Oaks in winter- mum loved the ‘black lace’ of our Sussex Wealden Oaks in winter but it is fascinating to think how they prepare for and survive our cold, dark months. Having gathered nutrients from the breakdown of their leaves in autumn, and shed those leaves, (not triggered by cold but by a chemical pigment which detects the lowering
Oak bark in winter
Catsfield Oaks in winter
Catsfield Oaks in winter- Broomham Lane
Catsfield (Sussex) Oaks in winter
of infra-red light levels), they still have to survive freezing temperatures which could destroy their trunks and branches. The bark acts as a blanket, while the Oak withdraws fluid from the trunk, thus dehydrating itself and leaving only highly concentrated sugars which act as an anti-freeze. It stores much of its nutrients in its roots, which also draw in minerals from the miles of mycorrhizal filaments of fungi in the soil. The Oak slows its use of energy right down until light levels increase, and it can restore itself ready for spring. Conditions: Very grey buy welcome dry days in Sussex. Temperature: Max 10 Min 7C.
Winter Solstice: On this shortest day of the year, this is just a reminder that our smallest birds, the Wren, Goldcrest and Firecrest, unlike others of our birds that can switch to seeds and fruits when insects are in short supply through the colder months, rely on insects so the more untidy we are in our gardens and countryside, the better off they are. Insects will stay in the microclimate under leaves, in shrubs, conifers and dense foliage and in hollow stems and uncut grasses and flowering plants. In really freezing winters these small birds (you are more likely to see Wrens and Goldcrests in your gardens- I’ve only seen a Firecrest once and that wasn’t in my garden!) Somewhere they can roost, like bird boxes and hedges, also help. No wonder, with the loss of so many hedges our birds are under threat. Conditions: Mild with some sun after heavy rain. Floods and waterlogged land in the south and east. Temperature: Max 8 Min 5C.
Kestrels: Once our most numerous bird of prey, Kestrels have declined and Buzzards have increased and are now number one! Yesterday when, taking our van out for a run, it broke down (sorted by rescue). We were therefore delighted when this one flew in near the lane we parked up on. Kestrels use high perches to hunt from, especially in winter when they need to preserve energy, as their characteristic hovering uses far more energy. This one didn’t stay long, so we occupied ourselves waiting for roadside rescue by playing scrabble we had in the van, but it was lovely to watch this one, probably looking out for a small rodent, like a vole, by far their most frequent food source, though they will eat earthworms, large insects, even sparrows in cities. Kestrels were
Beady eyed Kestrel
reserved for the lower status Knaves in medieval falconry, larger hawks being reserved for Knights. Hieararchies have been around for a very long time! Conditions: Another frosty, bright, dray day. Temperature: Max 2 Min 0C.
We are out on the extreme East coast, at Spurn Point Nature Reserve and it is wild, windy and wet, so here are some Dark-bellied Brent Geese that we have been watching and listening to over the last few days, days which have see-sawed between wild and wet, and calm and bright. These beautiful, small geese (a little larger than Mallard) have migrated here, in family groups, from the boggy arctic tundra of Russia, where they breed. 91,000 Dark-bellied Brent geese migrate to marshes and coastal farmland along our East and South coasts before making their way back, via the Baltic coasts, to the arctic by June, as the ice begins to thaw. Whether this pattern will be sustained as global warming changes the nature of the tundra and the shapes of our coasts is in question-walking the land-edge yesterday there were many places where the low ‘cliff’ had been recently eroded by several metres, and Spurn Point itself now gets partially underwater at high tide. It is also an irony that The Brent Goose ‘gave’ its name to the vast ‘Brent System’ oilfield that extracts
Dark-bellied Brent Goose
Dark-bellied Brent Geese
Dark-bellied Brent Geese
oil from the North Sea and pipes it ashore in Shetland. Conditions: Torrential rain, and high NE winds. Temperature: Max 9 Min 7C.
This wet weather is benefitting the fungi, if not much else. Fly Agaric, surely the one toadstool that everyone recognises, if not from nature, then from children’s books, was always described to us as kids as highly dangerous. Though there are few records of it being fatal, it is probably best to view it as toxic. It was used for centuries in different cultures, especially in the East, as an hallucinogenic drug, by shamans and
Fly Agaric, showing its gills and ring (it had been knocked over by an animal, not me!)
others- whether ‘Fly’ comes from that or, as most people think, from its use in the past as an insecticide, a piece left in a saucer of milk, it is best to enjoy looking at its beauty than to meddle with its dangers. It is at least unmistakable, unlike many fungi. Conditions: Rain arriving, heavier to come. Temperature: Max 14 Min 8C.
Parasol Mushroom– This very distinctive mushroom, fairly common up until November in well-drained meadows and grassland but less common in the North and Scotland, can grow up to 40 cm high and in diameter. Its scaly top has led to it being called Snakes Hat in parts of Europe, where it is prized for its nutty smell and flavour. This fungus emerges in an egg-shape and becomes flatter as it matures, leaving a fleshy
ring where the base splits from the stalk (see photos). It has a very distinctive ‘umbo’ (a raised knob) in the centre.
Mature Parasol Mushroom
Parasol mushroom showing umbo in centre.
It is hard to confuse with any other fungi but always be careful when trying something you aren’t sure of, and leave a piece uncooked so that it can be identified if anything goes wrong!- the flesh sometimes turns pink when cut. Conditions: Breezy with light showers. Temperature: Max 16 Min 10C.
Meadow Brown Butterfly- This brown butterfly is worth looking out for, between June and September, in any grassy patch, or feeding on summer flowers like Knapweed, Bramble, Lavender, Marjoram, Rudbeckia or Buddleia. It is probably the Butterfly you are most likely to see wherever you are in Britain, except the high mountains (and Shetland!). One reason for its success is that the caterpillars feed on a wide range of grasses, which is another excuse to leave a patch of your garden with long grass all summer. It can be separated from other brown butterflies by its spot pattern which is almost always one white spot in a dark circle, in a brown wing with orange patches. (Gatekeepers have two white spots and more strongly orange wings, while Ringlets have brown wings and several ringed spots). The orange patching is more extensive in females than males (see photo’s)
Meadow Brown on Knapweed
Male Meadow Brown scaring an intruder on its Knapweed
Female Meadow Brown
. Conditions: Cloud with sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 18 Min 9C.