Bird counts

We have started monthly ‘flush counts’ in the winter months, to try and determine how many wetland and water birds are taking advantage of FAUNA’s developing habitats. The first count took place on Monday 28 January (2013), as part of Graham’s monthly inspection of the site. He was accompanied by Glenys and they were mentored by Richard, our RSPB adviser, so we feel pretty confident of the amazing results: they counted no less than 95 (yes, ninety-five!) snipe in the rushy areas of Big Meadow. This is a huge number for any one place: although we’ve no reliable counts for previous years (we know snipe have been wintering there for a long time) this very grand total does suggest that we’re doing something right as far as the snipe are concerned. They also spotted a solitary brown hare in Big Meadow, 2 moorhens on School Pond, 2 pairs of mallard on Lucy’s Pool and 10 teal on Upper Sowerholme Pond.

There’s more about snipe – and just about every other British bird – on the RSPB’s website:

A group of us walked the FAUNA path this morning (30 January) with our Natural England Adviser, Nigel. There were still a number of fieldfare towards the northwest of Grammar School Field.

Spring is on its way!

Hazel Catkins

Hazel Catkins

Time to get Wildlife spotting. Let us know what you see around the Fairfield Orchard and FAUNA Nature Reserve.  Remember – wildlife is both animals and plants!

Keep your eyes open for the first hazel catkins and spring flowers …

Have a look on the Wildlife Blog to see what other people have been spotting around the Orchard and FAUNA …


Singing at the 2013 Wassailing

Singing at the 2013 Wassailing Event

Well over a hundred people attended the sixth annual Lancaster Wassailing on Saturday 19th (we’ve actually only done five since 2011’s event was called off due to bad weather). The event is always held on the closest Saturday to Old Twelfth Night and follows the same general order of service each year. We begin with a noisy procession through the orchard to scare away evil spirits. This is done by making as much noise as possible – banging pots and pans, drums and chanting. Traditionally blunderbusses were also fired into the trees, but we seem to be a bit short on blunderbusses at the moment. Whether or not you believe in evil spirits will be a question of your own private theology, but for those who are resolutely wedded to the 21st Century metaphysic there is still the wholly plausible explanation that the noise will disrupt the breeding cycle of fruit tree parasites.

After the procession we are usually entertained by either a Mummers Play or a series of dances by a local Morris side. This year as last we were entertained by the always splendid (and Lancaster’s own) John o’Gaunt Morris. After that was the choosing of the Oak King and Apple Queen – and we were fairly inundated with applicants this year – so much so we ran out of lots to draw! With the monarchs carefully selected we moved on to the core rite at the centre of the Wassailing liturgy – the hanging of cider soaked toast on the trees and the libation of the roots. This is another ritual act with a materialist interpretation. The toast attracts birds which eat insects harmful to fruit trees. After that we nominated the Knights and Ladies of the Orchard – those volunteers who have made contributions over and above the call of duty in the preceding year.

At this stage in proceedings the all important passing of the Wassail Cup begins, and after ye olde raffle we retired to stand around a blazing fire, sing a traditional Wassailing song (from Carhampton in Somerset) and be thoroughly entertained by the good offices of The Gladly Solemn Sound – a Lancaster based West Gallery Music choir. It is hard to date the origins of the Wassailing tradition, but certainly it became popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries – which is exactly the period from which the music the choir sings heralds – so it proved to be a fitting way to round off the afternoon. Warmed from within by the excellent spiced cider, warmed without by the fire, and warmed in the core of our beings by the beautiful singing and the general sense of community bonhomie, we all returned to our hearths happy and content. We’ll do it all again January 18th 2014.

FLORA Fields Walk and Talk

Last Saturday’s Walk and Talk around the FLORA fields took us up to the top of the hill just beside Pony Wood, where some fairly wild lambs were wriggling through gaps in the fence and leading their mothers across the fields. I’m looking forward, hopefully, to the time when we take over the fields and can start on our improvements by getting the sheep and lambs out of the wood.

There were lapwings to be seen in fair numbers on the field to the west of the Pads path, and curlews on the western hill side (we do need to sort out – discover or invent – names for these fields!). Good to see them there – they come nearly every winter, especially when the Lune estuary is frozen. If anyone’s got any dates or counts, do please post them here. Also please tell us about egret sightings, of which there have been reports. And anything else – we’d like to make this blog the go-to-place for all wildlife records in FAUNA, FLORA and the Orchard: if everyone who notices anything of interest posts it here, it will provide quick updates of what to look for and we should build up a really good data base over time.

Cold and frosty morning

Saw these geese in the field beyond FLORA  – (click the image to launch a larger version in a new window):


I see them here every year – if anyone knows what they’re likely to be (apologies for the quality of the photo!), please send a reply. Many thanks.

Volunteer Session, 12/01/13

Happy New Year Orchardeers,

There’ll be a volunteer session at Fairfield Orchard this Saturday, January 12th from 10.00am to 1.00pm or thereabouts.

If you’re particularly mad about hedges, then this may well be your month. Our “to do” list goes like this:

1. Complete clearing and stacking bricks in former pig sties.

2. Sort out any possible hedging stakes in the brash adjacent to the former pig sties.

3. Clear piles of brash in Orchard after sorting out any possible hedging stakes.

4. Clear leaves from the path south of Sunnyside Lane.

5. Retrieve pile of hedging stakes from Hay Meadow.

6. Complete the trimming back of grass on the Fauna path toward Cromwell Road.

7. Make a start on laying the Pads hedge.

8. Retrieve bulbs from near pig sties.

That’s all for this month. Short and sweet. Please come along if you possibly can.

Except to say, don’t forget that the following Saturday, January 19th is our traditional Wassailling Procession. It takes place between 3.00 and 5.00pm. We meet at the end of Sunnyside Lane. Or possibly the Sunnyside Lane end of the Orchard. It will become very apparent when the time comes.

Bring pots and pans and whacking sticks (a wooden spool is ideal) and be prepared to, as the young people say, Make Some Noize. Perhaps you already are a young person in which case you’ll be right at home.