Party season has arrived in the woodlands once more: the time when many of the more sociable and colourful of our smaller bird species temporarily put aside territorial squabbles, joining together to form a foraging cooperative and sweep through the trees en masse on unified hunts for prey. Variously referred to as ‘mixed-species feeding flocks’, ‘mixed hunting parties’ or less formally a ‘bird wave’, all describe the structure and purpose of these entities, but none can convey the vibrant energy that accompanies the birds on their whirlwind woodland tours.
Bursting out from the woods, scattering into all parts of the Wych Elm like popping corn, excited Blue Tits immediately begin picking their way around the leafy twigs. There are a quite lot of them, too tricky to count accurately as they are so mobile. Blue Tits are numerous here and you rarely have to go far to see or hear one or more, so this could well be several local neighbouring families that have joined forces.
Foraging party member-Blue Tit
Seconds behind them dainty Long-tailed Tits appear, much gentler in their approach but then suddenly they’re everywhere, there must have been at least 12, maybe more.
Foraging party member- Long-tailed Tit
I realise I’m being treated to a close-up, eye-level view of a travelling foraging party! I wish I could better convey the excitement and energy transmitted by these little birds that I felt even through my double-glazed kitchen window, it’s quite magical. I’d have been happy with just the Blue and Long-tailed Tits, but then there are Great Tits too; only three that I can see, one of which is a smartly feathered juvenile, similarly coloured to the adults that arrived with it but not as brightly yellow. Again, probably a family.
Foraging party member- Great Tit
Birds continue to arrive, more Blue Tits, long-tailed Tits and then two Coal Tits, one of which perched on the end of a leafy twig and launched itself at the window, fluttering madly as it inspected its corners and joints for hiding insects or spiders.
Foraging party member-Coal Tit
Then just as I thought the last of the party members had arrived there are two Goldcrests. They are tricky to focus on as one seems to be chasing the other at speed through the tree branches. They may be our tiniest birds, but they’re quite feisty.
Most of the birds stay within the cover of the trees, but a few more adventurous ones venture over to check out parts of the building too. I already mentioned the Coal Tit coming to my window, but others were exploring the metal fire escape, which permanently in shade tends to have a coating of algae and lichens.
Blue and Long-tailed Tits tend to be the bravest, and where one bird ventures others follow to see what they’ve found, including a curious Goldcrest. Slightly below the level of my windows, I got to see the birds from some interesting angles,
These travelling foraging flocks typically have a core species around which others gather, typically Tits. Here I’m sure that Blue Tits are the central characters as well as being their most numerous members. They seem to lead or guide the flock and so are the first to arrive in a chosen foraging spot when they’re on the move. Other species accompanying or following them are known as attendants and they tend to join the foraging flock only when it enters their territory. Attendants may be other insectivores such as Nuthatches, Treecreepers and sometimes Woodpeckers.
Blue Tit in Wych Elm – leaves still covered with greenfly
The formation of mixed-species flocks is thought to benefit individuals by reducing the risk of predation; the more pairs of eyes that can spot predators such as Sparrowhawks and raise an alarm the better. On the same principal, it’s likely that their numbers and variety of feeding methods also increases foraging efficiency, the more pairs of eyes seeking insects the greater the chances of finding them. Differing sizes and methods of feeding allows the different species to forage in close proximity without conflict.
Another hot sunny day. Not my idea of perfect walking weather, but I wanted to see how the hill, or rather its wildlife was holding up under the scorching weather, in particular hoping there would be butterflies.
It was pleasantly cooler inside the woods, but the ground was bone dry, hard and at this lower end of the path scattered with shed Laurel leaves, often a sign the plants are short of water.
I stopped at the small scrubby patch, often an insect hot-spot. Hot it was, but not with aerial activity. The nettles have flowered and are beginning to set seed and I noticed many of their leaves have been ravaged by insects. That set me thinking about the battles going on all around me between plants and their attackers and some of the other roles that leaves play.
An insect-eaten nettle leaf with stinging hairs left in place
I like to see eaten leaves as it’s a sure sign there are insects about, but of course plants need their leaves to supply them with food, so many do what they can to preserve them. Nettles have particularly aggressive defences; as those having had painful encounters with them will testify. They’re not aimed at us specifically of course, rather at grazing animals. They have stinging hairs, every one tipped with a tiny glassy needle that breaks off at the slightest touch that is sharp enough to cut skin; simultaneously poison is squirted into the wound from a small chamber at the base of each hair. Ouch! Even nibbling rabbits avoid them as they have sensitive noses and find the sting as unpleasant as we do. Despite this, nettles are the favoured food of such insects as the caterpillars of the Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral butterflies: they simply chomp through the safe juicy parts of the leaf, going around the dangerous stings, leaving them neatly in place.
Nearby a more pacific Wild Privet shrub is blossoming. Harmless in itself, but spiders have built webs over their fragrant blossoms in hope of capturing unsuspecting nectar-seeking insects.
Sycamore leaves are already freckled with Tarspot-Rhytisma acerinum. Although it occurs on other trees too, including Willow and Eucalyptus, it is generally referred to as Sycamore Tarspot and by this time of the year it’s practically impossible to find a Sycamore tree without it. This common and widespread fungus doesn’t look pretty, but doesn’t seem to adversely affect the trees it afflicts. Looking at Tarspot I then noticed a leaf that was curled at an edge. I have no idea what had accomplished this neatly rolled cylinder, clearly some species of insect at some stage of its life, but it impressed me greatly.
The structure is tightly rolled, like a small cigar, secured along the long edge and open at both ends. There are ‘blisters’ on the leaf too, so I wondered if there may be a connection?
Leaves make perfect landing and resting pads for butterflies too. This bramble leaf had served as such for a Green-veined White butterfly that took off just as I’d focussed on it! You can just see it rocketing out of the top of the photograph.
A Speckled Wood was more obliging, pausing on an ivy leaf at ground level.
Another spider’s web, this time utilising an Ash leaf.
Close to the junction of my Woodland Path with the Reserve’s Woodland Trail there are a few plants of Hogweed flowering. It was devoid of much insect interest at this time – occupied by just one feasting Eristalis sp. hoverfly. (I’m fairly sure it was Eristalis pertinax, but its diagnostic yellow tarsi were sunk into the flower petals.)
Hogweed has impressively large and interestingly-shaped leaves; this one was showing signs of having been nibbled and there are aphids dotted around on its surface. These plants often play host to great colonies of aphids that pierce the veins of its stems and leaves to feast on its sap. The aphids then attract insects that eat them, such as ladybirds.
