The harsh sting of autumn, with forebodings of winter, struck home this morning as I scraped the frost from the car windscreen before setting off to get here. Such conditions can, however, have their compensations, imbuing even some of the most familiar views with a magical mystique as here, where the mist seems to be boiling off the lake.
It also makes plain some of the activity of often overlooked wildlife with the drapery of icy droplets on this spider’s web.
It’s also the season for fungi in abundance and we are not under-endowed here at Blashford, just don’t ask me to name them all,. Here are a few that I’m prepared to stick my neck out on their names, seen as we opened up the hides this morning.
This last one is so distinctive as to be unmistakable, a much-loved fungus by the illustrators of children’s books. These particular fungi do, however, have other connotations. Their common name refers to use as an insecticide to poison flies. They grow in close association with birches and are, therefore, very common in the dense birch forests of northern Scandinavia. The toxin, which is presumably the agent that kills flies, is, in small amounts, a psychoactive agent causing hallucinations (so I’m told!). One version of folklore (other versions are available) suggests that in the long dark and boring nights above the Arctic circle the fly agaric would be introduced into the food for the domesticated reindeer (they normally eat lichen and fungi anyway). Drinking the fluid that the reindeer excreted would deliver a ‘safe’, diluted dose of the toxin and give the drinker a ‘high’ including feelings of being able to fly. So if we mix all these factors together, something ( someone!) red and white , reindeer and flying, in a land near the North Pole gives us —-well I’ll let you think it through, answers by Christmas.
The colder weather has increased the amount of bird activity around the feeders, especially the one close to the Centre. I mentioned, in Thursday’s posting, that we were in the process of adding some more feeders. At the time we lacked the necessary low tensile wire on which to hang the feeders, but that has now been supplied, thanks to one of our volunteers, Rex, who, with Pete, put up the posts on Thursday. The result looks a lot like this :-
Only two feeders at present, we’ll probably add more as the season progresses and the number of birds increases. Gratifyingly within a couple of hours there were several birds making use of the new facility, including a robin and this great tit.
Even more satisfyingly, for the present at least, an inquisitive grey squirrel made an exploratory foray to try to get at the seeds, but failed.
In anticipation of a busy winter we used the opportunity of the warm sunshine to set-to and clean about a dozen feeders that had been put away over the summer, but which needed cleaning before being used again. At the moment the usual collection of tits including a couple of very smart coal tits, together with nuthatch, greenfinch and a selection of siskin, goldfinch and the occasional redpoll with, I’m assured by at least two visitors, a brambling have been our guests at the feeders.
Although cold overnight, this hasn’t deterred a few insects from strutting their stuff. A slightly disappointing collection of only four moths in the light trap, but two of these were rather smart Angle Shades
Of the other insects, a pair of Southern Hawker dragonflies were seen by some visitors, but for me this Common Darter seems epitomise the innate optimism of an evolutionary process that pushes to the boundary the idea of a sensible time to shift from a growing phase to a reproductive stage in what is the fag-end of the warm season.
Our attention was drawn to this insect by the brightly glistening wings, which I’ve always taken as a sign that it’s not long emerged. There is also a definite red colour to the veins in the wings, but I don’t think it’s a Red-veined Darter –or is it??
Closing down tonight was a delight. The last duty is to close the Tern Hide and we spent about 20 minutes enjoying good views of the, mostly, Black-backed gulls coming to roost, a number of waterfowl including good numbers of coot, tufted duck, shoveler, a few wigeon and teal and a single female goosander, shades of things to come. A buzzard, sitting on the recently cleared peninsular to the right of the hide, mysteriously disappeared when we took our eyes off it for a few seconds, but a couple of Egyptian geese hauled themselves out in much the same area that the buzzard had been. Could they have frightened him off????
It’s a old female Common Darter, I’m afraid.