Monday, 7 December 2015

Is it really winter?

Much of Britain has been lashed by torrential winds and rain over the last two or three days, as 'Desmond' swept across the British Isles. By contrast today was sunny and remarkably warm and, once routine jobs had been dealt with, I set out for a constitutional.

Convolvulus cneorum, aka Silver Bush. Stefen Hill,
Daventry. 7 December, 2015

In our front garden Convolvulus cneorum was still in flower; I had to remind myself that it is December. Forty years ago this shrub was regarded as borderline hardy but our winters are now kind enough to allow its survival, given good drainage, in all but the bleakest situations.

I'm not really that tall! In Kentle Wood,
Daventry. 7 December, 2015

It was midday by the time I reached Kentle Wood. Though the day was almost summer-like, my body in the low sun cast a long shadow down one of the rides, bringing to mind lines by Charles Cotton (1630-1687):

     The shadows now so long do grow,
     That brambles like tall cedars show;
     Mole hills seem mountains, and the ant
     Appears a monstrous elephant.

(I feel he got rather carried away towards the end!)

As I have mentioned before, the wood is immature, having been planted for the millennium, and one looked in vain for the gnarled trunks of ancient trees.

A handful of trees such as this ash tower over the youngsters, providing useful lookouts for hawks, wood pigeons and crows. They also receive regular visits from woodpeckers - but not today.

The hazel catkins were already in bloom.
Kentle Wood, Daventry. 7 December, 2015

The  leaves of hazel remained but a sombre brown tint now suffuses the green. Against this dull background the catkins stand out clearly and I was delighted to find that in some cases the male flowers had opened to expose their pollen, but if there were any female flowers ready for wind-blown impregnation, I failed to see them.

Young hazel at Kentle Wood, Daveentry,
Northants. 7 December, 2015

Hazel bark is very distinctive. having brownish, rather glossy bark covered with lenticular, greyish patches.

Lichens were abundant on hazel bark. Kentle Wood,
Daventry, Northants. 7 December, 2017

Closer examination showed that these patches were almost invariably home to a cluster of lichens with reproductive structures looking like tiny apricot jam tarts. I must return with a suitable knife and remove some of these ascocarps for identification.

Gulls wheeled overhead but otherwise the woodland seemed bird-free. This is, of course, an illusion. Had I settled down quietly for a while parties of small birds such as tits and treecreepers would have passed through, investigating loose bark, crevices and spider webs, each species tending to exploit a particular habitat.

But my time was up. Home...

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