Tag: Winter

Deciduous Trees In Winter

I was treated to a beautiful sunrise which illuminated the sharp frost as I drove up the M6 to Runcorn. It was a perfect December day for CAN’s Winter Tree Event at Norton Priory Museum and Gardens. CAN had the privilege of holding the last event in the classroom before it was to be demolished before a major 16 month re-build of the site.

I soon met up with Jack Swan who was leading the day. He had industriously spent the week collecting twigs and buds from over 40 different tree species. They were neatly tied up in separate bundles putting my own haphazard contributions to shame.

As soon as members arrived and were sufficiently warmed with tea, coffee and biscuits, Jack explained that there were three forms of bud arrangement, namely, opposite, alternate and spiral. He then showed us how to get to grips with counting bud scales and the difference between adpressed (buds lying flat against the twig) and not adpressed.

We used the excellent Field Studies Council (FSC) key “A Guide to the Identification of Deciduous Broad-leaved Trees and Shrubs in Winter” by Andrew May and Jonathan Planter. Winter tree identification is an essential skill if working in habitat management as much of the work is undertaken in the winter months and this key is a valuable aid.

Ash3 zoomThe distinctive black buds of Ash (Fraxinus excelsior).

Our first group of twigs to be examined were those where buds are arranged in opposite pairs along the stem. This included four different species of Maples including Sycamore, Field Maple, Norway Maple and Japanese Maple. In addition, we were able to recognise the characteristic black buds of Ash, whilst Elder has distinctive ragged buds and a pungent aroma.

We took great care as we moved onto those species with alternate buds where thorns or spines are present including Blackthorn and Hawthorn. However, anomalies do occur and Jack showed us some examples of Hawthorn without thorns!

For the rest of the morning we studiously worked our way through the key with Jack’s materials covering a variety of Birches, Alders, Poplars, Cherries, Oaks, Willows, Hazel and Beech. One fascinating species is Walnut in which the pith of the stem is segmented or chambered (see photo).

Walnut (2) cropThe segmented or chambered pith of Walnut (Juglans regia).

After lunch we ventured out into the grounds of Norton Priory and used a combination of profile, bark and bud examination to identify species. Jack pointed out many of the introduced species present in the gardens and how these differed from our native trees.

Hornbeam 4 cropThe attractive bark of Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) showing a metallic-blue sheen and obvious vertical fissures.

Red Oak cropJack getting to grips with a Red Oak (Quercus rubra) at Norton Priory.

As the sun dipped we returned to the classroom where Jack gave us all a random twig from his collection and challenged us to have a go with just the key to guide us. It was really encouraging that most members were able to successfully identify their twigs although the lack of bud scales on Alder Buckthorn proved a bit tricky.

It was a great day in the company of Jack Swan and Paul Quigley from Norton Priory. I would like to take this opportunity to thank both of them for all their hard work in facilitating many CAN events over the last 5 years. I can’t wait to see the new improved facility!

LimeCommon Lime (Tilia x europaea). A hybrid between two native species with characteristic burrs and leaf shoots at the base of the tree.

Wader Identification Day

It was an early start for CAN’s Wader Identification Day as twenty members met up with Jeff Clarke, one of Cheshire’s most experienced ornithologists, in the car park near Heswall Shore on the Dee Estuary. Jeff briefly showed us the correct way to locate birds at distance. He also pointed out that a good achievable aim for many of the novices in the group would be to focus on identifying several wader species well, rather than to try and learn them all at once.

We were soon walking westwards out along the shoreline as we were greeted by the wonderfully evocative sounds of Curlew as vast flocks of Lapwing rose irregularly in the distance. Wildfowl species including numerous Pink-footed Geese, Shelduck, Teal and Pintail added to the vista.

On an incoming tide multitudes of Redshank, Knot, Dunlin, Oystercatcher and Golden Plover flew into our viewing area while Jeff pointed out key identification features, giving an unique impression or “jizz” for each species. This included some fantastic idiosyncratic “bird impressions” performed by Jeff which have to be witnessed to be believed. They serve a purpose in that it is easy to remember the action when you see the wader and you can’t help smiling remembering Jeff’s moves.

Heswall Shore 1CAN members enjoy the view from Heswall Shore.

One of the highlights of the day was the arrival of large flocks of both Black-tailed Godwit and Bar-tailed Godwit turning and twisting in the sky before obligingly landing in front of us for comparison.

Jeff pointed out that it was an ideal high tide height to observe waders, as it wasn’t too high or too low, allowing time to observe as waders were pushed slowly off the intertidal mudflats. However, eventually time and tide wait for nobody and no wader and soon the sky was alive with birds forced into the air as the waters rose. The group also rose to a higher observation point as we worked our way back to the car park as flocks of Reed Bunting and Skylark crossed the skyline before an impressive Great White Egret launched itself into the air.

It was then a short drive further up the estuary to Riverbank Road which overlooks the Dee Marshes. From here we watched the tide come in further, lifting birds out of the marshes as raptors circled overhead. Oystercatchers, Curlew, Redshank and Dunlin were a plenty as were Little Egret. Jeff skilfully demonstrated several different calls. My favourite was the trisyllabic “tyew-tyew-tyew” of the Greenshank.

riverbank (2)The view across the Dee Marshes from Riverbank Road, Heswall.

Inevitably the tide turned as the sun finally came out to warm us up. The scene started to quieten but a total of 57 bird species were seen in just a couple of hours with Jeff. Now that is what I call “Exciting Education!”.


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