Blackwater Valley Countryside

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November in the Valley

Looking back over the past few years it’s interesting to note the changes in the weather. In some years September and October have been really warm and sunny (2007, 2009, 2011) whereas in others (2008 and 2010) frost and even snow featured.  No matter what the first two months of autumn are like, you can be sure that during November the weather will get colder, wetter and windier because it always does.

Grey Squirrel by Alan Willis Watch out for Jays and Grey Squirrels ‘burying’ nuts in grass or leaf litter, all part of preparing their winter food stores.

During this month the numbers of wildfowl
that migrate south to spend winter on lakes in the Valley will be gradually increasing. Coots, Mallards, Teal
and others that bred here will be joined by birds of the same species from further north, as well as those that we only see in the winter, such as Widgeon, Goosander and Gadwall. The Gadwall is an inconspicuous greyish duck but well worth looking out for.

Great Spotted WoodpeckerBy the end of the month the trees should be bare giving you the opportunity to to see all kinds of things that are usually hidden... watch out for our three native species of woodpeckers for example. The Green Woodpecker is not a true woodland bird, preferring open areas such as parks and large gardens where it feeds on the ground. It is the largest of the three woodpeckers and distinguished by its green and yellow colouring, listen out for the distinctive ‘yaffling’ laughter-like call. Then there’s the Great Spotted Woodpecker (pictured), with its black and white colouring featuring crimson patches under the tails of both sexes and on the back of the head of the males. Look for it climbing up tree trunks in the woodlands, although it’s increasingly found feeding from garden bird feeders. It makes a distinctive ‘tchack’ call that carries through the woodland. Far more elusive and difficult to spot is the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, with its black back and wings and white barring, which creates a ladder-like appearance. Not much bigger than a sparrow it tends to frequent the tree tops so when the trees are leafless small movements in the topmost branches become more obvious. It has a ringing ‘ki-ki-ki’ call.

Bird nestLeafless trees also allow you to try and spot dense bundles of twigs and vegetation which show you where birds’ nests were built. The most easy to spot are the large loose domed stick nests built by Magpies, the tree-top communities of nest platforms belonging to Rooks and the solitary efforts of Carrion Crows. More challenging is trying to find the smaller nests belonging to our common garden birds such as Blackbirds and Song Thrushes. Song Thrush nests are unique among British birds as they have a hard nest lining of mud. Blackbird use mud to build the nests but line it with fine grass.

By the end of the month the trees will be bare and there will be little sign of insect life, although they are still around if you know where to look for them.

Many insects, particularly wasps, will be feeding on late-flowering Ivy; watch them as they busy themselves feeding on the nectar. Others will be in their larval or pupae forms sheltering from the weather - as well as hungry birds. Look in the nooks and crannies of walls, in hollow stems, under bark and stones and even underground. Dig carefully around the base of Lime, Poplar and Willow trees and you may find the pupae of many species of moth.

Fly Agaric Ian White

Fungi Facts


This is a the time of year to look for fungi there’s plenty about lurking in the leaf litter, although actual identification may prove to be more difficult. If finding fungi in leaf litter proves difficult look on the trunks of dead or dying birch trees for large bracket fungi.

Razor Strop fungus (Piptoporous betulinus), is a bracket fungus and will often survive for two or three years providing food and shelter for many insects who overwinter as grubs deep within it.

Keep Razor Strop Fungus
in a container covered
with a fine mesh and you’ll
be surprised at the
number of small flies that hatch out in spring.

* Wild fungi are collected
and eaten in practically
every part of the world.
The practice actually predates written records.
We know this through archaeological finds of puffball fragments
discovered in British
stone age sites.

* The words ‘mushroom’ and ‘toadstool’ are interchangeable, used to mean any fleshy umbrella-shaped fungal
fruit body, although some people tend to call any
edible species a mushroom and the poisonous ones a toadstool.

* A fungus grows as a system of branching tubes called hyphae.
Each hypha is about
 0.01 mm in diameter.
As they grow the living matter inside them tends
to flow forwards into the newly formed tips, leaving the older parts with little content.

* Fungi continue to grow and feed as long as there is an adequate supply of food and while environmental conditions are favourable. When growth becomes
limited by stressful conditions, such as food or water shortage or low temperature, most fungi respond by fruiting.


Shaggy Ink Cap Ian White