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As we go through the year, I will write about a bird, flower or insect that you can spot around Burwell and share ideas for enjoying what you see.

Nest Lane – everything you need for a des res

Yesterday, as I walked along the footpath just over the railway bridge as you leave Burwell to go to Exning, I was listening to the high pitched short zeep contact calls of a pair of long-tailed tits. These lovely small birds can easily be picked out by their long tails, the subtle white/black stripe on…

Dustings of snow lie across our hedgerows

At the beginning of the week we woke to white across the ground – it had snowed! The light fall of snow had gone by mid-morning. Yet our hedgerows still look as if they are dusted with snow. Hedgerows often have several different species of plant along their length. You can tell where there is…

Glossy yellow petals of celandines spell spring

At Stapleford Primary School we had a nature table. Fifty years on, I still remember my thrill when one spring I found celandine flowers under the shade of a hedge, along the snicket lane between our home and the school, picked one and with great pride presented it to my teacher to go on the…

Ivy provides an ever green feast

Ivy flowered in the autumn, its small yellow flowers providing pollen for hoverflies, moths and many other insects well after other flowers had gone to seed. Now, when so many other berries and fruit are long gone, and it is bitterly cold, ivy berries provide birds and small four-legged creatures with vital carbohydrates. (Note: they…

A miniature rainforest in the wood

I was walking in Priory Wood and noticed mosses hugging the trunks at the bottom of each young tree. Going on hands and knees to look closer I felt I was entering a miniature rainforest, of minutely divided fronds and dripping with moisture. As a child I used to love visiting old houses or castle,…

Robin song lights up dusk

Yesterday, it was damp and foggy at dusk as I walked round the village. Utterly depressing. Then as I passed garden after garden I heard song. Robins’ wistful notes were penetrating the grey with music. I expect many of us have had robins on Christmas cards up in our homes. These have come down, yet…

Mrs Tiggywinkle snuffles through at dusk

Eating outside at dusk, enjoying the warmth of the evening, we heard a rustling coming from low down in our hedge. Too loud to be a blackbird, too quiet to be anything huge. we held our breath in hope. The rustling moved closer towards where we were sitting. “There it is,” we whispered to each…

A chance to see females who have males for breakfast…

Spiders’ webs come into view at this time of year, strung between grasses, dead flower heads, or washing lines; improbable distances joined by fine threads, linked to form carefully designed webs, visible only when caught by early morning dew or frost. Have you watched fishermen preparing their nets before leaving harbour? Imagine spider webs as…

A visitor with the most fantastic legs… cricket is on

Yesterday we had a visitor with the most fantastic legs! We have been listening to the Test match, now – quite literally – ‘cricket’ came alive in the kitchen… As I went closer our unusual visitor leapt. At his best, Olympic gold medal winning long jumper Greg Rutherford jumped 8.51m. That is four and a…

White trumpets offer Mediterranean feel

Bindweed or convolvulus is dreaded by gardeners. Its coiling grasping stems throttle and smother less aggressive plants. Plants of this genus have long roots. A tiny section of root left in the soil regrows vigorously. Alongside bindweed the RHS gardening website offers such gardeners’ nightmares as ‘couch grass, ground elder and Japanese knotgrass’ as ‘others…

Buttercups, elegant and creeping

Back in April I wrote about bulbous buttercups, that at the time were flowering along the paths and grassy areas of Burwell. At the time I said there are three common species of buttercup found around the village and I frustrated some of you by not describing the other two species. So I will make…

The Big Five – time for a local safari

Five distinctive butterflies are fairly commonly seen in flight now around Burwell, most freshly emerged from their chrysalises? The colours of their wings are at their deepest, not yet faded by exposure to sunbeams; their exquisitely scalloped wings not yet tattered from getting caught on vegetation, or having to dodge hungry predators. I’ve been making…

Families of baby peacocks are on the wriggle now

The caterpillars of peacock butterflies – surely one of our most stunning butterflies – can be easily spotted on one of the sunny clumps of nettles at Spring Close now! Tipped off by Caroline, I went looking for them on the clumps of nettles that edge the spring. Soon at about chest height, I saw…

Grasses, sculptural forms worthy of a plinth

Grasses are out in flower now. Did you know that they are as much flowers as a rose or the fanciest orchid? They are easily overlooked as they use wind for pollination, so do not need colourful petals, or scent that other flowers use to tempt insects to visit them, to pick up their pollen…

Corn buntings’ rattle of keys

Have you ever lost your keys when you are in a hurry to go out? Whoever finds them holds them up in triumph giving them a rattle. That is the sound of corn buntings’ song. The very first time I heard a corn bunting was about 12 years ago as I was walking along Heath…

Elderflower cordial – early summer’s nectar

Elders’ creamy, frothy flowerheads make this the stand out species of the moment, taking over from the may (hawthorn) of early May. Elder bushes and trees are all round the village. I did not know that elder is a member of the honeysuckle family; they certainly share honeysuckle’s gorgeous scent. Have you caught this scent…

White bryony, a hedgerow scrambler

I wrote some more flower names in chalk along Newmarket Rd, encouraged by comments from people who have said how this cheers their walks. As I did so a couple walking their dog pointed out white bryony to me in the hedge. I duly chalked its name on the pavement. I then decided to make…

Elegant spikes of mignonette flourish at the Rec

Nearly exactly a month ago I was delighted to find the tiny lilac-purple flowers of field madder on the bareish bank, to the north east side of the Recreation Ground. But there is no missing the tall yellow spikes of the gloriously named ‘wild mignonette’ now out in flower along the same bank. These are…

Greenfinches squeak like an unoiled wheelbarrow

Like chaffinches, greenfinches are nesting now, holding onto their territories with a mix of calls and song, the most distinctive of which sounds like the drawn out squeak of an unoiled wheelbarrow wheel. I know as, until recently, each time I set off for the allotment with the wheelbarrow loaded with tools, I would be…

Fast bowler song of male chaffinches

Chaffinches are singing loudly now as they start to nest. I have heard them all round the village, whenever I have been near an area with grown out hedge or scrubby trees. If you learn their song, you have a head start on being able to spot them as you know what you are looking…

Bugles standing witness

I am being fanciful, plants have their own being and place in this world, however finding these small but elegant dark purple flowers standing amongst long grass and glossy buttercups in the churchyard I cannot help but think they are keeping a quiet witness to the lives and deaths amidst which they grow. Bugles are…

Blue-purple flowers in shady places

From looking upwards at the leaves of trees, I’ve been looking down at my feet, in shady places under trees. So many flower species are blooming now I am going to give you two in one go, one purple, one blue – ground ivy and germander speedwell – and follow that tomorrow with a third,…

Tree bees buzzing in our nest box

Do you have any occupants in your nest boxes? I put up a house sparrow terrace nest box several years ago. This box has several sections adjacent to each other as sparrows like communal living. Now the box is buzzing – literally. Rimsky-Korsakov in ‘The flight of the bumblebee’, here played by James Galway, captures…

update on chalking

Thank you for your supportive comments about my chalking flower names on pavements. A few times people have seen me as I have been chalking names on Newmarket Road. I’ve asked them what they think. They’ve told me ‘its a good idea’, ‘makes the walk more interesting’, ‘children like it’. This is exactly what I…


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