Sunday, 8 February 2015

February Diary

1st February  Unusual sighting of two Ravens being mobbed by the local Carrion Crows over Ashenbank Woods, my first thought was that a buzzard was being mobbed, then noticed two large birds, as they came closer, the two birds revealed themselves to be much larger than accompanying crows, completely black, their  tails appeared typically diamond shaped, as things calmed down, they drifted off over Jeskyns park. Green Woodpecker flushed from Jeskyns Glades.

4th February -  Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming, another sighting of Tree Creeper near entrance gate from car park,  still  lots of Redwing within the wood feeding around leaf litter. Jackdaws prospecting nesting holes near two ponds,

Dead Shrew ? found on footpath.  This little Shrew has either succumbed to the freezing temperatures of the night, or reached the end of its very short life, I can't recall ever seeing one of these alive, they spend most of the time foraging for food hidden in the leaf litter on the woodland floor, It seems curious to me that at  the point of death they are often found in the middle of a woodland trail or path.

As for identification, there are three possibilities, Water, Pygmy or Common.

The Water Shrew Largest of Britain's shrews. Long pointed snout, small ears, tiny eyes. Fur is short, dense, velvety and jet black on the upper surface of the body, usually greyish white/ yellowish underneath.

The Pygmy Shrew a very small mammal with markedly pointed snout. As in the Common Shrew the fur is greyish brown, dirty white underneath, but the Pygmy shrew is smaller and has a proportionately longer and thicker tail.

The Common Shrew are tricoloured: dark brown on the back, pale brown at the sides and whitish underneath, dense velvety fur, with a long pointed nose, tiny eyes, small ears and red teeth.

Water Shrew can be eliminated, having never seen a Pygmy Shrew it's difficult to make a positive identification although I am leaning towards Common Shrew as the most likely.

6th February - Nuthatch very vocal all around wood, two seen with  mixed Tit flock.
 five Jays together within wood,

7th february - Large flock of Redwing near two ponds in wood, two Red Fox, heard mating calls within wood, later seen running across open ground near two ponds, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Starling, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch seen along woodland trails.
8th February - Still some Fungi examples around the wood, this one which I believe is called
  Many layer Polypore 

This Silver Birch tree is pretty impressive with its exposed root system, growing from the root ball of a fallen tree. possibly from the Great Storm of  1987

9th February -  Bright spring sunshine. A good selection of birds seen along the trails and adjacent glades, 18 in total,  including Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Rook(2) not usually seen within the wood, Magpie, Jay, Wood Pigeon, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Mistle Thrush(2), Redwing(15), Blackbird, Robin,Wren,Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long Tailed Tit (4), Goldcrest (1), Skylark.(2) display flight.

A few 'Cuckoo Pint' or 'Lords and Ladies' woodland plants breaking through, 

Record shot of Goldcrest

10th February - Small mixed flock of Blue Tits, Great Tits , Goldcrest (2), Wren (3). Along the trails Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Wood Pigeon, Nuthatch,Blackbird, Great Spotted Woodpecker heard drumming, two Ring Necked Parakeets  over car park towards Cobham Hall est.

11th February - Great Tit very vocal all around woods, Blue Tit, Robin , Chaffinch, Tree Creeper, Wren,  Blackbird,  Song Thrush, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, at least four Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming. Wood Pigeon.

12th February - Song Thrush, Blackbird, Robin, Wren, Great Spotted Woodpecker,
Grey Wagtail around leafy margins of 'Two Ponds', Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, flock of seven Magpie.

Believe it or not there is a Grey wagtail feeding on the leafy margins of the pond, you can just make out the yellow rump near the centre of the photo, I had the wrong lens fitted on the camera, so this is for record purposes only, until I can get a better image hopefully.

(Strange bird call heard from Jeskyns glades from the fenced off field opposite Oast house, sounded like  the call of a Bittern but at shorter intervals called about five times in short concession, definitely not Pheasant or Partridge ??? )

13th February - 18 species today including Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay, Magpie, Black Headed Gull, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Robin, Nuthatch, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Dunnock, Wren. Starling, Collared Dove, Wood Pigeon
No sign of mystery sound from yesterday, No sign of the Grey wagtail around Two Ponds.


