Dear Readers, another year has come and gone, and here’s a chance to reminisce about the plants and animals that I’ve seen over the past twelve months, starting with this fine heron, hanging around with the penguins at London Zoo in February 2015. Since the photo was taken, the zoo staff have planted artificial herons around the pool, which seem to have had little deterrent effect. Maybe the penguins will just have to learn to share their herrings.
In March, I was introduced to the world of moss during a talk at the Natural History Museum, and was delighted to discover that the UK was a European moss and liverwort hot spot. My Wednesday Weed explorations included the discovery of some spring snowflakes in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery, along with some teasel. I am always impressed by how biodiverse this burial ground is. Churchyards and cemeteries are underrated as places where plants and animals can get on with their lives away from human interference.
March also saw the annual frog orgy in the pond. I am still waiting for all the amphibian excitement to kick off for this year, but I am usually alerted to the fact that the frogs have woken up by the presence of one or two cats who spend hours staring into the water as if it were a television.
April was a bird bonanza. I spotted a green woodpecker in the cemetery, drilling into an anthill with his chisel of a beak.
Meantime, the borage was in flower on The Bishop’s Avenue.
May saw Oxford Ragwort being featured, and what a nest of wasps I stirred up with this plant. What a controversial ‘weed’ it turned out to be, with folk who want complete eradication because it occasionally poisons livestock on one side, and people who want it to be preserved for its entomological value on the other).
In June, I visited the newly-opened ‘In With the Spiders’ exhibit at London Zoo, and found some very impressive arachnids, though whether they or the very nervous people who walked through it were the most entertaining it’s hard to tell.
June’s highlight for me was my first ever discovery of a bumblebee nest in a patch of brambles on an unadopted road close to my house. I actually did a little jig of delight when I realised what I’d found. There is nothing to beat a spell of aimless wandering if you want to find something new and interesting.
I also examined two patches of Japanese Knotweed close to the playing fields behind Coldfall Wood, and explored the history of this nefarious ‘weed’. As I write, one patch is being eradicated, and I am intrigued to know exactly what is going on. I hope to report back soon.
July saw me in Obergurgl, Austria for two weeks. A land of plants, butterflies and, um, cake.
On my return, it seemed that some new neighbours had moved in, but strangely enough I haven’t seen a single rat since that day.
I also had a visit to some municipal planting sites in Islington and the Barbican, to see what can be done when a council decides to improve the wildlife value of its public gardens.
In August, I witnessed the mass exodus of winged ants, a phenomenon that I’d known about since childhood but had never researched before.
I also made a field-trip to Bunhill Fields, to observe the pigeon flock there. Again, the people were every bit as interesting as the birds.
September saw the departure of the house martins, and also my departure to Canada for a fortnight. I saw chickadees, red-winged blackbirds and monarch butterflies, and spent time with some wonderful family and friends. I met up with several folk who I had previously only known from Facebook, and they were just as interesting, warm-hearted and generous in real life as they’d appeared in cyberspace, which just goes to show what a force for good the internet can be.
In October, I visited the newly installed ‘Empty Lot’ by Abraham Cruzvillegas at Tate Modern. This featured containers of soil taken from all over London, and some of them were already beginning to sprout. I will make a return visit before the exhibition closes, to see how the plants are getting on. At the time I was worried that the silly timescale (October to March) would not give most of the plants any time to flower, plus the lighting looked inadequate for proper growth. I hope I’m proved wrong.
I also celebrated the superabundance of spiders last autumn, which continued well into what we would normally think of as ‘winter’.
In November, I celebrated a very impressive squirrel, enthused about the beauty of the beech hedge, and had a Twitter-spat with someone about the exact definition of a weed, following a piece praising the little community garden at East Finchley station. Suffice it to say that there was plenty of harrumphing going on.
I also temporarily transmogrified Bugwoman’s Adventures in London into a cat blog.
But by January, I chose to share with everybody that my 80 year-old mother was in hospital, extremely ill with sepsis and pneumonia. My post on the subject elicited some of the kindest and most thoughtful comments I’d ever had, and I will always be grateful for everyone’s support during this time.
So, here we are, full circle. I love the variety of people who come together here, united by a delight in the natural world, and a desire to look after it. This year, I am participating in a course called Identiplant, which I hope will help unlock some of the secrets of accurately identifying the plants around me (I still find the Daisy family confusing, what with all those Hawkbeards and Hawkbits), and I hope to be able to share some of that knowledge with you all. I aim to explore my half-mile territory with even greater zeal, and to wander further afield to see what else is going on. In short, this year I hope to go deeper, to uncover the unnoticed and the ignored, and to set forth like a true adventurer into the wilds of East Finchley, notebook in one hand and A to Z in the other. I hope you’ll come with me.