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Sunday, 29 November 2015

Preparing for Winter

It was cold and frosty in the wood on Monday 23rd Nov. But it was worth getting up and out early to see the sunrise over the meadow and trees.
In some respects it's easier to see birds at this time of year. Because the days are very cold the birds have a higher food requirement and because the days are shorter they have fewer daylight hours to find that food. Their focus is on survival.

The day before, I was walking with my wife and we saw a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers in the trees by the Willowbank bench. They might have been males negotiating over territory or they could have been a male and female deciding if they would make a good couple. I managed to take a photo of one of them. The red patch on the back of the neck shows that it is a male but both sexes have the red under the tail. They don't normally start drumming until about January and then go on until  early summer. You might hear them sooner because they also have a high pitch short call, but for drumming and an interesting piece of RSPB video click here.
You might notice in the video that the young bird has a red patch on the forehead. This disappears with the first year's moult. To hear the call click here, then click on the 'white on brown' play symbol. This web site, xeno-canto, is excellent for all sorts of bird calls from all over the world. It's well worth coming back and playing with it for a while.
Goldcrest in Badock's Wood - beside the Trym.

During that same walk we saw a pair of treecreepers by the Trym, goldcrests and long-tailed tits and a grey wagtail. Mostly they were too busy to take much notice of us. If you'd like to see pictures of these various birds and hear their calls go to the RSPB website and click on the letters to select the birds. See: RSPB.
 I know I put in a photo recently but the goldcrests are so special that I'm adding the bird I saw on Thursday (26th), while I was talking to Graham and Linda.

Alder catkins and fruits (Badock's Wood meadow)
 I have always associated catkins with spring...Hazel catkins looking like lambs' tails. However, as I walk around the woods I see that there are plenty of catkins already and on various types of tree. They aren't ripe yet, in that they aren't 'dusty' and producing pollen. That's just as well because there aren't any female flowers to receive the pollen, it would just blow away in the wind, to no effect. No, the catkins are tight and waiting for Spring.
Hazel catkins (Badock's Wood meadow)
 In the photo of Alder there are green unripe catkins as well as  green fruits. The fruits have come from green flowers, which have been pollinated this Spring and will become woody like cones and release their seeds next Spring. The woody cones that you can see were pollinated last year and released their seed this Spring, perhaps producing more alder but also feeding the birds.
The Hazel catkins beneath it will produce pollen next Spring too and pollinate small red flowers to produce the familiar nuts that are the favourite of squirrels, woodpeckers and humans.
Similar catkins are also found on birch and poplar.

It was a completely different sort of morning yesterday (28th). It was wet, windy and pretty wild, when the intrepid FOBW work party, led by Siân, took up saws and loppers to fell the sycamore saplings along the stream from Willowbank to the Triangle. There were 5 of us and although we got wet we didn't get drenched. However, it was very slippery on the steep slopes and there were a couple of tumbles but generally it went very well and without incident. Unfortunately we left with one fewer pairs of tree loppers than when we arrived, so if you see any on your walks in the wood please retrieve them and contact the Friends of Badock's Wood via their website: FOBW.

There is a problem with garden waste being thrown over garden fences into the wood and there's a misconception that the rubbish will just decompose and no harm will be done. Unfortunately this is not the case. It prevents the growth of natural plants by smothering them as well as sometimes containing weedkiller or other chemicals. As the pile builds it might fall or be washed down the steep bank and look unsightly and even possibly dangerous.
It's an eye-opener to think that this is no different than driving 10 miles and leaving it in the countryside. It's just easier and quicker and of course it saves having to pay the council to take it away. I'm sure those who do it don't mean any harm but it is harmful just the same.... and illegal. If in any doubt click here. 

 At last the bird boxes are up. It has taken a while to plan and organise but last week the FOBW
installed 20 bird boxes suitable for tits, nuthatches and other small birds. These won't be suitable for robins or wrens who like open-fronted boxes and to be nearer the ground but  accommodation for them will be considered another time.
There were already several boxes around the wood but they are becoming dilapidated although at least a couple were still being used by bluetits this Spring. The photo shows Keith of Specialised Nest Boxes putting a box up by the Triangle.

