Sunday, December 24, 2017

Hornbeam bark stripping

The picture above was taken looking down  at the one metre tall hornbeam cordon that has been with us for ten years.  I prune it back every autumn and some of summer's cut twigs with their dark green bark can be seen.  There are also some white twigs (particularly the one in the centre of the picture) from which the bark has been recently stripped and any leaf buds gone.

I suspect a vole or mouse as the probable culprit as the work is all too small and delicate for a squirrel or deer.  I hope it doesn't continue to the point where it has a major effect on the hornbeam.

The white trunk in the background on the left is the lower part of the M3 birch I talked about in yesterday's post.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Colours of birch

One of the most conspicuous features of the Square Metre at this quiet time of year is one of the root buttresses of the birch.  This tree appeared as a seedling in spring 2004, nearly 14 years ago.  The orange tan exposed root (I think it is root rather trunk) runs from the craggy base of the tree on the left for a few centimetres before disappearing underground.

I wonder why it is so brightly and differently coloured that the rest of the tree and why it has raised ridges encircling it.  It must be dancing to the beat of a different drummer than the rest of the tree, but is there any reason for it?

The trunk of the tree further from the ground is generally white with black marks but it is washed with the palest pink on the northern side and palest green on the southern, the colour mainly being on the fine strips of outer bark that are constantly peeling off.  Many of the colours in nature seem to have no especial significance and I suppose they are just evolutionary by products conferring no particular competitive advantage.

Not far from the birch I noticed a group of ivory coloured seeds on the wet fallen leaves.  I have seen similar arrangements of seeds in the past and I think they are made by mice.  However, I am not at all sure what these are seeds of.  Maybe one of the irises - gladdon or yellow flag - both of which grow nearby.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

16 December 2017

I came across a passage today that I thought had some relevance to the Square Metre project: "We know that an unseen, untouched English landscape is a myth.  We know that a long and complex interaction between constant natural processes, and more recent human activity has largely formed all the landscapes we can see today, and that landscape is indivisible from the human world."

Farley, P. & Roberts, M. S. (2011)  Edgelands. Jonathan Cape, London.

It was frosty again this morning and a couple of sulphur tuft fungi (Hypholoma fasciculare) that I found on a decaying log beside Troy Track had ice on their caps.  This species occurs quite frequently in M3 and I have recorded it between June and December.

I also gathered a few dead leaves from M3, as I sometimes do, to sort through them and see if I could find anything of interest.  On a large goat willow leaf (Salix caprea) I found an old gall of a Pontania sawfly species, possibly P. tuberculata or P. gallarum

On a spindle leaf I found, under the microscope, some deeply unimpressive microfungi - clusters of small black pimples.  They might be conidiomata of Ceuthospora euonymi, but that is largely a default speculation as I cannot find anything else in the literature that fits.

Monday, December 11, 2017

December snow

It snowed for a couple of hours this morning and I thought it worth taking a look at M3.  To my surprise none of the snow had lain on the Square Metre itself, but there was a shallow covering on the ground and vegetation nearby.

The Square Metre in the picture above is the area around the birch tree and the snow in the foreground is lying mainly on the area where the incense cedar fell a few weeks ago (flattening the bramble hedge).  I thought maybe it was warmer close to the hedge, but there was snow right up to the same hedge further up the garden.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The day of the Rowan

As I approached the Square Metre today, I saw something on the ground that looked rather like an old glove.  On closer inspection it turned out to be a fallen rowan leaf on a fallen sycamore leaf (both trees grow nearby).  Nature has its own Andy Goldsworthy moments.

Later I was looking at Planet Terracotta, a wide flower pot in Medlar Wood that I filled with woodland earth ten years ago to see what would grow there.  The picture below shows a variety of fallen leaves and (top left) a decaying medlar.  There is a plant of herb robert (bottom centre) and just above it to the right a small bugle.  However, between the bugle and the moss on the terracotta rim is what I am pretty sure is a small rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), a tree I have not recorded in the Green Sanctuary before.  This makes the number of tree species self-sown in the Green Sanctuary up to eleven: birch, sallow, ash, holly, oak, hornbeam, hazel, hawthorn, sycamore, elder and rowan.  We also have at least two wild rose species, two or three cotoneasters, privet and ivy.

