Thursday, 29 December 2011

Woodland Checks

This morning we were carrying out safety checks, making sure yesterday's strong winds hadn't blown any trees over, or left any branches hanging over paths.  During the rounds, John saw 14 roe deer, and I saw 12 red kites.

We had to close early yesterday because the gusts of wind reached 50 miles an hour, and it was forecasted that they would get even stronger.  It's not safe for visitors, volunteers and staff to be out in gusts that strong, because of the potential danger of falling trees and branches. 

I've also been over to West Wood at Ebchester, another one of our sites, to do the post-storm checks there.  It is a small site, but the woodland there has been described as one of the best semi-natural woodlands of the Derwent Valley.  The variety of rock and soil types in the land sloping down to the river means that a good diversity of plants can grow there, a diversity that is unusual in a woodland of this size.

I like walking through the woods at Ebchester - the winding path has views down to the river, where we saw a water vole last summer, and there are some fantastic old trees.  The path crosses over bridges across trickling streams and in some places it's like walking through a tunnel of holly.

Oak trees at Ebchester West Wood
The footpath follows the Derwent River
Although it's quite dull and raining today, the gorse flowers added a bright spot of colour to a wintery day.  Different species of gorse flower at different times of the year, so there is always a gorse in flower somewhere.

Like the old saying goes, 'kissing is out of season when the gorse is out of bloom'

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The wise old great tit

The bird ringing equipment - ruler for measuring wing length, tiny scales for weighing the birds, different sizes of rings and log books for all the results.

Richard was at Gibside again yesterday, carrying out more bird ringing at the stables.  We had a good day, catching a robin, blackbirds, a jay, treecreeper and a goldcrest.  Five great tits were caught, all of them recaptures (they already had rings on and had been ringed on previous sessions).  Richard recognised one of the ring numbers as quite an old one, and when he checked it out, he found out that the great tit had been ringed at nearby Lockhaugh Constant Effort Site on 11th July 2002.  That makes the great tit at least 9 years old!  The typical life span of a great tit is 3 years.

Since it was ringed, 9 years, 5 months and 9 days have passed, 4 years short of the record for great tits which is 13 years, 11 months and 5 days.

We can only find out information like this through bird ringing and recapture, and it is proving to give us some very interesting results.

Richard will be here again next Wednesday, and everyone is welcome to come along to the stables court yard to see the birds he catches and watch him ringing.

The beautiful colours of the jay's wing.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Escape the Christmas Madness!

I'm really not a humbug, I love Christmas - spending time with the family, decorating the tree, eating mince pies - but if you're like me and you've had enough of the shopping and traffic and crowds and daft songs that are all part of getting ready for Christmas, come along to Gibside and take a break from it all on the Skyline Walk. 

We added this path to the Gibside walks this year, to take in the farmland and the beautiful views up into Northumberland and the Cheviots, and west to the Pennines.  The walk leads you into Snipes Dene woodland, one of the most peaceful parts of the estate.

Part of the skyline walk along the route of an old waggon way. 
Not so many leaves left on the trees now though!

You'll need to put your boots on for this walk as it's quite a ramble, walking through fields and woodlands, not always on surfaced paths, and there are some steep hills and steps on the way.  It's worth the effort though, as the views, fresh air and peace and quiet will leave you calm and refreshed.  

You might still catch a glimpse of Santa as you walk past his grotto in the bothy, and there is a festive feel in the shop and tearooms.  But once you turn off onto the Skyline Walk, all you'll see to remind you of Christmas is ivy growing up the woodland trees, holly in the hedgerows, and the odd robin bobbing about.  I don't know about you, but I find that much nicer than flashing lights and 'I wish it could be Christmas Every Day'!

Follow this link for the Skyline Walk directions and map -
Gibside Skyline Walk

For a refreshing start to the New Year, join our boundary walk at 11am on the 1st of January.  Apparently, this is 'a 5 mile guided walk to the furthest reaches of Gibside, uncovering the wildlife and stories that make this place so special'.  Sounds good!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Surveys 3 - Birds & Bees and the Rest

What else do we record? Well just about anything connected with wildlife / nature, if it moves we record it, if it doesn’t move we record it!
A day at Gibside is not complete without a sighting of a Red Kite. We can usually manage to see at least one Red Kite on most visits to Gibside. Red Kites have been reintroduced into the Derwent Valley since 2004.

Is it a bird? The workers stop to watch a Red Kite.
Red Kite - silouette
Little Grebes and Coots can often be seen on The Octagon Pond.

