We're welcoming volunteer Phil back to our blog with his report from – Friday 21st September
Back on Hides and Trails duty after an absence of several weeks a number of conversations with visitors started with the comment “its very quiet today”. And perhaps to the untrained eye that’s what it seemed. And yet at the end of the day I recounted many interesting tales of what I’d seen to staff back at the Visitor Centre. So what follows is a synopsis of my day and I will leave readers to decide whether it really was quiet.
There was not so much to be seen down the Zigzags but I dropped into Fattengates to examine my favourite ivy bush at the end of the courtyard. Sure enough it was teeming with hoverflies, ivy bees and hornets in the bright sunshine.
Nearby one of our pale fronted buzzards took off from one of the oak trees.
From West Mead I spotted a marsh harrier out near the sluice gates by the riverbank. Then about 20 minutes later I spotted it again in a little nearer the hide but then realised that the visitor sitting next to me was describing a different one nearby. And only 5 minutes later I saw 3 marsh harriers in one view back near the sluice gate. I don’t recall seeing more than 2 before at Pulborough so this was a record for me. Discussing this sighting with a colleague a little later it seemed possible that at the same time a 4th harrier was out on the North Brooks.
Looking through my scope for signs of yellow wagtails around the distant cattle I could only find starlings, but I also spotted an smallish unusual looking bird on a post. I couldn’t be absolutely sure of this bird as the strong wind was causing some disturbance to the viewing conditions, and yet it bore a passing resemblance to a ring ouzel. I can’t really count this sighting, but it’s not unusual to see these blackbirds of the uplands on top of the South Downs at this time of year, so one dropping by for a rest from the strong wind isn’t such a silly idea.
I failed to find any redstarts at Redstart Corner and reflected that the strong wind might well be keeping the smaller birds down. However, as compensation I found the pond there absolutely teeming with dragonflies. I counted 6 pairs of common darters flying in tandem with females repeatedly dipping their abdomens into the pond to lay eggs, and felt sure there were several more just out sight behind the emergent vegetation. Migrant hawkers were whizzing and hovering everywhere.
Just behind Winpenny the grassy verge by the path junction was brightened up by a few small copper and common blue butterflies.
Arriving at the Hanger one gentlemen asked my opinion on the identity of several small birds to be seen on the bushes in front of the viewpoint. These proved to be a lively flock of linnets. A short while later the same gentleman asked about a bird seen in his scope perched on one of the hawthorns at the bottom of the slope and I immediately recognised a spotted flycatcher.
Scanning for waders here revealed 3 snipe, 3 green sandpipers and, more unusually, 3 ringed plovers. We are quite used to seeing little ringed plovers in spring and summer but the larger ringed plovers tend to be seen more on the coast. Later a scan down at Jupps View revealed 11 snipe feeding quite openly.
On the way down to Jupps two newly emerged red admirals were perching on the sheltered bramble bush looking truly spectacular in the sunshine. And before that I’d been able to admire at close hand a migrant hawker perched in a blackthorn bush just to the left of the path.
There were many more geese on the site since my last visit – several hundred now, mainly Canada Geese but a fair number of greylags. The numbers of mallards on the North Brooks had dropped a little since the exceptional numbers recorded in the August WeBS Count but there were still plenty to be seen. A few wigeon in eclipse plumage and maybe 100 lapwings could be found giving a little foretaste of the winter spectacles to come.
And finally throughout the whole day there were plenty of hirundines whizzing around feeding up for the long journey back to Africa. seemingly unconcerned about the wind. House martins were particularly prominent, but a few swallows and sand martins were mixed in too.
Apart from the ringed plovers, none of the species I saw was exactly unusual for the time of year, but they made for a lovely mix of wildlife sightings.
This is one of my favourite times of year to wander around our wooded heath and I’m sure you will all share my admiration for the glorious colours as the leaves turn golden and begin to fall from the trees. But this year I’m going to suggest that you look for a whole rainbow of colours as you explore the woodland…we’re going to be discovering fungi!
I've just been out to set up our fungi trail ready for the start of this years 'Festival of Fungi' at Pulborough Brooks. To be honest, the ground is still pretty dry and hard so it's not exactly epic yet in terms of the number or variety of mushrooms, but our trail will be running throughout October and I'll be out and about regularly to hunt for fungi and to update the trail so there's no rush! If we get some rain then I'm sure that wonderful mushrooms and toadstools will be popping up out of the leaf litter, so we've got lots to look forward to...
With thousands of species of fungi in the UK there is a huge variety of weird and wonderful shapes and whilst there are of course plenty of ‘little brown jobs’ (as there are whatever branch of wildlife you specialise in) you really can find a fungus for every colour of the rainbow.
