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 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.
While awaiting the main influx of winter migrant birds one can obtain good views and comparisons of the resident woodland birds as they form mixed flocks and search for food. These birds include the tits, nuthatches and goldcrests. They often move through gardens and this autumn we have recorded our very first Green Woodpecker in our small back garden. We also had a brief view of a Nuthatch, an occasional visitor last seen five years ago. October is also the best month to listen for Tawny Owls hooting in the wood; the female calling ‘toowhit’ and the male answering ‘toowhoo’ or something similar.
There are still a few Red Admiral butterflies about taking nectar from Ivy flowers and a Migrant Hawker dragonfly seen on 22nd October was the latest ever.
Later in the autumn when the fungi associated with trees have decreased a common group of toadstools appear named the Funnels from their shape. Two of the larger species are the Trooping Funnel and the Clouded Funnel. These toadstools often form wide partial rings in woodland and contain dozens of fruitbodies (technically called sporophores). There are excellent examples of the former near the Dog Pond and playing field entrance; and there is a fine group of the latter on the left-hand side of Farm Ride as one travels towards the farm.
It has been a quiet month and I have concentrated on searching for fungi. It is difficult to explain why fungi have been declining in both numbers and species in recent years. One clue may be that gardens and parks are doing relatively better. This suggests that there is insufficient summer rainfall and in woodland it is rapidly absorbed by the trees. Nevertheless some interesting fungi are to be found. One of these is the Birch Mazegill a bracket fungus that I had not seen before. The county database held nine records (two in Brandon Wood), the most recent being in 1979 and the previous record for our wood was in 1968. The Bleeding Porecrust is a strange bracket fungus that can spread across vegetation and was a first record for the wood. The attractive golden Birch Webcap continues to do well as does the White Saddle.
Butterflies continue to appear in low numbers with Speckled Woods, Large and Small Whites the most common. Brimstones are also active. The bench at the ‘cross-roads’ provides a convenient means to sit back and observe Purple Hairstreaks feeding near the top of the oak trees there. They are small butterflies with silvery wings. Hornets have nested again in the hollow tree by the southern path.
The verges of the rides are now being adorned by the bright blue flowers of Devil’s-bit Scabious.
Rain during August has improved the prospects for fungi but apart from attractive clumps of Sulphur Tuft on many Silver Birch logs and Common Rustgill on wood chips there are few gilled toadstools to show yet.
A Sparrowhawk gave a good view with its decapitated prey (probably a woodpigeon) near the farm before it took off still grasping the dead bird.