October 10th. Shaggy Inkcaps and a furry Dormouse
Thanks to Eileen Cuthbert for sending this picture that she took in Fineshade on 10th October. We'd be very pleased to receive more pictures of fungi or other wildlife you see in the wood.
Thanks too to Henry Stanier for sorting out the picture that he took while monitoring Dormouse boxes in Fineshade exactly a year ago!
October 22nd. Winter thrushes
Fieldfare (left) and Redwing (right). Both pictures by Kurt Hellwing on 23rd October
The Fieldfares and Redwings we see in Fineshade will have come from their breeding areas in the forests of Scandinavia and northern Europe. About 600,000 of each species cross the North Sea to spend the winter in the UK. There is an excellent video that will help you identify the two species and tell you more about them here on the BTO website.
There's another member of the thrush family that is also arriving in large numbers: the Blackbird. Our resident breeders are joined by migrants from northern Europe during the winter so you are likely to see more Blackbirds in the wood too. The migrants often stay together in small flocks whereas the residents birds tend to be solitary. Also, in this part of the world the migrant flocks seem to be mainly black males - perhaps the brown females from Europe tend to spend the winter elsewhere.
Fieldfares and Redwings, the most obvious of the wood's winter visitors, have arrived in big numbers during the last week. The picture on the left shows Fieldfares feeding on the fruits of one of the Wild Service trees. They are also eating ripe Hawthorn berries The hedge on the left as you come up the lane to Top Lodge (picture below) seems particularly laden with haws this year so it could be a very good place to see winter thrushes in the coming weeks.
Another place well worth looking is the Apple orchard at Top Lodge. There was a large flock of, mainly, Fieldfares feeding there early on Monday morning
October 28th. A buzz in the wood pile
With the chillier weather, wood-burning stoves are being fired up in Fineshade and the daily task of bringing in logs has begun again. Wood stores have been carefully stacked with cut and split timber during the summer, and these piles often provide hiding places for moths and other insects. One day this week, as a large log covered with dead ivy was taken from the wood pile there was a sudden loud, but fairly sleepy, buzzing which caused the log to be put down fairly rapidly!
There on the side was an enormous wasp-like creature emerging from its hiding place in the ivy. We see Hornets regularly in Fineshade and they are bigger than Common Wasps, but this one looked at first to be twice the normal size. Sometimes, on warm summer nights, small groups of Hornets are attracted to lights and will gather noisily around a lit window. And one year a colony created a nest in the eaves of the house. We treated the inch-long insects with care and respect, because they are said to have a rather nasty sting.But, unlike wasps, Hornets are not aggressive and will only use their stings if disturbed. The colony on the house only stayed a few weeks and they did not return in later years.
But this large one in the wood pile had been disturbed! And it was very big - probably nearer two inches from its antennae to its tail. It stayed long enough to have its photo taken before flying dozily off to find another hiding place.
Back in the house, some research showed that this was indeed our native hornet (Vespa crabro) or European Hornet and, because of its size it was a queen. It is only queen hornets that hiberate having first been fertilised by males in early autumn. This queen, had it not been disturbed, might have survived the winter and created a new nest and colony somewhere in the wood next spring. Hopefully, this queen was able to find another place to hiberbate - but this time not in a Fineshade wood pile!
October 31st. Some remarkable fungi
Another native fungus that Lynda has been seeing a lot this year is the well-named Magpie Inkcap (Coprinopsis picacea). This is found throughout Europe but is infrequent in Britain.
Lynda knows a tiny patch of the wood where they regularly occur but never before in such large numbers: she thinks there have probably been between 30 and 50 specimens so far this autumn. The fruit bodies are particularly short-lived and, the day after this picture was taken, the gills of this individual were already turning into a black goo-ey mess. This process, called deliquescence, allows the mushroom’s spores to be easily dispersed, just washing away in the next shower of rain. But when it's in prime condition it is certainly a very handsome fungus.
With both the Fly Agaric and the Magpie Inkcap the white spots are the remains of the so-called universal veil, the white flimsy covering that protects the fruit body as it first emerges from the soil.
Of all the toadstools that grow in Fineshade wood it is the red capped Fly Agaric that is the most conspicuous and, in a literal sense, iconic: if ever a fungus is pictured in a children’s book it is almost always the red-capped agaric.
In Fineshade it cannot be described as widespread, but there is a particular broad area south of Top Lodge where they can be seen every year at this time. But Lynda Peirce, who keeps a particular eye out for this fungus, thinks that this year they are particularly prolific.
Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) is said to cause hallucinations or intoxication but the common name refers to the way in which it was formally used as a fly killer. It was crumbled into milk and served to attract, and kill, insects.