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.
One of our favourite walks is along the western boundary of the wood and meadow from the railway bridge to the kissing gate. There are several interesting plants here and we were glad to see on a recent visit that the Heath Dog Violet Viola canina had spread to a more suitable area as the original area was rapidly becoming overgrown. This plant is scarce in the county and may be distinguished by its yellow spur. Another plant that was also becoming choked out is Smith’s Pepperwort but thanks to action by the working party the site has been cleared and the pepperwort is thriving again.
On the same walk we noted that six different warbler species were singing: Whitethroats from many bushes in the meadow and Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers from the woods. The latter were in low numbers compared with the past. Blackcaps were singing well and the less common Garden Warbler was also heard. When they first arrive and are in full song these two species are fairly easy to separate but later on they can be more difficult. Finally we were pleased to hear a Lesser Whitethroat, an uncommon bird in the wood though possibly overlooked. I haven’t described the songs as they can easily be obtained on the Internet and then all one needs is patience.
The mild winter has not had such a major impact on the wildlife as one would have expected although a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly in our garden on 14th February was most surprising particularly after the absence of them in the summer. A Brimstone was seen on the 24th.
The resident birds are looking for vacant territories and nest sites. More and more males are singing. Dunnocks are often overlooked as they probe for food in lawns and flower beds. They can easily be identified when they dash about characteristically flicking their tails. Their song is like a simplified version of the Robin’s with a repeated phrase. Goldcrests have a quiet song as they work their way through the conifers and are common in the wood. The Red-legged (French) Partridges are on the increase in the village. If only the native Grey Partridges were doing the same. A pair of Mallard are still commuting between the Dog and Green ponds.
The first spring flowers are now appearing with masses of Snowdrops brightening the woodland glades. There are two common types of crocus: the Early Crocus is slim and has a pale violet colour; the Spring Crocus has strong colours, usually violet or orange,
The winter continues with relatively mild weather with a consequence that birds have less need to visit our gardens. One group of birds that can be seen in large numbers are the gulls. Draycote Water is probably the best site (certainly for the expert) but one can get better views at Brandon Marsh. There are ten species roosting at the former and a good chance of most of these in low numbers at the latter. The Yellow-legged Gull, very common around the Mediterranean, is now becoming regular in Britain. The international committees have upgraded many birds of the Herring Gull group from subspecies to full species. Today’s bird is the Caspian Gull which is difficult to separate from the Herring. Another surprise is the increased numbers of Great Black-back Gulls which usually prefer the coast.
The Green Pond has been visited by four Mallard, two male and two female.
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.