Having been out of the country for the last week it was immediately noticeable how the season had finally changed. The first sign was the presence of a Starling in the attic, they usually find their way into the house when the first frosts are about and this morning we could hear one scrabbling about and when I went out I could see it jumping up at the small port hole window. I often wonder if that window wasn't there would they make it into the actual roof space. I managed to catch it and release it, but it wasn't very pleased as it pecked me viciously, there's gratitude.
It rained for most of the morning, but by the early afternoon it was brightening so I decided to take my first cold walk for a long time. I headed off up Brislands, and noticed immediately the change. The ash trees had all lost their leaves, the beechs, sweet chestnuts and hazels were partially yellow, but the oaks were still hanging on to green leaves.
There were plenty of blackbirds feeding on the edge of the road, and I also saw a few robins. Before we went away the Jays were everywhere, but today I only saw one, and that was in a garden just beyond the Gradwell turn.
As I walked along the lane I noticed a strange shape on one of the Sweet Chestnut trees, and it turned out to be a bracket fungus growing from the trunk. Now I have been struggling to identify the fungi I see from a small book, that did not provide suitable pictures from which to pin down the species. I now own a Collins guide which as I browse through provides a much better aid to identification, and it also has informed me that I have been wrong in some of the recent posts. I will correct these and post the information.
So what was on the Sweet Chestnut? Well looking closely, and consulting the guide I am confident this is a Branching Oyster, they are commonly found on the dead wood and bark of deciduous trees, but I am open to any other advice should there be anyone who considers different. Fungi are new to me and I am looking to learn more about this fascinating phyla.
On the other side of the road the field was full of Wood Pigeon and Rooks. The Rooks are wonderful to watch as they walk like old men across the grass probing the long white beak into the ground. They are also very shy birds and difficult to get close to. I just managed to capture this individual before it was off.
I walked towards Old Down, I wanted to explore the woods to see if there were any more fungi around, plus there had been reports of a Brambling influx, and I wondered if they could be found with the other finches in the wood. As I approached I noticed that the field around the wood had been ploughed. I couldn't help wondering if the footpaths were still there.
The Larches were now in their autumn colour, their golden leaves standing out from a distance against the dark greens of the oaks and pines around them.
I walked around the copse on the other side of the road in search of finches, there were some small flocks of Chaffinches, and some Goldfinches, but no Brambling. I walked back and around the outside of the wood, and watched a buzzard glide across the field. The sun was by now beginning to peak through, and every so often its rays would pick out the trees and fields in the distance.
Once I was in the wood the change was again dramatic. The beech trees were full of golden brown and yellow leaves, while the fallen leaves added a further warm feel to the paths.
I walked around the open area of beech trees searching the ground for fungi. With the leaves now carpeting the floor, it was quite difficult to pick out anything different to the leaves. I couldn't help thinking that six months ago the floor of the wood was carpeted with a beautiful blue haze from the bluebells, and that now the floor has been transformed into a rich golden carpet that will feed the bulbs of the bluebells to deliver the blue carpet again next spring.
I then wondered what it must look like from ground level, so I played around with the camera to see if I could experience it.
As you can see the leaf litter gets quite thick, and must provide a warm cover for bugs and insects through the winter.
Disappointingly I couldn't find any fungi in this area, and there was very little bird life, so I walked back to the main path and then took the north perimeter path towards the west. The rain overnight and through the morning made the walk very sticky and difficult so when I could i came off the path and explored again through the leaf litter. This time I was a lot luckier, and came across this collection of Lilac Bonnets around an old tree trunk.
The Lilac Bonnet can be many different colours, varying from white to a deeper red, which probably accounts for my difficulties previously identifying them as russula which also has a pinkish red colour. They are apparently widespread and common, and found typically in beech woods.
I walked on, finding more bonnets and some small staghorns on rotting wood. Finally I found something larger. This was a Chicken Run Funnel, apparently named for its smell which recalls the smell of chicken droppings. They were grouped together and showed the gills quite nicely when I managed to get the camera down low enough. Once again they are common in beech woods
I looked to see if the earthstar I had misidentified a week or two back in this area was around, but I couldn't find it. So I made my way back to the path, and then came out of the wood at the west end. The sun was by now getting low, and was still managing to penetrate the clouds, and as a result it lit up the trees and hedge that runs from the wood away to the west. The late sunshine made the tips of the trees glow.
I have been to some beautiful places around the world, but as I looked out across the fields and watched the land scape change in colour with the setting sun, I realised that the countryside around the village is as stunning in its own way, and that while it is nice to travel and to experience the scenes and landscapes around the world, I never tire of experiencing the feeling I get as I look out across the fields away to the west from the village.
I walked down through the paddocks hoping for something on the hedge or flying over but it was very quiet. From the paddocks I walked up Swelling Hill Road towards the pond. The road is lined with beech trees and has been cut through the chalk. Looking up the road the colours again were lovely.
A little further on you can get a sense of the depth of the soil on the chalk and how the routes of the beech trees make their way through the soil, and exploit the chalk bed rock. One also has to be a little concerned about the way the cutting is eroding though, and how long it will be before this very substantial trees fall.
Just before I reached Old Down Cottage the Blackbirds and Tits were making a real noise, calling in alarm at something in the conifers. I stood and watched them getting quite upset, so I knew there had to be something in the trees. As well as the Blackbirds clacking away there were several Chaffinches, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Coal Tits, and even a Marsh Tit flitting about and calling in alarm. Finally the object of their scorn was flushed from the cover of the conifers and flew off. It was a Tawny Owl, and it gave just the briefest of views, as it disappeared silently.
I decided to walk back into the wood, to follow the south perimeter path. The entrance was badly flooded, and I had to wade through quite a deep puddle. The wood was quiet, there was no sign of any finches in the larches. This side of the wood is more about the conifers, and as a result the floor of the wood is completely different. Mostly covered in moss, it now has the fallen larch leaves covering it producing a unique colour that seems to compliment the darkness of the trees.
Despite searching the area I could not find any fungi, and the fly agaric that we found last month was gone. As I walked by the Kitwood footpath entrance my concerns of earlier were confirmed. The field had been ploughed and the footpath was now gone. The farmer has a duty to return the footpath once the field has been ploughed, but if the Brislands path is anything to go by this may become an issue.
I continued on and came out by the Gradwell path entrance, which too was now no longer there. I made my way across a very muddy wet field following a few footpaths of others, hoping this would spur some action to return the path.
As I walked home it was becoming dark, and with it came the cold. This has been my 100th post for the year, and I realised that with the short days and the dark evenings, as we run up to the end of the year the opportunities to get out will become very restricted. There are still many potentially interesting things to see and find as we make our way towards the winter. Keep your eyes open, there are lots of Waxwings about, and during the last "invasion" there was at least 3 sightings in Four Marks that I was aware of.