My objective here is to comment at least monthly on the wildlife of Brandon Wood and more often if something unusual occurs. I would welcome any interesting sightings from the members.
The wood is very attractive at this time of year with the spring flowers making the most of their opportunity to bloom and the trees are coming into leaf in various shades of green. It is always hard to believe that Bluebells are an endangered species. These and the other spring plants will soon be giving way to the summer plants which hopefully will include orchids. Butterflies on my reckoning have been below par with only Orange Tips doing well. It should be noted that only the male has the orange tip and the females at a quick glance could be mistaken for other ‘whites’.
The migrant birds are arriving and the warblers are singing well. Many of these songs are similar and it takes patience to identify the owner. To help resolve one tricky pair a Garden Warbler is singing next to a Blackcap in Farm Ride, the latter being far more common in our wood. A Skylark singing over the north field was a welcome sight.
The ponds are gradually drying out as the drought continues but it makes it easier to see the tadpoles, newts and other inhabitants.
It was a major surprise to find Common (Purging) Buckthorn, a new tree/shrub for the wood, after many years of surveying. Jane Sells first suspected its identity during the winter and was able to name it for certain when its first leaves appeared. The tree is a rather poor specimen growing next to a recently established path which no doubt accounts for it being overlooked. It is possible that there are others in the vicinity. This tree should not be confused with Alder Buckthorn, a food plant of the Brimstone butterfly, and reasonably common now that more trees have been introduced. The Sweet Violets are spreading well in the sandpit. These appear before the more common Dog Violets found in the wood itself.
Many ponds, particularly the smaller ones and those along the south-east boundary, now have Frog spawn. A Grey Heron was seen in the Green Pond keeping motionless as we walked by and another (same?) was flushed from the Scout Pond where it had trouble manoeuvring through the trees. I suspect that spawning frogs are the target prey for the heron. A pair of Mallard are also exploring the ponds. The Chiffchaffs have arrived in good numbers to herald spring. These are two weeks earlier than when I first visited the wood many years ago. Nuthatches have occupied their regular hole in the old ash tree by the Scout Pond. They make a variety of distinctive calls. Several Great Spotted Woodpeckers are drumming.
Brimstone butterflies are brightening the rides and the other colourful species are emerging from their winter hibernation. A very early Speckled Wood was seen on 26th March.
Frog spawn was seen in the ditch opposite the Jubilee Pond on 22nd February, the earliest date I have recorded for the wood.
The Spring Cavalier is a large, elegant, ochre-brown toadstool that fruits early in the year and now appears regularly in the wood usually under Pine trees. My first record of this was in 2012. The Leafy Brain is a fairly common jelly fungus that is found on dead wood. However, it actually grows on wood that has been attacked by the Hairy Curtain Crust, a bracket fungus that lives on wood and there is a good example of both fungi on a fallen log on the southern path. Sulphur Tuft was seen growing on a local lawn but presumably there was buried wood present.
Although there are only a few patches of Snowdrops in Brandon Wood itself there are masses in the north end of Brandon Hall grounds and even more at Coombe Abbey. Many of these are of the double variety known as ‘Flore Pleno’. These have been introduced some time ago; more recently Early Crocus and the larger Spring Crocus have been planted and are spreading slowly. Once again the Cherry Plum near the main crossroads is in blossom; spring is on the way.
The winter has been generally dreary with little of note to relate. However, there have been a couple of interesting fungi in the wood not far from the Ferndale Gate. These are the Scarlet Elfcup making an early appearance on a large felled Sycamore trunk (and elsewhere) and the Cauliflower Fungus growing on the roots of a Scots Pine. The latter, an easily recognised fungus, has occurred regularly at the base of the same tree for many years. A common small brown toadstool with a scurfy cap is the Winter Twiglet which grows on woody litter. Now is also a good time to admire two small brackets that can cover a fallen log: Turkey Tail which has a variety of colours and small pores; and Hairy Curtain Crust which is bright orange with no pores.
There have been the normal winter birds and one can enhance one’s identification knowledge by listening to their calls and locating the singer in the bare branches. Brandon Marsh is always a good place to visit and has a variety of water birds during the winter including Bittern. Coombe Abbey has a surprising number of less common birds on the lake not far from the causeway. There is a very confiding Little Egret there at present and a family of Egyptian Geese. The farm fields visible from Gossett Lane attract many Fieldfares and Redwings.
The butterfly survey has been running for five years and is providing useful data (see latest newsletter).
To make up for the poor season a new fungus for the wood, the Veiled Oyster, was discovered growing in the knothole of a dying tree. This is closely related to the more common Oyster Mushroom. Most fungi found have been those that grow on wood including Hen of the Woods and various Curtain Crusts, the most scarce being the Yellowing Curtain Crust. A lawn in Binley Woods has a group of Hairy Parachutes (a quirky English name for a small toadstool) growing on a patch of dead grass.
The winter visiting birds have arrived in low numbers so far, but the recent cold spell should bring in more. A Grey Heron continues to fish in the Dog Pond and a pair of Mallard are also regular visitors.