I noticed this fungus attached to an old tree stump on my walk today, which I believe are known as King Alfred's Cakes ( Daldinia concentrica), they are supposed to be quite common, but I have not noticed an abundance of them  here in Ashenbank.
There season is usually summer to autumn, but some of the older specimens linger on, like these in the photograph below.
 They have several common names, Coal Fungus for how they look, Cramp Balls because they were used allegedly as an old folk remedy for curing night cramps.

They are also supposed to be very good as a fire starter, the inner flesh of old dry specimens can be easily ignited with a firesteel flint, they slowly smoulder allowing you to light the tinder.......
...very useful if your name is Bear Grylls.

17th February-  A much later walk than normal in beautiful springlike conditions, not so many birds seen at this time although, Robin, Blackbird, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw were all prominent, a Tree Creeper played hide and seek around the trunk of a tree as I tried to photograph it. Plenty of Snowdrops in bloom, no daffodils yet.

18th February - All the following birds were seen within the boundaries of the wood, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Wren, Robin, Great tit, Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Dunnock(2) Kestrel, Wood Pigeon, Stock Dove (4) , Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Rook (3), Nuthatch, Jay, Magpie, Great Spotted Woodpecker.
Daffodils nearly there! February 18th

20th February -  Very wet and muddy underfoot following a night of heavy rain. Song Thrush seemed very vocal this morning, Blackbird, Robin, Great Tits pairing up, Great Spotted Woodpecker heard calling unseen in the wood, Green Woodpecker flushed from the glades, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Magpie, Jay, female Chaffinch, Wood Pigeon, 
Redwing flock seems to have moved on,

A Woodland View ! - Snowdrops in the undergrowth

21st February - It's hard not to notice the Catkins of the Hazel when you come across them, they appear mid-February before the leaves appear. If you take a closer look you can see the female bud like flowers appearing on the same branches.

You can see many Hazel trees growing in the new plantations around the glades, there is one fine mature specimen growing within the wood , a few smaller trees are pushing up through the undergrowth.

Hazel is a 'monoecious' type of tree, this means that both male catkins and female buds appear on the same tree, it still requires pollen from another Hazel tree to pollinate the female buds, these in turn develop into the Hazel nut.
I did not realise how important Hazel is to the woodland ecology , The coppiced Hazel  provides nesting opportunities for ground nesting birds, Hazel flowers provide an early source of pollen in spring for the Bee's, the leaves of Hazel are used as a food source for various Moth caterpillars, Hazelnuts are also eaten by a number of birds, Woodpeckers, Nuthatch, Jays, Wood Pigeon, mammals also take their share, Squirrels, Wood Mice, voles, and a favoured food source for the Dormouse. I know that some of the  Woodland Trust literature mentions the possibility of the Hazel Dormouse as an occupant of the wood,  not sure if this still applies now, but maybe it's worth checking those Hazelnuts in late summer for any evidence of Dormice. The Dormouse has a very distinctive way of eating Hazelnuts, It would be interesting if any evidence of these are found.
There are many new Hazel plantings in the glades which are nice to see, hopefully these may go a long way in promoting the Dormouse population in years to come. All in all, it seems an important tree for wildlife.
There is also a particular Fungi that grows in the soil under Hazel trees called Fiery Milkcap appears late summer to Autumn , something to look out for. possibly poisonous though.
A quick look under a few of the young Hazel trees revealed a few discarded Hazelnut shells, I checked the chewed holes left in the shell hoping they might be Dormouse evidence, but they look like the work of the Wood mouse.

[Wood mouse chewed hazelnuts have teeth marks on the inner rim of the nut and also on the surface, around the edge of the hole]

22nd February - A later walk around the wood today did not reveal much bird life, I did notice this fungi known as Auricularia auricula-judae, the Jelly Ear Fungus,  mainly seen in winter and spring. It grows mainly on dead elder trees and on fallen branches, well named

Jelly Ear Fungus

Some nice Lichens growing on this dead wood, 
This looks like one of the most common Lichens  Parmelia sulcata
Net-marked parmelia, or Shield lichen.
Shield Lichen?