Little Grebe
Coot on nest - Octagon Pond
We record bee species. As Gibside has an abundance of wild and cultivated flowers it is very bee friendly. We have recorded the following bee species on the estate: honeybee, white-tailed, buff-tailed, red-tailed and garden bumble bees as well as common carder bee. We don’t have many photographs as they tend not to stay still for very long!
Common Carder Bee on Bugle Flower

Red-tailed Bumblebee

Some bee species build underground nests.
The two photographs below show the individual cells of an underground bumblebee nest

Butterflies are a common sight when we are surveying wild flowers.


Red Admiral

Speckled Wood

Small Tortoiseshell

Small White

Five-spot Burnet Moth

During pond surveys we often see and record amphibians, in particular frogs, toads and newts.

Common Frog

Toads mating
Toads mating

We also record dragonflies and damselflies.
Dragonfly which had been caught in our net.
 It was released unharmed a few seconds later.

Large Red Damselfly

Common Blue Damselfly
And we haven't even mentioned mammals yet! Unfortunately we don't have any photographs of mammals but Gibside has several species of bat, foxes, roe deer, grey squirrels,badgers, voles etc.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Landscape Volunteers 7th December 2011

It was 5 degrees and windy, but the sun was shining (quite normal for a Wednesday).
Winter Sun

Our task today was to coppice the silver birch trees around the edge of The Octagon Pond and strimming grass on the hill side up towards the Banquetting Hall.

Receiving instructions
After having today's task explained the team quickly went to work. Those charged with the coppicing started by thinning out some of the silver birch trees around the edge of the pond, whilst the others set off with their strimmers to tackle the grass on the hill side.
The idea behind the coppicing was to improve the vista and to create "basking areas" for the elusive grass snakes.
Dave sawing.

Steve and Tracy sawing.
Johnny and Bruce Strimming.

Whilst on the hillside Phil Younger pointer out a small hollow where a roe deer had been lying down chewing the cud.

The Hollow

Phil also spotted a fine example of The Goblet mushroom. These appear in late autumn and consist of a brown/grey funnel on a scaly stem. They are found on decaying wood.

The Goblet - Pseudoclitocybe cyathiformis

After finishing the coppicing the team began raking up the grass cuttings on the hillside.

Some of The Team at Work

We had our lunch in the Bird Hide and were entertained by a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers which were taking seed from a bird feeder and then drilling it into a hole on a tree stump where they could access it at a later date.

Drilling the hole

Taking the Seed.

Filling the hole.

Monday, 5 December 2011

How many Great Spotted Woodpeckers visit the hide at Gibside?

Well the answer is at least 3 different birds, but how do we know?

We were out ringing at the hide on Sunday and in one of the nets we caught 3 juvenile (birds hatched this year) Great Spotted Woodpeckers. As they didn't have rings on, we knew they were all different. Without ringing, you can look at a bird and think its the same one and how wrong you may be, but with all the food on offer, the birds must be coming in a canny distance to stock up for the winter!

Here you can see the Conservation Manager (me) getting some feedback from one of the female birds (the female doesn't have a red spot on the back of the head). The photo below shows some of the damage that the bird's the sharp beak can do to your hand as you take it out of the net - remember these things can "drill" a hole in a tree to create a nest without having to resort to aspirin!

We'll be ringing from the hide on occasional weekends throughout the winter, so if we're around then come and see what birds we have caught. Also look out for the ringing demonstrations with Richard Barnes at the Stables on Wed 21 & 28 December, he'll be there all day catching birds and letting you get close to nature.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Surveys 2 - Fungi

There are many different species of fungi which can be seen at Gibside. They pop up in the many woodland areas on the estate as well as on the meadows and other grassed areas.

Fly Agaric
The Fly Agaric (above) is one of the most easily recognised fungi. This one popped up in the woods next to the Hollow Walk. It may be pretty, often depicted in children's books and greeting cards,but it is poisonous.

Common Puffball

Shaggy Ink Cap

Sulphur Tuft

Verdigris Toadstool

Common Earthball
Stinkhorn - very aptly named!
Amethyst deceiver
Gibside is a very important site for one particular class of fungi – the waxcaps.
What are waxcaps? Waxcaps are fungi belonging to the genus Hygrocybe. In Europe they are found in a variety of nutrient-poor grasslands which are either grazed or mown. There has been a dramatic loss of waxcap grasslands across Europe due to the intensification of agriculture, especially in lowland areas.

H. Ceracea - Butter Waxcap

H. Ceracea - Butter Waxcap

Hygrocybe psittacina - the parrot waxcap.

Hygrocybe psittacina - the parrot waxcap.
H. coccinea - Scarlet Hood
H. Pratensis - