Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Tree sparrows

I hadn't knowingly seen a tree sparrow Passer montanus until nine years ago, when we had one as a garden visitor. More recently their numbers seem to have been increasing in the North East, after decades of decline, and they have bred in a nest box in the garden every year for the last three years. They are beautifully marked little birds, with their chestnut crown, black-spotted white cheeks and mottled wing plumage.

 We now have a small flock of about a dozen that congregate in an old weeping pear tree and they have become the dominant finches on the bird feeders in winter.

They are notably assertive birds and will regularly see off the house sparrows, whose numbers seem to be declining here. 

Tree sparrows have a fierce, almost brutal countenance when viewed head-on, and some interesting research has been carried out in house sparrows on the significance of that black bib under the beak. It's known as the badge, and the larger the badge, the higher the individual is in the pecking order and the more likely it is to secure a mate.

Conflict always ensues whenever tree and house sparrows share the same suet ball feeder - and the tree sparrows invariably dominate. 

Click here for an audio file of their song

Friday, December 13, 2019

Redwings: there go the holly berry Christmas decorations

Over the last couple of weeks I've invested a lot of time in trying to creep close enough to redwings to get a decent picture. They are extremely wary birds, so most attempts have ended in failure. The three pictures below were the best I could manage.

Then, three days ago, this redwing (below) turned up on the holly outside our front door, just ten feet from the window. I'd estimate that it must have consumed at least a couple of hundred berries. So many that sometimes it just seemed to sit on the branch in a dazed state, rather like me after a heavy Christmas dinner.. 

By the end of this week, aided by several voracious blackbirds, it will have polished off all the berries that we planned to use as Christmas decorations.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Fieldfare feeding frenzy

Thousands of fieldfares, arriving from Scandinavia and Russia, have passed through Weardale over the last few weeks, gorging themselves with this year's heavy crop of hawthorn berries.

They have a methodical way of stripping off the haws, at an incredibly rapid rate.

First, the lunge ....

.... and then the grab ....

.... followed by a sharp twist and a tug to pull it from its stalk ...

.... then a brief pause followed by little toss of the head to send the berries down into the gullet. 

This one downed seven in under a minute

More about their feeding preferences in the Guardian Country Diary today 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Fungal Forays

A very rewarding autumn for fungal forays, so far.

Here are a few recent finds in Teesdale, Weardale and around Durham city

I think this is probably southern bracket Ganoderma australe, growing on an old beech tree in Stanhope dene. The black colouration is probably due to several days of heavy rain, soaking the surface. There were about a dozen of these on the trunk. They weaken the tree and the trunk usually snaps in high winds, about 10-15 feet above ground. The brackets are perennial and produce an annual crop of spores over a decade or more.

A beech stump, infested with old southern brackets

Trooping funnel Clitocybe geotropa, part of a fairy ring in Weardale that appears in this spot, under old hazel coppice, every autumn

Crimped gill Plicatura crispa, a Scottish species that's moving into northern counties of England. On dead horse chestnut branches, at Egglestone in Teesdale

Common puffballs Lycoperdon perlatum, in vast numbers, under Norway spruce in Hamsterley forest

Common puffballs Lycoperdon perlatum in Durham University Botanic Garden

Hairy curtain crust Stereum hirsutum in Stanhope dene, Weardale

Possibly a wood blewit Lepista nuda  (?) that has had some of the colour washed out of it by rain? Low Barns Nature reserve, Durham

Turkey tail Trametes versicolor in Durham University Botanic Garden

Honey fungus Armillaria mellea on an ash tree at Wolsingham in Weardale

Wood blewit Lepista nuda in Hamsterley forest, Durham

Sulphur tuft Hypholoma fasciculare Weardale

Clouded agaric Clitocybe nebularis in Durham University Botanic Garden, where it forms spectacular fairy rings

Unidentified, Durham University Botanic Garden

Angel bonnets Mycena archangelica on a fallen beech branch, Durham University Botanic Garden

Candle snuff Xylaria hypoxylon, Egglesone, Teesdale

Bitter bracket Postia styptica (?), Durham University Botanic Garden

Collared earthstar Geastrum triplex, under an old ash tree in Hollingside lane, Durham city

Collared earthstars discharging spores after being hit by raindrops

Upright coral Ramaria stricta (or maybe the less common R. abietina?) under Korean fir Abies koreana, in Durham University Botanic Garden

Shaggy scalycap Pholiota squarrosa on a Californian redwood in the arboretum of Durham University Botanic Garden