Away from the peaceful confines of the shady wood and out onto the wider more open track I was soon distracted by insect activity. There’s not much about at the moment in the way of wildflowers, so what there is is in high demand. Wood Sage is both still flowering and beginning to set seed. The remaining little flowers of the plants close by were being visited by busy little Carder bees.
Common Carder Bee-Bombus pascuorum
There are a whole host of different bramble species, which is possibly what accounts for them flowering and fruiting at slightly different times; a mercy at this time of year for insects seeking nectar and pollen.
Many bramble bushes are down to their last few flowers and are busy setting fruits. They may not come to much if we don’t get rain to swell them soon.
The enormous bramble here at the side of the track was positively frantic with insects this early afternoon. Hot sunny weather makes capturing images of insects tricky, they zoom around at high speed and bright sunlight reflects off shiny wings, bodies and white flowers. I saw more species here than I could catch, including a Red Admiral, Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper butterflies, Tree and Buff-tailed Bumblebees, Carder Bees and a few hoverflies. I managed to get a snap of a Honeybee, looking rather worn,
Honeybee with torn wings
and an always-impressive Great Pied Hoverfly – Volucella pellucens
I would happily have stayed here for longer, but out in the open it was way too hot to stand in the blazing sun! Moving on along the trail there were very few flowers, some of the last are of Tutsan, but that too is also developing berries.
It’s unusual to see a Meadow Brown butterfly out in the open resting up on a leaf, especially opening up its wings to reveal its upper wings, but I think this one had not long emerged as it was still slightly crumpled. It may well have been a female as males tend to be a darker brown and may not have the orange patch.
It was quite a relief to get back into the shade.
Another new, still-crumpled butterfly caught my eye; this one a Large White.
With no hint of a breeze to stir the air it felt even hotter out in the open meadow. The thin soil was baked hard, the grass browned to a crisp. There are some green stems amongst it; there’s some Knapweed, its few flower buds small and tightly clenched closed.
Goat’s Beard has kept some leaves, and green stems support its lovely big globular seedheads, or clocks. There are tiny yellow dots of a hawkweed/hawkbit in there too.
Goats-beard – Tragopogon pratensis
A lovely big patch of Lady’s Bedstraw grows under a network of collapsed grass stems. It too has retained surprisingly green stems and leaves.
More Meadow Browns were doing what Meadow Browns do – that is flitting about amongst the long grass stems and landing in line with a grass stem that renders them barely visible.
Two very small dark ones were feeding on a single plant of flowering Ragwort.
LOWER HILLSIDE/WOODLAND EDGE
Too hot to consider hiking over the summit of the hill and down again to make a proper circuit, I got to the bottom of the hill by cutting back into the woods to reach the bottom of the Summit Trail. It was baking hot here too and although this is the cooler North side of the Bryn, it too is largely brown and very dry. I was surprised to spot a bird out here, hopping around in the grass and not too bothered by me watching it. I only saw it from the back, but could tell it was a young Mistle Thrush.
Greenery here is that of brambles, young trees, some grass and another stand of Rosebay Willowherb.
Knapweed is faring better here than in the small meadow and the first of its flowers are opening. Open flowers are sparse though and in high demand. Where 6-spot Burnet Moths lay claim to a flowerhead they settle in for a good long time and are reluctant to share.
I was here hoping to see a Dark Green Fritillary, but on first sight of the dryness and lack of flowers, didn’t have much hope. Then lo and behold I suddenly spotted a large fast-flying butterfly head for the very Knapweed occupied by a Burnet Moth. It tried to land but the moth denied it access and it shot off again. Fortunately it spotted an unoccupied flower nearby and settled, though only briefly before setting off again.
Dark Green Fritillary – Argynnis aglaja
This part of the hillside, covered with long grass, brambles, gorse and pitted with rabbit holes is definitely off-limits for walking through, so no chasing butterflies! Best to stick to the few narrow tracks and hope something may cross your path. I did get a couple more glimpses of this gorgeous insect, but no more photo opportunities. I’m happy they are there and hope that there is more than one.
Last evening’s weather forecast promised sea mist over the Irish Sea and so it has come to pass. The whole landscape, including the Little Orme was veiled by it. It didn’t seem to being having much effect on the land temperature though.
Large Skipper-Ochlodes venatus
Peering around for the fritillary I did spot some Skipper butterflies. Several Small Skippers living up to their name, skipping through the grass and a single male Large Skipper that kindly settled momentarily to pose on a grass seedhead.
And more luck as a Ringlet settled on a bramble flower. It didn’t settle for long either as it was dive-bombed by Bumblebees.
Ringlet – Aphantopus hyperantus
Time to get out of the sun. A passing glance at a Hazel tree on the woodland edge revealed a little bunch of ripening nuts, surprisingly not eaten yet by squirrels, and then a lovely fresh-looking Gatekeeper.
Back into the meadow on a different track I spotted the silken tent of a Nursery Web Spider, but no sign of its weaver.
Then a tiny flutter of a butterfly; a Brown Argus.
On my short-cut track back home, the sound of loud screeching drew my attention to a family of Jays up in the treetops; three together. One flew off, so I think it may have been two young ones demanding attention from a parent. One of those left in the tree wasn’t too happy though, you can see it has its crest raised.
Such pretty birds and a good note, albeit a loud one, to end a walk on.
Today was the middle day of the three consecutively warm sunny days that tantalised us with the notion that Spring had truly arrived, and judging by the activity here today it had a lot of our wildlife fooled too. The sky was clear and that almost-unbelievable shade of deep blue, the birds were singing and best of all, it was warm!
A few metres along the Woodland Path of my patch is an untidy-looking stretch, divided by the narrow path, where missing trees have opened up the canopy, letting in the light and warmth of the sun. Somewhat mysteriously, it holds great allure for diverse species of insects, some of which at certain times can be found here in surprising numbers. At the right time on the right day, ten minutes spent in this ‘hotspot’ can be as productive as two hours spent ranging over the rest of the site.
11:44 Today I was here at the right time to see a surprising amount of insects. Most prolific were hoverflies in all shapes and sizes from big and bulky to teeny-tiny and dainty.
Eristalis sp hoverfly
There were few flowers here for nectaring upon, so that wasn’t the attraction for the majority of the hoverflies; I caught just one on the tiny flowers of Dog’s mercury. There were dozens of this small black and yellow striped species here, all very fresh and shiny and mostly basking on the sun-warmed leaves of brambles and nettles.
