Category Archives: Woodland


I’m slowly using up my store of timber from the wood, but I’m getting a bit bored with sycamore and would like a bit of variety. I’ve had my eye on a tall straight ash tree as my next source of logs and planks from the wood, but I would be quite pleased to have the variety provided by the lucky dip of windfalls.

However, our trees seem to be very sturdy, and windfalls are mostly happening in the valley next door:

Silver birch windfall

The problem is the steep slope that stolen logs would have to be hauled up – a strong incentive for honesty.

However, when we inspected the wood after Storm Doris, we found that an oak tree on the woodbank which forms the border with our neighbour’s section had succumbed, and this was very conveniently adjacent to our glade that we use for camping/brewing up/hanging out.

I was quite pleased with this, as I am wanting to do some work in green oak – particularly the sort of carving exemplified by Pete Follansbee. Even better, the oak had taken down a bough on an adjacent ash tree, so I’ll have a nice choice of material to work with from these windfalls.

There’s quite a few days of play to keep me busy here, but yesterday, Paul helped me to make a start, removing the upper branches and burning the brash:

There’s a lot of excellent firewood here to keep us warm next winter, and as Paul said, the more wood we have taken off the tree, the more seems to be left!

The task on the next visit to the wood will be to winch the trunk of the tree off the stump, and then fell the stump. There’ll be some nice planks to be milled there, once it’s on the ground.

On a beach in the wood

Access path

We went to the wood on Sunday, which was looking very beautiful in its autumn colours, with the extra depth which appears as the leaves fall and the woodland floor is illuminated by the soft light of early winter.


Cara has left her wellies in school, she tells me, and came in roller shoes which were already wet. Good job it was a mild day. l9047

Cade was well equipped for the damp conditions, and was first to demand that food should be provided promptly.

My target was to mill some logs from a tree I felled in early spring, and this provided a nice pile of sawdust which the kids have previously identified as a suitable replacement for sand.l9049

They were soon happily engaged with the usual activities associated with being at the seaside, with the advantage that their “sand” was comfortably dry and not at all cold.l9053  Just before we left, as I had a last wander around the glade, my eye was caught by the leaves of this sapling, glowing in the failing light.l9059

Good to see new life is ready to succeed the present mature trees, and good that it is “wildlife” – a term that surprised me when I first came across it being applied to trees. But of course when trees set seed, and a sapling has found its own niche rather than having been planted by human hand, it certainly is wildlife, and all the more interesting for being so.

Tidying up

Man with axe

“Well, Lawd A’Mighty! If a man has an axe and a tree to play with, ain’t no reason to be bored on this planet!”

The quote is from Roy Underhill, who has been producing TV programmes in USA on woodworking with hand tools for 30-odd years. You can see some of his more recent programmes at The Woodwright Shop – click on “Watch Online”. I would also heartily recommend his TED talk, where you will discover why Europe has its mountains stuck on the wrong way!

In this case, however, most of the work was done with a chainsaw rather than an axe, apart from the splitting of some of these logs last weekend when Carol and Ian spent a day at the wood with us.

Log pile

My sister Pam gave me the book, “Norwegian Wood” by Lars Mytting, for Christmas – thank you, Pam! It’s all about the Norwegian way in felling trees, cutting them up for firewood, splitting and stacking the logs to dry, and I found it a great read. This was one of the many ways in which Norwegians stack their logs – there are two poles that keep the bottom layer of logs off the ground, and a pole knocked into the ground at one end to support the stack. Nice and simple.

The surface of the stump exposed by felling the stem looked unusually brown for sycamore, and when I looked closer, I saw that sap was running from the cambium. I was surprised, as I had hoped and expected that I had felled the tree in time before the sap rose.

Sap bleeding from sycamore stump

Further up the wood, however, I came across a young sycamore which was already coming into leaf.

Sycamore leaf just opening

The primroses, however, have been in flower for some time.

Primroses in woodland

This is how our glade at the top end of the wood looks now. This is where we brew up, light bonfires, camp when the weather is warmer, mill logs and chop firewood.

Landrover in woodland

It is at the end of the access path, up a steep slope. It was an unpleasant surprise when we first bought the wood and found that the landrover could only get twenty yards up the path before stopping with wheels spinning ineffectually. It’s a Landrover, dammit! Unfortunately, it still needs traction, and it didn’t have any – the ruts were full of soft mud as they are the drainage path for our small valley.

However, after filling the ruts with hardcore from the ruins of Jim’s 17th century mansion, the path is good to go (for a Landrover) all year round. I’ve always been able to drive up the path, even in this miserably wet winter.

I’ll finish with a little problem. Here are a few logs from the felled tree, tastefully arranged. Anyone know what could be the use of it?

Logs from felled tree


Spring is on the way!

A beautiful cold day, ideal for working in the wood. I wanted to fell a tree for both firewood for next winter, and milling for useful timber. It needed to be done soon, before the rising of the sap put more moisture into the wood, and I had decided to cut a stem with a slight lean which I hoped would guarantee the direction in which it would fall. However, I was due for a surprise.

