December 3rd-Woodland Path, Bryn Euryn
The deciduous trees of the woodland have for the most part shed their leaves now and they cover the ground in a thick damp carpet, exuding the evocative earthy aroma that characterises this time of the year. Their falling has opened up the overhead canopy, highlighting the evergreen flora that has merged into the background since the Spring.
The amount of permanent greenery always takes me by surprise. Much is in the varying forms of native trees and shrubs; dark dense Yew that fills spaces from the ground upwards, Scot’s Pines with tall trunks and bristly green crowns, glossy spiky Holly, some sprinkled with shiny green berries and of course Ivy, masses of it. There are other non-native residents too, sprawling Laurel being the most evident.
Laurel at the junction of woodland paths
Fallen leaves of sycamore and oak
Ivy is a much-maligned native evergreen that was thought to strangle trees as well as spoil their appearance. In the days when this woodland would have been strictly managed it would probably have been regularly stripped away. Now left to its own devices it is without doubt the most dominant of the native evergreens here; scrambling to the tops of even the tallest of trees in its search for light and covering large areas of the understorey too. The benefits of ivy to wildlife are enormous; both its pollen and berries can be an essential source of food for many insects and birds and it provides shelter for invertebrates, birds, small mammals and bats. At this time of year it also gives cover to foraging parties of small birds such as tits and treecreepers whilst they search amongst its stems and leaves for hibernating insects and spiders.
Ivy clambers up almost every tree
There’s green at ground level too; Polypody and Hart’s Toungue ferns are both evergreen. There are bright green patches of mosses and grey-green lichen is dusted in varying amounts onto most tree trunks and branches.
I love the little ‘scenes’ I find at this time of the year, full of interesting textures, shapes and forms and coloured in earthy shades of green and brown. Here the base of an oak tree has bright green moss and grey-green lichen growing on its fissured bark and tendrils of ivy are beginning their climb up. A polypody fern has found a sheltered spot, there’s a tiny new holly plant and the beginnings of a bramble.
Nearby the fresh green leaves of Alexanders are already showing through the leaf litter.
Without the dressing of leaves the architecture of individual trees is revealed. I must have passed this tree dozens of times as I’ve walked this path but today it caught my attention as the sunlight turned its remaining dried out leaves to coppery gold.
I was unsure of the species of tree; looking upwards I saw it was tall, and also that its trunk and twisted branches appear bleached and much of its covering of bark is missing. Not helpful, but looking properly at the size and shape of the leaves I’m leaning towards Sweet Chestnut, another popularly planted non-native. There’s been no evidence of the prickly chestnuts though, so I’ll have to check to see if it produces flowers next Spring.
Ivy is creeping up the trunk of the tree and it has a backdrop of dense dark green Yew and shiny Holly.
Holly, ivy and yew
I hear the contact calls of Tits and stand still hoping it means a feeding party are heading my way. It did indeed and now I don’t know where to look first as Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tits swoop and dart around the branches of the nearby trees. Some venture lower down giving me eye-level views. There were less birds in the party than those I saw a few weeks ago, so maybe they’ve split into smaller numbers as the availability of food has diminished. They seem to be travelling faster too, not lingering for long in one spot.
I wasn’t too far from where the Scots pines are gathered. Popular trees with the Tits I wondered if that was where they were headed. The trees are tall and positioned on the edge of the woodland; many have been distorted by exposure to winds and the search for light. With no low branches, their foliage is all on their crowns, so sighting anything as small as a tit is tricky, especially in sunshine. The light is beautiful up there though; I love these upward views of the tree canopy, especially on blue sky days. I’m thinking I would like to see a Coal tit though, haven’t seen one for ages.
A gathering of Scot’s Pines
I always stop here and look over the wire fence that marks the boundary of the private woodland and a small field. Trees on its edge although leafless are greened with ivy and gorse, which may well have once been planted as a hedge to contain livestock, has some golden blossom.
The views across the landscape to the Carneddau Mountains on the edge of Snowdonia are ever-changing with the light and the seasons and are always breathtaking.
I reach the top of the Woodland Path, and as always take note of the oak tree here at the junction with the Woodland Trail that marks the boundary of the Bryn Euryn Nature Reserve. It still has some leaves clinging on but they are fewer and browner now than a couple of weeks ago.
Oak tree on November 19th
Oak tree on December 3rd
I turn right, then a few metres on turn left onto the narrow unmarked track that leads upwards through the woodland.
I spot a large holly bush endowed with a generous crop of berries.
Walking towards it I disturb several Blackbirds from their feasting on the berries on its far side. Confident the hungry birds would come back once they thought the coast was clear, I stopped to wait a short way away, lurking behind a nearby tree.