One side of the ‘hotspot’ is open to sunlight, clear of trees but sheltered by those standing behind it and by large shrubs of laurel and holly on either side. A large tangle of bramble fills the gap in the vegetation and is the only barrier between you and the Expressway below at the bottom of an almost-vertical slope. (Only joking, there’d be plenty of trees to stop you if you fell!) On the other side is a large patch of nettles, the aforementioned Dog’s mercury, more bramble and a pretty patch of periwinkle, all growing through a ground-covering of ivy.
A lone Tree bumblebee flew in, visited a couple of the periwinkle flowers then stopped to bask on a last-year’s half-eaten bramble leaf. I think it was a male (no pollen baskets) and was looking a bit the worse for wear. He seemed to have a burden of mites and I wondered if exposing them to warm sun might dislodge them. I’ve seen birds do that.
A smaller bee caught my eye as it came to rest on an ivy leaf. I didn’t realise what it was until I saw my photograph, then was excited to see it was a Hairy-footed Flower Bee, this one a male and my first record of this species here.
A species common and widespread in much of England and Wales, especially in towns, cities and villages. Often nests in the soft mortar and exposed cob of old walls, but occasionally will nest in the ground, preferring bare compacted clay soils. Flies from late February to mid-June, and is particularly partial to Lungwort (Pulmonaria) flowers.
Males and females look very different from one another: the female resembles a small, black bumblebee with orange-red hairs on the hind leg and a rapid-darting flight; she’ll often approach a flower with her long tongue extended. Males are mostly brown with a dark tail (fresh specimens are gingery). Cream markings on face distinguish it from all bumblebees.They are often among the first bees of the year to emerge and often hover in front of flowers and when pursuing females.
Another little bee came to rest on a nettle leaf, this one I recognised as an Ashy mining bee and another male.
Ashy mining bee – Andrena cineraria (male)
Ashy mining bee (m)-Andrena cineraria
A distinctive and obvious spring-flying solitary bee. Females are black, and have two broad ashy-grey hairbands across the thorax. Males emerge well before the females. They look similar, but their thorax is entirely covered with less dense grey hairs, and there’s a pronounced tuft of white hairs on the lower face. Species has a single flight period each year from early April until early June. Nests are constructed in the ground; entrances are surrounded by a volcano-like mound of excavated spoil; often in dense aggregations in lawns, flower beds, mown banks and in field margins.
And where there are mining bees there are those who would prey upon them….. Bee-flies: quirkily-cute in appearance but not good to know if you’re a hard-working mining bee; they’ll spy out your nest-hole and craftily kick their eggs inside with those long legs, then later their hatched larvae will feast on yours.
Wasps were out on the prowl too; I didn’t get a clear enough image to tell if this was a German or Common Wasp – the latter have a distinctive anchor mark on their face; this image is a bit fuzzy.
12:07 I could have lingered longer, but birds were singing, I’d been serenaded by a Song thrush and a Robin as I stood watching insects, Blue tits twittered on all sides and I was keen to see what else was happening.
Bluebells are beginning to flower and offer nectar to those that can reach it, there’s also Greater Stitchwort and lots of Dog Violets. A male Orange-tip butterfly raced past me over the bluebells and through the trees, clearly on the trail of a female and not stopping for an instant.
Greater Stitchwort – Stellaria holostea
There are masses of glorious glossy golden yellow lesser celandines shining in the sunlight too.
I stopped to admire the celandines lining a section of the path and not at all concerned by my presence, a Blue tit perched above me and began to sing.
Beneath him dozens of shiny new flies arrived to bask on soft sun-warmed new bramble leaves.
There’s one special spot I know where Wood Anemones light up the woodland floor like fallen stars, turning their faces to the sun
and another where those of the shamrock-leaved Wood sorrel shyly hide theirs.
Over the boundary fence, the formidable thorny boundary hedge of gorse and blackthorn is softened now with their fragrant gold and white blossoms.
I heard a bird singing, a short loud burst of notes that I thought at first was a Wren, but it wasn’t quite right. I’d forgotten that another tiny bird, the Goldcrest also has a disproportionately loud song, remembering when he broke cover and flitted about in shrubbery in front of me. He wasn’t going to oblige me with a photograph, much too busy! So I stood gazing upwards for a while – you can’t get too much beautiful blue sky…
… or pretty blossom, can you?
12:58 There’s another hotspot around the junction of my Woodland Path with the reserve’s Woodland Trail, this one for birds. Here there is a territory of both Blackcap and Chiffchaff so there is the possibility of hearing if not seeing both species here. Today I was lucky; I heard the Blackcap’s song as I approached and walking slowly and as quietly as I was able I spotted him. He continued to sing but moved restlessly through the branches as I got nearer then flew off across the other side of the track.
While he sang from behind foliage over there I watched a pretty female Tawny mining bee feast on Blackthorn blossom.
Then the Blackcap came back to where he’d started, so I think perhaps his red-headed mate may be on their nest somewhere close by.
This gorgeous gorse is below his singing tree. It would make a safe place to nest and the flowers would attract insects for dinner.
I had heard a Chiffchaff singing nearby too but was pleasantly surprised when he appeared, continuing his song while flitting about amongst the twiggy branches searching for insects.
13:21 Further along the trail I spotted a flutter of orange – a lovely fresh Comma butterfly basking on dry leaves at the edge of the path. As I watched it moved, (look away now if you’re squeamish) onto a thankfully dryish dog poo deposit. I had to take the picture as it nicely presented its underside showing off the distinctive white mark for which it is named.
The disturbed ground of the pathsides supports some of the ‘weedier’ wildflowers like dandelions which provide important nectar when there’s not much else in flower.
You’d be very unlucky not to hear and see a Robin singing along here, there seems to be one at regularly spaced intervals. They sit and watch out over the track then dart out to pounce on any potential prey they may spot. This one had been singing but stopped to watch me.
I waited to see if he’d start singing again and was distracted by a bird whistling loudly. I scanned around searching for whatever was making the sound, one I didn’t recognise at all but that sounded to be being made by quite a large bird. After a few minutes the whistler appeared and to my amusement turned out to be …. a Great Tit! Of course it was, one of the basics of birdsong recognition is ‘when you don’t recognise it or haven’t heard it before, chances are it’ll be a Great Tit’; they have an incredible repertoire of sounds to call upon. I was thankful to him for keeping me in that spot though, as this gorgeous Greater Spotted Woodpecker flew onto a tree trunk literally right in front of me.
The Woodpecker stayed there, keeping a watchful eye on me. This bird is a female and is holding something small in her beak, so I imagine she has a nest nearby and was unwilling to reveal it. I moved away quickly, thanking her for the photo opportunity as I did.
