At this time of year, we have started to lose the kaleidoscope of Autumn colours and there is now a general lack of colour which has its own beauty. A hard frost or sprinkling of snow soon gives the landscape a dramatic, atmospheric feel, especially with some lingering mist or fog and early morning rays of sunshine pushing through.
Though landscapes appear colourless, taking a closer look at smaller elements of the natural world you begin to realise there is still plenty of colour still out there. I took a walk along the red trail on Sunday and spotted a few of these, including the vibrant yellow staghorn fungi (Calocera viscosa) growing on an old tree stump among some cladonia lichen.
Yellow staghorn fungus by Gavin Chambers
Cladonia lichen itself provides a bit of colour and even looks a bit festive with bright red tops (known as podetial) to pale green stalks, which as gives it the name of Devil’s Matchsticks or British Soldiers. As with the previous fungi, this lichen likes dead or rotting wood including fence posts and as with all lichens it is a fungus and algae working together in a symbiotic relationship.
Devil's Matchstick lichen by Gavin Chambers
More red colours were seen in the form of male crossbill and bullfinch, the former showing quite nicely near the end of the red trail but typically I only had my small compact camera with me. Crossbills have a distinctive ‘cheep’ call (listen here), which is often the best way to establish they are present and then scan the tree tops (typically conifers) for large bulky finch type birds feeding on cones.
Crossbills by Gavin Chambers
Other birds seen along the red trail included: a flyby merlin through the clearfelled area; several brambling feeding within and below beech trees along the edge of the trail along with many chaffinches; a circling goshawk enjoying a bit of sunshine; and a darting sparrowhawk looking for its next meal.
Hair ice by Gavin Chambers
It was a very cold day despite the sun being out and in the colder pockets of woodland along the trail I found the fascinating ice formation known as Hair Ice. This ice formation can only be formed in specific conditions, there must be moist rotting deciduous wood which contains the fungus Exidiopsis effusa, the air is moist, and the air temperature must be slightly below zero degrees. The freezing water within the rotting wood causes a suction force that pushes trapped water out of the wood where it freezes and continues to be pushed out as a thin hair of ice, around 0.01mm in diameter (more info here). It would make a nice Christmas decoration if it wasn’t so fussy.
Gavin Chambers, Warden
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