Catkins and baubles decorate early March

You can now see bluebells growing strongly on these walks and wood anenomes are about to flower; primroses too. But, other than early fruit tree blossoms, much of the colour in the countryside at the moment is provided by catkins. Sometimes they make up a golden sheen in the undergrowth – really rather alluring. Most catkins you can see in north west Kent and the burbs are on hazel, alder, goat willow, silver birch and pedunculate oaks, but walnut, hop hornbeam (not many in UK) and white poplar trees all develop them too.

Alder catkins

Alder catkins in Pilot’s Wood, Shoreham

Essentially they are flowers without petals that distribute pollen. They help the female flowers to be pollinated after the pollen from the male flowers is taken by the wind. Once the seeds have developed the wind disperses them so they don’t growing right beneath their parent. Willow uses insects for pollination rather than wind. Here’s Countryfile’s guide to how to ID them, and here’s the Woodland Trust’s. I suddenly started noticing them on the Ide Hill walk that I did last Sunday in wind and rain. Took them for granted before. A bit unobservant that.

Another lovely little thing to see at this time of the year are the ‘baubles’, dainty balls, hanging off London plane trees. Mostly you’ll see them closer to and in the city but there are plenty in the suburbs. Funny tree the London plane… a hybrid of sycamore and oriental plane, they didn’t exist before the 16th century. Here’s a guide to them, by the excellent Londonist.

Catkin

Hazel catkins © Wikimedia Commons

On a completely unrelated subject, what a magnificent band Steely Dan are. SE London legend Danny Baker’s a huge fan and I’m hoping he was at the Wembley Arena gig last week for their show. Here’s my review at Jazzwise and a better one by ex-Melody Maker chief reviewer Chris Welch.

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A brilliant wildlife blog from further west…

I’m often accused of being Kentist or Kentcentric. Maybe north-west-kentcentric. So in the interests of clearing my parochial name, I recommend this magnificent blog on local flora and fauna a bit further west along the North Downs. It’s called ND&B the author of which, Steve Gale, has dedicated years to observing what goes on in his ‘uber-patch’ in north-east Surrey and has racked up an astonishing list of species. On a sombre note, however, he is somewhat downcast about the future of wildlife and has documented a steep decline in bird, plant and invertebrate numbers over recent years. Gale’s writing and photography is of the highest order, and his work is an education for anyone interested in life outside.

One Tree Hill figure-of-eight walk, in the light of August

A beautiful stroll on Sunday in 32C sunshine at One Tree Hill, Sevenoaks. We did a version of the figure-of-eight walk, past Ightam Mote, skirting Shipbourne then on to the hamlet of Budds before climbing back up the green sandstone ridge at Wilmots Hill. We passed hardly a soul but nor did we see many birds. Everything was still, waiting for evening coolness as the last of the daytrippers sidled contentedly away from Ightam Mote, smiling and clutching bags containing goodies from the National Trust shop. The hushed reverential mood of the day was only heightened by the sudden appearance of one of the Biggin Hill Spitfires glistening in the sun, banking hard towards Plaxtol and briefly getting into formation with a slow twin-engine passenger plane (maybe a photo sortie?) before dashing off west. A thrilling sight.

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Check out my Travels page

Every now and then I get to escape from Kent and London. This year I’ve been lucky enough to visit Switzerland and southern California.

Yes, I know there’s a billion travel bloggers out there, endless newspaper articles and TV shows making you feel that you are an impoverished provincial recluse, but I have a powerful desire to share with you what I’ve found, whether you think it’s remotely interesting or not.

I like taking photos too, so I’ll try to let the pictures do the talking. I’ve created a Travels page, with hopefully informative captions about interesting wildish places I’ve come across. Below is a shot from Joshua Tree national park.

Bluebells 2018

One of the most magical times of the year is when the woodland floor turns blue. This year it’s kicking off a bit later than normal because of the frankly disgraceful weather between February and mid-April. But thanks to the sudden switch to summer – bypassing spring completely it seems – there should be a profusion of bluebells from now until the third week of May, so it will be worth heading for the woods (update: as I write, now May 6 the bluebells are already fading somewhat). The best bluebell displays on the walks here are Ide Hill, One Tree Hill, Hever, Petts Wood and Chislehurst, Westerham, Shoreham Circular (take the high Meenfield Woods diversion), Otford and Romney Street, and Downe (if you do a brief diversion down into the woods at Point 3 – marked on the map and the pdf). Pretty much all of them then! See below or the menu above for details of these walks.

Meenfield Woods bluebells, above Shoreham

We walked at One Tree Hill last Saturday (14 April) and very few bluebells were out but there was a pervasive aroma of wild garlic and plenty of cheeky little wild flowers popping up – primroses and the like. The bluebells that were blooming were on south-facing slopes.

There was a lot of mud in places, but beginning to dry up on this, by far, the best day for walking in about five months! Three highlights were the profusion of daffodils at Ightam Mote, the sight of buzzards wheeling and soaring in the thermals and brimstone butterflies floating around the meadows (but never close enough to photograph).

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Mild and wild on spring walks … but wait – more snow?

There’s going to be another blast of cold air this weekend but otherwise we’re in that period of great change now as the first blossoms – usually blackthorn – starts to appear, and you begin to encounter wood anenome, celandine, violets and primrose on the ground. Wild garlic will soon be everywhere and, after, bluebells from mid-April. It’s an interesting time to be walking – still a bit muddy, yes, but with the consolation of lots of wildlife to look out for, flowers, trees coming into leaf, often drama in the skies with showers and rapidly moving fronts. Swallows will start arriving I’d guess in about two weeks, with house martins and swifts. Another arrival from Africa, the chiff chaff, will be heard with its hypnotic song particularly evident in Scords wood on the Ide Hill walk. But first, according to today’s forecast, there could be more snow for the weekend. Anyway, some early spring pix for you from the walks:

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Ide Hill colours

All of these walks are great for autumn colour but Ide Hill’s panoramas, valley mists and tree varieties are a bit special. Even though the red/orange thing hadn’t really got going last week these pictures give a flavour of the season’s changes (see the walk’s page for more great autumnal shots). At Emmetts last week I really liked the weird bush with pink ‘berries’ – it loves it down in Patagonia where it lives above the tree line and it’s called gaultheria mucronata. The berries are apparently edible.

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