A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

The Confusing Sex Life Of Trees

Yesterday afternoon I took a short walk through Besthorpe Nature Reserve which is managed by the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust. Like so many of the Nature Reserves in the Trent Valley, it was a former sand and gravel extraction site. Though it's more or less on my doorstep, surprisingly I don't visit that often. It's a little bleak and neglected, rubbish-strewn in parts. Some of the paths through the Reserve are tangled with briars in the summer months and difficult to negotiate.

There are various different habitats: river, reeedbed, freshwater pools, sandy heath, hawthorn woodland, willow scrub, wildflower meadow. The sandy heath swarms with rabbits. I've seen evening-primrose and orchids here. On an large treed island in Mons Pool there's a rookery, a heronry and a colony of nesting cormorants. There was such a din there yesterday as nesting activity was in full swing. On the pool itself were a flock of greylag geese and more cormorants, some mallard and tufted duck, a great crested grebe and a solitary wigeon.

Noisy groups of fieldfares were still feeding in the fields, a hang-over from winter. No wonder - the temperature is very cold for April. Soon they'll be flying back north to Scandinavia. Over in the wood chiffchaffs were chiffchaffing furiously (still no willow warblers yet), interspersed with the musical, sweet song of the robin. I've heard grasshopper warblers here too in the past. Their song is always likened to the sound of a winding angler's reel. Other warbler migrants - sedge and reed warblers - will be arriving on the reedbed before long.

I caught sight of a great spotted woodpecker swooping from ash tree to ash tree along Trent Lane. I had a clear view as it froze half-way up one grey ash trunk, its head and bill pointing upwards. It was an adult male, glowing vivid red on the nape of its neck and on the patch beneath its tail. The common ash, to which it clung, is a very sexually confused kind of tree. Some ash trees are all male, some all female, some male with one or more female branches, some vice versa, some branches male one year and female the next. The flowers come out before the leaves, which unfold from sooty black buds. I think my photo shows the densely packed, purple, globular bunches of the emerging male flowers.


Anonymous said...

Sexually confused trees? Whatever next! Glad you had a cool walk.

The Solitary Walker said...

The sex life of trees makes human sexuality appear quite boringly conventional..!

Two yards of lard said...

I've noticed these on the Ash trees and assumed that they were emerging leaves. And said as much on my blog. Oops!
Thanks for putting me right.