Great Spotted Woodpeckers are about the same size as Starlings. Their plumage denotes their age and sex. Juvenile birds have red foreheads that are replaced by black as they moult in the autumn. Adult males then have a red nape while females have no red on their head at all.
The Lesser Celandines have been late flowering this Spring but are glorious now and more prolific than I’ve seen them before. It’s not just the flowers that are prolific, so too were hoverflies and Bee-flies seemed to be everywhere.
Approaching the entrance to the meadow another Robin, which looks as though it is singing, but was actually ‘ticking me off’, let me know it didn’t appreciate my disturbing it.
THE UPPER MEADOW (ADDER’S FIELD)
The grass of the meadow was cut back hard last autumn and so far there’s not much happening there yet, but the grass is beginning to grow and the cowslips are starting to come out. They’ll be later on the more exposed ‘downland’ side of the hill.
Another Bee-fly settled on an exposed rock in the pathway, fluttering its wings rapidly and making flicking movements with its legs as they do when depositing their eggs, but there was no sign of a mining bee nest anywhere near, so not sure what it was doing.
Summer Rainfall Prediction:
If oak is out before the ash, there’ll be a splash ; if ash is out before the oak there’ll be a soak…
Keep the brollies handy, looks like ash is furthest on so far….!
Wriggling across the still-damp ground on the way to the Summit Trail was an earthworm. Double jeopardy came to mind – exposure to warm sunshine and hungry birds; foolish worm.
Last year I noticed spots along the trail here where Mining Bees were making nests. having seen a few about today I kept an eye out for more signs of their activity and spotted these little ‘volcanoes’, evidence of their presence. I waited a while but no bees showed, so I don’t know which species had made them, but I think maybe Tawny Mining Bees.
It was cooler and breezier up here. I walked carefully, hoping there may be Small Tortoiseshell butterflies basking on the bare earth of the path, but not today, although I did see two busily chasing one another at speed as they disappeared over the edge of the cliff.
The mountains and the distant Conwy valley were veiled by a misty haze.
The blackthorn is smothered with blossom and looking beautiful. It will be interesting to see how much of it gets pollinated and develops as fruit this autumn. Sloe gin comes to mind.
Blackthorn – Prunus spinosa
The path back down to the Woodland Trail felt almost bridal with falling petals showering down onto the ground like confetti. A pretty way to end this account of a lovely walk.
The early morning was sunny and bright. Perfect for my first walk in the woods of this new year, I thought. Ha! I hadn’t got far when I realised it may not be quite as perfect as I had anticipated. By the time I got outside at around midday the sun had disappeared behind a thick veil of misty cloud, I felt cold despite thermal layers, my new three-way all-weather jacket and walking boots. The track was muddy and a bit slippery; thankfully for once I’d remembered to pick up my pointy-ended light-weight walking stick. This wasn’t what I’d hoped for, but as I want to try to follow the progress of the seasons more closely this year it had to be done. I reminded myself of my double-negatively phrased mantra, “there’s never nothing to see”, crossed my already frozen fingers and trusted that would work.
11:43 – Watching a handsome male blackbird rootling in the ground-covering ivy was a good start; then a grey squirrel with a scruffy sparsely-furred tail made me wonder what it takes to keep them in? It was freezing cold, damp and now getting windy, perfect conditions for a spot of hibernation I’d have thought; they must be too hungry to sleep.
Grey sky through bare branches
I do love to see the sky through the tracery of bare branches and twigs on days like this when they are almost in monochrome.
Holly has a strong presence year-round, but it struck me today that even on dull days it shines out, seeming to catch any available light touching its leaves and reflecting it back. There were a few berries remaining on this plant but I’m sure they won’t be there for long.
Alexanders – Smyrnium olusatrum
Clumps of bright green leaves of Alexanders started to reappear back in December. Here on the edge of the woodland path they are sheltered by the trees and protected by leaf litter. I’m always surprised it doesn’t get eaten. It was introduced into this country by the Romans; having a delicate celery-like taste, they used it as a culinary herb. Rarely growing more than about four miles from the sea, here it’s at its most prolific on the lower level of the Little Orme and along the Llandudno Road. It’s spreading quite quickly here in this part of the woods too. I wonder how it got here originally?
11:57 – The view from the boundary fence was obscured by the dense misty cloud which seemed to be approaching fast. I could still see part of the River Conwy, but the Carneddau mountains beyond had all but disappeared. The A55, or the North Wales Expressway as it is officially known, is busy with traffic whatever the day. The main route westward and up through Anglesey to the Irish ferry port at Holyhead, it is also heavily used by locals for short commutes and holidaymakers and tourists all year round. The railway line runs alongside it too. Running along the valley bottom, vehicle noise is amplified and rises up to become the background sound to my walks, even the mist hardly muffles it. It is so continuous though that your mind soon ceases to register it.
The Scots Pines are at their most numerous in this spot. On the woodland boundary and exposed to strong west winds their trunks are angled backwards and branches are contorted and twisted into some weird and wonderful shapes.
A sprinkling of golden gorse flowers brightened the greyness of the day and a quick inhale of its gorgeous coconut fragrance gave me a boost and the will to continue!
It’s less sheltered up on the Woodland Trail, which is for the most part a corridor through the trees, so deciding which way to go was easy; a right turn and then up, back into the closer shelter of trees. I passed by the big holly tree, hardly any berries remained and there were no birds to see there. There are good crops of ivy berries this year, but they seem to be ripening sporadically and slowly. I often come across plants throughout the woods that have escaped from gardens. I hadn’t spotted this mahonia before though – it’s preparing to flower which will no doubt be gratefully received by the red & the buff-tailed bumblebee queens when they emerge in a few short weeks time.
12:11 – It started to rain heavily. I was fairly protected by the trees so decided to carry on. A party of Long-tailed tits flew above me, calling to one another as they moved quickly through the high tree branches. Tiny birds, they clearly have to keep searching for food but surely need to keep warm and dry too; not easy when there are no leaves.
The wind picked up. On the north side of the hill and gradually getting higher, it was noticeably colder too. If I had sense I’d probably have gone home now, but I really wanted to get to the top of the hill today. At least this weather suits blackbirds foraging in deep leaf litter.
I passed the ‘fernery’ – the open slope that is lushly covered with predominantly Hart’s Tongue fern growing between moss-covered stones. If it was warmer it may feel quite tropical. The smudges are raindrops on the camera lens!
I was glad to reach the part of the trail I think of as the ‘Dark Wood’. It is sheltered by the rising bulk of the hillside and some tall old trees, including a good few Yews, which all combine to block out the sunlight and today some of the rain.