The morning after we put them up I was able to take a photo of a bluetit inspecting the new premises but I think it will find security a problem. The box it was looking at was 32mm and bluetits prefer 25mm so that  larger birds can't get in. We placed several 25 and 28mm as well as the 32mm, so it shouldn't have any problem finding suitable accommodation.
Keith of Specialised Nest Boxes of Charterhouse, Somerset made the bird boxes and he and his wife, Linda, supply several wildlife and conservation groups. If you'd like to know more about them click here.

You can enlarge photos by clicking on them.


   The Friends of Badock's Wood Quarterly meeting will take place at the Greenway Centre, Doncaster Road on Tuesday 1st December at 7.30pm. Everyone is welcome to hear what is planned for the wood and will have a chance to voice their opinion.

    There will be a Litter Pick on Friday December 11th, 2.15 - 3.30pm. We will meet at the Doncaster Road entrance. Equipment and gloves will be provided but do bring your own if you have them. Please email if you plan to take part in the Litter Pick.

    Tree Dressing - There will be a Celebration of our Winter Trees on Sunday December 13th at
2 -3.30pm. It will be near the Doncaster Road entrance. See posters around the wood for more information.

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mike townsend

Friday, 20 November 2015

Learning? - Start young, then never stop !!

 It's been very windy with heavy rain over the last few days. Tuesday afternoon (18th Nov), the rain had stopped so I went to the wood about 4pm. Already it was dimpsy and still very windy. I was a bit nervous of falling branches as I walked under the trees by the Triangle but it was exhilarating to hear the wind rush through the trees and to see them sway above, even the oaks.
I was relieved to get to the meadow and be able to feel the wind out in the open. I was able to watch crows and wood pigeons hurrying back to their roosts but being blown in all directions at the mercy of the wind. Unfortunately the photos give no sense of the wind.
It became dark very quickly and this photo(left) shows Southmead Hospital at its centre and the children's sports pitch on the left. It is taken from the Ceramic Circle near the main Doncaster Road entrance.
It wasn't an evening when most people would walk for pleasure but there were a few taking their dogs for an early evening walk.

Looking into the meadow from Doncaster Road
Even at about 5pm it was quite dark when I left by the Doncaster Road main entrance and it had just started to rain. I don't feel comfortable walking alone through the woods in the dark so I walked back via Lake Road. (Little Red Riding Hood Syndrome?

The wind was even stronger during that night and the rain heavier.

 Next morning we found a tree, a Field Maple, across the path that leads from the Lakewood Road entrance towards the Triangle. Unfortunately, it is the same tree that the Sparrowhawks chose to nest in during the Spring. Hopefully, they will find another suitable tree somewhere in the wood. There was a lot of ivy on the tree and that combined with the shallow root system on the slope contributed to the tree's susceptibility to the wind.
Below is one of the Sparrowhawk chicks shortly before it left the nest site in July.
There's a photo of one of its parents in an earlier post. Although these birds eat the smaller birds such as tits and sparrows, it helps to maintain a delicate balance. If the sparrows had no predators then they might increase in numbers to an extent where they actually become a pest as they are in North America. It is dangerous and unwise to interfere with the balance of nature. In 1958 the Chinese tried to eradicate sparrows because they were eating their rice crops.  They didn't realise that the sparrows also ate destructive insects and so rice yields actually fell. So beware of eco-engineering. To read more about the Chinese sparrow eradication campaign click here.
 You might notice that the sparrow in the Chinese experience is the Tree Sparrow. This has a brown cap rather than the grey cap of the House Sparrow which is the sparrow we commonly see. I saw the Tree Sparrows on the left at Rutland Water in 2014. It was a common bird in the UK up until the 1970's but is now absent from the South West. It has fallen by an incredible 93% since then but there are now signs that numbers might be slowly creeping up again. It is a lovely bird and can be seen in the Midlands, southern and eastern England. There's a nice piece of video on the RSPB website:  Click here. Also on YouTube: here.


