Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Western Hemlock

Snipes Dene:  20.02.13.

For six or seven years it seemed that Wednesdays – the regular working day for the Gibside Volunteer Conservation Team – could be relied on for fine weather, whatever the season. Something has gone wrong with this trusted weather forecasting system of late; today was yet another cold, grey day.
Snipes Dene on a grey winter's day

From across the valley, two roe deer stopped grazing, eyed us up and wandered off. We were back in Snipes Dene pulling up western hemlock saplings in an area where we have been monitoring regeneration following the felling of non-native conifers a few years back. Removing this successful, invasive species gives nature a helping hand, but it is hard work that will have to be repeated many times if it is not to carpet the area again and push out native plants and animals.

Know thine enemy - Western Hemlock saplings

As we bent to our work, we had the frequent and welcome distraction of flocks of goldfinch and siskin visiting the few spindly birch that remain isolated in the dene. This is a stark environment in winter, but hard fern and an assortment of attractive mosses are doing well, and rosettes of foxglove leaves promise at least some colour in the summer.
Hard Fern
New Growth - Foxglove Leaves Rosette

Thursday, 14 February 2013

A Work of Art?

Wednesday 6th February 2013

Another cold day; 2o C with a chilling, northerly breeze, just the right sort of weather to be clearing branches and brash. Once again the conservation team found themselves tasked with brash clearing and building of log piles. The area on the outskirts of West Woods must be ready for new tree planting by the end of the month.

The Team at Work
Collecting brash

Some log piles were planned with great precision. After placing a base layer all aligned in one direction a second layer was added at 90o to the first but leaving a small gap in the centre, then adding another layer parallel to the first layer. This created a small chamber area in the centre of the pile for small mammals etc. Some of the gaps were then filled with smaller brash.
A Work of Art? - A possible Turner Prize contender?
- It's not bad enough commented one wag.

An Adventure Playground for Cherryburn

Wednesday 13th February 2013

With the temperature hovering around zero and strong winds, the conservation volunteers assembled at Cherryburn, the birthplace of Thomas Bewick (1753 - 1828) - artist, wood engraver and naturalist. The forecast snow was already settling on the fields on the other side of the Tyne.

 We were at Cherryburn - one of the four properties in the Gibside group - to create an adventure play area for children in the wildlife garden, a construction job for a change, with or without the approval of the wildlife.

Tasks being alllocated

The various tasks were allocated to small groups of volunteers: setting out a "stepping-stone" path of tree trunk discs; digging in larger pieces of tree trunk to form seats; creating bamboo chimes suspended from a wooden A-Frame; and, most imaginatively, planting posts into the ground with side pieces attached to mimic stilts used in Thomas Bewick's time to cross the River Tyne.

The "Stepping Stones" being dug in

The A-Team
Playing a tune on the bamboo chimes

Creating the stilts

Phil prunning
Terry and Mary hard at work clearing the cobble stones of mud.
The light snowfall of mid-morning became heavier by early afternoon; an early finish was welcomed by all.

The job is due to be completed on Thursday, when the weather is forecast to be much better. Families are sure to like the play area, but what would Thomas Bewick have thought?

Sunday, 10 February 2013

A Walk Through the Woods

On a recent day off I took the opportunity to enjoy an early morning walk through some of Gibside's woodland's.  As I walked through the renovated Shrubbery Walk towards the avenue I disturbed a family trio of roe deer feeding on some of the recently planted evergreen shrubs.

Common laurel

Common laurel browsed by roe deer

Yew browsed by roe deer

Along the Avenue and down through the Hollow Walk I came upon another roe deer this one a handsome buck with six-point antlers covered in 'velvet'.  I stood watching him for a little while until he became aware of my presence and quickly made off with bounding leaps and a series of disgruntled dog-like barks.

Roebuck with antlers in 'velvet'

During the summer just gone a 'new' pair of red kites had nested on the estate but unfortunately they failed to raise any chicks due to reasons unknown.  Walking through a belt of conifers close to the nest-site I came upon the skeleton of a kite with wings outstretched and feathers complete and intact.  All feathers of the wings and tail were only partly emerged from the protective sheath which encases them while growing revealing that this had been a fledgling.  Surprisingly the carcass hadn't been found and scavenged by a fox, badger or other opportunist predator and as it obviously hadn't been predated it would appear that it had succumbed shortly after leaving or falling from the nest.

Remains of a red kite

A little further on from where I had found the dead kite I checked an old stone built culvert running under a vista which was in regular use by badgers.  A little fresh soil outside the exit hole showed a little 'spring cleaning' had been carried out and among the debris I found a badger's skull.  The teeth that were present were very well worn suggesting this had been from an old animal and there was also a well developed sagittal crest.  This is a ridge of bone running along the top of the skull which enlarges as the animal matures and it is to this that the powerful jaw muscles are attached.

Badger skull

Following the road up into West Wood I noted one of the roadside ash trees had a large red streak running down one side of the trunk.  This is quite a common occurrence being found on a range of different trees and with colours ranging from yellow, orange and as here red and is simply an alga of the genus Trentepohlia.

Ash tree with red steak caused by algae

As I stood taking a photograph of the 'red' tree a rustling caught my attention among the undergrowth on the opposite side of the road.  Running through the recently planted woodland towards me were not one, nor two but three hares.  These three, a jill (female) and two jacks (males) chased each other around the trees before making off further into the wood.


Close to this spot I also found in a roadside ditch a cluster of feathers where a wood pigeon had met its death.  Killed and eaten by a bird of prey among the plucked feathers were the spilled crop contents revealing the pigeon's last meal of red berries and the tips of buttercup leaves.

Remains of wood pigeon with crop contents

So you see as you walk around Gibside's woods there are always lots of things to see.