At the end of the tree tunnel is a particularly large evergreen tree, one of several that I know throughout the woodland. I’m trying to work out what they are, so any ideas would be gratefully received.
For some reason I can’t begin to guess at, an iron gate stands at the side of the track just past here. There’s no sign of any fencing on either side of it. It’s just a gate to nowhere.
Gate to nowhere
It does stand near to the junction of a track leading up to the summit though, making it easier to remember where its start is. Covered with leaves it doesn’t stand out and is easy to miss.
The muddy leaf-covered upward track is easily missed
12:26 – The upward track was muddy and slippery and I was glad I had my spiky walking stick, otherwise progress could easily have been a painful step forward and a slide back. It was still raining, my fingers were freezing and I was the only person trekking to the top. Can’t think why. The flash of a colourful Bullfinch disturbed from a bramble patch, eating what remains of blackberries really brightened my day. He disappeared into the scrub of hazel and blackthorn. Hazel catkins start growing at the end of the summer or early autumn and are making steady progress; these are the male flowers, the tiny red female flowers will appear a little later on when the male flowers are fully mature.
The twiggy branches of the blackthorns are well-covered with lichen, including clumps of the beautiful silver-green ferny one that feels velvety to the touch. It is a lichen, but confusingly called Oak Moss.
Oak Moss-Evernia prunestri on blackthorn
12:42 – Emerging onto the hill top was breathtaking. Quite literally – it was raining hard, blowing a hooley and bitingly cold. I took a couple of snaps while the wind tried to wrench the camera out of my hands and the rain obscured the view further by dropping onto the lens. There was no way I was going to carry on up to the summit proper.
The sea is out there somewhere
12:50 – I turned and scurried back to the comparative shelter of the track, stopping only because I couldn’t resist this gnarly tree trunk decorated with moss and lichen.
Then there was an extremely tall tree painted with both orange and green lichens and daubed with cushion-like moss. I couldn’t resist that either.
I spot a small Elder that already has quite well-grown new leaves.
13:04 – I watched a blackbird that was having great success finding worms in the mud. I watched it pull out and eat two or three.
It had finally stopped raining and the sun was shining through the trees. It was still really cold though and although only early afternoon, gloomy and dark.
I took a slightly different route back to where I started as it’s a higher, less well used and still covered with leaves and much less slippery. It also cuts across the slope that is part of the view from my kitchen window and is a good place to be to see some of the birds that descend from here down to our bird feeders. No birds today, but I did realise that two of the trees up here are big old Sweet Chestnuts. They have beautifully coloured and textured bark.
Sweet Chestnut-Castania sativa
Sweet chestnut bark
13:22 – One last splash of colour – rust-red leaves remaining on a small tree, I’m assuming Copper beech that has found its way here from someone’s garden.
13:39 – I’m home, hands wrapped around a mug of defrosting tea, watching some of the birds I didn’t see whilst out. They’d doubtless think it bonkers to go out on a day like this when you really don’t have to.
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.
As I’ve already said, it was mighty windy out here on the not-quite-summit of the hill; not the day for hanging around gazing at the views, no matter how stunning they may be.
Windswept not-quite-summit of Bryn Euryn
A quick look around showed there to be little left in the way wildflowers in bloom, but there was colour on a wild rose – a whole colony of bright red Robin’s Pincushion galls. I don’t recall ever having seen as many on a single plant. The fuzzy growths will gradually fade to brown and the little wasps that cause the growths will emerge in June. If I’m lucky, one of these days I’ll catch them coming out, although the galls also attract ‘squatters’ and there can be a dozen or more species lodging in there!
I was to keen to keep moving, but when I spotted this lovely patch of Eyebright I couldn’t resist stopping again.
The dip between this part of the hill and the slope up to the summit is usually sheltered and offers a brief respite from the wind and the noise of traffic from the A55 below, but not so today. Yarrow likes this spot and there was quite a good large patch of it still in flower here. As with Eyebright, Yarrow is a plant designed to withstand tough growing conditions and is pretty persistent, as anyone that has tried to eliminate it from a lawn will testify; you cut it down and it grows right back! Personally I prefer the ferny-leaved Yarrow to the boring grass! Funny how we discriminate against certain plants, this wildflower Yarrow’s taller-growing golden-yellow flowered relative, Achillea, is a cherished garden plant!
Some insects rather like its flowers too, I found a tiny bee motionless on a flower today and recalled I’d seen a similar looking insect on Yarrow in the Rhiwleddyn reserve a few weeks ago.
Tiny bee on Yarrow – enlarged
On the summit a patch of purple Knapweed was fuelling a few Common Carder bees that were managing to cling on and fly short distances despite the best efforts of the wind to dislodge them. The little bees had varying appearances; some were practically perfect, others a bit more battered, their ‘fur’ worn away and at least one that had a bleached appearance like it had spent too long out in the sun.
Common carder bee-practically perfect
Common carder bee-a little faded
Common carder bee-fur worn from back
Common carder bee-bleached
There was another lovely clump of Eyebright up here, this one framed by the distinctively-arranged pods that give the Bird’s-foot trefoil its name.
More Yarrow too, this plant sheltering a tiny fly.
I was hoping that the other side of the hill would be a bit more protected from the wind, but alas, most of it wasn’t. The sun was putting in sporadic appearances though, so at least it felt a bit warmer. Ironically, the sea looked to be calm, was coloured in shades of beautiful blue and its surface merely ruffled. The blades of the wind turbines were motionless.
Looking over in the opposite direction to te sea, the view to the oddly-shaped hill at Deganwy, was fairly clear, although beyond it, Anglesey and the Menai Strait were shrouded in a light haze. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but the hill is named the Vardre and gets its unusual appearance from having two rocky summits. It has a little less height than Bryn Euryn, it being 108m, (354 feet) while the Bryn is 131m (365 feet). It was once home to fortifications that included Deganwy Castle.
On the woodland edge leaves are beginning to change colour. Hawthorn is one of the first to go
along with Silver birch as I mentioned in the previous post. Out here in the open it was easier to appreciate the combination of yellow leaves against a clear blue sky.
Next to the Silver birch is a single Whitebeam, which bears berries. The berries are orange in colour now but will gradually turn red.
In the short grass there are still a few Rock-roses in flower and here and there are big fat ‘penny-bun’, or Bolete mushrooms. At least they would have been big and fat before they were nibbled away. I like the different shades and textures such nibbling has left on this one; there was a little black spider on it too.
