The latest report from Michael Walter:

This month I’m writing mainly about the advent of autumn, which can seem like rather a sorrowful time, with the emphasis on death rather than rebirth, so I thought I’d cheer myself up by starting this piece with a reminder of warmer days when butterflies were on the wing, although not a great deal of cheer is involved, as I can now confirm that this has been the second worst season in 40 years, beaten only by 1988, which almost precipitated the heath fritillary into extinction on the reserve.  But in that year the commoner butterflies peaked at around the same time, whereas this year their emergences failed to coincide, with the result that the peak number recorded was easily the lowest ever, as is clearly seen on the above graph.


I don’t seem to have found many fungi so far, but one cluster that flashed out at me from a gloomy corner of the wood was the delightfully-named porcelain fungus.  It is an exquisite species:  small, glistening like ivory, almost translucent, and seemingly delicate, so naming it porcelain was inspired.  Some moths also rejoice in lovely names, such as maiden’s blush, peach blossom and true lover’s knot – all three recorded in Blean Woods;  by contrast, many species have plodding, prosaic names – November moth, admittedly a rather dull creature, springs to mind, or lesser black-backed gull.  A couple of days later I encountered a single specimen of the rather splendid but uncommon magpie fungus, its name an allusion to the pied coloration of the cap, though in truth it is brown and white until decrepitude sets in, when, like its cousin the inkcap, the cap does briefly turn black before deliquescing into a slimy mess.


I heard my first siskins on 10th October, on one of those magical days when the air was still and, miraculously, traffic sounds weren’t carried across from the A2 or A290.  It was so quiet that even the occasional rustle of a falling leaf seemed apologetic, only punctuated by a few calls to prove that there were still some birds in the wood – the buzzing excitement of a passing flock of tits, the harsh call of a jay and a robin singing.  The tits moved on, the robin fell silent and peace enveloped the wood once more.  I am, however, eternally grateful to robins for cheering autumn days with their song;  during the winter months males and females maintain separate territories, and both sexes then sing to proclaim their stake in that part of the wood, whereas in spring the males alone have responsibility for maintaining a defended area for themselves, their mates and offspring.


Nature’s profligacy never ceases to amaze me.  Under a few hornbeams this autumn there has been a green carpet of hundreds of thousands of the trees’ unripe seeds, not one of which is going to turn into a new hornbeam.  Why is it that just certain trees are so bountiful, while beneath others there isn’t a seed in sight?  I really have no idea.


Michael Walter