I have been looking at the area of gorse, broom, rosemary and other shrubs on the steep south facing slope below the bowling green. This now well established planting, originally suggested by the first Wildlife Park Group over 10 years ago, is becoming too overgrown with Traveller's Joy (Clematis vitalba) and various other 'intruders'. The Wildlife Group are hoping to clear back some of this unwanted growth (contact simonrandolph@hotmail.com for further information).

However, while assessing what clearance might need to be done, I spotted a bumblebee queen ( Bombus lucorum or B. terrestris) flying persistently around a patch of rosemary. After several minutes she flew under the bush and went straight to a small hole in the earth where she then wriggled down into it, apparently trying to excavate some of the soil, so that she could go deeper. I am fairly sure she was searching out and then trying to make a suitable hibernation site for herself. If she has settled in there for the winter, will she survive our pruning and gardening activities in that area? Probably not.

This goes to show how easy it is to have good intentions to 'improve' a piece of habitat for some types of wildlife while almost certainly unwittingly damaging or even destroying it for others! In this particular case, the improvements we were aiming to make were intended to be of benefit to bumblebees! How can one possibly assess whether it is more important to try and protect this area as a hibernation site (potentially for several bumblebee queens) or to clear the rampant Clematis from the gorse and broom, which will encourage more prolific flowering and thus provide much valued sources of nectar for bumblebees, particularly the queens when they emerge from hibernation in the spring? An impossible dilemma. As always, it has to be a compromise decision!

Simon Randolph

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One of the most dramatic sights I've ever encountered in the park - even more dramatic than the Frisbee-throwing finals of 2003 - was on one cold and rainy winter's day about three years ago. I was heading towards the Gloucester Road, so I cut through the park as usual. Not surprisingly, hardly a soul was around in the relentless and penetrating rain and, as I approached the bench near the now dying Cedar tree, I noticed an object on the edge of the path. Suddenly I realised it was a female Sparrowhawk plucking a 'kill' which turned out to be a Collared Dove! Unfortunately the raptor saw me and laboriously took flight, weighed down by the dove's bulk. I thought she was going to drop it as she was having difficulty gaining height and looked as if she was going to fly into the bedroom window of one of the houses in Effingham Road! It was painful to watch her efforts as she struggled with her cargo, but at last she reached roof-level and continued to climb, over North Road and Gloucester Road, and away.

I reflected on the hardships endured by our wildlife during the cold winter months, and how this particular Sparrowhawk must have been desperate not to lose her hard-earned meal - it had been captured at great expense. Because the weather had been poor for several days, the bird must have found hunting very difficult, and energy levels were no doubt low - she had to muster every last ounce of strength to take the prey to a place of safety and consume it, or face starvation.

The Collared Dove had been a bit unlucky as well.
A dilemma indeed. Tread carefully!
What a shame that a risk assessment is required to do some weeding by the way - what is this country turning in to!
Today, October 10th, I was wandering around the pond area, hoping to see some Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) dragonflies mating and using our pond to oviposit into, but only saw a single male. He spent much of his time basking in the warm sunshine using the paving slabs just inside the gate. However, there was also a male Southern Hawker dragonfly (Aeshna cyanea) flying in the vicinity (see 'Photos' section) and whenever it came too close to the Common Darter, the latter would briefly fly up and 'see off ' the Southern Hawker.

