Tag Archives: winter

Dazzled by a Golden Shield

Golden Shield lichen

It can be pretty bleak at this time of year, waiting for the season to change and the buds to burst but look closely and there are still dazzling sights to be seen. This lichen caught my eye recently, clinging to a hawthorn. In fact, you will see this lichen on almost any hawthorn and many other trees and shrubs too. It is called Golden Shield, Xanthoria parietina, so named due to the golden, shield-like protrusions you can see in the photo.

Lichens are an incredible symbiosis between two separate organisms; a fungus and an algae or cyanobacteria. The two organisms form a mutually beneficial association with the lichen fungus creating a stable structure and the algae or cyanobacteria producing simple sugars through photosynthesis with which to feed the fungus.

No one really knows who benefits the most from this relationship. Is the fungus farming the algae for its own benefit, or does the algae gain more by being able to colonise a far greater area with the help of the fungus it clings too? It is a fascinating question with which lichenologists are still grappling.

Equally as interesting, especially to ecologists and conservationists, is the fact that lichens are excellent environmental indicators; they tell of current conditions and also how an environment may have changed, or not, over time.

In areas affected by atmospheric pollution such as acid rain, the communities of lichens surviving are likely to be severely impoverished. Species that may have been typical in the past are no longer present because lichens are sensitive to atmospheric composition. This is one reason why the Golden Shield may be found in hedgerows all around the UK; it thrives in nitrogen-rich environments like heavily-fertilised farmland.

Similarly, lichens are excellent indicators of ecological continuity. The presence of certain or groups of lichen can be used to help grade the conservation status of woodlands; a woodland that has been clear-felled at any point in its history is likely to have lost the original lichen flora that inhabited it. On the other hand, the lichens in an ancient woodland receiving minimal human intervention may be vanishingly unique.

Whether common or not, lichens are there to be enjoyed if we just take the time to look. Their often bright colours and small forms make them jewels of nature but their fascinating biology make them even more amazing.

More information about lichens can be found on the website of the British Lichen Society.




This male Blackcap was an unusual winter visitor in the garden this weekend, appearing on the feeder periodically on both days. Presumably it’s an overwintering bird that has been blown in from somewhere else on the strong winds last week.

It is my first record of a Blackcap in our new garden and was a fantastic surprise. In 2014 my first Blackcap was not sighted until very early April! It will be interesting  to see if he sticks around for a while or moves off somewhere else.

Not the best photo but it was taken through the window, from the comfort of the house…and the light was poor…

End of December

West Hartford

Early on Sunday morning I tried for the Great Grey Shrike that has been at West Hartford but unfortunately there was no sign of it! I guess the heavy rain and hard frost of the night before may have encouraged it to move on, or at least keep out of sight until things warmed up.

It was my first  visit to West Hartford and it was great to see at least four or five Stonechat in the area. They were flitting about the edges of both pools that were completely frozen over – I’m sure the cold of the last few days won’t have made it easy finding food.

Blue Tit

On my way home I called in at Holywell Pond which was quiet as well. The feeding station was busy with Tits, Finches and Tree Sparrows, with Blackbirds and Dunnock foraging on the ground under the feeders. On the water itself, what wildfowl there was was spread sparsely across the pond; Tufted Duck and Mallard with no sign of any geese at all.

A Grey Heron stood alongside a Cormorant on the island whilst two groups of Gulls – Black Headed and Herring – loafed further out on the water. Apart from that, the only other bird life on show was a distant Kestrel and two small groups of Fieldfare.

Swallow Pond, Rising Sun Country Park

Because I haven’t seen as many birds as I would like over the last few weeks, I thought I would call in at the Rising Sun country park on my way in to work today. I visited a year ago to the day and the contrast was quite stark. It was bitterly cold this morning which I guess is what accounts for the distinct lack of bird life. Between a third and a half of Swallow pond was frozen over and the pond’s entire population of Coot and Moorhen was gathered together on the far side of the water (ice) – which was quite a sight!

Aside from that, the only ducks to be seen were four pairs of Shoveler and some Mallard. I did find a small group of Greylag Geese in the field next to the pond but by far the best bird of the morning was a female Sparrowhawk which flew pretty close, before veering off over a hedge.

That could well have been my last bit of birding for 2014 – we’ll see, but if the Great Grey Shrike does reappear at West Hartford I’m not sure I’ll be able to resist trying for another look.

Grey Skies

Holywell Pond Nature Reserve

I took a walk around Holywell Pond early on Sunday morning under dull November skies. The birds were going about their business without being tremendously lively but there was still plenty of activity to be enjoyed.

The hedgerows beside the pond held the usual complement of Robins, Wrens, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Greenfinches and Blackbirds but the pond itself was fairly quiet. There was a party of Teal sifting the water close by the scrape, whilst a large flock of Black Headed Gulls loafed a little further out on the water. Beyond the gulls I spotted a few small parties of Tufted Ducks, as well as a brilliant white pair of Mute Swans. And  perched on the rocks by the island were five Cormorants – the most I have seen here – but for the first time in a while no geese.

In the field to the east of the reserve I caught a glimpse of rusty red which I first hoped might be a fox but which revealed itself to be a cock Pheasant!  A little further on, a mixed flock of Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers moved between the bushes and the field margins where they were foraging for food amongst the autumn-sown crop.

I decided to walk out over the fields towards the coastline and I am glad I did; as I looked up a magnificent golden looking bird flew over, looking almost supernatural in the dull grey light – it was of course a Barn Owl. You couldn’t ask for a more beautiful sight on a cold morning in early winter!

Once the owl was out of sight I decided to head back towards the pond. Still on the fields, a Kestrel hovered at height, looking for breakfast but not having much luck whilst I watched. The hedgerow along the southern boundary of the reserve was still busy with Robins, Tits and finches but they were joined by around 10 or so of the resident Tree Sparrows which are always a real pleasure to see.

I hardly had the camera out at all on Sunday with the light being so dim (not like the afternoon!) so this picture of a Robin was taken on my previous visit.