It is still so cold, but some things are battling through regardless. Seeing primroses in full flower as I walked around Highnam Woods yesterday brought a smile to my face, as did listening to the Ravens and the Buzzards overhead. Thanks to the families who braved the cold to come along to the 'Egg-stravaganza' yesterday, it was great to see people making the most of the reserve on an early spring day.
There are very few insects around yet, despite a little sunshine, so the small birds are still making full use of the feeders, but there are a few Marsh tits moving away towards possible breeding sites. Other signs that spring is around the corner include the Bullfinches whistling as we go past, and woodpecker sounds (both drumming and calling) throughout the woods. We just need a little heat and the season will kick off quickly.
There is a distinct lack of migrants though, this time last year we'd had out first Pied flycatcher at Nagshead, but no sign yet this year, and no Chiffchaffs calling yet either. I'm looking forward to seeing my first Orange-tip of the year, then I know spring is here.
Winter wonderland, RSPB Nagshead (Photo: Lewis Thomson)
During the recent week of snow, it was brilliant to get up to Nagshead and walk the paths looking for animal tracks. I managed to find signs of Fox, Wild Boar, Fallow Deer, Grey Squirrel and a couple of rodent tracks on a stroll around the Long Trail. Fallow Deer prints consist of two simple narrow slots and are fairly easy to identify here as Fallow are the only large deer species present.
Fallow Deer print (Photo: Lewis Thomson)
Wild Boar prints are usually large and wide with two dew claws at the rear.
Wild Boar print (Photo: Lewis Thomson)
Boar can be a real help to woodland birds during these tough conditions. Boar effectively clear the snow from the woodland floor when foraging for food, exposing the leaf litter underneath. This gives birds access to the invertebrates and seeds which they rely on for food.
Evidence of Wild Boar foraging (Photo: Lewis Thomson)
Recent prints are usually clean and crisply formed and can mean the animals that left them are still in the area.
Wild Boar, Sus scrofa (Photo: Lewis Thomson)
Tracks can also be found fairly easily in the mud along the edges of paths, so even though the snow has gone, why not have a look which species' prints you can identify.
I've just taken a wander up to Nagshead as I couldn't resist a walk in the snow having sat in the office watching it fall all morning. It was absolutely beautiful up there, and quite amazing how much snow can cling to such small branches!
As you can imagine there was not a great deal of activity up there, either wildlife or human - tracks show a couple of other people had been through the reserve and there were a few deer tracks.
A small flock of redwings were around and a pair of buzzards circled overhead for a while, calling to each other. Very little sign of tits, but there were a few blackbirds and robins braving the elements in search of whatever food they could find. I did my best not to disturb them for too long, they have enough to worry about in these conditions.
As you can see it looks picturesque and tranquil at the visitor centre now and I believe there is more snow forecast for the weekend. The barrier at the entrance to the access drive is closed today, and I suspect it will be for the weekend, so if you are planning to visit it may be best to park in Parkend and walk up to the reserve. Take care on compacted snow though, the paths are going to be very slippy for a while, then really muddy again I guess!
I'm not sure what conditions are like at Highnam, but again please do take care if you go for a wander at the weekend.
All being well there will be work starting at the car park towards the end of next week. We have unfortunately decided that we need to close the car park for some time. If work goes ahead as planned we expect to close and lock the gates from 4th February. This will be a complete closure with access only possible for planned events on the reserve, please see our website for the events we have planned. It will be possible to arrange access for groups wishing to visit the reserve, please contact reserve staff to arrange this.
We would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year, hopefully 2013 will be packed with exciting wildlife encounters and will be a little drier than 2012! We hope to see you all out enjoying the reserves in the coming months, don't forget to keep an eye on the Nagshead events page here and the Highnam events page here. Come along and join us on Sunday 6th Jan for our first guided walk of the year at Highnam Woods - a 'winter wander' is the official title, but that might need to be re-named to 'winter splodge' as the trails are quite muddy at the moment - wellies essential! It makes a great opportunity to look for tracks though, with signs of both muntjac and roe deer around!
The rain over the festive period has resulted in more streams appearing in odd places at both reserves and even some pretty impressive waterfalls. The photo below was taken at Nagshead near Lower Hide as flood water poured off the reserve, under the road and into Cannop Brook. I will be clearing culverts again this week no doubt (seems like a weekly job at the moment!), hopefully the current dry spell will last a while giving the paths a chance to dry out.
Woodland waterfalls at Nagshead (Photo: Lewis Thomson)
The wet, mild weather has also resulted in some impressive fungi displays around the reserves. This stunning specimen was found on an oak tree next to Lower Hide at Nagshead just before Christmas and is aptly named Yellow Brain.
Yellow Brain fungi, Nagshead (Photo: Lewis Thomson)
The feeders at Highnam are proving a real attraction as always, with five species of tit seen yesterday along with squirrel. Raven, buzzard, woodcock and peregrine were all seen flying over too, and I got a brief glimpse of a mistle thrush too, as it perched in a tree to look down on me!
After all the recent rain a crisp, sunny spell of weather was very welcome on the reserves. Woodlands always look spectacular on frosty, clear sky days, especially at Nagshead with the bare ancient oaks standing proud while sunbeams filter through to the woodland floor. The frosts also meant that wellies weren't required on the Short Trail for first time in weeks! The reserve has seemed very quiet lately, but a bit of good weather and the birds and animals seem to appear as if by magic. Everything in the woodland seems so much happier on days like this! A mixed flock of Redwings and Blackbirds could be seen busily foraging amongst the leaf litter, from a distance it looked like the woodland floor was alive as leaves were being thrown everywhere. Nuthatches and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were calling again making them easy to locate and Jays could be seen darting from tree to tree looking for an easy meal.
The Short Trail at RSPB Nagshead in glorious winter sunshine (Photo: Lewis Thomson)
While walking along the Gloucestershire Way and Long Trail one morning I came across random blobs of what looked like snow from a distance. As I got closer I thought it must be some sort of fungi as it was only present on deadwood. I picked a piece of the wood up for a closer look and was astonished to see the material disintergrate as I breathed near it.......it was ice! It looked like white candyfloss and even felt furry when touched. I pulled a section off and squeezed it, water started dripping from my hand and I was left with a solid snowball, very weird! I took some photos and looked it up when I got back to the office. It is apparently known as hair ice and forms from excess moisture freezing in the deadwood which builds on successive cold nights forming long fine strands of ice. Really quite interesting and not something I have encountered before.
'Hair ice' which had formed on fallen deadwood at RSPB Nagshead (Photo: Lewis Thomson)