Wednesday, 29 October 2014

On the hunt for red squirrels...

When I first applied to be one BBC Wildlife Magazine's 'Local Patch Reporters', I wrote on my application form that one of my wildlife goals for 2014 was to see red squirrels in the wild. This half term break seemed like the opportune time to to try to realise this ambition.

Luckily, one of my teacher / ecologist friends was staying on the Isle of Wight with her family whilst we were visiting Southsea. In trying to organise a visit for the day, she tantalisingly said that she had been 'reliably informed that squirrels come to a certain hide south of Ryde'. So, we had a plan.

Catching the hovercraft from Southsea to Ryde, we spotted several skeins of brent geese fly over. It would seem there is a huge eelgrass bed near Ryde pier which is where they start the winter. Having not seen these birds in a very long time, it set the tone for a successful wildlife watching day!

My friends picked us up from Ryde, and drove us to Alverton. We walked along tracks, spotting a grey wagtail, a very furry moth caterpillar and hearing a Cetti's warbler, buzzards and other interesting birds. There were also some amazing fungi adorning the trees either side of the path. I would hazard a guess at Southern bracket for the fungi pictured above right. Eventually we reached a bird hide, which is reportedly often hijacked by red squirrels. We waited for a few minutes, then we saw a red squirrel picking his way silently along the muddy bank of the river, then promptly disappeared again. I would have been happy at just seeing this one little fellow briefly, as I daren't get my hopes up too high. We spread a few peanuts, and within minutes our little squirrel was back, scaling the roof of the hide looking for food, scampering loudly through the trees. At one point, he jumped over all of us, ran along the fence, towards us, down and up the tree where we had placed some nuts, and came to within touching distance. The agility of this red squirrel out-competed anything I had ever seen the more familiar grey squirrels perform. Soon, he was joined by another, this one much more russet in colour and much more talkative, clinging to a tree just above us and loudly chirruping. He too clambered on top of the hide in search of the seeds and nuts we and other visitors had scattered. We watched for an unmeasurable amount of time. We were so absorbed in their antics that, I at least, had no concept of how much time had passed. Regrettably, we had to tear ourselves away, but had stayed to watch one of this cheeky pair fall asleep in a tree not too far from the hide.

We finished our day shell collecting on the beech, me gathering shells that I could add to my somewhat dusty nature table. Before we set off back to Southsea on the hovercraft, the brent geese bade us farewell, as did a flock of sanderlings and a rock pipit from the harbor.

Page from my nature diary detailing our sightings

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Foxley Fungi

Unbeknowingly to me, last Sunday was #UKFungusDay. We went for a drive to Foxley Woods, part of my local patch which we haven't visited in far too long. Surprisingly, most of the leaves are still intact on their trees. We could hear a number of birds, but did not see very many. That is, until a Marsh tit flew down right in front of us to feast at the edge of the hedgerow. 

The woods were full of beautiful colours, with fruits of the guelder rose bright red and shining in the sun after the early morning rain. Hawthorn berries adorned the trees along the edges of the woods and there were fungi everywhere. I am no expert in fungi, and despite uploading my photos to iSpot, I only have one out of four which have been identified. Nonetheless, they make exquisite shapes and colours in the landscape, on the forest floor or on dead wood, on living trees or anywhere they can lay down 'roots'.

Another thing I love about ancient woodland, or any woodland really, are the noises you can hear if you jut stop and listen. If you close your eyes, you can pick up all of the fluttering and bustling of wind blowing through the dry leaves of the trees, sounding like small footsteps all around. You can hear birds that you may otherwise miss, even if you can't identify them from call alone. One such bird was a trill nuthatch, so loud high up in the branches that I managed to track it down and have, as a result learnt a new birdsong. Another we heard, loud and clear above the noises of the woods, was a tawny owl, it's eerie hoot reminiscent of Halloween and horror films echoing through the woods in the early afternoon. Shortly after, a kestrel caught my attention flying and landing in a tall tree with few leaves.

We left promising we would return much sooner next time.