I have often wondered what nibbled the mushrooms. A picture I took a few weeks ago, at the end of July may have the answer. The sight amused me and I wondered if it was a romantic al-fresco lunch for two? Of course there is more to slugs than meets the eye. No gardener is ever going to welcome them onto their plot, but out in the wild they are another important cog in the wheel of the natural waste-disposal system. Although one slug may look rather like another, there are rather a lot of different species of them in our British Isles. I submitted this image to the very helpful folk that run the Slugs and Snails of the British Isles Facebook Group, who responded that to be accurate they need to see the undersides of the slugs too, but from other features that it is likely they are juvenile Arion flagellus – the Green-soled slug.
poss. Arion flagellus- the Green-soled slug
The bottom of the grassy ‘downland’ hill was still flowery with Hemp Agrimony, Knapweed, touches of Scabious and a sprinkling of Ragwort.
I walked down to where it meets with the woodland edge and lo and behold, for a few glorious minutes the sun came out. Suddenly it was warm and bright and the scene came alive with a whole host of insects vying with one another for the best blossoms.
Speckled wood on Hemp agrimony
I hardly knew where to look first, but then couldn’t resist the sight of a pristine Speckled wood feasting on Hemp agrimony. There were several of them, all looking freshly beautiful; most were nectaring on various flowers while some rested on the leaves of nearby trees basking in the sunshine. The only other butterflies in evidence were Red Admirals which unusually stayed out of range of the camera.
Speckled wood on ragwort
There was a good variety of hoverflies,large and small, a Common wasp and more Common carder bees too.
Hoverfly – Eristalis sp
Hoverfly – Eristalis sp
Common Carder bee on Scabious
A beautiful cast of insects, but the star of today’s show was a big handsome hoverfly, which surprisingly doesn’t have a common name, but whose scientific name, Volucella zonaria makes it sound a bit like an Italian pasta dish. This is the largest British hoverfly and is quite a recent addition to our native list, appearing on the south coast of England during the late 1930s. According to my Hoverfly bible, from there it has spread upwards and outwards across the country as far as Cheshire and Humberside and South Wales in the West. We’re not so far from the Cheshire border here, so they must still be spreading, this is the second one I’ve seen this year, the other was in my daughter’s garden a few weeks ago.
The spell of sunshine didn’t last long and the wind was still blowing relentlessly; time to set off in the direction of home.
11:00am It was cooler than I’d anticipated in the woods this morning. The sky was cloudy and gusts of a chilly breeze blustered between the trees of this usually sheltered mid-slope of the Bryn; less than ideal conditions for the insects I was hoping to see. And I wished I’d worn a thicker fleece. But the sun was intermittently winning through the clouds and ever the optimist I assured myself it would get warmer for me and the little creatures.
There are a few places on my usual trail that I think of as ‘hotspots’ for insects, even on cool days such as this. The first one is an untidy, brambly-nettley spot, where opportunistic plants have filled a gap in the tree line and spread across to the other side of the path too. Dappled sunlight reaches and warms the spot, aphids thrive here, there’s nectar and pollen to be had while the bramble is in flower, followed by its fruits; the perfect ingredients for a hoverfly hangout. If I’m patient and hang around for a few minutes I’m often rewarded with sightings of a few hovering customers and sometimes less expected visitors too.
Hoverfly (syrphus sp) basking on a sunlit hazel leaf
Insects need sunshine to warm up their flight muscles to get them going, so cooler, cloudy days can be surprisingly rewarding for sightings of basking individuals slowed down by the lack of warmth. There were a few hoverflies here today, also other common flies which I’m trying to take notice of and appreciate more; well, at least I’m aiming to put names to some of them. Most of those I saw were common ‘houseflies’, a generic name that covers quite a few different species. I think it’s their habits that most of us dislike; some of them look quite pretty.
A long-bodied black insect with pretty iridescent wings scurried erratically over the surfaces of leaves, a wasp I think, definitely a hunting predator, maybe a Digger wasp.
About to move on I spotted a dot of colour in the shade of some leaves. Sitting motionless was another more recognisable predator, a male Scorpion Fly.
Scorpion Fly-There are 3 species of Scorpion Fly in Britain, apparently difficult to separate other by examining genitalia; the most common being Panorpa germanica. They frequent shady places almost everywhere. All are scavenging insects and completely harmless despite the males’s scorpion-like tail. The female’s body lacks the tail, simply tapers to a point.
Male Scorpion Fly
Male Scorpion Fly
The closed tree canopy excludes most flowers now. An exception is the woodland grass, False Brome, which grows prolifically here and is flowering now.
A splash of colour took me by surprise – a holly tree with red berries!
Perhaps relics of the days when this path was part of the grounds of a Victorian manor house, are large clumps of two attractive ferns. Both species are evergreen, maintaining their green fronds throughout the seasons, but both look particularly fresh and verdant now and the Polypody has new fronds unfurling.
Dwarf Cream Wave-Idaea fuscovenosa
A tiny pale-coloured moth swirled by the breeze spiralled down to land on a bramble leaf low to the ground, settling with wings spread butterfly-like under the shelter of other leaves. It is a Dwarf Cream Wave (photograph probably not far off its actual size)- the lines that show grey-mauve are where its original pale brown scales have been worn, or washed (!) away.
A home in a leaf ….
The pale patch on this holly leaf is probably the result of the work of an insect, the Holly leaf miner Phytomyza ilicis.This is a fly whose larvae burrow into leaves of this specific species of tree and leave characteristic pale trails or mines.
Interestingly, I learnt (from Wikipaedia) that “the holly leaf miner has frequently been used in ecological studies as a system to study food webs. Examination of the leaves can show whether the leaf miner has successfully emerged, been killed by a parasitic wasp, or been predated by blue tits.”
I’m not sure what the perfectly round hole in this one indicates. It could just be the original entry point of the egg-laying adult female’s ovipositor, but maybe too big? It looks too small and neat to be an exit hole and blue tits leave a triangular tear when seizing a miner as prey. Maybe it is the mark of the work of a predatory wasp?
Speaking of wasps, I spotted another on an ivy leaf – a bit more distinctive than the black one I saw earlier due to its long antennae, so I asked the experts at BWARS and they say it’s a member of the Ichneumonidae family. The whole of this family are parasitoides and most species attack the caterpillars of butterflies and moths. It’s a dangerous life being an insect.
The Woodland Trail, Bryn Euryn Nature Reserve
A big old oak tree marks the junction of my ‘Woodland Path’ and the Woodland Trail that circuits the Nature Reserve. It’s lost a few of its branches and the big lower branch has a split right through it that provided a safe home to nesting Great tits earlier on in the year.
Happily, the tree seems to be going strong and is currently nurturing some baby acorns. They have stalks, which indicate this is an English, or Pedunculate Oak.
