Sunday, 7 March 2010

A Shaggy Tree Story

Another dry day and sunny with it, although rather cold in the brisk north-east breeze. The morning was spent working with the volunteers (it was the first Sunday of the month) working in the garden area behind the Centre. It is starting to look sorted again after the disruption that went with the building of the new shelter. An incidental discovery was a single mass of Common Frog spawn, the first for a few years in this pond. The reason for scarcity is most likely the large number of Smooth Newts which eat the spawn before it gets to hatch.

After lunch I went for a walk down to the Ivy South hide and then along the Dockens Water path. A few of the Lords and Ladies plants at the eastern end were of the form with dark spotted leaves, in many places these are about the only green things to be seen in the brown leaf litter.
I looked at the edge of the Lichen Heath and realised that it is already going crisp, just a few days without rain helped by a dry east wind and already it is desiccating. On the subject of lichens, the trees towards the eastern end of the Dockens path are often well covered with them and mosses as well. The picture below is of a section of Oak bark, covered with grey lichen and at least two mosses, a landscape in miniature.
The next picture is of a section of Sycamore bark, the two trees were close together, of similar ages and the sections are at the same height and aspect. Although there are some similar grey lichens there seems to be less variety and there is also less moss. Of course the bark is smooth rather than deeply fissured and probably there are other differences as well, but the difference is clear and oak seems to win out as habitat for lichens and mosses. A number of the moths that occur on the reserve have larvae which feed on lichens, most particularly those of the Footman moths. Actually a surprising number of moth caterpillars do not feed as you might think on fresh green leaves of one sort or another. As well as lichens many eat withered leaves, some burrow for roots and a few are carnivorous on other caterpillars
Close to the trees there were also some low willows and the twigs of these were also lichen covered, although seemingly all one type, it was similar to some on the oak but apparently different from any of those on the sycamore.
As I was looking at the tree bark I noticed a Holly with the bark low down on one side scored and scraped. By the look of it I would say the work of a deer taking the bark off to eat, the pattern suggests one bout of feeding with the head tilted first one way then the other resulting in a sort of herring-bone pattern of marks.
Birds today were a tale of what is still here and what has silently disappeared. The Smew on Rockford Lake is still present as are the 4 Black-necked Grebe. The Siskin and Redpoll and a good number of the Brambling seem to have melted away, it seems early for them to have moved off north to their breeding areas so I wonder why they have abandoned us?
As the gulls gathered on Ibsley Water in the afternoon it was possible to pick out at least 4 Mediterranean Gulls, all adults and over 40 Common Gulls. The Common Gulls were mostly likely passage birds as were the 10 Great Crested Grebes in a flock on Rockford Lake, but we still have no summer visitors to report, unless the Chiffchaff heard calling near the lapwing hide was a new arrival.

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