I do not know where time goes to nowadays! By the time you read this the shortest day will have passed and the daylength is getting longer- hooray! In the woods too the sunlight is becoming brighter and stronger especially when we have a break in the clouds. Most of the leaves have fallen so the canopy is less dense, allowing the sunbeams to shine on the lower levels. When the rays hit the tree trunks at an oblique angle one can wonder at the patterns of nature demonstrated by the ridges of the tree bark. The furrows of the ash and oak are deeper than those of the beech trees, helping us to distinguish between the species. Despite the loss of chlorophyll from the leaves, the colours of the wood remain vibrant with brilliant greens complimenting the remains of the autumnal browns, browns and coppers. The most verdant colour may be the mosses cloaking the bases of the tree trunks, often thicker on the northern side. Look closely and we can see the small spore forming growths which can look like golf clubs. The mosses appear to have a golden halo when backlit by the low winter sun, the soft thick blanket suitable for a bed for the fairies of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Elsewhere the ferns too are still looking very much alive. In the late spring I occasionally have difficulty differentiating bracken from fern but it is easier at this time of year. Although some of the bracken is still green it looks faded compared with the strong growth of the ferns which looks like suitable fodder for dinosaurs- as it probably was!
The birdsong is also becoming more apparent- nuthatches calling loudly as they go about their business whilst the ravens call from overhead as they prepare to nest- one of the earliest species to do so. The early bird may catch the worm whilst those looking for nesting sites may be best placed to choose the premium spots. My dog too is good at selecting places to rest in, her favourite being a spot in front of a fire spread out on a luxury carpet!
Nature Notes wishes all readers a happy and prosperous New Year, perhaps celebrated by a rewarding walk or trip to enjoy the wonderful natural sights to be enjoyed in our local woods!
We have had a lot of wet weather in recent weeks but between the showers we can enjoy the dry rain of the larch needles as they fall and cover the ground with a golden carpet. In the sunshine the colour is as rich as newly minted pirate’s pieces of eight, transforming the paths into magical avenues leading us to different lands of kings and dragons. Occasionally squirrels and Jays land on the branches and there is then a cascade adding to the layers underfoot. There can be a sense of quiet activity as the woodland creatures go about their business. At other times there are commotions when larger birds arrive such as the buzzards which have bred locally. They are such large birds with a wingspan approaching two metres one wonders how they fly between the trees so effortlessly. When seen close to they really are magnificent! When the sun is shining and the sky is blue it is a marvellous place to walk. However, when the light is fading and dusk falls, the atmosphere is subdued as silence descends on the wood. The birds which chattered to each other earlier as they passed through the trees settle down early. They like to be in their nooks and crannies which they share with their friends to keep warm. My dog likes to be in her bed too – but even better is stretched out on the rug in front of the fire -it is a tough life being a dog in our house!
We are so lucky to have such variation in the British weather! It may not seem so fortunate when we have a run of wet and dreary days but before long they clear and we have some sunshine again. Last month I wrote that we had enjoyed a dry spell, but this month I can say that we have endured if not enjoyed the rain! The woods reflect such changes- the undergrowth seems vibrant again and the small streams descending the gentle downhill slopes of the dykes gurgle and chuckle as they head towards bigger waterways.
The hedgerows are decorated with the bright red berries of the hawthorn bushes whilst the rose hips tend to have a deeper hue. They intermingle with the dark glistening sloe berries, ripe and ready for collection by foragers. There are still some flowers to remind us of those summer days- on my most recent stroll I found some honeysuckle blooms still in full show, exuding their fantastic scents. The autumn fungi are shooting up, encouraged by the damp. I spotted some which I thought were yellow “fairy clubs” (Clavaria corniculata) growing at ground level. They were such a vibrant colour they looked as if they had come straight out of Van Gogh’s paint box! I do not know why they are called fairy clubs- I like to think that fairies take them to their night clubs as decorations rather than them being weapons of violence! It was quite a large patch and one wonders at the marvels of nature, how they seem to just appear from nothing, the mycelium being hidden under the ground. The cobweb strands are so delicate one never knows they are there. This is in contrast to my dog whose presence I feel as she is never far away. She seems to like my company and usually walks a few steps in front of or behind me. That is until she picks up a scent of a Muntjac in which case she takes a small detour- I rarely follow her through the undergrowth on my hands and knees!
The Friends were pleased to announce the winners of the photography competition at the Apple Day on October 6th.
The winner was Steve Goddard, with a photo of the patterns of wood in a harvested tree, second prize went to Martin Barnatt, for a view from the woods over a stile, and third prize to Jason Richardson, for his photo of dog roses.