Stepping out from the cover of the trees I realised how windy it had become; windy enough for birds to be able to just hang in the air and ride the air currents with minimum effort. Two buzzards were overhead, mewling and swooping around in the air currents, one being harassed by gulls, poor thing.
The unmistakable bulk of a Buzzard
My second ‘hot-spot’ is almost at the junction of the two tracks. It’s a huge bramble entwined with gorse and over which wild clematis scrambles. That blackberry & wild clematis combination is one of my favourites, even if it is another of the sights that I associate with summer’s approaching end. The clematis is just coming into flower and, the bramble already has ripening fruit, so not much for insects here today.
A lovely Speckled Wood butterfly sat on a smaller bramble nearby which still has flowers. The butterfly let me get very close, hardly moving in the coolness of the day.
There are few flowers along the sides of the Woodland Trail now, due in part I’m sure to their having been strimmed back in June – this part of the path is maintained by the local council who are wont to get these ‘jobs’ done before people complain about paths being overgrown. All kinds of good stuff was cut back, including orchids, and much of the hogweed that would now be giving nectar and pollen to hoverflies et al. I hoped they were finding sustenance nearby.
A few odd plants have survived, or revived, to flower here and others are fruiting. There are a very few hazelnuts that have thus far escaped the jaws of voracious grey squirrels, who usually eat them while they’re still soft and green.
Wild Strawberry flower
Wild strawberry fruit
Seedpods of Stinking Iris
Tutsan berries are darkening
Hazel nuts forming
Blackberries are ripening
Cool windy days may seem unpromising if you’ve set off hoping to see insects, but if you keep paying attention there is never ‘nothing to see’ (pardon my grammar). I spotted a tiny movement on the surface of a leaf and caught sight of an even tinier leaf hopper. As I got closer with the camera lens I noticed another movement under the leaf; a tiny spider had spotted the leaf hopper and was vibrating her web to try to get its attention. The leaf hopper disappeared under the leaf….. I wonder if the spider got her lunch? Apologies for the less-than-good photo, but I’m sure you get the drift!
So, I’ve reached the steps leading up to the field now and looking forward to what it has in store….
For a few magical days earlier this month I enjoyed the privilege of close sightings of Redwings as they travelled around our local woodland foraging for food. Special sightings indeed, and better still I didn’t even need to leave my flat: all but one of the following photographs were taken from my kitchen window.
December 31st 2016
09:10 Thrilled to see Redwings this morning – several flew through the cover of the trees and shrubbery behind the building, with one pausing briefly in view of the kitchen window. There was a flurry of bird activity around that time; they were preceded by a mixed group of small birds, including Long-tailed, Great & Blue tits and seemed to have a variety of blackbirds travelling with them, so may have been a thrush feeding party following a tit feeding. The light was poor and I only managed to get one not-so-good photograph, but at least it is a record of the sighting.
English name: Redwing Scientific name:Turdus ileacus Welsh:Coch Dan-aden Status in the UK: REDRedwings are red-listed in the UK as although the majority are autumn-winter residents, we have a very small breeding population, restricted in range to the northern third of Scotland.
Other local names: Swinepipe, Wind Thrush Scientific name from:Latin: turdus=a thrush and Latin: iliacus=of the flanks (from ile=flank)
Redwings are Autumn-Winter residents of the UK and the smallest and daintiest of our thrushes. Smaller than the Song thrush, they are often shy, but a close view reveals a prominent whitish supercilium (eye stripe), warm rust red patches on the flanks and under the wings and cool grey-brown upperparts. Males and females are alike.
This was the day of my encounter with the flock during my walk in the woods, already described in the previous post. There were blackbirds with them then too and I went on to see the mixed small-bird feeding party just minutes later.
The Redwing’s diet is mainly composed of invertebrates, supplemented with berries in autumn and winter. Wintering Redwings may be seen together with Fieldfares foraging in open fields, but they also feed with other thrushes in grassy paddocks or in woodland. Visits to gardens may be brief and are usually prompted by harsh weather.
A frost last night left the ground hard and sparkling white this morning, and it remained cold for much of the day despite the bright sunshine. The hard ground may have driven the Redwings to seek easier food sources. This was brilliant for me as from early morning a small flock of them arrived intermittently throughout the day to pick at ripening ivy berries. So once again from my window I had a succession of fairly close-up views of them, although most of the time they were at least partially hidden behind tree twigs or within ivy foliage.
The majority of Redwings arrive into the UK during September and October as birds cross the North Sea from Scandinavia and Russia. Those arriving into Wales and other western areas are most probably Icelandic birds. Redwings are night-time migrants, and if you are lucky and listen out on dark clear autumn and early winter nights, particularly in the east of the country, you may hear the thin ‘tseep‘ of a flock overhead. As winter arrives Redwings will have largely finished their journeys, settling in the warmer and relatively frost-free areas away from the east coast. They stay with us till March, although hard weather may force them to migrate further, with Scandinavian/Russian birds (the iliacus race) continuing westwards to Ireland or southwards into southern Europe.
Taking a few minutes to rest in the warm sunshine:
“Any attempt to estimate the size of the wintering population of Redwings in Britain and Ireland meets with the same problem as for the Fieldfare: the numbers vary from year to year, and also in the course of a single winter, and major shifts of population may take place in response to weather and feeding conditions. “
( David Snow 1987 – The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland, edited by Peter Lack)
Another interesting observation I made today was of a Grey squirrel that seemed to be ‘guarding’ the ivy berries. I watched it chase away another squirrel several times, but also noticed it was chasing the Redwings away too, charging at them by running along branches towards them at speed, tail all fluffed out!
Milder temperatures may have allowed the Redwings to move on in their constant search for food and today I saw just one bird from my window. It wasn’t in the usual hurry and lingered for a few moments, not moving far and presenting itself to me from various angles so I got some lovely views of different aspects of its plumage and general ‘giz’. They really are beautiful birds.
Clear blue skies and frosted grass sparkling in brilliant sunshine were too much to resist, this had to be the perfect day for my first long walk of the New Year. Less than five minutes along my path into the woods I knew this was set to be a slow walk when I stopped to photograph berries on a holly tree. I was surprised to find so many remaining uneaten and noted ripe ones fallen and peppering the ground beneath. If not for that I may well have missed the flock of beautiful redwings that burst from the trees on the steep lower slope of the Bryn, exploding from their cover and rapidly scattering like shot from a gun, targeting branches of trees close by. There were a number of them, but impossible to count as once landed they are really difficult to spot. I was thrilled to see them and to be able to watch them and delighted that I got any photographs at all, so of two, this was the best.