23rd February - Bright sunny conditions with a cold biting wind,
 birds seen today included, Nuthatch, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Blackbird, Robin, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Skylark, Wood Pigeon, Stock Dove, Magpie

Stock Doves

There seems to be a  fair number of Stock Doves attracted to these large Sweet Chestnut trees in an open area of the woodland, at least 7 seen today. They nest in the holes and hollows of older trees, I have also seen them checking out the Jackdaw nesting trees in previous years, probably competing for nesting sites.

You can make out the iridescent green flash on the side of the neck, another field mark are the all black eyes.much smaller than woodpigeon , slightly smaller than a feral pigeon.

Some interesting Mosses appearing around the woodland, this one looks like Polytrichastrum formosum or Bank Haircap - forms carpets looking like little pine trees, common on soil in woodland,

Bank Haircap
I am trying to improve my knowledge of the woodland fauna, so some of my identifications could be wrong, hopefully not.

24th February -  Sunny springlike day produced following bird sightings,  Blackbird, Song Thrush Robin, Wren, Chaffinch, Carrion Crow, Stock Dove, Wood Pigeon,Blue Tit.
As I was walking along the trail just past the Two ponds, this small red fungi caught my eye, and on closer inspection revealed the Scarlet Elfcup (Sarcoscypha austriaca) or possibly the almost identical Ruby Elfcup ?(Sarcoscypha coccinea) not sure which, although the Scarlet Elfcup is more commonly reported.
Its the first time I have seen one of these delicate little fungi, as you can see, it was growing amid some woodland moss in a damp shady area of the wood, the reference book states that they usually appear from winter to early spring on dead twigs buried in moss.

 Scarlet Elfcup (Sarcoscypha austriaca),

26th February -  Interesting walk through the woods today, lots of the usual suspects on view
Great Tit, BlueTit, Goldcrest(2), Robin, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Great Spotted Woodpecker heard drumming, Chaffinch. Around the glades where the cows are grazing, large flock of corvids mainly Carrion Crows and Jackdaws, disturbed three Linnit feeding on seed heads, lots of Wood Pigeon within the new plantations, The reed beds around Ashenbank pond appeared  lifeless.
A surprise awaited back in the woods, as once again, late February, the Little Owl  has reappeared in its old roosting tree. Its very wary and did not takes its eyes off me, and as before, if you linger too long it will fly off to a nearby tree.

Little Owl Returns February 2015
We have had some strong northerly winds these last few days, which probably explains the appearance of this dislodged Oakmoss Lichen  Evernia prunastri  amongst the leaf litter along the trails, its quite distinctive and grows on mature Oaks or other broadleaf trees, the colour can vary from green to almost pale grey green, like these in the photograph.
Oakmoss lichen has a distinctive odour - mossy and earthy yet slightly sweet, the book says -  I must admit, to me, it smelt a bit like old leather. its supposed to be highly prized by the  perfume industry, where the essential oil extracted from the oakmoss is used as a fixative agent and base note.
 I believe these days they now use an alternative, as the oakmoss can cause sensitivity on some skin types. 

Oakmoss Lichen

I always find it exciting when I come across something for the first time, thats how I felt the other day, when I came across for the first time in my life, the Scarlet Elfcup. Two days latter  pretty much in the same area partly covered in  moss, an old  fallen tree with Elfcups appearing all along it. Unbelievable!

Scarlet Elfcups

27th February - Beautiful sunny morning, with some frost on the ground. birds seen today on my morning walk included, Blackbird, Song Thrush very vocal throughout wood,Robin, Wren Dunnock, Blue tit, Great Tit, Stock Doves, Wood Pigeon, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Female Chaffinch, Goldcrest
 ( lots of drumming echoing around the woods), Little Owl still around its roosting site, Common Gull in the cow field in the glades with Magpies, and bird of the day goes to the fleeting view of a male Bullfinch as I disturbed it within some brambles, white rump very prominent and beautiful rosy pink breast, slate grey back confirmed sighting. too quick for a photograph though. 19 species today.
A few Scarlet Elfcups still visible.

Another interesting fungi growing on a unidentified tree stump, looks like it could be a
  Honey Fungus.but I'm not sure on this one.

28th February - On a cold damp morning, 15 species seen today including Blackbird, Song Thrush,Mistle Thrush, Robin,Great Spotted Woodpecker, Dunnock, Great tit, charm of Goldfinches over the glades,Starling, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Wood Pigeon, Stock Dove, and the Little Owl in its usual tree.

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