This story about oak trees is a favourite, told to me by Stanley Robertson
In Scotland you might see two different oak trees – the English oak and the sessile oak.
How d’you spot the difference? The English oak has bunches of leaves with no stalks with its acorns on stalks, the sessile is the opposite.
These trees can live to a great age and if they have room, will grow up to 50m, expanding out to give a lovely canopy.
The oak can be found all over Europe; on the west coast of Scotland forests of oak are particularly dense. These wonderful trees can support approximately 500 types of insects. When the leaves fall they form a rich rotting carpet that provides food for many.
Oak has hardwood which has been used for centuries in shipbuilding and house building. Near where I live in Aberdeen, King’s College was built in 1495 on marshland on a raft of oak. Beautiful furniture and long-lasting barrels are also made from oak.
A wee tale….
In my childhood home we had an oak chest, inscribed with the date 1556. It was blackened with age.
One summer I was investigating my ancestry. I went down to Newcastle under Lyme, near Manchester. I visited the church where my mother’s ancestors, the Thicknes family, had been farmers. There was a chapel dedicated to the family in this church, and there, beside it, was a blackened oak chest, which looked exactly like the piece in my home. It gave me quite a thrill. As I put my hand on the smooth wood, it felt like I was touching and connecting with those in my past.
Oak tannin from the bark tans leather and even oak sawdust is used to flavour foods in the smoking process.
Each week I’m posting a Chirpy Chirp Challenge, listening to different bird calls.
Today we’re listening to the skylark.
Last week we listened to the song thrush. How did you get on recognising its calls? I’d be interested to hear from you!
All you’ll need to join in is a piece of paper and a pencil.
Clothes and behaviour
The male (Mr) and female (Mrs) look the same; they have a crest which they can raise in alarm or warning.
Skylarks’ streaked appearance enables them to be camouflaged in longer grass – on our local golfcourse you can see a number of them.
They mainly eat seeds, but also insects.
If disturbed they might flit along just above the ground and land a bit further away, or they might rise straight up in the air, belting out their song as they hover overhead, a bit like a kite, trying to ward you off their territory, like this:
They will continue to sing as they descend, often plummeting to earth like a stone.
Skylarks make a round nest on the ground, using the materials around them – grass and sometimes hair. The female incubates the eggs. Once the chicks have matured they have to learn to be quick fliers as they are easy prey for hungry predators.
Skylarks are called leverocks in scots and their song can be heard on open grassland from early spring. It does not matter if it’s blawin a hooley, skylarks will still rise up into the air, jubilantly sing-shouting their repetitive song over and over.
If you can access your local golfcourse or nearby open grassland, listen out for this:
Write ‘Skylark’ at the top of your paper and below it write ‘song’.
Challenge – what words would you use to describe the song?
Now see if you can write or draw the pattern of how the call sounds to you. There’s a few questions below to help you.
Can you hear any repeats of the song? If you think of each bit as a ‘sentence’, answer the following:
Do some notes stay on the same level like this – – – – – – -?
When do they go up and when down? Do you hear it as a wave – moving up to a point and then back down? Or is there another way you can describe it?
If you try and clap the rhythm, what do you get?
There’s no right or wrong answer, it’s just to help you remember the sounds.
Remember, the more you listen, the easier it becomes!
Today’s tree is the siller birk, or silver birch tree.
Where I was brought up, there was a ‘queen’ birch tree in my garden, with fronds like hair, that glowed in the light. She grew taller than all the other trees and I loved looking at her through all the seasons.
Time for a tale – how the birch tree came:
Silver birch – how we can use it
The bark naturally peels off the trunk and makes great kindling:
If you want kindling, take only a little – every tree needs its bark like you need skin
If you look round a birch woodland, some trees will have fallen and the heartwood rotted away, yet the startling white bark remains: The bark is resilient and can be made into bowls, baskets and other useful implements
The sap can be tapped from the tree in early March, when winter is waning. It is a refreshing, wholesome water that can be drunk straight from the tree. You can take a little from one tree – but then move on to another. Watch here to see how it can be done simply, without long-lasting damage to the tree: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Zc6M5nNNFs
The silver birch tree
The younger tree’s trunk shines white, the older tree’s marked by dark indented areas
Silver birch bark has flat white areas broken by darker areas. As the bark ages, it gradually thickens and darkens from the base upwards:
Silver birch bark
Time for another tale –an Ojibwe legend, ‘How the silver birch got its burns’:
Challenge – can you make up your own tale about the birch tree?
The buds, flowers, leaves and fruit
The small, neat buds of the silver birch lie alternately up the twigs and branches of the tree. In spring the male catkins develop on many of the branches:
As the spring moves into summer, the neat heart-shaped leaves have appeared, the hanging male catkins have released their pollen and the upright female catkins have been pollinated:
In autumn the female catkins have many seeds on each ‘shelf’, which are released into the wind as the catkin dries or falls to the ground: Autumn catkins