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 Woolly Thistles had a good year with a record 47 plants flowering. Other summer plants suffered in the drought and we now look forward to the autumn species such as Devil’s-bit Scabious. The drought has encouraged many plants to protect their future by fruiting profusely. However, the same lack of rain water has in many cases thwarted this plan.
Small Whites continue to dominate the butterfly scene but Green-veined Whites have reappeared and can cause confusion. In general the Small Whites fly higher and more positively. Comma butterflies are probably the most frequently seen of the colourful species. Speckled Woods are plentiful in the woodland.
Hawker dragonflies are quite common with Southern Hawkers patrolling the Green and Dog Ponds and Migrant Hawkers are prominent at crossroads along the main ride. Darters have not reached their normal autumn numbers yet.
There are few toadstools about at present but an attractive one is the False Chanterelle, a bright orange fungus associated with conifers. It should not be eaten as its toxicity affects people in different ways. The felled larch tree not far from the Ferndale gate has two unidentified fungi growing on it. This tree has kept very well over the many years since it was felled for safety reasons and I was expecting more fungi in the mean time. One group of fungi that prefer the hot, dry weather are the mildews and their white powder is very conspicuous on the leaves of young oak trees.
This butterfly season is notable for the number of ‘cabbage’ whites: Small Whites have been abundant and Large Whites also in substantial numbers. After an encouraging start the ‘browns’ have not maintained their presence. . The ‘red’ butterflies have been disappointing with a few Commas and Small Tortoiseshells the first to appear and Red Admirals and Peacocks are now arriving. Holly and Common Blues are both active; the former in the wood and the latter in meadows.
Dragonflies have remained in low numbers. Brown and Migrant Hawkers are flying high and a few Southern Hawkers are maintaining territory. An Emperor was seen at the Jubilee Pond.
The Green Pond already has some interesting plants: Fool’s Watercress, which surprisingly is a new record for the wood, and Water-plantain. Around the margin Yellow Flag has taken well.
For those of us who still have a garden lawn the drought has turned the grass yellow but a few plants can survive these harsh conditions. They include the white Yarrow and the yellow Smooth Hawk’s-beard which resembles a small dandelion.
Stock Doves are becoming more common as they readily use large nest-boxes intended for Kestrels and owls. Their simple call is easily overlooked appearing similar to other species of pigeons and doves but once known is quite distinctive.
You may not be aware that there are two species of birch tree in the wood. The well-known Silver Birch is extremely common particularly where they have sprung up after a fire. Not so familiar is the Downy Birch which occurs in older parts of the wood such as along the north bank. The simplest way to separate them is by the bark on the lower trunk. The Silver Birch has deep, black, diamond shaped fissures that are absent from the Downy Birch which lives up to its name by having soft pubescent leaves.
The number of butterflies is increasing as the ‘browns’ make their appearance. These include Marbled White, Ringlet, Meadow Brown plus Large Skipper. Green Hairstreaks can be seen quite easily in the sandpit but Purple Hairstreaks are more difficult as they feed in the canopies of oak and ash trees. The best place to watch them in the wood is at the main crossroads where a seat has kindly been provided. White Admirals are in good numbers and a Purple Emperor has been recorded.
An unexpected plant, not previously recorded and probably a garden escape, is growing near the east kissing gate. It has two common names: Stinking Iris and Roast Beef Plant. The latter name is more appropriate as the leaves have a pleasant smell of beef. A similar plant, also introduced, is Montbretia. The count of Common Spotted-orchids was 607 (100 fewer than last year) mainly on the west landfill. This area is rapidly becoming impenetrable and counting will become difficult. There were 130 Woolly Thistles of which half were in bud. This is a record but the above comment applies to this area as well. Only four Broad-leaved Helleborines have been seen and a similar number of Bee Orchids.
The Green Pond is connected to the Dog Pond by a ditch that maintains the same water-level. This allows wildlife to travel between the ponds and a small shoal of Rudd have already made the journey
The pair of Mallard did breed and ducklings were seen briefly on the renovated Green Pond. A House Martin has nested at the Binley Woods shops and is ignoring the adjacent building work.
The number of butterflies is still disappointingly low. Speckled Woods can be seen interacting as they spiral upwards and Holly Blues will visit gardens. A few Green Hairstreaks have occupied the Sandpit. An Orange Underwing moth was a surprise and Bee-flies have been common in a variety of habitats. Dragonflies are now appearing and a Four-spotted Chaser was seen at the Jubilee Pond. There have been several Large Red Damselflies at the Dog Pond.
We have added Jackdaw to our (small) garden list although these corvids are not as ubiquitous in the Midlands as they are in the West Country. A Garden Warbler is singing strongly not far from the new gate near the railway bridge. This bird’s song is often difficult to distinguish from that of the Blackcap. At the same location one can hear a Cuckoo calling from Brandon Marsh.
The wild plants are following their usual flowering sequence with Bugle abundant along the main ride. An interesting family of flowers are the Speedwells. There are three species that occur in the wood (others in fields and gardens). The most common is Germander Speedwell which forms masses of sprawling bright blue, relatively large flowers. Heath Speedwell forms similar clusters of lilac flowers but is quite scarce but may be found on the west landfill and the main ride. The smallest species is Thyme-leaved Speedwell which has tiny pale blue flowers on a short spike.
There have been several fungus species growing on rotting branches. Many of these are difficult to separate but an easy one (at least when young) and a first record for the wood is the Brittle Cinder. This is a grey flat mass with a white border and turns black as it matures. Dryad’s Saddle and Chicken of the Woods are attractive large bracket fungi that appear regularly in he wood.
At last some warm, dry weather, though the response by butterflies has been very slow. Apart from many Brimstones there have been ‘reds’ in low numbers and several Small Whites. The pair of Mallard have moved to the Dog Pond but I doubt if they will breed. Willow Warblers and Blackcaps have arrived and joined the Chiffchaffs.
The sudden change to a record high temperature has encouraged the spring flowers to bloom en masse with spectacular displays of Primroses and Bluebells. There has been a pleasing increase in Wood Anemones but Brandon Little Wood is the place to see these. Dog Violets, the food plant of Silver-washed Fritillaries, have also prospered along the Main Ride. A garden variety of Yellow Archangel with variegated leaves continues to spread along the path behind Daneswood. Ramsons is also growing in this area. Marsh Marigolds (Kingcups) are blooming in the Dog Pond.
St George’s Mushroom was found on 26h April living up to its name. There have been two surveys of newts which have revealed good numbers of Smooth and Great-crested particularly in the Scout Pond. Tadpoles have also done well. The Green Pond has survived its overhaul with several water creatures observed there.