We had around 40 entries which provided a good display on the day, with photos ranging from flowers of the wood, to fauna of the wood, and views of trees, the ponds and frosty scenes.
Thank you to all those who entered and to Sarah Lambert, a local botanist and photographer for judging the competition.
One of my neighbours has a large Virginia Creeper covering the side of his fence which looks absolutely splendid this time of year. It presents a wall of colour progressing from the deepest purple to the brightest of crimson. It is a joy to behold but the woods have their own equivalent display in the form of the American Oak. It too has a spectrum of reds, yellows and coppers which contrast so well with the surrounding trees. Elsewhere in the woods the most dominating colour is green although the bracken is beginning to turn and some of the larch is adopting a brownish hue- in preparation for their golden cascades. We have enjoyed some glorious weather in September but the drier conditions may precipitate an early leaf fall. Currently the autumnal sunbeams have to look for a space in the canopy to penetrate and then reward us with contrasting light and shadows. The rays occasionally highlight those delicate threads of the spiders as they are caught by the gentle breeze. Almost impossible to see as you walk along unless you look towards the light- the gossamer strings are then revealed.
Groups of tiny birds are still moving through the branches, keeping contact with their friends and relatives as they feed. I particularly like the long-tailed tits which look so elegant as they swoop between the twigs. They may be joined by chiff-chaffs who are feeding up, ready for their long journey south (for most) as well as the other members of the tit family including the blue tits, great tits, coal tits and marsh tits. All together they present such a busy happy sound which I really ought to bring to the attention of my dog. Alas she is not listening very attentively to them, preferring the distant howl of some other canine friend!
Our Apple Day was thoroughly enjoyed by those who came, and despite the weather forecast we had very little rain during the event – even if it was very wet underfoot! We borrowed the apple press from Stamford Community Orchard Group and made our own apple juice. Great fun was had by all crushing the apples and then pressing them into a delicious healthy juice – which people could take home.
There were plenty of delicious cakes from the homemade cake stall, with teas and coffees to wash them down.
Children had craft activities to try, and a quiz around the orchard, answering apple related questions. Children and adults could make applejacks out of apples to hang in the trees to ward off evil spirits, and we finally had a winner for our guess the name of the scarecrow – who was called Buck. There was also a craft stall, a second hand book-stall, and a plant stall. The Bourne Wood booklet was also available.
We had the results of our photographic competition with the entries and winners on display. The first and second prizes were handed out to Steve Goddard and Martin Barnatt (received on his behalf by his wife), and the third prize winner, Jason Richardson was not there.
The Friends had picked some fruit from the orchard, both to show people the different types of apples and pears, but also so people could take some away with them for a small donation. There will be more punnets available for the next few weeks during opening hours in the orchard, on a Saturday and Sunday, 10am to 6pm.
A huge ‘Thank You’ goes to all our volunteers who helped set up and look after the stalls on the day.
On a very pleasant sunny afternoon around 30 people gathered for a walk to look for the different fruits and nuts present in Bourne Wood.
Bourne Wood has a great diversity of trees and shrubs and we were hoping to see a range of fruits and nuts or seeds on the walk.
Despite it not being one of the better years (at least in Bourne Wood) for the crop of fruits and nuts, we did manage to see a good range of different types.
Blackberries, hips (dog and field rose), haws (common hawthorn) and sloes (blackthorn) were generally widespread. The fruits of these common shrubs are very familiar to many people. Sloes are used to make sloe gin and sloe jelly but, according to Richard, eaten raw they have the disconcerting effect of drying out ones mouth!
Other berries we encountered included dogwood, the familiar elderberry and black bryony – the only British member of the yam family! We found honeysuckle but unfortunately no fruits were in evidence. The leaves of this species are the food plant for the caterpillar of the rather rare white admiral butterfly that is on the wing in the Wood in July.
Although we found a few acorns from English oak, hazel nuts and beech mast proved elusive. Clearly despite there being a large beech tree near the car park this was not a year of plenty (a mast year) and no masts were found. The lack of hazel nuts is probably down to the severe depredations of hazelnuts by grey squirrels, small rodents and jays.
Finally Richard was able to locate a wild service tree with its rather unappetising-looking brown berries. The leaf of this species forms the logo of the Friends of Bourne Wood and its fascinating ecology and cultural uses are set out here: http://www.friendsofbournewoods.org.uk/wild-service-tree/
It was a blustery day but the woods offered me protection from the swirling winds as I entered through the gate. The sense of peace and calm was immediate, although the noise of the gusts hitting the canopy quickly reminded me of the conditions outside. The sheltered corners enabled a few speckled wood butterflies to be on the wing, although it seemed that they did not want to travel too far lest they were transported to distant lands!
