Parish Nature Notes for October - John Wright

As expected in October some days were mild and sunny, others cool and cloudy but in addition there were periods of torrential rain and also cold sunny days accompanied by icy winds from the north. Autumn colours started to develop on some deciduous trees and a bewildering variety of fungi appeared as if by magic.


The exotic fruiting bodies of fungi are only half of the story because underground are the long-threadlike hyphae of these same fungi.  One species which is common in our parish, the fly agaric, has a close association with birch trees and wide-ranging underground hyphae take up essential minerals and then transfer them to the fine roots of the birch in exchange for carbohydrates manufactured by the trees. Each one of the twenty-thousand or so species of fungi in Britain has a different role to perform and many are essential for breaking down plant material so that nutrients are available for future plant growth.

Fly Agaric

Fly Agaric

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

On a visit to Holton Lee on 4th October, swallows were still moving through and comma and red admiral butterflies glided over the bramble bushes in the autumn sunshine. A herd of 35 sika deer, including two impressive stags, were feeding close to the safety of the reedbeds and curlew and greenshank could be heard near Lytchett Bay. Within Holton Heath National Nature Reserve just south of Holton Lee, I could hear a couple of ravens calling and then realised that they were sitting on top of a huge artificial nest in a pine tree. Several of these nests have been created locally to catch the attention of migrating ospreys as potential future nesting sites. The ravens were picking up sticks on the nest and appeared to be 'rearranging the furniture'! Ravens frequently fly over the parish at this time of the year and are identifiable by their huge bills, diamond-shaped tails and deep resonant calls. 

Raven

Raven

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

Ivy is our only evergreen climber and because it flowers late in the year it is a very important source of pollen and nectar for insects. We have some growing on our garden fence and on the 7th October the sunny conditions not only encouraged flying insects to feed, but also attracted a couple of migrating chiffchaffs which systematically picked off insects for several minutes before moving on to the next garden. Later in the day the ivy also proved attractive to several wasps which appear to have a nest in our front garden.

Ivy and Wasp

Ivy and wasp

Photograph: John Wright

Three days later, as I was walking along the A351 between the Woodlands roundabout and the Organford traffic lights, I was pleasantly surprised to find three flowering plants of cyclamen (sometimes called 'sowbread'). This autumn-flowering garden plant which comes from southern Europe is sometimes naturalised in hedges, so perhaps someone threw out a few corms some time ago.

Cyclamen

Cyclamen

Photograph: John Wright

On the evening of the 12th October I had my third sighting of a live hedgehog this year within the parish. The first two sightings were in our garden in Shaw Drive in spring and this one was also a fully grown adult on the pavement opposite our house. Sadly, I noticed a young dead hedgehog on the verge of Woodlands Road on the 1st October and on the 15th I walked past the remains of what was also probably a young individual on the B3075 near Forest Edge. If anyone has further sightings in Sandford for this year, please pass them on to Bev Lagden at b.lagden@dorsetcc.gov.uk so that we can get a more comprehensive picture of hedgehog distribution within the village.

Hedgehog

Hedgehog

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

The next day was cool but sunny as I took my regular walk round Wareham Forest and Morden Bog. There were still a few red admiral butterflies about but nothing approaching the large numbers seen not only in gardens but also flying through Morden Bog itself a month ago. We now know that these strong-flying butterflies migrate south as the temperature drops and in the space of two or three weeks they arrive around the Mediterranean. It seems incredible that some of the butterflies which were in our gardens a few weeks ago may now be mating and laying their eggs on nettles in southern Europe. Next year future generations of this butterfly will make the journey north yet again!

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

Photograph: Ken Dolbear   

 

Our bird feeders are now attracting a variety of birds as winter approaches. Perhaps the smartest is the nuthatch, a bird of deciduous woodland that is just as capable of moving down the vertical trunk of an oak tree as manoeuvering sideways or upwards in order to jam nuts into cracks in the bark and employ that chisel of a beak to extract seeds. Listen out for some of their characteristic calls including a repeated stacato 'toi' before they alight on a feeder to take peanuts.

Nuthatch

Nuthatch

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

After a period of very heavy rain, the 19th October was quite mild for my Wareham Forest/Morden Bog walk. On Great Ovens heath, the purple moorgrass was turning a warm rusty brown and the winter-flowering European Gorse was starting to come into bloom alongside the two summer-flowering species of gorse. Several dartford warblers were calling, a few linnets and a yellowhammer were still around and reed bunting were starting to appear. I heard or saw crossbills on several occasions amongst the conifers and jays were very obvious as they flew between oak trees and areas where they were hiding acorns for the winter. Flocks of siskins busied themselves in the alder trees above the swollen waters of the Sherford River but in the nearby pasture, large parasol mushrooms seemed to have survived the recent inclement weather.

Parasol Mushroom

Parasol Mushroom

Photograph: John Wright

A week later on the same walk, when it was sunny but very cold, the white cattle were still grazing on Great Ovens Heath although quite soon they will be moved onto better quality grazing for the winter. Further on, at Morden Park Lake, where previously the water had been coloured, it was clear again and I noticed that numbers of gadwall, a dabbling duck, were increasing each week. Slightly smaller than the more familiar mallard and with more sombre colouration, the gadwall does breed locally, but numbers are reinforced by migrants from continental Europe in winter.

Male Gadwall

Male Gadwall

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

And finally, on the 30th October, it was both sunny and mild as I took a short walk through the southern end of Morden Bog. A little flock of 12 reed buntings were feeding on the seeds of purple moor grass by the track and I heard a couple of redpoll calling overhead - small numbers have been in Morden Bog all month. Just as I was approaching our house, I heard ravens calling once again. At first I couldn't work out where they were but finally I realised that they were circling on a thermal high above me and a large (female) sparrowhawk was also up there with them. Quite a contrast to some of the weather experienced earlier in the month!