Posted by: Andrew Skelton | 11/09/2012

Gathering Nuts In May***

Whilst out for my morning constitutional (except it was afternoon rather than morning and I was off to the dentist rather than out for exercise) I happened to pass a horse-chestnut tree which each autumn is where the children from the local schools all seam to congregate hunting for the best example of the tree’s discarded fruit… I am of course referring to Conkers, Dear Reader (You knew that!). Passing the tree on the way back (I’d traversed the park on the way to dentist via a different route, looking for grass snakes which I know are there… apart from they weren’t) I thought I’d peruse the area and see if I could snaffle some of these prized treasures for my boy but was rather shocked to see only a couple of empty shells and the smallest of conkers, perfectly formed with their deep rich brown shell and white connecting disk but small none the less. Think I must be fairly early I scanned the branches of the tree and could only see half a dozen of the spiky green orbs still dangling down not ready to give up their fruit.

Slightly puzzled by the lack of seeds on this majestic tree I headed home, passing numerous Hazels on my way. Another yearly ritual is to collect the hazel nuts that these large bushes give up at this time of year and which the squirrels devour greedily, burying any surplus in my lawn (well, if the can find any space between the weeds.. erm, I mean wild plants (weeds!)). I noticed and noted on this blog that the hazels that border our garden had started to drop their several weeks ago that the hazels in our garden had started to shed their seeds before they were properly ripe. Breaking open the shells, there was little to speak of in the way of an inner kernel but I thought this perhaps a one off, something specific to our bushes however casting an eye over these other hazels on the way home, it looks like a more generic issue and a problem for wildlife (and lovers of praline as well).

It’s not all doom and gloom, bisecting the park took me across the local cricket pitch (I wish my lawn was as nice as the grass they get to play on… hang on, they’re not that far away and I do have a shovel!) which seemed to be alive with small birds darting too and fro. They were easily identified as Pied Wagtails but not just one bird – I manage to count 21 of them (which wasn’t easy – they move fast); dotted amongst the adult birds were a considerable number of juveniles. I say they were juveniles, I can’t be sure as they weren’t leaving litter everywhere, acting petulantly or grunting in response!*

* I am of course doing the youth of today a disservice with such a stereotype, but without it I don’t have a punchline**
** of sorts!
***It’s an African Pied Wagtail not a European (queue Monty Python quotes (I’ll let you fill these in yourself… for once!))


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