is an introduced species in the UK, but is very much enjoyed by hoverflies and bees during the spring and summer months when it is more commonly seen in flower. The early leaves of Bluebells which will carpet the ground in spring pushed up through the leaf litter. A beautiful sight (though really much too early) was that of a cherry tree well in bloom.


Early leaves of Bluebells
Blooming early... cherry tree blossom


  1. Hi Jan - I've never heard of 'volery' - good word!. I love those spider silk pics. My take on it is that they're doing the 'ballooning' that's a normal part of their life cycle - spreading around just like thistle seeds. The mild weather has allowed them continue a lot longer than they normaly would.

    1. Thanks very much Phil - I always assumed (maybe incorrectly) that it was more of an autumn thing, so it's interesting if perhaps late broods (if that's the right word?) of spiderlings are still ballooning this late - it could be a bumper year for spiders! :)

  2. Stunning photos, could the webs be from caterpillars instead of spiders?

    1. Thanks very much Ashley - I hadn't considered that. I've just been looking it up and apparently Winter moth caterpillars are one example that 'balloon' from tree branches in spring (so they would be really early), but also the silk was all over the grass too which made me think spiderlings. Of course there could be different things going on in the grass and branches....