If you’re looking out for birds, staying still in a likely spot is often more rewarding than any amount of walking and the next few moments bore this out. This part of the wood is favoured by Jays and I heard some screeching to to one another close by. At first I couldn’t locate them, but then saw one progress its way down from a tree to some low vegetation then onto the ground where it began searching for its stash of buried acorns. The green plant in the picture is newly-sprung Dog Mercury.
Brilliant to have such great views of two of these gorgeous and notoriously wary birds. I noticed one of them had what appeared to be an injury to its left side where feathers had been lost; maybe it was from the beak of another bird competing for buried treasure. It seemed OK though and was behaving perfectly normally. Then another treat. The little feeding party I’d seen earlier passed overhead and around me, Long-tailed and Blue tits in tree branches above, then flickering movements in the Holly bush alerted me to the presence of a tiny Goldcrest.
The Goldcrest is Britain’s smallest bird
These tiny jewels of birds, (Britain’s smallest), when on the hunt for insects are constantly moving, flitting deftly through dense foliage, hanging upside down effortlessly and even fluttering frantically to hover like a hummingbird, which must use up a lot of energy. They are delightful and fascinating to watch, but tricky to keep in focus and even trickier to photograph.
A Goldcrest can hover like a hummingbird
Holly is dimorphic, which means it has separate male and female plants, and only female trees bear berries. Traditional country wisdom has it that bountiful crops of berries are a sign of a hard winter to come. More scientific modern reckoning is that it is sign of a good summer past; we certainly had plenty of rain to swell berries this year. I was surprised that the berries were being taken so early in the season though, I hope it doesn’t mean there’s already a shortage of other food available.
Most of the birds I saw appeared to be juveniles and they do seem to have been taking the fully-ripe berries.
I was also surprised to find flowers on several bushes. They usually come forth around May when they stand a better chance of getting pollinated.
The low sun shines brightly through the trees spotlighting a small spindly tree with golden leaves. Once again I don’t know what species it is but from the size, shape and beautiful colouration of its leaves think it’s fairly safe to say it’s a maple.
“The Holly and the Ivy, Now they are both full grown” …….
Ivy completely covers a tall tree, Holly in front and a still-green Male fern on the ground
Another interesting little ‘scene’ catches my attention…
I’m never sure about the placement of this commemorative bench. It is weathered, covered with lichen and appears to have been there for decades, but the plaque gives a much more recent date. A reminder how nature is quick to move in given the chance.
It’s a shame the bench doesn’t face the other way as there’s a lovely display of ferns behind it; Hart’s Tongue, Polypody and Male Ferns are there and there’s pretty ferny moss too.
Past the bench the path continues through what I think of as ‘the Dark Wood’. Here the hillside rises steeply upwards on one side and almost as steeply downwards on the other. On the north/north-west side of the Bryn not much sunlight reaches here and there’s a density of Yew trees that also make it seem darker.
A spreading Yew
There are a lot of Silver Birches here too, which you would think would lighten the place up, but at their lower level trunks have darkened and on a few the bark has become strangely thickened and fissured.
From the lower downward slope a mighty tree trunk rises, by far the biggest tree here and that I’ve always assumed was a mighty pine, a Redwood or Sequoia or such-like.
But today I noticed some large fallen leaves that could only have come from it. It would seem then that it’s another Sweet Chestnut, but here a properly magnificent specimen. What a shame to have only restricted views.
On the opposite side of the path a sheer cliff of exposed limestone towers and adds to the atmosphere. I wonder if it was once part of the defences of the ancient hill-fort that was located on the summit.
Water often leaks from fissures in the porous rock and moss thrives on its shaded damp surface.
Having a closer look at the moss I found another fern amongst it, a tiny delicate one I’ve not noticed here before; a Maidenhair Spleenwort.
(I’m working on identifying mosses!)
Maidenhair spleenwort-Asplenium trichomanes
Past here there are more darkly-ivied trees. Today a movement caught my eye – another sighting of a foraging Goldcrest!
I watched it for what seemed like ages trying to keep it in sight as it flitted from branch-to-trunk-to-branch, in and out of the ivy, now doing its hummingbird impression – and then demonstrating a behaviour I’d read about but never seen; it climbed up the thick ivy stems like a tiny treecreeper. What brilliant little birds they are. I wish I’d had better light for better photographs.
A short way further on you are back out onto the wider brighter more open Woodland Trail. Going down the wooden steps takes you to the car park, or as I opted, to loop around onto the lower part of the trail to get back to where I started.
As I stood deciding which way to go, one more treat, a Treecreeper making its way up another ivy-clad tree close to the path.