Anyway, I continued from the fallen Maple tree to the area of fallen logs and the Story Teller near the Westbury Wildlife Park. We had a lovely surprise ( I was with my wife) because there was a group of young children enjoying the wood and learning about it at the same time. We learned that this was the Badgers Forest School Bristol run by Jenny Sanderson. I was quite taken by one young man who was offering Jenny a fragment of biscuit. He was so insistent and kind, wanting to share. Unfortunately he dropped it in the mud but it was the thought that counts. If you'd like to know more about the Badgers Forest School you can view the website by clicking here. They were so fortunate with the weather because it had been raining most of the night and soon after school was over, it started to rain again. Well, it is autumn !!

Siân is leading a Friends of Badock's Wood work party, organised for Saturday 28th November at 10am for a couple of hours. We'll be cutting back some of the Sycamore saplings that are invading along the edge of the stream and along the path leading down from the Lakewood Road entrance. If the saplings are allowed to grow they will prevent those smaller plants and shrubs growing close to the ground which would otherwise protect the banks and encourage insects, birds and small mammals. If you feel able to help on this day then drop a line to and ask to be added to the group. You can do as much or as little as you want or feel able. Some tools and gloves will be provided but if you have your own you could bring them along. It should be a good morning.


If you would like to know more about the Friends of Badock's Wood  click here.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

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If you would like to comment or ask questions about the blog you can contact me at:

mike townsend

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Wet, Wet, Wet -- No, not them !!

         If you're disappointed that I wasn't referring to the group of singers called Wet Wet Wet here is a YouTube link to one of their songs which is easy listening and perhaps vaguely relevant to the woods.. click here for song.
        But no, I was referring to the watery type of 'wet'. I got wet on three separate occasions this week but none of it was unpleasant.
First Wetting.  It all started on Wednesday, but this time I got into the stream wearing wellingtons so I was ok.
 At last we were choosing a part of the River Trym within Badock's Wood to monitor for fly larvae. This will give us an insight into the quality of the water in the river. The part we selected because of ease of access and water flow is just below the weir where the two streams join. On this trial occasion we found many water shrimps but only one mayfly larva. This is disappointing because we would expect to find larvae of perhaps 5 different types of water fly. These might be caddis fly, stonefly and types of olives as well as the ones that we did find. Once the site is registered with Bristol Avon Rivers Trust (BART) we will start official monthly recordings and these will be entered on a database along with records from other waterways across the country. If you'd like to know more about BART and the work they do click here.
If you would like to see some pictures of riverfly larvae on Google Images click here.

Crystal Brain fungus

Second Wetting. On Friday I got very wet. This time we were looking for fungi in the woods. Ruth Revell, who I'd met at the Riverfly training in Calne and who is a fungus enthusiast had offered to lead an informal fungus foray in the woods. It had rained all night and the forecast was not good but the call of the woods was strong. There were five of us and despite being rather late in the season we recorded at least 13 different types including candle-snuff, turkey tail and King Alfred's cakes but one of my favourites is Crystal Brai.

