Lush, evergreen and a mistily mysterious; there’s a jungly feel to the hollow around the ponds below Seckar Heath. Shaggy columns of Ivy-covered Silver Birches rise from an understorey of Rhododendrons. One of the birch boughs has fallen by the path, perhaps brought down by the extra weight of snow gathering on the Ivy.
The ponds were once formal pools in the garden of photographer Warner Gothard who left Seckar Heath to the people of Wakefield and Barnsley when he died in 1960. Seckar Heath, mid-way between the two cities, is a Local Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
From the ponds we walk through woodland of oaks and occasional pines (Corsican, I guess) on the steep path up to the heath which lies on an outcrop of gritty sandstone.
On a patch of heath that appears to have been deliberately burnt or cut, fresh green shoots of Heather are now beginning to regenerate. Oak and birch saplings have been cut back to keep the heath open. Blocks of the heath are cut every 20 years, preventing the trees shading out the Heather which predominates along with Gorse, Bracken and the glossy leaves of Wavy Hair-grass at the top (western) end of the heath.
In the belt of Sessile Oaks and Silver Birches at this end of the reserve, a flock of twenty Redwings are turning over the leaf litter. I always picture Redwings flocking to Hawthorn hedges to feast on the berries so it’s interesting to see them foraging for invertebrates in the same way that Blackbirds and other thrushes would.
I was looking up at the Witch’s Broom on the branches of a birch when a flock of about 30 redpolls circled above the trees here in Stoneycliffe Wood nature reserve for a minute or so before settling in the top branches of another birch some distance away. On this dull drizzly morning all that I could make out was their grey-brown rounded silhouettes and a slight v-shaped notch at the end of the tail.
My hearing doesn’t make the grade when it comes to birdwatching but Barbara could hear the chittering of the flock, usually the first sign of redpolls for those who don’t happen to be looking up at Witches’ Broom as they fly by.
The Witches’ Broom that grows on silver birch in the form of a mass of twigs that you might at first take to be a nest or squirrel’s drey is caused by the fungus Taphrina turgida. Another, unrelated, fungus on a birch stump nearby was birch bracket, Piptoporus betulinus.
Velvet Shank, Flammulina velutipes (left), growing here on an oak log, is a winter fungus with the ability to survive freezing.
Turkeytail, Trametes versicolor, is another bracket fungus which grows on birch stumps and on other deciduous timber.
The shuttlecock tufts of male fern, Dryopteris filis-mas, have been flattened by the snow but the fronds are still green. The lower stems of male fern are covered with brown scales (right).
THAT’S HANDY; the town hall clock records the time of day. I’d popped into the travel agent’s on Monday morning and asked for a holiday destination where Barbara and I can go to see wildlife and when I came out, in what seemed like a lucky omen re. our planned trip,
three waxwings flew down into a small tree right in front of me. I had time to get out my little camera and take three photographs. Terrible as wildlife photographs but at least it’s a record. It must be at least 10 years since I saw waxwings.