And here is Planet Terracotta photographed at the edge of Medlar Wood on 24 October 2007:

Monday, December 04, 2017

Red leaves and wood chipper

There is a cotoneaster seedling in Medlar Wood, bird sown no doubt, that is normally unobtrusive, but at this time of the year the leaves turn wine red and it makes quite a distinctive feature.  Now it has more light I hope it will grow large enough to flower and fruit so that I can put a name to it.

Over in the north east corner of the Square Metre proper a bird has perched on my chestnut wood block and attacked the decaying branch behind.  I somehow doubt that it is a woodpecker.  Maybe a magpie?  Quite a large bird judging by the size of the deposit it has left on top of the block.

Friday, December 01, 2017

2 December 2017

Yesterday I pondered over Butterfly Rock.  The ever changing plateau on the upper surface currently has a loose covering of moss that has been tugged about by birds.  There is a small amount of lichen thallus from, I think, a Cladonia species and the bare surface is stained with black which maybe another kind of lichen.  Now there is much more light coming into M3 I expect there will be many changes during the months to come.

Under the undecayed chestnut wood block was a  black mite quite large for its subclass Acari.  I found some similar mites under a predecessor refuge n early December 2013.  Mites seem to me to be fiendishly difficult to identify to species level though I have tried from time to time.

What would be good would be a British Mites with workable keys and good illustrations, but I think we may have to wait a long time for that.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Notes for November 2017

29 November 2017.  A bitterly cold north wind today.  The only movement was a ghostly winter gnat Trichocera that rested briefly on the birch trunk.  Not the best of images, but will try to get a better one.

28 November 2017.  In cold weather I take a longer walk to M3 so that I am warm when I get there and in better condition to hang about.  My favourite route is down our lane and into Churchland Wood, a distance of about 500 metres.

When I arrive at M3 I currently seem to be greeted by an angry wren rattling away in the bushes.  Today I cleared a few dead bramble stalks, pruned some more of the box back and noted a fly (the Muscid Eudasyphora cyanella) briefly resting head down on the sunlit side of the birch trunk.  This 'greenbottle' overwinters as an adult and is often about in the colder months.

25 November 2017.  Now the colder weather has arrived (there was a grass frost this morning) there is less that catches the eye, but some of the evergreen plants come into their own.  The shining green curved blades of false-brome grass (Brachypodium sylvaticum), for example.  It is one of those plants that is an invasive alien in parts of North America, but seems perfectly well-behaved here.  It grows mainly in light woodland, or woodland edges in South East England and is well-established here on the north west corner of the square metre.

On the north east corner I place a block of freshly cut chestnut wood in January 2013 as a refuge (Gingerbread Refuge) for small creatures. After nearly five years it shows no sign of decay, nor has it been colonised by lower plants. Compare with the untreated mossy log in front of it.

On the south west of M3, I noticed that the base of the hornbeam has been covered by an attractive 'sock' of common feather-moss (Kindbergia praelonga), a very common species in woodlands and hedges on decaying trunks and living trees where it has the habit of climbing up from the ground.  After a burst of enthusiasm for mosses and liverworts around the turn of the century, I have rather neglected them and may try again over the winter.

Over in Medlar Wood, now a new glade due to the effects of the fallen incense cedar, I straightened up the small privet plant that has been establishing itself for at least five years.  It is our common wild privet, Ligustrum vulgare, and not to be confused with the hedging privet of gardens, L. japonica.  I have come across it occasionally in our area and we have some in the front hedge, but I do not think it is native here.  The slow-growing plant below was, no doubt, sown via the droppings of birds perching in the now vanished branches of the medlar.

18 November 2017.  Granddaughter Samantha borrowed a wood chipper yesterday and ground up lots of the fallen incense cedar to make pleasantly scented paths into M3.  I walked down today in November rain, but found very little that was new.  There is one red rose hip on the sweet briar and a black, grey and white magpie feather near Butterfly Rock.  Is that a bird to record?  A few winter gnats (Trichoceridae) ghosted slowly through the damp air.

15 November 2017.  Halfway up the main stem of the ash tree there is a fairly large lesion.  It may have been caused by the wild rose stalks rubbing against it, but lesions are also one of the symptoms of ash die back disease.  Will find out in due course.

