Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Marsh tit or willow tit?

I've consulted several knowledgeable birders on Instagram and Threads, plus all the bird guides that I have, and I'm still not 100 per cent certain of the identity of this bird, although the balance of opinion strongly favours willow tit. The conclusive evidence would be its call, but twice when I've been back to record it with the Merlin app the bird has been there but silent. I'll have to wait for a month or two, until birds become vocal again.

It comes every day to bird food left by someone on a large boulder beside the Deerness Valley Walk, a former railway line that runs through the Deerness valley in County Durham.

There's more about the status of willow tits in the county at this Durham Bird Club website


Sunday, November 19, 2023

Shaggy scalycaps

 We found these magnificent shaggy scalycaps Pholiota squarrosa growing around the base of a mature ash tree in Auckland park, Bishop Auckland. They've appeared in the same place for several autumns now and I wonder how long it will be before they weaken the roots so much that the tree will come crashing down in  gale.

 I've also seen shaggy scalycaps growing on old beech trees in the park - these were growing inside the hollow trunk of a beech that died long ago.

Thursday, November 9, 2023



Hornbeam Carpinus betulus has always been one of my favourite trees. It's native to southern England but widely planted up here in the North East, often for its wonderful chrome yellow autumn foliage. It's known also for its hard timber, hard enough to blunt carpenters' chisels and saws and durable enough for traditional uses like wooden gear wheels for windmills and water mills, and teeth for rakes. Some say that the name hornbeam comes from the timber being as hard as animal horn.

Hornbeam is particularly beautiful in late autumn after most of the leaves have fallen, when the clusters of seeds still dangle like little pagodas from the twigs. Eventually the seed clusters break up and individual seeds fall and spin to earth on their winged bracts. The hard seeds, which are tiny nuts, are favourite food of hawfinches, so I always look for them at this time of year, though I've yet to see one of these spectacular rare birds here. I've only ever seen them in southern England.

The tree is also very attractive in spring, when it's covered in catkins and when the beautifully pleated leaves begin to unfold.