Although February is classed as a winter month, the first signs of spring are already starting to appear, especially if there are warm day time temperatures.
The resident birds are still visiting the Woodland Hide feeding station, but you can start to see the return of species usually seen only on the mossland such as Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer. Their arrival increases the chance of beating the record of 20 species during a visit.
These species will eventually nest on the mossland and arrive back early to start claiming territories. They were driven off in the autumn by the lack of food. As food on the mossland is still scarce in the early spring, they often take the opportunity to ‘refuel’ at the feeding station.
Although there are no leaves on the deciduous trees yet, some are already starting to show flowers as a further indicator of spring. Most noticeable are the white flowers on the branches of the Blackthorn (the source of sloe berries), the yellow hanging catkins on the Hazel, and the ‘Pussy Willows’ on the various Willow species trees on the site. These in turn provide pollen for early flying bumblebees, particularly the Red-tailed Bumblebee. If the weather is particularly warm, you may see the early flights of butterflies that have over-wintered as adults. The most likely species you can see is the bright yellow coloured Brimstone. It is thought that the similarity of the yellow colour of this species to that of butter is the reason they are called butterflies.
As winter starts to get a grip, the feeding station at the Woodland Hide really becomes a great place to visit. The best time is after a hard frost (even better if there is snow) because this makes natural food even harder to find and hence there is greater reliance on the food provided.
Over the years, over 40 bird species have been seen at the Woodland Hide; usually there are about 30 species seen each year by regular visitors. It is quite common to see 15 species in half an hour; the current ‘record’ is 20, but you could beat that if you are lucky. Although some species are those you can see in your own garden, you will be unlucky if you do not see Nuthatch, Bullfinch and Great Spotted Woodpecker in a half hour visit.
Because they get used to the food put out by Rangers and to the number of visitors, the birds are not usually disturbed people being in the Hide if you are quiet. This makes them comparatively easy to photograph, and a great place to practice taking wildlife photographs if you are lucky enough to receive a camera for Christmas. However, the birds are still vigilant against potential attack by the local Sparrowhawk and will scatter if they are alarmed.
All of the food at the Woodland Hide is sponsored by RIMAG at a cost of around £500 each year; there is a donation box in the Visitor Centre if you have enjoyed your visit and would like to make a contribution towards it.
As you walk around the site you can occasionally hear and see flocks of small birds feeding. These are usually referred to as ’tit parties’ because they often include the five species of tits that are resident at Risley Moss. It is always worthwhile looking over these groups because they can also include more unusual species such as Goldcrest (the smallest UK bird), Siskin and Lesser Redpoll. In fact there have been some great viewings of goldcrest on the buddleia just outside the window of the Visitor Centre.
Although there are fewer birds around Risley Moss now than there were in summer, they are much easier to see now that the trees are losing their leaves and easy food supplies are becoming scarcer. As a result, on a typical day, you can easily see around 20 species either on or flying over the reserve as you walk around.
One spectacular sight to look out for is one of the large flocks of geese that fly over the Reserve at this time of year. If they are in flocks of up to 30, not very high up and ‘honking’ like farmyard geese, they will probably be Canada Geese. If they are in flocks of over 50 (sometimes there can be hundreds!), flying high up and ‘gabbling’, they will probably be Pink-footed Geese on their way to their over-wintering grounds in the Southern UK and northern Europe.
If you want to get a close-up view of birds (particularly to photograph them), then the Woodland Hide is well worth a visit. The Rangers have started to put out bird food onto the ‘squirrel resistant’ feeders but it will take some time for the birds to get fully used to it and while there is still ‘natural’ food around. The feeding station really becomes important to the birds when the weather becomes colder and natural food becomes scarcer.
All of the food at the Woodland Hide is sponsored by RIMAG at a cost of around £500 each year; there is a donation box in the Visitor Centre if you would like to make a contribution towards it. You can also help birds by having a feeding station in your own garden. There is a public event on 15 November (11:00 – 13:00) at the Visitor Centre to make a feeder to take home. The event is free, but RIMAG would appreciate a donation towards materials cost to help us fund future events.
There are still quite a lot of fungi around the site both on trees and on the ground. One common species is the Jew’s Ear fungus that grows specifically on dead Elderberry trees. There are some good examples on the right side of the slope on the path to the Tower.
Although there was some lingering summery weather in late September, we are definitely into autumn in October. Even so, you may still see the odd butterfly on warmer days; these are likely to be species such as Peacock that over-winter as adults and will be the first to appear in spring. Unfortunately, this is 5-6 months away, so enjoy them while you can.
Most of the summer migrant birds have now left and we can look forward to the arrival of the winter visitor birds. Usually, the first are flocks of Redwing, which often arrive during the night but can be detected by their thin, high whistle. Often they can arrive in large numbers that are very hungry and can strip berry bearing trees such as hawthorn in a few hours.
The Redwing is slightly smaller and darker than the Song Thrush and easily identified by the red mark under its wing. If you see a flock of thrushes feeding in bushes or on fields, they are almost certain to be Redwings.
As the leaves start to fall, you can see fungi around the site, especially after damp weather. Some of the fungi such as the birch bracket fungus can be seen all through the year but is far more obvious in winter. You can see them on the branches and trunks of many dead birch trees around the site. If you are lucky, you may also see the classically coloured Fly Agaric on the woodland floor. This species is poisonous, as are several others so if in doubt, don’t pick them!
If you would like to find out more about fungi at Risley Moss, you can join a local enthusiast on an introduction to mushrooms and toadstools and learn some funky fungus facts and some foraging skills in the woodland. The event is on Sunday 11 October, starting at 10:00 (See events for more details).