King Alfred (The Great) is reported to have burnt some cakes while taking refuge from the Vikings in the Somerset Levels around AD 880 and the hard, woody fungus (burnt cake) on the left is a reminder. It is very woody and has rings similar to a tree on the underside. (See above right)
Although it was light rain or dry most of the time we did have a downpour while we were by the bridge near the Westbury Wildlife Park which caused a torrent to flow down the chute. Normally this is completely dry or at most a trickle. As often happens, after the downpour the sun came out as can be seen in the photo on the right. Where does this water come from?
The Sportsfield is at the top of the rise and there are houses to the left of that so the water might flow from the drains which collect the rain near the houses. Drains are one way that toxic liquids can get into the river and poison the riverfly and other creatures.
Waxcap fungus
Blewit fungus
 In the woods we saw mostly woody bracket fungi such as the turkey tail and southern bracket but not many typical 'mushroom types' with caps, which were present in October (see previous posting). However, we did see Fairy Bonnet and Glistening Inkcap. In the meadow, near the pond, we also saw a fairy ring with both Blewit and Waxcap species close together and I've put two of the photos I took of these to show that the pattern of the gills are quite different. The spores, which are the equivalent of seeds fall from these gills. It is interesting to lay various fungi, gill-side down on a waxed piece of paper. After a couple of days the spores will have fallen onto the paper and made pictures of different patterns and colours. Purples, white, oranges and browns. Warming the paper will fix the spores in place. I haven't done this since my girls were young but I must do it again next year with my granddaughters.

3rd Wetting. I went out again on Saturday morning (Nov 14th) .... remember the wind and rain? It was touch & go but we went anyway. I was with Matt Hobbs (ecologist) and we were selecting trees suitable for placing bird boxes. We did get very wet but we were dressed for the occasion. These boxes will be suitable for tits of various types as well as nuthatches. The boxes and their placing will be paid for by a donation from a member of the public. While we were in the wood we saw large flocks of long tailed tits and also several more goldcrests (see previous posting).
I was surprised to be told that blue tits and wood pigeons also move around in large flocks. They might not travel such large distances as swifts or cuckoos but do move around the country and possibly go overseas. Their migratory patterns have not been studied as much as some others and so is a mystery waiting to be solved. There are a couple of YouTube clips and a newspaper report that are worth looking at. The bluetit flock is passing through Sweden but the pigeons were in Portland, Dorset a few days ago. See: blue tit migration.  wood pigeon migration   newspaper report on wood pigeon migration.

I saw this jay in the woods in September. They are very colourful birds of the crow family. They eat the eggs and young of other birds in season but during autumn one bird can hoard about 2000 acorns for the lean times of winter. It's reported that most of these will be recovered and eaten but some will be left and perhaps grow into new trees. They are members of the crow family and learn quickly. Birds of the crow family are called corvids and as well as the jay they include magpie, crow, jackdaw and raven. All of these can be seen in the wood or over the meadow. Rooks are corvids but are not often seen in parks or woodland within large urban areas.
Female blackbird harvesting in September

The Friends of Badock's Wood (FOBW) have an open meeting four times a year. The next one is on Tuesday December 1st at 7.30pm in the Greenway Centre. It is open to anyone who is interested in the management and conservation of Badock's Wood. If you would like to hear what is happening and perhaps give your opinion on what happens next, then just come along. You will be made very welcome. To lean more about FOBW click here.


You can click on photos to enlarge them.

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mike townsend

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Nevermind the Weather...

