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 alternating cold and mild days may be confusing the wildlife but they appear to be coping well. Frogs have deposited large dollops of spawn in several ponds and ditches, notably in Peter’s Pond. I saw my first Brimstone butterfly on 25th March flying to and fro along the path leading to Brandon Little Wood. There were also many mining bees here and a few bumblebees.
A local resident was surprised to find a dozen Fieldfares squatting in the gravel round her bungalow; I’m not sure of the purpose of this behaviour (warmth?). Breeding birds are making their presence felt with their territorial calls. There are three Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming not far from the Ferndale Road gate, one of whom has found a very resonant branch near the Dog Pond. Chiffchaffs, the first summer visitors, have arrived and their persistent onomatopoeic call makes them easy to find. We followed a pair of Mallard as they waddled along the main ride for quite a distance.
The early plants are appearing: Lesser Celandine in the woods and hedges, Sweet Violets in the old sandpit and Whitlow Grass (a small white flower, not a grass) in the roadside kerbs in the village, particularly by the Woodlands Road shops. The Cherry Plum near the main crossroad in the wood has eventually blossomed. Thirteen Scarlet Elfcups were counted at one site and the Hairy Bracket was a new record for the wood. This species is closely related to the Turkeytail and easily overlooked. Several Spring Cavalier toadstools have appeared along the path leading from the kissing gate to the Green Pond.
The very cold weather has brought more wintering birds with Siskins coming into gardens to feed and Fieldfares in large numbers on the farm fields. While waiting for spring to arrive I thought that I would give a few tips on how to identify similar trees.
Pines have bundles of needles (leaves): the wood was extensively planted with Corsican Pines but scattered throughout these are native Scots Pines. The former have long (15cm) glaucous green needles, the latter shorter (6cm) brighter green needles. Both have two needles per bundle. The Scots Pine has a trunk that becomes a distinctly orange colour as it gets taller. The other pine is the Lodgepole which is struggling to survive and unsuited to our environment. There are very few left standing and may be recognised by a contorted trunk and cones with a spine.
Oaks are the major broad-leaved trees and eventually would be dominant. The most common is the English Oak also called Pedunculate which indicates that it has acorns on a stalk. Its leaves are without a stalk. The other native oak is the Sessile which has acorns with no stalk but the leaves do. They occur mainly at the west end of the wood. To make things interesting there are also hybrids between these two usually with shorter stalks on leaves and acorns. Another oak which is thriving is the Turkey Oak. This is an alien and in some woods is causing a problem. It can be recognised by its woolly acorn cups and narrower leaves. There are a handful of Red (American) Oaks on the corner of the main ride.
This month has been dominated by the dredging of the Green Pond. The pond was deeper than believed and the silt has been spread over a wide area. It now remains to create a filter bed of reeds to help neutralise the run-off from the farm field. Wildlife enthusiasts will find it interesting to monitor the development of this changed habitat: the pond itself and the surroundings. No doubt members will be unable to resist adding plants but no Pygmyweed please.
Toadstools to be seen are a few Scarlet Elfcups and Common Rustgills. The catkins (male) on the Hazels are growing longer but do not yet have their tiny red flowers (female). What I consider to be my Alder Buckthorn near the main crossroads suffered badly in the gales but it should survive.
A Red Admiral butterfly was seen in the village on 25th January; no doubt confused by the changeable weather from snow one day to very mild the next.
Many birds are singing, calling, holding their territory and looking for a mate. The Great Tit calls ‘teacher’ not to be confused with the Coal Tit’s ‘pitchu’ and the Nuthatch has its spring (trilling) call. Robins have a strong song and the Wren, in spite of its small size, has a loud call with several phrases including some harsh trilling notes.
The winter is not the best of times for watching wildlife but a few inches of snow or a sharp frost can add another dimension to a walk in the wood. However, this has to be set against the problems of icy roads for both drivers and pedestrians. The recent snow was unusually sticky and was able to build up on the branches mainly of conifers and break them off their tree. More birds can be attracted to gardens if food and water is supplied and berries are also devoured quickly. Winter birds include Siskins and Redpolls which feed in flocks and twitter constantly in the tree tops. Goldfinches behave similarly at roost. Fieldfares and Redwings can form large flocks in farmland and bushes but this year appear to be down in numbers. Keen birdwatchers can expect to see unusual species at Draycote Water and Brandon Marsh
There are still a few toadstools to be seen; the bright orange Sheathed Woodtuft is consuming a horse-chestnut near the Ferndale Gate and the attractive Goblet (Pseudoclitocybe cyathiformis – one of the longest scientific names) may be found near the Scout Pond. Otherwise the most common fungi are the brackets that grow on branches and trees. These include small ones such as Turkey Tail which has bands of different colours varying from pale to black and Hairy Curtain Crust which would be better named ‘orange’ instead of ‘hairy’. The common large species are Birch Polypore and Blushing Bracket.
A conspicuous plant is Common Gorse which can bloom at any time of the year.
The compensation for a dull misty November is the brilliant autumn colours as the deciduous trees prepare for winter. Every year the woods seem brighter than previously, possibly due to the warmer days, lack of frost and not too many gales. With practice one can distinguish many trees by the shades of yellow and orange of their leaves. My favourite is the Beech of which there are only a few in Brandon Wood (several near the Scout Pond), though the Larch, our only deciduous conifer, runs it close. Even the much maligned Bracken is more colourful this year.
Preparatory work on the Green Pond to enable it to be dredged has resulted in a lower water level which in turn has encouraged a Grey Wagtail (a dull name for an attractive bird) to take up residence, though it is easily disturbed. Muntjac deer have been more active recently with several young keeping close to their mother. They can have two litters (each of one fawn) a year in any month with a gestation period of seven months. The rut is a low key affair with most families keeping together. Unlike the larger deer they do little damage to trees but can disturb the understorey.
In last month’s Notes I mentioned funnel mushrooms growing in rings and a semicircle of Clouded Funnels has appeared next to the nursery in Monks Road. The individual toadstools are notably large. Other fungi noticed on local lawns are Ivory Bonnet (small white with a hint of yellow) and Field Blewits.