When the rain finally abated mid afternoon, I went to vote and then headed down to the seaside, to clear my head with some fresh air. The tide was out so I couldn’t resist having a brief fossick along the beach. It’s a stony shore and there are never many shells to be found but I did find a few nestled amongst the stones.
If the two large Yew trees I passed on my way to the library this morning were not growing on a main road, I’m sure their copious quantities of red berries would all have been scoffed by now by hungry winter thrushes.
And if the berries last a while longer and the weather gets colder, they still might be, the birds forced to brave the passing traffic and pedestrians in search of nourishing food.
The stones inside those juicy red berries (which are more correctly named arils) are poisonous to most creatures but they pass right through a bird’s digestive system so the bird remains unharmed.
In fact, birds are essential to the growth and spread of Yew trees – their digestive system helps to weaken the seed’s tough coating, which enables it to sprout, and birds are the main dispersal agents for Yew seeds.
We humans should never eat the seeds, however, as our stomach acids are strong enough to break down the seed coating, thereby releasing the taxanes (the poisonous alkaloids) into our bodies.
The Nuthatch is such an entertaining bird, with its propensity to run, quite quickly, headlong down tree trunks.
Over the centuries, and throughout Britain, this very handsome bird has acquired a wealth of vernacular names. My Fauna Botannica lists the following: mud dabber and mud stopper (I’ve never seen one near mud but this, apparently, refers to its plastering of mud around the entrance to its nest); nutcracker, nutback, nut jobber and nut topper (it is rather partial to nuts); woodcracker, woodbacker and woodjar (it likes to wedge the nuts it collects in cracks in tree bark, to hold them firm while it attacks them with its beak); and jar bird and jobbin (‘to job’ meaning ‘to jab’, at the nuts).
In Welsh the Nuthatch is Telor y Cnau, which translates as Nut warbler. I’m not sure I would label its rather strident call a warble – to me it’s more of a trill, but that’s just my interpretation.
This particular bird was stocking up on the sunflower hearts I had put out for the small birds to snack on at Cosmeston today.
Though my title is ‘Winter 10’, I’ve actually found 18 wildflowers in bloom during this week’s meanderings. They are: Bittercress species, Black nightshade, Bristly oxtongue, Daisy, a Gorse species, Groundsel, one of the Hawkbits, Herb Robert, the invasive Himalayan balsam, still one flower of Meadow crane’s-bill, Petty spurge, Common ragwort, Red clover, Red valerian, one of the umbellifer species, Winter heliotrope (this bud is not quite open but I couldn’t reach the one that was), and Yarrow.
My apologies for the sometimes blurry images and my fingers appearing in some shots – it’s been a week of frequent gusty winds and rain, not conducive to macro photography.
Having stocked up on bird seed yesterday (the littlies are rather partial to sunflower hearts, I’ve found), I was delighted today to tempt out one of the resident Marsh tits in Cosmeston’s Cogan Wood.
Actually, it wasn’t all that difficult. I was mobbed by Great and Blue tits as soon as I began sprinkling the seeds on an old tree stump, with one particularly cheeky Great tit grabbing a seed from my container before I’d even started tipping them out.
I wasn’t sure the Marsh tit would come but it soon appeared and, although initially a little hesitant to compete with the other birds, it didn’t take long to summon its courage and was picking up 2 or 3 seeds at a time before flying off to find somewhere quiet to eat them.
We’re lucky to have this bird at Cosmeston as it’s now an ‘uncommon and thinly distributed resident breeder’, according to the Glamorgan Bird Club’s Eastern Glamorgan Bird Report No.56, and these tits were only recorded in 8 locations in our county in 2017.
In this case, Plums and custard does not refer to a tasty Friday night dessert, sadly, but rather to a deliciously named fungus with the scientific name Tricholomopsis rutilans, which certainly does not roll off the tongue.
The Plums and custard name (and the alternate, Strawberry fungus) don’t refer to taste or edibility, however – at its most vibrant, this fungus displays rich shades of a plum-like colour on its cap and its gills are a lovely custard yellow.
These wood-rotting fungi are usually found growing on decaying conifers, and you can read more about them, their habitats, and their identification features on the First Nature website.
It’s not just the birds that are consuming winter berries at the moment.
When I’m out walking, I often hear scurrying noises in the tree branches above my head and look up to see Grey squirrels, their cheeks stuffed with berries, their paws reaching out for the next delicious morsels.
And it’s not just a berry dessert they crave, of course, as they’re also well known for their liking for nuts. In the photo, right, the squirrel is holding Alder cones, which it has just been munching on.
At this time of year, I am often caught out by curious passers-by, pulling dead umbellifer stems carefully out of the ground and, as I don’t wear my reading glasses when out walking, pushing up my other specs and pulling the stems very near to my face for close examination.
Most people walk quickly past with a hurried but cautious hello to the ‘mad woman’ but some, the braver or more curious, will dare to ask what I’m looking at. And after I show them the gorgeous little things I’ve found, I like to think they might actually, at some future date, pull up the odd stem themselves for a look.
I think these tiny lollipops are from the Comatricha family of slime moulds, possibly Comatricha nigra. They start off very light in colour, gradually darken to a very dark brown, almost black, before drying and crumbling to release their spores.
Condensation: noun; Water which collects as droplets on a cold surface when humid air is in contact with it (Oxford Dictionary).
As I live in an old, Grade-II-listed building that only has single glazing and I don’t like to have my heating on so high that I can wear t-shirts all year round, I sometimes get condensation on the inside of my windows. It can be a bit tedious to deal with but it’s also rather lovely, especially when you look closely and see the outside world reflected upside down in the water droplets.