The rain lasted until about nine this morning, and pretty soon the blue sky was full of fluffy white clouds racing past the window. The south appears to have come off lightly with the passing of Hurricane Gonzalo, all we seem to have experienced was some very strong westerly winds and overnight rain. It was because of the wind that I debated with myself about going out for the last evening walk this year, but because it was just that I decided to go. Strong winds are not conducive for good wildlife spotting around here, so I was under no elusion as I set off, but I did intend to enjoy the late afternoon sunshine.
I walked up Brislands, and then turned into Gradwell taking the path alongside the paddocks into Old Dow. There would be some shelter there, and it would be interesting to walk a different route.
As I crossed the field the low sunshine was sending shadows, and a golden glow on the hedge that leads down to Brislands.
The wind was very strong as I broke the cover of the paddocks, and it was difficult to hear anything other than the wind, but as I walked towards the wood I heard the "seeep" of Meadow Pipits behind me, and I turned to see two struggling to fly into the wind.
As I walked into the wood I disturbed a Song Thrush feeding in the leaf litter, and I could also hear a Robin singing, the trees sheltering the noise of the wind. This year has not been very good so far for fungi in the wood, but this entrance has been the area where there was always something available if not in great numbers. I scoured the dead trees and ground beneath the bramble, usually a spot for puffballs but totally bare today. I did find this fungi on the moss on an old log.
I think this is an Wood Wooly-foot, the long stipe is covered in tiny hairs which are quite dense, which are distinctive of this species, they are also solitary which also fits.
I searched the area where last year I ghad found a Death Cap, but the conditions are much different now. Where there were trees there is now a large depression, but in one of the holes I found this mushroom growing. I don't think it is a Death Cap, but consider it to be a type of Bolette, which though is difficult to decide as I think it has gone past its best.
I went to walk along the main path towards the crossroads, and was taken by the sun catching the hanging larch leaves.
I turned off onto the path that leads towards Kitwood, the floor of the wood here is covered in Sweet Chestnuts, and I crunched them up as I walked over them.
This area was heavily thinned out last winter, and as a result many trees were blown down in the winter storms because they did not have sufficient root development to anchor them safely. This is the first real storm of the autumn this year, and as I looked at the remaining larches I wondered if they have been able to develop that root structure over the summer to save them this year. The trees look very frail as they blow in the wind this evening, you have to wonder whether more will go down this winter.
I turned on to the southern perimeter path, it was very quiet. I came across a small clump of very white fungi which ranged in size from about 10 centimetres across to 3. The smaller fruit bodies appear like tiny balls which makes me think that this may be a form of the Blue Spot Knight.
I walked on and came out into the main north - south path through the wood. As I walked towards the crossroads, I passed the large Beech trees that is very much a feature of this path, the branches and leaves of the two Beech trees here form a canopy that reaches down to the ground. I am not sure why but we always consider this to be a special tree, and not just by us as in the summer it is a popular spot for children to picnic under. You can imagine then my concern to find the trees marked with the dreaded pink marking, which has become a sign the trees are to be removed. For me this would be a complete disaster, and would take away immediately the essence of this small but beautiful wood.
A little bit down I walked on, and then cut through to the perimeter path on the west side. Looking out across the paddocks the distant hills and trees looked incredibly beautiful, and helped lift the mood.
I made my way to the West End, having to negotiate more tree branches strewn across the path. There were small piles of logs laid by the side of the path as well, the size looking more of use for fence poles.
In the conifer plantation I could hear the contact calls of Goldcrests as they prepared to settle down to roost, little sun gets through here and it was feeling quite cold.
As I approached the gap in the trees at the end of the path the way through was lit up by the setting sun. Interestingly the last time I was here there was a long branch reaching down to the ground where children were playing on it. Today it has been cut down.
I walked down through the paddocks, past the grazing sheep. Looking to the west into the sun the sheep appeared to have a glow around there bodies.
There had been little bird activity on the walk so far, so the Rooks in the field were the were an attraction as they flew from the fence posts to the filed where they would follow the cattle and sheep around.
I decided to walk up Swelling Hill, a couple of Robins were singing, and Chaffinches and Woodpigeons could be seen in the tops of the trees, but apart from that it was quiet, and the noise from the wind blowing the trees made it very difficult o hear anything else.
I approached the pond wondering if maybe the ducks had returned. The first thing I saw were two Moorhens in the amongst the lily pads. As usual they flew off and made their way through the iris leaves on the far bank.
This is one of this year's fledglings, lacking the bill markings of the adult bird.
I walked slowly around the pond, noticing that the water level was much higher now. As I reached the picnic tables a pair of Mallard appeared, quickly followed by more. There was not the high number that were here at the beginning of the month, but I counted 14 which if it had not been for the amazing 60 early in October would have been a cause for celebration.
There were more drakes than ducks, and as they swam around they would be picked out by the little pockets of sunshine that made it through the trees, adding a sheen to the already gorgeous bottle green colour on the heads of the drakes.
I suppose not having the habitat, and the fact that a Mallard here is a rare find, you tend to appreciate the beauty of them more.
There were at least two definite pairs, that would swim together while the others would look to do their own thing. They collected on the far side where I left them wondering if maybe others come in after dark to join them at the roost.
I walked to Kitwood, and then headed down towards the school. Looking down the road the trees and the low sun produced yet another lovely autumn scene.
The wind was still very strong, and with it I had expected if nothing else to come across some gulls. When the winds are strong they do seem to fly over, but I had seen none. As I turned up Gradwell though I picked up a small flock of Black-headed Gulls drifting over the distant paddocks in the orange sky.
I could hear the chattering of Magpies in the field, and I could see that there was quite a few present. I found a gap in the hedge and was able to photograph them, without disturbing them. In this view there are 12 Magpies, which means it is safe for me to publish this picture. There were in fact another eight that flew from the left hand side so in total there were 20, one of the largest flocks I have seen.
This got me thinking, what is the collective noun for Magpies, when I googled I found that there are quite a few. You can have a Gulp, a Murder, a Congregation, a tiding a tittering or even a charm (which for me is better suited to the Goldfinches). My favourite though was a Conventicle, which if you look up the definition is defined as a gathering of unofficial lay people, or unlawful people. Appropriate?
I couldn't stop there and checked the noun for Mallard, and there are several again, a Flush of Mallard, or a suit of Mallard being my favourites.
I turned onto the footpath leading to Lymington Bottom, and flushed yet another two Magpies. Ahead was a hedge covered in Hawthorn berries, and as I though it might be good for Redwings I heard the familiar call. They were not feeding on the berries though, they were flying over heading south. I am sure though the berries will very soon become a source of food for all the thrushes as the weather changes, and maybe a Waxwing?
I turned onto Lymington Bottom and headed home, it was nearly 6.00 pm, and the sun was gone, next week the clocks go back, and the dark winter nights will begin. For now though I walked home with a blue purple sky, still a very strong wind, and no little fluffy clouds.