Wildlife in November/December 2017

3rd November:  On the brink of winter - and catkins! 

 

This week the clocks changed for the worse, ensuring evenings had no daylight. The first frost whitened the grass and sounds of windscreen scraping were heard. Redwings have been here for a fortnight already, but our other, noisier, winter thrushes were heard for the first time, flying in from Scandinavia to join the Hawthorn berry feast.  It really seemed as if we were on the brink of winter.

And then, suddenly, there was something to lift the spirits and make us look forward beyond the coming cold season: there were catkins on the Hazel! 

 

Last March we wrote about catkins as they opened - fresh yellow-green fronds dancing and releasing pollen to fertilise the tiny red flowers. Now in November the new batch of growths are emerging as this year's leaves change colour and fall. They will remain tightly closed on the Hazel's branches and twigs, seeing out the winter, but ready to burst open as soon as the weather warms in the New Year.

Fineshade Wood catkins
 

7th November:  A Woodcock Moon

Moon behind trees

Photo: Prateek Karandikar
via Wikimedia Commons

Today I saw the first winter Woodcock in Fineshade. It flushed from just in front of me - a rotund chocolate-brown, pigeon-sized shape shooting away with a rush of wings and feathers. The last one I had seen here was late one evening back in May when a male was roding - flying round the wood in its characteristic display flight. Woodcock still breed in very small numbers in the woods in the north of Northants, but their numbers are swollen at this time of year as tens of thousands cross the North Sea, escaping the frozen ground conditions of northern Europe. Here they can hide up in woodland during the day and fly out to soggy farmland to look for worms during the hours of darkness.

The moon was full last Friday and the arrival of these migrants often seems to coincide with the full moon in November, apparently leading to the use of the phrase a Woodcock Moon.  However, November's full moon is also known as the Hunters moon, perhaps a reminder that the Woodcock may still be legally but shamefully hunted. This is despite being red-listed now as a bird of conservation concern because of its long term population decline.

You can learn more about the migration of Woodcock here

Woodcock with worm

Photo: Ronald Slabke
via Wikimedia Commons

13th November:  Recording Sorbus torminalis, the Wild Service tree

 

This year we've concentrated on finding and recording as many Wild Service trees in Fineshade as possible. According to the Woodland Trust this native tree is rare but often found on clay and lime based soils in oak and ash woods where there are pockets of Ancient Woodland - sounds just like Fineshade!  And found in Fineshade it certainly is, and we wrote about it on this page in September 2016. There we included a bit about local Northants traditions associated with Wild Service.

Most of the leaves of the Wild Service have now fallen but their shape and pinky-brown colour still stand out on the forest floor so, in the last week or so we've found several "new" trees to add to our growing data base.

At the end of 2016 we knew of Wild Service trees in 11 locations in Fineshade but, after this year's efforts, we'll be able to send the Forestry Commission records of at least 58 trees at no less than 34 different locations in the wood.  I wonder how many more are still to be found. It seems that Wild Service is another of Fineshade's speciality species, like Small Teasel, Adder, Silver-washed Fritillary and others, though like most of these you can find Wild Service trees throughout the year.

Blossom in May

Fruits in July

Leaves and bark in November

Mature tree is September

 

17th November:  Magpies at the tree house

This week we were delighted to hear from Tony Vials that he'd seen Magpie Inkcap fungi near the Tree House in Far Markham's Wood, just down the hill from the Top Lodge visitor centre. We've written before about a different site that residents have known about for years, but it's now the case that there are two locations in Fineshade for this nationally scarce and rather splendid fungus.

When we went to check it out yesterday we were able to find 27 individuals, in various stages of growth and decay. It is a notoriously short-lived species and this morning, after the hard frost, we could only count 16.  But more were emerging, as others have deliquesced.

The area where these fungi are growing is on the edge of the play area around the Tree House, an area where wood chips are spread by the Forestry Commission from time to time. Perhaps the wood chippings, made from nearby fallen branches, have helped to spread the spores and create the right growing conditions for the Magpie Inkcaps.

Well worth looking for if you are passing, but it's certainly not a species for eating!

Rather less obvious among the leaf litter at the edge of the woodchipped area are hundreds, if not thousands, of these much smaller fungi. You need to look very carefully for these tiny caps on fragile stems. Not sure how many of these will survive the coming weekend - this area is justly popular with children of all ages!

If you can help identify the small fungus we'd be really pleased. Also check out our new page showing some to the fungi we've found in Fineshade this autumn.

 

1st December:  Encounter with a Badger

There it is!

... and closer...

Here it comes...

It senses me...

Getting closer...

... and disappearing

... wow!

.. and time to go...

Post script.  The Badger has gone and I look at where it has been rootling under the tree, and at the tree itself. Suddenly a shiny metal disk catches my eye, hammered into the trunk by Forest Holidays' tree surveyor back in 2014. Had their application been successful there would have been luxury cabins and hot tubs right here today in Peter's Nook. But there wouldn't have been the tree and there wouldn't have been the Badger.

Winter. A hard frost overnight followed by a bright sun, still low in the sky at mid-day. Peter's Nook is a little-visited part of Fineshade Wood and it's totally silent apart from the crisp rustle of leaves under my feet. I'm looking for late fungi or maybe some wintering thrushes or siskins but there's nothing to be seen except bare trees and a rich carpet of leaves - 50 shades of brown. Suddenly, a movement catches my eye about 50m away and a grey furry shape ambles away through the trees, head down and busy. What's a Badger doing out and about in broad daylight?

I don't think it's seen me so I cut around hoping to head it off and get a better view. Three minutes of scanning and I've still not found it. Then I look round and freeze. There, no more than 10m away is a scarcely moving lump of fur, head down and hidden as it rootles through the fallen leaves. Nothing, apart from the badger, is moving in the wood but I manage to grab my camera and very carefully begin to take photos. Will it ever put it's head up?

 

Time passes. A Jay calls hoarsely from nearby. Still the badger rummages. But, little by little it's getting closer. And then it's behind a tree. Dare I move? No - wait, wait, I can see its shadow.

 

And then a black-and-white head appears followed by the whole body. It is no more than 4m away. I have a few seconds to study it in full view before it finally senses my presence, turns tail and moves fairly swiftly away.

What a rare encounter! I've walked in these woods for nearly 30 years and seen badgers on only a handful of occasions but never as closely and never in the middle of the day like this.

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