February in the Woods

Arriving at Credenhill Park Wood just before dawn breaks means that you get to hear the twit-twooing of the tawny owls as they go to bed, alongside the twittering chirrups of the blackbirds, robins and tits as they wake up.credenhill-feb-13-1

The wood in February is a pretty brown, twiggy affair, the sun slowly rises and peeks through the tall silhouettes of the fir trees. Catkins dangling give a hint that spring may be on the way. The mornings are too cold for the squirrels to be scampering about, so it is just the birds. The churned up mud of the paths has been frozen solid, preserving the hoof prints of the fallow deer that have been moving around during the night. The songbirds are soon joined by a woodpecker hammering away.

Scarlet elf cup fungi,ย Sarcoscypha coccinea, or austriaca – a microscope is needed to tell the difference – add a splash of red colour to the ground, looking like discarded wax cheese coverings. They grow on decaying branches on the woodland floor. Opinion is divided as to whether it is edible for humans or not (if in doubt, leave it out). However, rodents and slugs find them tasty. The Oneida American Indians used them, ground up, as a styptic to heal wounds. In the UK they were used as table decorations. They are also known as fairy baths, I can’t imagine elves would be happy to drink out of them after a grubby fairy had taken a bath in one. They fire their spores, with a puffing sound, from the bright red inside of the “cup”.

The other fungi apparent in the woods at this time of year are the polypores, or bracket fungi. I am not knowledgeable enough to break the ID down any further! These grow on living and dead trees and are considered to be an indicator of a healthy woodland, contributing to the nutrition cycles of the habitat and invertebrate diversity. ร–tzi, the iceman mummy who lived around 5,300 BC, had polypore fungi amongst his possessions. It is thought that the one type of fungi was used for fire making, while the other had antibacterial properties.

Traveling up the hill through the bare, deciduous trees, then past the more recently planted fir trees, the open grazing area is reached. An eye-watering, bitter wind whips across this exposed landscape; frost-riming everything in its path. The round leaved sundew, which I introduced you to in this post here, can take the occasional light frost. Being a carnivorous plant, I can’t imagine there is an abundance of insects for it to trap at this time of year.

The iron age ramparts are very apparent from this view point. Lovely as the views are from up here, it is warmer down amongst the trees. The weak winter sun is now up, so it is time to head home for breakfast and a steaming mug of hot chocolate.

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