This weekend we were at the On Blackheath festival, in... Blackheath, highlights of the show were the Manic Street preachers and of course Elbow. We came back this morning and late in the afternoon when the sun came out I felt the need to stretch my legas and get some fresh air. I wasn't expecting much but just needed to get out.
As I walked past the housing site in Brislands there was a lot of activity in the bushes. I could hear Long-tailed Tits calling, but every time I saw movement it would be a Blue Tit foraging around the berries of the hawthorn trees.
As well as the Blue Tits there were several Coal Tits, one Great Tit and two Chiffchaffs. I finally managed to see the Long-tailed Tits, they were busy at the top of the tree and were extremely mobile.
The area where there are several nissen huts was recently under study in the evening for bats, it turns out that there were up to four species of Myotis Bats, a genus of very similar, and difficult to identify bats, but ones that are rare in this area. The four species would be Daubenton's, Natterer's, Whiskered and Brandt's Bats. The only clear way to identify these bats is by sound, so if the chance arrives I will give it a go in the next few weeeks, I will though need it to warm up.
I carried on down Brislands and out into the open countryside. The fields were still full of stubble, and while there were several Woodpigeon and Rooks about, the hoped for Swallows and House martins were nowhere to be seen. In fact the only hirundines I saw were House Martins flying over the tops of the trees as I entered Old Down Wood.
This time last year the forestry work was in full swing, this year it would appear that we are being spared any further activity, but I must admit the more open areas of the wood has provided perfect conditions for Spotted Flycatchers, a bird I had not recently seen here, and the left over branches have definitely suited the Wrens who have had a very good year.
There are still reminders of the work as you enter the wood with a couple of timber stacks still there. On one of the trunks there was a very impressive bracket fungi, the Dryad's Saddle.
This fungi is named after a mythical wood-nymph, and grow in overlapping clusters and tiers on broad-leaved trees. These fruit bodies appear in summer and autumn and insects can quickly devour these large brackets, also in warm weather they can decay from full splendour to almost nothing in just a few days, so with the forecast for the week these will be around for a while
The outer edges of young caps are edible and tender, but mature caps have tough flesh, especially near to the attachment point. Within three or four weeks, Dryad's Saddles become maggot ridden and turn into a smelly mess.
Last week I commented on a Foxglove growing near the main path as a late contender, however I came across two more small plants as I walked down the main path towards the crossroads.
Again, last week there were acorns and Sloe berries about, today it was the fruit of the Sweet Chestnut that caught my eye, soon the spiny cases and the large brown leaves will be littering the floor of the wood, but for now they look an attractive sight on the trees.
I walked down the main path towards Old Down Cottage, and as the area opened out to the mixed trees of Oak, Ash, Beech and Larch, I came across a sizeable flock of small birds calling and feeding in the lower branches. The dominant call once again was of Long-tailed Tits, but I could also hear Coal Tits and Chiffchaffs. A Chiffchaff appeared in front of me, fly catching from a set of lower branches.
I stood and watched the birds flying and moving through the trees. A larger movement to the back of the area revealed a Great Spotted Woodpecker inching its way up the trunk of an oak tree.
A very nasal call to the side of me then turned into a very smart Marsh Tit.
The birds were moving through, and many, mostly tits flew across in front of me, I edged forward as they went, waiting and watching for that one moment when the movement would reveal the bird. This Chiffchaff pausing in between foraging the leaves and fly catching from the branches.
once again the Long-tailed Tits could be heard but not seen, but every so often one would fly across, the long tail trailing as it flew with the slightly undulating flight.
A significant movement in a hazel tree produced a Grey Squirrel picking off the cob nuts. I had heard two Squirrels squabbling earlier, probably fighting over the best nuts.
There were five species of tit present, along with a couple of Nuthatches and a Treecreeper, all increasingly frustrating the camera as they busily fed amongst the trees. Some would hide amongst the leaves, while others would be high in the Larch amongst the cones, every so often one would oblige though, like this Coal Tit feeding on a cone.
Then gradually the birds moved on, and the area became quiet and still, the flock heading deeper into the wood, with the prime objective now being to find a safe roosting site.
As I walked out of the wood could see many horse hoof tracks in the mud which is a concern, this is a footpath and not a bridleway, there is a sign by the Cottage entrance stating "no horses" but once again this seems to have been ignored. The paths get extremely muddy in the winter, and horses walking or cantering through have the potential to make them even worse.
I stopped off at the pond where there was an adult Moorhen and a juvenile, but nothing else of interest. Walking down the road it was quiet, as it was as I crossed the field only a few crows away in the distance and Woodpigeon flying over. There was no sign at all of any hirundines.
The walk home was very quiet, as I walked on to Gradwell Lane there were several Crows in the trees, silhouetted against the evening sky, a very autumnal scene.
I have now finished all the posts for the Away Blog, all details can be seen here