November 2nd. More new arrivals
Identifying small birds in woodland is not easy. On a leisurely walk along the woodland tracks it can be quite frustrating: a flock of small birds flies quickly overhead and are lost to view behind the trees. Even if they land in the tree tops they are silhouettes against a bright sky, making colours very difficult to see and size difficult to judge. If they land lower down amongst the leaves you may be more lucky, but often all you’ll see is a few glimpses as they move warily through the vegetation.
One of the best ways of seeing birds in woodland is to sit and wait for them to come to you - though it is a chancy business and can often mean a very long wait! You can shorten the chances by sitting somewhere that the birds may feed regularly feed, such as in front of the Wildlife Hide in Fineshade, where a good range of the more common species can often be seen well. But where else do birds feed at this time of year?
Hearing that a large flock of small birds had been seen feeding in a particular plantation of alder trees, deep in the wood, Kurt Hellwing photographer and one of the Friends of Fineshade decided to quietly sit and wait, to see if the birds would come back while he was there. It was a long wait, but what better place to spend three hours on a bright autumn morning than alone in a wood? And the reward for his patience was these superb photos of three elusive winter visitors.
This is a male Brambling, in some ways similar to the more familiar Chaffinch. There were at least 6 of these present.
Siskins (left) and Lesser Redpolls (right) are fairly regular winter visitors,to Fineshade, often seen in flocks of a few dozen birds. They prefer to feed high up in Silver Birch and Alder trees
November 5th. A slimy mess in the grass
“Come and have a look at this stuff on the green – no idea what it is and it’s not very pretty!”
From a distance it looked as if a tissue had been shredded by a mower leaving ragged fragments spread over several square metres. But then on looking more closely at a single patch, it resembled what a sick dog might leave behind – but it would have taken a whole pack of hounds to have vomited together here to produce all this. The next thought was that foam had been squirted around – the stuff certainly looked bubbly, wet and slimy. But it lacked the bright colours you’d expect from a child’s toy - and some of this stuff was actually attached to the grass stems. It seemed to have grown here, so it must be a natural substance. Could it be a peculiar type of fungus, we thought. And then from somewhere in the dark gutters of the memory came the mysterious phrase: slime mould.
Pictures were taken, a specimen collected and then we were back indoors to interrogate Google. And before too long we’d established a possible ID. It was probably Mucilago crustacea, one of the three UK slime moulds whose spore-producing structures can appear on lawns quite suddenly, sometimes overnight.
Slime moulds, it seems, are not actually fungi but are very primitive organisms sharing some of the similarities of both fungi and single-celled animals, a bit like amoebae. They do not attack plants but feed on bacteria and minute pieces of organic material. Sometimes some types of slime mould form together into a colony called a plasmodium - a shiny network of strands that moves through and across the soil, often using grass stems as support. Gradually, over the next few days the mess on the green changed, forming tiny black spores which will no doubt give rise to the next generation of this amazing organism.
And what is the common name of Mucilago crustacea? Dog’s Sick Slime Mould. How very appropriate!
November 13th. Even more agaric
It was a foul and fair weekend. Yesterday there was continuous rain, but today the sun came out, again illuminating the remaining autumn leaves, hawthorn berries and other wildlife. Flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare were flying into the wood to roost as the sun and light faded.
Two weeks on the fungi pictured at the end of October all seem to have disappeared, but another patch of the iconic red-capped Fly Agarics have emerged, visible among the blankets of fallen leaves if you look very carefully.
November 27th. Yet more fungi
As we move inexorably from autumn to winter there are still many types of fungi to be seen in the wood. They are not always easy to identify but we think these may be the Stump Puffball, a Bracket fungus, the Common Funnel, and finally a type of Bonnet Mushroom.