This Sunday we have a fungi foray ( full details on the events pages on this site ) with Dave Winnard from Manchester Mushrooms. Check out Dave's site: www.manchestermushrooms.co.uk .
At the moment there are plenty of really stunning Fly agaric ( Amanita muscaria ) at Dove Stone as well as plenty of Amethyst deceiver ( Laccaria amethystea ) and Blackening waxcap ( Hygrocybe conica ) amongst others. Last year's foray produced records of over 60 species of fungi. It will be interesting to see how many we get this year, on this slightly earlier-in-the-year walk.
I was given a really interesting document recently that is a list of translations of fungi latin names. Some of the translations indicate info about the fungi such as protentosum - monstrous; coryleti - pertaining to Hazel and myrmecophilum - loved or benefited by ants. Other translations are somewhat more obscure or poetic such as rivulosa - with sinuous lines like rivers on a map; jasonis - pertaining to Jason and the golden fleece and, one of my favourites, tintinnabulum - pertaining to a little bell. Fungi are truly fascinating !
As ever with fungi if you are out on your own foray please be aware that some rare fungus species are protected by law and must not be picked or their habitat disturbed. Also worth a mention that some species of fungi are DEADLY POISONOUS. At the very least invest in a decent fieldguide. Edible fungi can easily be confused with poisonous ones if specimens are not thoroughly examined; extreme care is therefore essential when gathering wild fungi to be used as food. The rule is if you’re not 100% sure what it is then don’t eat it. But aside from that, have fun !
Taking a walk up the Chew access road at Dove Stone in the recent snow I could clearly see that I wasn’t the first to have done so that day. Other tracks had been made, though we’re talking four rather than two legged. I am, of course, talking about Mountain hares.
The Mountain hare ( Family Leporidae, Rabbits and Hares ) is also known as the White hare, Scottish hare and Blue hare. Unlike the Brown hare, which is thought to have been introduced by the Romans, the Mountain hare is native to Britain. Whilst the Brown hare is more common and found throughout UK the only population of Mountain hares in the UK ( outside of Scotland ) is in the Northern Peak District, Saddleworth and Derbyshire moors.
It’s likely that the Mountain hare you see in this area is descended from releases in the northern Peak District made for sporting purposes in the late 19th century.
Smaller than the Brown hare (Lepus europaeus) though bigger than a rabbit the Mountain hare has large long ears with black tips. The tail is very short with the upperside being white all over; Brown hares have a black centre to the tail. The fur is a grey brown colour in summer but is white or creamy grey white in winter. In high level areas that have snow throughout the winter the Mountain hare is well camouflaged.
Here at Dove Stone, when there’s no snow the Mountain hare in its winter coat really stands out against the dark gritstone. The winter coat is longer and thicker than the summer coat and lasts through until about March. The change back into the summer coat is a gradual one but come May they’ll be mainly brown again. The moults are triggered by daylight and temperature changes. Although Brown hares moult as well there is no great difference in coats.
There are some really lovely images of Mountain hares on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/search/show/?q=mountain+hare
Mountain hares are usually found above the cultivation line, around 1000ft locally, living in areas of heather and mixed moor, wet heath, blanket bog, mixed heath and grassland as well as at sites below rocky moorland edges.
They often lie up in a temporary form. This can be in various places: amongst rocks, in shallow heather, in clumps of vegetation such as bilberry or crowberry, in runnels, between tussock grasses or in the open on the side of exposed peat hags. In severe winter weather they may also shelter in oak or birch woodland and coniferous plantations.
Their diet is almost exclusively vegetarian. Grasses, bark, heather and grain are supplemented by Lichen in winter. They will dig down into shallow snow to feed but not when it’s piled deep.
Unsurprisingly, Mountain hares are fast running animals. At Dove Stone you may see them on the move when disturbed. Sometimes running away in an arcing curve they can also just move away then lie flat in the classic pose to escape detection. In contrast, the Brown hare more often zigzags away.
The Mountain hare is generally solitary although from February to April they can often be seen in community groups. You might even see females fighting or boxing away males before being ready for mating. Around the rocky outcrops above Whimberry moss and around Alphin Pike during the Spring months up to ten individual Mountain hares have been seen at one time, including boxing behavior. Another good vantage point at Dove Stone is from the Chew Road, walking up towards Chew Reservoir. On a sunny winters day they are easily seen warming themselves on the rocks which receive the afternoon sun, clearly standing out as white against gritsone. They will sometimes allow closer inspection, but binoculars or telescope make viewing simpler and more detailed without disturbing such a beautiful wild creature.
So how is the Mountain Hare faring as a species ? Numbers have been rising for over 40 years after a crash due to the severe winters of 1962/3. Estimates of the local Pennine population range from around 1,500 to a few thousand, with around 35,000 in Scotland. In terms of predators the Mountain hare’s main local predators are foxes and stoats. The main threats to their survival though are prolonged bad winter weather and the small size and isolation of the population. However, the population is gradually increasing although it will be limited by suitable moorland habitat size. The good news is that despite the area of moorland in the Peak District declining during the 20th century some of these losses are now being reversed through reductions in sheep grazing, replanting and similar conservation measures, including the work that is being undertaken by the RSPB-United Utilities partnership at Dove Stone.
Many thanks to Ken for both suggesting this post and sharing his knowledge about, and experience of, Mountain hares. Good one !
Saturday gave us fantastic aerial displays of the Peregrines with both the male and the female going into some breathtaking stoops. There was also some dramatic tumbling and fighting between Ravens and the Peregrines above the ridge along from Dove Stone rocks.
Interestingly the Ravens were checking out a previous nesting site in the same area as the Peregrine’s site last year. We’ll see what happens and whether the Ravens nest further down in the lower quarry as they did last year.
