Nature Notes

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.

John Sells

July 2018

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.

June 2018

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.

May 2018

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.

April 2018

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.

March 2018

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.