It was difficult to see exactly what direction gravity would pull the stem, but I made the directional cut to point in a convenient direction which I expected gravity to agree with. However, as I made the felling cut, shortly before I expected the tree to topple on its hinge, there was a loud crack and the tree fell about 45 degrees leftwards, leaving about 6 feet of standing wood where the trunk had split.

Split sycamore trunk

Ah well, a bit less timber to mill, but a bit more firewood for next winter ..

Felled sycamore trunk

In the bank behind the felled tree, primroses were flowering, and while I was preparing to fell the tree, I heard a woodpecker drumming for the first time this year.  Later, as we sat eating our lunch, my eye was caught by a tiny movement near the ivy on a tree. I went over to see what it was, and there, basking in the sunshine falling on an ivy leaf, was a Red Admiral butterfly – and this on February 23rd!

Short walk to native New Zealand

Dunedin is like an amphitheatre and Otago harbour its stage, stretching into the distance towards the Pacific Ocean. As I walk across the park from Sue’s house, a few red-billed gulls swoop above me, on the lookout for scraps, but the ground birds are all European – blackbirds, thrushes and sparrows. Crossing a road swooping down the amphitheatre towards downtown Dunedin, I walk along Queen’s Drive under the mainly native trees of the Town Belt, and I am greeted almost immediately by the instantly recognizable calls of the bellbird.

Bellbird at Orokonui

During this visit, I have been setting one of my camera traps in this woodland, and after moderate success by a stream and absolutely nothing on a windfall tree (no mice around), I have found a wonderful site which at first sight seemed to be just a puddle of water at the bottom of a dip in the woodland. In fact, a small stream just a few inches wide issued from the puddle and proceeded downhill, almost completely hidden by the ground cover. After setting up the camera to look at the little pool, I found that this tiny habitat was very attractive to small birds, producing over 150 video clips of birds coming down to drink in a day. Encouraged by the information from the camera trap, I spent time in person, over several sessions, sitting beside the pool without any camouflage, relying on the trusting nature of New Zealand native birds. Sure enough, I was rewarded with close encounters – within three yards.

The most common visitors were silvereye, who came down from twig to twig through the brush to the tiny stream which arose from the pool at the bottom of the hollow below the road. They usually arrived in small parties, bathed either singly or in groups up to four, and then went off about their business.

Silvereye at Onekaka

While the silvereye simply ignored me, I have been inspected on each occasion I have spent time there, and soon after my arrival. The inspectors are New Zealand’s most spectacular small bird, the fantail. I don’t know whether they are extremely curious or have a highly developed sense of territory, but they seem to turn the bird-watching order of things upside down. In most situations, we have to move around unobtrusively, to be quiet, to help our visual sense with binoculars or scopes. Here in New Zealand, if you take a walk in native bush, more often than not you are greeted by this small bird, fanning its long, brilliant white tail around to maximum visual effect, and whirring from perch to perch nearby while glaring at you with a proprietorial body language which clearly states “Git orff moi land!”

Fantail at Onekaka

Despite their apparent accessibility, they are extremely difficult to photograph because they are continually on the move, and the tail is continually flashed open and shut. This makes it difficult to get both eye and tail critically sharp with the tail open, and as they are usually found in poorly lit woodland, it is impossible to get the shutter speed to stop movement blur and the small aperture to get the eye sharp and the tail reasonably so.

My purpose in setting up the camera trap in the Town Belt was not only to find suitable places to photograph these birds, but to see what wildlife was around at night. New Zealand”s attitude towards its wildlife is ambivalent – birds are good, but mammals are nearly all bad. This is because the land mammals are from elsewhere and have been brought in, deliberately but sometimes accidentally, by man. Mostly predators, they have had a baleful effect on much of the native wildlife, which are mostly birds, which has evolved in the absence of mammalian predators.

Every few days, I walked down to the wood and replaced the SD card in the camera with an empty one, and then walked back to see what had happened in that time. The first mammal to show up was a cat, and we can see from its behaviour in this video clip why it is such a danger to wildlife both here in New Zealand and in the UK.

I recorded cats at night six times on my camera during a period of five weeks. I also recorded possums six times – the brush-tailed possum originates in Australia, and has colonised New Zealand to the point where they are a focus of eradication campaigns involving trapping, ground baiting with poison, and even the aerial distribution of poisons.


It is a threat to the eggs and young of native birds, and also to growing shoots on native trees, but the main reason why possums attract such expensive attention is the fact that they are a threat to New Zealand’s agricultural industry, being a vector of bovine TB.

Despite all the effort, possums are doing well in Dunedin’s town belt. Another unwelcome mammal, a hedgehog, showed up once – unwelcome because they eat the eggs and young of ground-nesting birds. However, the most common mammal, unsurprisingly, turned out to be the rat, scoring 21 hits on video. Judging by its climbing ability, I think it may be the ship rat.

Towards the end of our stay in New Zealand, the camera turned up a daytime video clip of a stoat.

When I looked at the time when this clip was recorded, I was amazed to find that it was just seven minutes before I was standing at the camera, changing the memory card. This means that I was just entering the wood to the right when the stoat disappears stage left – apparently in response to my appearance. How many other occasions have there been, in an apparently barren and uninteresting habitat, when wildlife has tutted at my arrival on the scene and reluctantly made itself scarce?