‘ Nuts about Nest Boxes ’ day was a success with lots of people stopping to have a go at making their own nestbox. If you missed us on Saturday don’t worry as you can find a plan for making a nestbox here: http://www.rspb.org.uk/advice/helpingbirds/nestboxes/ smallbirds/making.aspx . There’s also plenty of info on these pages such as where best to put your nest box and how to look after both it and, hopefully, its residents ! They really are very simple and quick to make and such a valuable thing to do for the birds visiting your garden – be quick though as now really is the time to get them up. Important conservation work at Dove Stone in recent months has been the planting of native broadleaf trees as part of developing Dove Stone’s woodland vision. These will provide good nesting habitat in the future for a range of species. For the more immediate future we’ll also be installing some nest boxes in various locations around Dove Stone.
Elsewhere around Dove Stone there have been recent sightings of Kestrel seen from the Chew access road, Dipper along Chew Brook and Skylark up near Chew Reservoir with Golden plover on the peat bog. Curlew and Meadow pippit have also been both heard and seen recently. Curlew will be returning to upland areas after having moved south and west for the winter. In the UK this would be to areas such as the Ribble. This winter there is a possibility that Curlew and Golden Plover might have moved even further due to it being particularly cold. In comparison, movements of birds such as Dunlin wouldn’t have been affected by the severity of the winter as Dunlin moves as far as Africa whilst Golden plover and Curlew won’t travel as far as this, typically going only as far as areas such as Iberia.
Our feeding station at Binn Green continues to attract Siskin, Treecreeper, Nuthatch and Goldfinch amongst other regulars such as Coal, Great and Blue tit. Mistle thrushes are also around.
Also worth mentioning at this time of the year are Mountain hares. Still being in their white winter coat for now means that they’re highly visible. By the end of March they’ll largely been in their brown summer coat and a little harder to spot. On a walk up the Chew access road up to Chew Reservoir earlier in the week we counted at least fourteen Mountain hare either side of the path and got some quite close up views of hares amongst the rocks.
Many thanks to those who came along to Dove Stone’s first Mountain hare talk and walk and thank you to Sam Bolton from The Brown Hare Project. If you’re interested in hares then it’s worth checking out Sam’s site on www.merseysidebiobank.org.uk/BrownHare/default.aspx?content=home.xml. The Brown Hare Project’s site also gives info about how to report any sightings of Brown hares and how you can get involved in surveying either Brown or Mountain hare. We will be having another Mountain hare walk later in the year when these lovely animals are back in their white winter coat. Another link for more info is http://www.hare-preservation-trust.co.uk/mountain.html.
Seen yesterday at the feeding station next to the main car were Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Great tit, Nuthatch and Lesser redpoll. Elsewhere around Dove Stone there have been recent sightings of Oystercatcher, Common sandpiper, Reed bunting, Buzzard, Swallow, Meadow pippit, Grey wagtail and Mistle thrush.
There’s been some spectacular mornings and evenings at Dove Stone over the last few days, particularly with the early morning light and the reflections in the reservoirs whilst the water is at its stillest.
From Binn Green there have been recent sightings of Bullfinch, Brambling, Siskin, Goldfinch and Redpoll. A Crossbill has also been seen recently around Binn Green.
Walking down from Binn Green Cottages access road I watched two Long tailed tits nestbuilding. Walk past quickly and you’d easily miss it.
Long tailed tit nests are really an amazing construction – a ball of moss, spiders' webs, lichen, feathers ( particularly for lining the nest ), and hair, typically built in the fork of a tree or bush.
Both the male and female birds build the nest and that can take about three weeks, although if it’s later in the season less time is spent on the nest
Elsewhere around Dove Stone you might hear Woodpeckers drumming.
Drumming acts a bit like song and lets rival woodpeckers know who's around. To amplify the sound of the drum woodpeckers will chose a rotten, hollow branch or trunk. If you do hear drumming then it's likely that it's a Great spotted woodpecker as Green woodpeckers tend to make their yaffle call. Lesser spotted woodpeckers are scarcer and are now categorised as a red list species due to a decline of over 70% between the mid-70s and late 90s. Reasons for the decline are as yet unknown and the RSPB are currently working on a project to investigate this.
I read recently that Woodpeckers have a specifically shaped hinge between the skull and the beak that's combined with a muscle. This acts like a shock absorber and protects the bird from damage to the brain.
If you're up at Dove Stone Binn Green is a good place to look out for Great spotted woodpeckers, as is Ashway Gap.
Continuing round Dove Stone, there have been Jays in Bill o' Jacks and a Cormorant fishing on Yeoman Hey reservoir. Further on I watched a Coal tit preening on a low branch after bathing. On the other side of the reservoir in one of the streams there were several pairs of frogs and lots of frog spawn.
Grey wagtails are about too and Lapwings have been seen flying over the Isle of Sky road.
The Peregrines are regularly being seen at the moment. I saw two catching early morning thermals, circling over one of the ridges at Dove Stone before flying out of sight. Later in the week I watched them at dusk on the crag. A Buzzard has been heard calling recently and earlier in the week seen being mobbed by the Peregrines. On another day from Ashway Gap I watched one of the Peregrines sitting on the crag and could clearly see where the bird had brought in a recent kill.
Elsewhere around Dove Stone if you’re walking over the bog you might notice new growth of Cotton grass. Look out for a dead pretty lichen, Cladonia diversa.
Thanks to Ken for this photo and more on Lichen in another post sometime…
Still on the moors, you might hear the distinctive quickening and descending song of the Meadow pipit or the cronk of a Raven.
Red grouse are about too, churring before making off with their rapid wing-beat-and-glide style of flying.
Curlew are also around. Mountain hares are still to be seen in their white coats, although with noticeably larger areas of brown.