By the old yew log I found a tiny toadstool - a Mycena I think.  At first I thought it might be M. rubromarginata, but it does not have red edges to its gills.  I shall leave it at that.

14 November 2017.  The gladdon irises, Iris foetidissima, are doing well this year and seem to be spreading in the wider area.  They brighten up the part of M3 I call Medlar Wood, though the medlar branches were broken by the fall if the incense cedar.  The irises like it here because the seeds were dropped by birds perching in this vanished part of the tree.  It will be interesting to see how this area develops with the advent of light.

13 November 2017.  Very cold again today with a biting northerly.  I looked at the fallen  leaves on M3 which seem to be more than usual.  I decided not to clear any away but to see what happens to them as time goes by.

At the top of the photo above is the base of  our oldest birch tree.  Since it was a seedling it must have displaced a fair amount of soil and I wondered where it had gone.  Compressed into a smaller space?  Creating a shallow hillock?  Pushed further down into the ground?  Distributed, in part along the roots, trunk, branches and leaves?

12 November 2017.  Clipped back some of the box on the northern side of M3 as it is beginning to encroach over the Metre itself.  Very cold so didn't stay long.  Noted one poorly developed toadstool Lactarius quietus I think,

11 November 2017.  I heard today on TV that England has been moving northwards on its continental plate by around 4 cm a year.  If this is correct it means that, over its 14 years, the Square Metre will have moved some 56 cm, just over half a metre (probably northwards).  I feel this gives the Square Metre two dimensions: that of a square of land on a moving continental plate and that of a congruent  square defined by its latitude and longitude.  Two squares with one moving, one stationary.  After 25 years there will be no overlap - I will have to bear this in mind.

10 November 2017.  I did the annual trim of the hornbeam, cutting it back to 1 metre in height and shortening side shoots to preserve its cylindrical shape.  I also topped out the oak at 1 metre.  There was a blue tit hopping about in the hedge and under the remains of the medlar.  It made a rather deep twittering sound more like a wren and I fancy there was a wren to in the background.  Although the cats only left last weekend, the birds seem to be coming back.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

A return to Emthree

It is nearly 14 months since I wrote about Emthree, the Square Metre Project, so it is high time I set down some new observations.  Access has been restricted lately due to a wind-thrown incense cedar, Calocedrus decurrens whose top narrowly missed Emthree itself but brought down much of the medlar tree blocking the route in and out.  The medlar branches have now been cleared and this has let more light back into the area.

Though the photo above looks a bit of a jumble it is (to me) full of interest.  The silver birch slightly left of centre appeared as a seedling 13 years ago in 2004.  There is a sallow, Salix cinerea, like a slanting grey stick immediately to the right and further right still a hornbeam, still in leaf, which has to be carefully pruned to keep it as a one meter high column.  Towards the top right hand corner is the top of a young oak tree and there is a holly at the base of the birch.  The leaves against the dark background top centre are of small-flowered sweet-briar, Rosa micrantha.

To the left of the birch is the slender grey trunk of an ash with hazel, still with leaves, at its base.  Although they cannot be easily seen, there are field rose, Rosa arvensis, and hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, in the mix.  All these plants have appeared as seedlings of their own accord and I often reflect that if a piece of ground was characterised by its supporting naturally regenerated birch, sallow, hornbeam, oak, holly, ash, hazel and hawthorn, it would be thought of as woodland, possibly ancient.  It illustrates too that its often unnecessary if not undesirable and expensive to plant trees for woodland creation when they will come up of their own accord, though seedlings are harder to protect from nibblers than tree-guarded saplings (Emthree's trees have been regularly attacked by rabbits and deer but struggle on).

This new close encounter with Emthree also produced a couple of fungi: the orange yellow hairy curtain crust, Stereum hirsutum, growing on a dead twig and what I think is an oakbug milkcap, Lactarius quietus.  This species is associated with oak trees (note that there is one of these in Emthree) and the 'bug' part of the name is due to the fact that it is supposed to smell like bed bugs.  'Quietus' can mean, in English, 'something that causes death' or, in Latin, 'peaceful' or 'bland'.  This species is not described as poisonous and, if from Latin, the specific name may refer to its rather inconspicuous nature.  I also liked the description of the cap in Common British Fungi by Wakefield & Dennis (1950): "of a peculiar dull reddish-brown (somewhat like cocoa with milk)".