We’ll begin with red and the classic fairy tale fungus – fly agaric – whose glossy crimson cap bears white wart-like spots and is perhaps the most recognised toadstool in Britain. Despite the illustrations for fairy stories I have never yet found one of these with a toad, gnome or fairy perched on top of the cap! It is closely related to the death cap and the destroying angel, both of which can be fatal if eaten, however this fungus is more likely to cause sickness and hallucinations.
Next comes the bright yellow bracket fungus ‘chicken of the woods’ which develops as overlapping shelf like ‘brackets’ mainly on oak trees. Apparently, one was found in the New Forest weighing in in excess of 45 kg. Given that this is an edible fungus (said to resemble that taste and texture of chicken) that would have made for quite a feast. You should always take great care if foraging for fungi – this one can cause nasty stomach upsets in some people.
Pretty in pink we have ‘The Flirt’, more formally known as the bare-toothed brittlegill. The pale pink cap does not quite cover the flesh and gills. Some people say she is showing her petticoats – hence ‘the flirt’.
Next up is green elf cup – such a perfect name! Tiny green cups adorn chunks of green-stained deadwood. Woodworkers have prized the stained wood for centuries. 14th and 15th century Renaissance Italian craftsmen used the wood to provide the green colours in their intricate inlaid designs. More locally, in the 18th century, woodworkers Tunbridge Wells started using the green-stained wood to form highly detailed pictures of animals, flowers, local landscapes, and geometric designs, which were often inset into the lids of small wooden boxes. These antiques are called "Tunbridge ware" and are very valuable today.
Green elf cup by Dawn & Jim Langiewicz
Representing purple is the glorious Amethyst deceiver. This beautiful purple mushroom can be found amongst the leaf litter. It’s edible and apparently very tasty – I have a recipe for omelette featuring amethyst deceivers – but I’ve not been brave enough to try it yet. You’ll often find with the edible mushrooms that there is something very similar looking that is rather poisonous, or that the slugs get there before you!
Amethyst Deceiver by Dawn & Jim Langiewicz
There are several options for orange; orange peel fungus, the delicate Galerina or moss cap fungi. But I’m going to introduce you to the Hairy curtain crust. This fungus forms tough, leathery brackets. The margins are wavy and lobed and the surface hairy. Look on any stumps, logs or fallen branches. This is one of the most commonly recorded fungi in Britain.
Orange peel fungus by Dawn & Jim Langiewicz
Blue is a little tricky but look closely amongst the moss growing on old tree trunks and you could spot the tiny blue-grey bonnet fungi Mycena pseudocorticola. A perfectly formed, delicate grooved cap on a fine stem. This one is rather rare, although on some years we find troops of them covering the moss-covered branches of oaks and willows on the wooded heathland. Sadly, no one has yet seen fit to give it a common name.
Start getting to know your fungi and as well as a multitude of colours you’ll discover some fantastic names; plums & custard, scurfy twiglets, warty cavaliers, ballerina waxcaps and fairy bonnets.
But fungi isn’t just beautiful it’s pretty important stuff too. When did you last have marmite on toast for breakfast or a pint of beer in the pub, or even the double whammy of a mushroom-topped pizza? Without fungus we would not be able to enjoy these treats. But it’s not all good – fungus is also responsible for athlete’s foot!
In a woodland context, fungi is also both good news and bad news. I think of these relationships in terms of swapping or stealing. Some species are symbiotic with their nearby trees with the roots of the fungi being able to gather nutrients from the surrounding soil & deadwood and exchanging some for energy from the trees. A fair swap! Other fungi is parasitic on the host tree and eventually kills it – it steals from the tree offering nothing in return!
There is so much to discover when you start to look a little more closely so if you’re fascinated by fungi come along to our festival of fungi throughout October, follow our self-led fungi trail and find your own rainbow.
If you’re running low on bird seed or are thinking about coming in to get your Christmas cards soon, please be aware that, on Thursday 27 September, our shop will be shutting at 2 pm so that the retail team can carry out a full stock take. Everything we sell must be counted individually which is going to take quite a while to complete, so we’re closing a couple of hours early to avoid the staff having to count too late into the night.
The stock take will not affect any of the other visitor centre facilities. The shop will open at 9.30 am as normal, allowing access to the café, nature trail and toilets, and when it shuts at 2 pm, the small side gate in the courtyard will be unlocked to give entry to the nature trail. There will still be plenty of opportunities to have your tea, cake and lunch in the café which will close at 4.30 pm.
We apologise for any inconvenience caused during this time.