The woods now have a late summer feeling with leaf green being the predominant colour. The lighter vibrant greens associated with new growth are less obvious although they were clearly represented by the delicate coverings of the developing hazelnuts. Usually the squirrels get to these first by skipping through the branches above our heads but this time the wind had harvested the seeds early with many carpeting the woodland floor. I am pretty sure that the squirrels will not go hungry- there are plenty of other edible delights developing, including cascades of blackberries and large tresses of guelder rose berries high above the paths. These currently have a pinkish hue but will turn a deep red soon which makes them look very attractive, competing with holly berries to adorn our Christmas cards.
Beneath them, lining the grassy rides are a multitude of wildflowers of all colours. The complicated purple flower heads of the knapweed and thistles provide 5 star a la carte dining to the hoverflies and skippers. Their colours are complemented by the bright yellows of the st johns wort, vetchlings and buttercups. The yellow loosestrife flowers are particularly bright and cheerful- being at eye height makes them easier for me to admire their delicate petals. Of course they are too tall for my dog but she is content to look for and then paddle in those deep puddles left after the rain!
We had planned to drive to another local patch but it was such a beautiful morning we decided to do our bit for the environment and have a potter around the woods almost on our doorstep, thereby reducing our contribution to air pollutants. We were not disappointed with our decision, the sun was warm and there was no significant wind so butterflies were on the wing. Perhaps the most numerous were the ringlets- which I think is a pretty name for one of our less colourful varieties. It conjures up images of Jane Austin going to a ball in a demure yet stunning gown with her hair tied up in curls. At first sight our ringlets seem plain but, like most things, look more closely and admire the delicate white trim which edges the wing. On the underside we noted the prominent “eye spots”. The pattern of these is distinctive with a “missing” ring where number 4 should be so we have a line of three with a gap followed by another two. They are all like this- I really do not know why but it adds to life’s mysteries. We spotted several other species including commas, skippers and admirals. The orange of the commas was particularly vibrant glowing in the summer sun, yet another glory to enjoy.
We heard several families of tits moving through the canopy as the young keep in contact with the adults. There was also a family of nuthatches chatting to each other as they searched for their lunch, the fledglings seeming to have a similar though less strong call as the parents. We stopped to look at the wayside wildflowers but were distracted by the forceful presence of a large dragonfly. It appeared to be really big and powerful as it patrolled its patch and yet it virtually disappeared on landing, almost melting into the background with superb camouflage. I am not an expert but I wonder if it was a Brown Hawker as it was indeed brown! Like all dragonflies it has six legs but does not walk!
Satisfied again with sampling some of the remarkable wildlife in our local woods we set off to return home- somewhat to the disappointment of my dog who seemed to say that there were even more exciting things to find further along the path where she had spotted some of her friends!
Around 40 adults and children joined entomologist Dr Keith Porter for this popular event run by the Friends of Bourne Wood.
The weather was mostly warm but cloudy but nonetheless a wide range of insects and spiders were found by the group using various collecting equipment including nets.
One of the more exciting observations was that of a purple emperor butterfly flying around the top of an oak tree, although not everyone in the group spotted it! This large colourful butterfly appears to have only colonised Bourne Wood in the last few years and the caterpillars feed on goat willow or sallow. Other butterflies seen included large numbers of ringlet butterflies plus large skipper, gatekeeper, comma, meadow brown, silver-washed fritillary and a few people had a brief glimpse of a white admiral.
Of other insects, numerous common soldier beetles were in evidence – these orangy-red beetles feed on nectar, pollen and aphids and were particularly numerous on the flowers of hogweed. A range of different species of true bugs were also found, including the woundwort shield bug, the larvae of which feed on hedge woundwort and white dead nettle. The colourful 7-spot and 24 spot ladybird were also discovered.
A number of different species of spiders were collected but Keith explained that he wasn’t an expert and that there are numerous species in Britain (around 650 species) and identification is a very specialist job!
Some very long-legged spider-like creatures with a rounded compact bodies were collected in the nets. Although resembling spiders they were in fact harvestmen – a group distantly related to spiders that feed on insects but unlike spiders, do not spin webs.
Thanks are due to Keith for an interesting and informative afternoon.
Photographs Pauline Knox, Richard Jefferson, and Sarah Roberts