      It was wet and drizzly when I went to the wood this morning (5th Nov). Surprisingly, the rain made the colours richer and more interesting. However, I was reminded of snow as it turns to slush. A week or two ago the leaves were crisp and light, fun to kick. Now some have turned to 'slush' and in places are quite slippery underfoot. I'm told that there was a time when the council came to blow the leaves away from the paths but with the cutbacks those times have gone. We could give some thought to volunteers clearing the paths in future years but there are a lot of paths and a lot of leaves!!  If it's done when the leaves are dry they might just blow back but if it's done when the leaves are wet and 'slushy' then the paths might be left more slippery.
As I walked to the woods the streets seemed quite damp and dreary but in the wood it all changed and although still very damp there was no dreariness, the stream was lively and there was lots of interest all around. It's unfortunate from a wildlife point of view but some will be relieved to know that the wasp nest has been 'treated'. Unfortunately the wasps had become too aggressive and several people had been stung. It was mentioned previously that wasps become very protective of their nest and queen in Autumn and on this occasion it has led to their downfall and the death of their queen.
Autumn is a time when many birds move to warmer areas. Some come to us from farther north, perhaps from northern Britain or the north of Europe where it has got much colder. Others feel that it is too cold here and leave us to go south and head for the warmer parts of Europe or Africa. The Goldcrest is one bird that arrives in the UK for the winter and its high pitched call can be heard in the wood.  Some stay throughout the year but it is likely that the population actually doubles over the winter. The other day I was listening to a flock of Long Tailed Tits and I was told, by someone who knows (thank you Matt), that there were Goldcrest calls amongst the Tit calls. They are very small birds, in fact the smallest bird in Europe. They weigh about 6 gms which is approximately half the weight of a wren and the same as a 10 pence piece. It is a very pretty bird but difficult to see clearly because it is forever on the move. They are seen in the woods through the year but I haven't managed to get a satisfactory photo. I will use a photo I took at Sea Mills in 2013, fortunate that it perched still for several seconds. You can see the gold strip on its head and such fragile legs. Tits of various types forage together in the winter and the Goldcrests often stay with them. This offers extra security  because there are then more eyes looking for predators at a time when the birds might be weak or slow because of cold and shortage of food and the leaf-fall leaves them more exposed.
I've put this second photo in because it is a Badock's Bird. It proves that there are Goldcrests in the wood. I took this photo in the Spring. You can see that this bird is well hidden and protected by prickly holly but often they prefer conifers. If you hear a very high pitch call then look up to see whether you can see this very active, tiny bird or whether it is the call of a long-tailed tit like the one below.

This is a Long-tailed tit that I saw in Badock's Wood meadow in July. They are very agile and it was hanging on the plant but I have rotated the photo clockwise by 90° to make it easier on the eye and brain. They are usually in groups and the long tail is  a distinguishing feature.

Mosses, like the one on the left are very interesting plants. I was surprised to learn that there are about 20,000 species of moss. I don't know how many different ones there are in the wood but it would be interesting to find out. Often it is a soft, rich green cushion on a fallen trunk or on the bank of the stream and can look very attractive. The life of moss is a bit complicated but if you would like to know more click here.
The story of lichen is even more confusing because it is formed when a fungus joins with an alga and they live alongside each other and support each other. Algae range from very simple forms like the blue-green algae which can be single cells or fine strands in streams and ponds, which we saw in the stream a few weeks ago, to the much larger forms such as the sea weeds like kelp and the ones we find on a beach. The fungus and alga are then both changed so that they don't look like either the fungus or the alga. . In fact it is now a lichen. The one on the right is in the wood.

We often see lichen as scales or tufts on twigs and branches but I remember seeing 'matchstick' lichen on Dartmoor although I haven't seen them in Badock's Wood. They are attractive and interesting so I'll put in a photo from the internet. To see on Google Images the wonderful variety that lichen give click here. Or if you'd like to learn a bit more about them click here.

 It's still very wet and windy in the wood today (7th Nov) as I finish the blog so I'm putting in a couple of brighter photos. These were taken in the meadow in October. There is frost on the seat but the colour of the trees lifts the scene.

You can see that even when it's damp or frosty there are good reason to dress up warm and dry and get into the wood. Do take care with the damp leaves though; they can be very slippery, especially on the uneven ground beside the stream.

Postscript:  I went to the woods when the rain stopped this afternoon (7th Nov) and was fortunate to see  a Goldcrest and its orange crest very clearly. This was the first I'd seen clearly since the Spring. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get a photo. I should say that it appeared to be alone and not part of any group but possibly it was on the margins of a group.

If you would like to play a part in looking after Badock's Wood then browse the Friends of Badock's Wood website to join the emailing list. Click here.   You can volunteer to help with collecting the litter or to join the work parties that do important tasks such as clearing invasive plants and coppicing. You would be able to do as much or as little as you feel able. Just comment in the email whether you would like more information about the work parties or about litter collection, or both.

If you would like to comment about any subject relating to Badock's Wood or the blog you can leave a message for me at

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mike townsend