While it is not unusual for Common Darters to be flying late in the season, even into November, this Southern Hawker was right at the end of its flight period and this individual was clearly a veteran near the end of its life with a tear out of one of its wings. However, it was still looking for food, hawking for insects in and around the trees near the pond, though I didn't see it catch anything during the 40 minutes or so that I was watching. It also showed the characteristic behaviour of this species, demonstrating apparent 'curiosity' towards human observers by flying right up and round me several times in an investigative way.
Amazingly, it settled on the new noticeboard trunk/post that has just been put up by the pond and it perched there, basking in the sun while allowing me to approach to within a few centimetres to photograph it.
Not a reply, just further comments relating to Observations on the Wildlife of the Park!
While photographing autumn leaves in the well established stretch of hedge along Effingham Road below the pond, I found I had taken pictures of leaves from a 'mystery' plant that I could not identify. (see photos section). This hedge, originally planted at least 12 years ago by an earlier St Andrews Park Wildlife group, was made up of young trees that were (supposed to be) native to Britain. This 'stranger' does not exactly match any British species but does have features that are an amalgam of beech and hornbeam. There are several specimens of the same plant scattered along the hedge. Jo Corke was also unable to put a name to this plant. We have now taken this problem up with a local tree expert,Tony Titchen, sending him a detailed photo of a twig with attached leaves. Watch this space for (hopefully) a correct identification.
Today during the family nestbox event, there was a good view of a male Great Spotted Woodpecker halfway up a tree and later in flight. This species seems to turn up in nearby Montpelier at this time of year, although there is no evidence of breeding as yet. Also lots of Long-tailed Tits and at least 4 Pied Wagtails, the latter seen on the park paths even when it got quite busy!
A sunny day and despite the cold wind, a Red Admiral butterfly was sunning itself on a wooden bench in the playground area. It may have been on its last flight of the year, looking for a suitable hibernation site.
A pleasant hour in the park this morning produced cracking views of at least two Goldcrests in the birch near the park-keeper's compound. About ten Long-tailed Tits, 1 Coal Tit and several Blue and Great Tits were near the pond and a Jay was also there. Three Redwings flew over near the bowling green, as did a Greenfinch and a Goldfinch. Two Pied Wagtails were flitting among fallen leaves, and fifteen Starlings were in a tree near the paddling pool. Several Lesser black-backed Gulls drifted over the park during my visit.
Goodness knows how I missed them yesterday but there were 40+ Goldfinches in the park today, centred around one of the Plane trees near the Effingham Road entrance and feeding on the fruits of the tree, occasionally flying en masse around the park in spectacular fashion. Also a Mistle Thrush nearby.
Today I found a mature unidentified fungus growing almost under the hedge below the pond (alongside Effingham Road). (See photo). Also today, the park groundsmen were carrying out a full scale removal of dead leaves from the park's grassed areas using some giant 'broom-vacuum' contraption attached to a tractor. I wonder whether this industrial scale 'keep everything tidy' approach to the management of the park, by removing the organic material of leaf litter so vital to the nourishment of many fungi, might prevent the ability of several fungal species to establish themselves in the areas below the trees. Perhaps a spore of the fungus I found was able to germinate only because there was sufficient leaf litter that had been allowed to accumulate by the hedge, and this vital resource had escaped the regular annual autumn 'clean up'.
While I understand there could be a Health and Safety issue of wet and soggy leaves left on paths resulting in accidents, I think there is a case for arguing that certain areas of the park, perhaps towards the peripheries and well away from paths, could have leaf litter left in situ, in the hope of encouraging the growth and appearance of more species of fungi. After all,one of the aims of the Bristol Biodiversity Action Plan is to encourage a development of a wider biodiversity in its parks. And that shouldn't exclude fungi.
Oh don't get me started on this subject, Simon! The voguish obsession with 'tidying up' is an absolute pain, I agree. Last autumn I posted a blog on the Montpelier Action Group website about over-zealous leaf-clearing in the local park but it seems that the council policy favours sterile urban landscapes rather than rich ecological ones. It is also highly irritating that grass verges near me are cut no less than ELEVEN times per year to ensure no living thing ever gets the chance to live there, God forbid!

Well done for highlighting the plight of our native fungi.

I wonder if the BAP will change things? I'm not holding my breath...
Who knows, Des, what justifications the council may come up with in support of this manic tidying-up policy in their parks. However, we should be able to refer to the BAP (and the Parks Wildlife Strategy) to support our case if we take this issue up with Chris Hammond in relation to St Andrews Park.
The mystery plant found in the hedge (see several replies earlier) is now positively identified by Tony Titchen as Snowy Mespil (Amelanchier laevis) which is not a native British species but a tree from North America. How it got into this essentially 'British' hedge is a bit of a mystery but it may just possibly have begun life as a seed in a bird dropping, - the fruits of these trees are very attractive to some birds.


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