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 dryish weather persists and the wildlife has coped well without depending on our support. Common Darter dragonflies were seen on 18th November. Toadstools continue to favour the woodchips leading to the Green Pond. These include the now widespread Blueing Brownie, a first for the wood. The Orange Peel Fungus had colonised the bare soil by the Green Pond. It was a shame that the moribund Horse Chestnut tree near Ferndale had to be felled as it was a source of several fungi with Velvet Shank still there.
Woodland is not the most interesting habitat for birds in autumn but wetland sites can be very rewarding. For instance: Brandon Marsh at the time of writing has two Bewick’s Swans and four Whooper Swans (a rare occurrence) which enables one to distinguish the species by the diagnostic shape of the yellow on the beak.
The warm, dry weather has made visiting our wood a pleasant experience but it has not always benefitted the wildlife. Butterflies have had mixed fortunes with Red Admirals, Speckled Woods and whites still active. They find the flowers on the ivy bushes as one enters the farm field from Ferndale Gate very attractive. Southern Hawkers and Common Darters are late flying dragonflies.
It has been a very strange year for fungi, my particular interest. Toadstools in the wood have fared poorly with only those that live on wood having any success. Woodchips are always worth a look at as many scarce fungi have increased substantially by exploiting this recent resource. There are many bright red toadstools (Redlead Roundheads) on the path leading from the kissing gate to the Green Pond. Another uncommon such species is the Foetid Parachute which I have never seen before yet it has appeared through woodchips and a turfed verge a few yards from my home. Another house down the road has a group of Fly Agarics (toadstools red with white spots).
The fruits on trees have generally done well. Two of the least common are: Roast-beef Plant by the kissing gate which is resplendent with orange-red berries; Black Bryony, which with patience may be found along the main ride, has deeper red berries.
In spite of the recent rain the ground is still very dry and the smaller ponds are down to their last drops of water. This has impacted on all forms of life. Speckled Woods, Comma butterflies and whites are still the most frequently seen. Common Darters and Southern Hawker dragonflies are quite common, the former easily watched as they bask on a sunny path.
Resident birds are generally quiet at the moment but a few, such as Robins, are using their sub-song to emphasise their territory.
The vegetation around the Green Pond is making rapid progress and it is a botanical challenge to identify the green shoots.
In the previous Nature Notes I mentioned two fungi growing on the felled larch tree. When the penny dropped that these fungi were in fact the same species I was able to put a name to it Postia balsamea (there is no common name for this scarce bracket). When growing on the trunk of the tree its shape is the normal shelf but when growing on the stump it just flattens forming a resupinate rosette shape. This form usually occurs with much thinner species. The village front gardens continue to provide interesting fungi e.g. a group of unusually large Rooting Boletes arising through gravel from the roots of an Oak, Shaggy Parasol and Chicken of the Woods apparently growing on a lawn but no doubt actually from buried wood.
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.