Friday, 11 January 2019

Byfield Pool in January

Today was a meeting of Byfield Craft Club and Chris, being very crafty, was planning to attend. I accompanied her to The Village Hall and having dropped her off, proceeded to the nature reserve of Byfield Pool.

On my visits there I am usually blessed with an abundance of insects but today, in chilly, damp and dull conditions, I planned instead to look for spiders.

The woodland bordering Byfield Pool looks typical for the area.
10 January, 2019
From the adjacent field the woodland surrounding the pool looks inviting but nothing out of the ordinary. Once into the interior however, it is a different matter. Although conditions are currently unusually dry for January, when water levels are high the ground surrounding the pool can be extremely wet. This frequently leads to trees collapsing but, as many of them are willows, they do not die but simply adapt to their new situations and continue to grow.

Many trees have taken a tumble. Willows at Byfield Pool.
10 January, 2019
However, a large proportion of the tree cover consists of Elder, Sambucus nigra. These are relatively short-lived at the best of times but when the ground becomes waterlogged they generally die. This mortality seems to be increased when they are thrown into shade by more vigorous trees and the result is a chaotic jumble.

Dead branches, largely elder, create a chaotic scene.
Byfield Pool, 10 January, 2019
To obtain glimpses of the water today I was forced to push through a margin of tall, dense sedges and brambles. Coots and Moorhens are common and, with luck, a Water Rail may be glimpsed, but the crackling of twigs on my approach meant that any birds promptly took to cover.
The water is  not easily accessible. Byfield Pool,10 January, 2019

However, my quarry was spiders and I ignored the Jelly Ear Fungus, Auricularia auricula-judae,* growing on the dead elder branches. There are those who will include this species in a stir-fry. I am not one of them.

Jelly Ear fungus favours dead elder branches.
Byfield Pool, 10 January, 2019

The next hour or so was spent on hands and knees sifting through wettish leaf litter with, I am bound to admit, precious little to show for it.  A lone walker passed along on the main track, unaccountably and loudly singing 'Amazing Grace'. Now Grace may have been an amazing woman but I didn't wish to hear of her life. We hear little, thank goodness, of her brothers, Remarkable Reg and Precocious Pete (and as for her wayward sister, Promiscuous Pam, the less said the better). No, I simply wanted peace and quiet.

A fine drizzle had started to fall. I gathered up my limited equipment and headed back to Byfield. I know when I'm beaten.

For the record just five species of invertebrates were found, three spiders and two beetles, with two of the spiders and one beetle being new to the reserve. The spiders included the curious Snake-back Spider, Segestria senoculata, found in its usual habitat beneath loose bark.

* For centuries this species was known, as the Latin name indicates, as Jews' Ear. Why I don't know, and for obvious reasons the name has been quietly dropped,

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