2018 / 68
Bright, clear and still. Beautiful light. Very light east breeze. Warm19°C
1.15pm – 4pm
I have returned. The tranquility and peace here is irresistible. I am engaged, and possessed. The wood absorbs me.
Walking down the track, left from the gate, I am struck by the splendour of the two large chestnut trees on the edge of the wood here. They are dropping leaves and seedcases in abundance. My footsteps crunch like gravel. Next are two oaks, still largely blue-ish green, and past them a stand of white-trunked birches, whose yellow leaves are falling like confetti. One actually is a Brimstone butterfly, and there is a second one farther on. This first one is resting on brambles along the water course.
The first of the large yews stands right on the corner here, and rounding it I come to the first birds. Song Thrush, Robin, Nuthatch and Long-tailed Tit – on the left, in the southern belt.
I seldom walk in here, and so today made an exception, stepping over the bank of bracken and heading “in”. Picking a route through the trees and holly, finding deer paths and snagging on the understorey of life is far more interesting and rewarding than following the well-worn, wide and familiar track. Here are secret treasures like ‘Razor Strop’ polypores, rampant on a fallen birch; and two of these wonderful Earthballs
Common Earthball (Scleroderma citrinum)
I am learning, learning. Explore. Discover. Find.
Twenty minutes further on, halfway twixt the crossing and the stream, I came upon a hornet’s nest, 20 feet up the trunk of a beech. All around today, a lot of hornets are buzzing and feeding. New season drones. They will vacate soon – in temperate climates such as ours, they move house each year, spending the winter under bark and in leaf matter.
Another fungi next, and one that I confess I overlooked and stepped on several specimens. Hard to see at first in the long grass that grows opposite the top of the Crossing, at the entrance to the path that leads off to the Oak Plantation. Here is a rich scattering of woodchips from the felling of two years ago, creating a favoured habitat for – well – ‘magic mushrooms’, the wonderfully named Blueleg Brownie
Blueleg Brownie (Psilocybe cyanescens)
Taking the ‘path’ up the slope from here just past the stream, I am again walking on rich grass. Mossy tree stumps here and there, like stepping stones. Some cut, some less neatly so. Decaying, and perfect for the third new fungi discovery this afternoon.
A toxic one this time, the common and widespread – bitter but no less beautiful for that – clustering toadstool Sulphur Tuft. Apparently containing a steroid that is known to prevent fungal disease in some conifers.
I have become encyclopedic. A walking Woodland Wiki…
But what I really want to eulogise today are the Firecrests. It makes me smile to simply write the words, and recall the magical encounters this afternoon.
I had not stepped more than a few metres into the southern woodland when I heard the first one this afternoon, piercing over the drone of the all-too-adjacent traffic, and within minutes I met a second. A third at the top of the crossing, at the mushrooms, and blow me if there weren’t two more halfway up the grassy slop towards the Chilworth gardens.
These last two were loud and close, and it took little more than a couple of minutes leaning against a tree to have one within feet right over my head. We had a ‘conversation’ – I confess that yes I did speak aloud. Incredible.
Seeking more, and with a spring in my step, I set off along the more familiar path that winds its way along the southern perimeter fence line. Audacious, but at a suitable point I could not resist calling them out, and two responded immediately. Calling, not singing. Young males. Dispersing, seeking territories of their own. The population has exploded!
Within a hundred metres there were two more. Always two or three together. Always loud and inquisitive. “Pishhh pisshhh – hello”. No need for anything more.
What’s that now. Eight? Nine or ten. And of course all entirely different birds from the similar numbers I met on the north side yesterday.
Descending – after almost an hour – to the ‘bole’ on the edge of the track, I was surprised not to have any Firecrests here, a spot I would consider one of the most reliable. But that’s in early spring. I have come to associate February with Firecrests, because that is when the singing males are most active.
But it is in October that the juveniles start to roam and they are, it is no exaggeration to say – everywhere!
At just after 3.00pm I have come to the track and emerged into complete, tangible silence. There are moments when I can actually hear nothing at all except the sound of my own thoughts and my feet. I walk slowly, very conscious that I am also the only thing moving. Except the light. It dances on the wings of tiny flies, and laser beams shoot upwards now and then along spider silks.
There is a persistent Bullfinch calling, and it is almost an irritation, being all to reminiscent of a domestic smoke alarm in need of a new battery.
From the seat, for just fifteen minutes, there is nothing. Those times when I lift my bins to watch a solitary Woodpigeon passing over. No finches, no Kestrel. No Buzzards. And no Hobbies? Not from here, nor there where they have been every day for weeks. Pretenders to the crown.
I have to leave the last word to the resident royalty. On the south side, I am watching what turns out to be a Blue Tit fussing at the bark on a pine, flicking the leaves and making shadows, when a Firecrest just ‘pops out’. Another young bird – I can see him so well! But not quite as well as the three together – with a Chiffchaff and some more Blue Tits – up by the big Yew at ‘Hobby corner’. Flycatching, calling incessantly. Not a full spring adult song. Flicking, flashing. I hardly know where to look.
Fifteen birds I think, at least.
More than I have even hoped to see.