Redwing – Turdus iliacus
I knew there were redwings around as I’d been fortunate enough to see some from my kitchen window on the morning of New Year’s Eve and one a couple of days before that, but I had no idea whether they were just passing through or were here to stay. I’m not certain, but I think they were searching through ivy for ripe berries. Now I am hopeful they will stay for a while, at least while they are finding food.
Ivy berries are in varying stages of ripeness
The majority of deciduous trees are bare now, but there is much that is green. Here we have our native holly, copious amounts of ivy, yew, a few Scots pines that are a native but that were most probably introduced, and rather a lot of laurel, once much beloved by Victorian gardeners.
At ground level there are ferns, the polypody in the photograph above, and also hart’s tongue and male ferns.
Hart’s tongue & a small male fern
And there’s lots of moss.
Then my reward for wandering slowly and numb fingers on my gloveless right hand, left free to focus and press the shutter button on the camera; suddenly I was surrounded by the joyous energy and excited sounds of a number of small birds. A feeding party, a collective of a variety of species of small woodland birds united in the eternal search for food.
It’s impossible to say who arrived first, I didn’t sense that there were leaders and followers, more that the flock was operating as a single entity arriving at a pre-determined spot with potential for all members. Of course there were blue tits, also great tits and a couple of coal tits.
An encounter with a feeding party of birds is a magical, uplifting and energising experience. The birds themselves exude excitement and energy, seeming to delight in the thrill of being part of a gang.
The enchanting long-tailed tits were there too.
Once arrived they quickly settled to foraging amongst the trees and shrubbery, splitting back into their families or species groups. I would have been happy with the company of just the exuberant tits, but have to admit my attention was stolen from them when I noticed the treecreepers. Often included as members of a feeding party, there were two on a tree in front of me and then another two, closer to the side. What a treat to have that many of these gorgeous little birds so close and not only in range of the camera but with the added bonus of bright sunlight too.
I lost track of time watching the birds, but they gradually moved away and passing people walking a dog and chatting broke the spell and I too turned to continue my walk. But there was one more little treat to come – two tiny goldcrests, that may or may not have been with the feeding party, were working their way through a small holly bush nearby. I watched them for a good while, but they eluded capture by my camera, they are much too quick especially when trying to contend with foreground vegetation. The shot below was the best one I got!
Before heading on to the trail around the Bryn I had a look at the view over the boundary fence. The higher peaks of the Carneddau mountains have snow with clouds above them that look to be holding more. The warming sunshine had them shrouded in a light veil of mist, with more rising from the Conwy river in the valley below.
Did I mention the strong west wind that was pushing the rain clouds across the mountains towards us? Only once I’d left the shelter of the trees to continue upwards did I realise how strong it was, with sustained gusts forcing the long grasses and wildflowers to bend to its will.
The grassy edges of the lower summit are full of wildflowers. On the exposed side there is mostly Knapweed, with touches of Ragwort and a white umbellifer I think is Upright Hedge Parsley. There was more Red Bartsia, just one plant as far as I could see, but a better one to see properly than the one lower down. On the other side, sheltered by a belt of Blackthorn, the red berries of Lords and Ladies, Cuckoo Pint if you prefer or plain old Wild Arum.
Berries of Lords & Ladies
I didn’t take this exposed path to the summit today, but ‘turned left’ to continue into the sheltered hollow where I thought there may be more insect activity.
A wasp clung on to a lone Hogweed flowerhead swaying in the wind amidst a sea of waving long grass.
There was a sizeable patch of the umbellifer that may be Upright Hedge Parsley amongst dry long grass, but as I photographed the flower it was visited only by a single, quite faded Sun Flyhoverfly.
Upright Hedge Parsley
Sun fly-Helophilus pendulus (f)
There were a few Meadow Brown butterflies doing what they do – suddenly flying up in front of you from where they had been basking on the warm earth of the track and heading into the safety of the grass. There were a couple of Gatekeepers too, sheltering from the wind to bask low in the brambles. The one I photographed had a wing-tip missing; maybe a narrow escape from a predator, but such damage can be one of the hazards of territorial scraps and of frequenting thorny brambles.
Gatekeeper amongst brambles
And just for some colour, Rosebay willowherb, which I always think is quite out of context here, even if it does look pretty. Today at least it was giving nectar to a few little bumblebees.
From the summit the views are always spectacular and today you could clearly see the low clouds skimming the tops of the higher Carneddau mountains to the west and heading our way.
The effect on the seascape was strangely beautiful too. Looking to what is roughly the south-east across Colwyn Bay, the distant hills were obscured by a mist hazeand although the sea appears to be flat calm; the wind was rippling back the surface, giving it texture, while the moving clouds created dynamic areas of light and shade. Mesmerising.
Back to earth I headed across the hilltop to make my way back down the other side. Mushrooms continue to pop up from the short turf and are still being nibbled. I’ve done a bit of research and from their shape I think they are a species of Boletus. This one was encircled by another of my favourite wildflowers of late summer, the lovely and semi-parasitic Eyebright. There are two variations here – plants with flowers blotched wih purple and others the more usual white with yellow centres.
Further down the slope where Knapweed grows in the longer grass, there were a few nectaring insects. A Common Carder bumblebee, a male Red-tailed Bumblebee and a few hoverflies. There was also a badly-damaged Burnet moth that had somehow managed to haul itself up a flower stem to feed, despite having lost at least half of all of its wings.
Red-tailed bumblebee (male)
Syrphus sp hoverfly
Syrphus sp hoverfly
Common Carder bumblebee
Burnet moth badly damaged
As I reached the bottom of the hill I stopped by a patch of Hogweed growing right on the edge of the woodland. The clouds finally cleared the way for some sun to shine through, which encouraged out a little flush of hoverflies. There was a lovely fresh female Myathropa florea – mentioned in a previous post as having the memorable and distinguishing ‘batman logo’ marking on its thorax. It was extremely mobile, but clearly hungry and from a distance I managed to get some images showing it from several angles.
Myathropa florea face-on view
Myathropa florea from the side
Then a treat to end the walk – a petite and dainty hoverfly with black and white markings, another new-to-me species.
This insect was tiny, highly mobile and flying frequently between adjacent flowerheads, so my photo opportunities were few and some of the images I did get were a bit blurry. I’m not sure if its a Leucozona glaucia or similar looking Leucozona laternaria. My book tells me the former are ‘abundant’ in this part of the country and the latter more so here than further east.
If you are interested in finding out more about Eyebright, I have posted more info and pictures of it in my new blog which will be dedicated mostly to wild flora in their habitats, called, funnily enough ‘where the wildflowers are’.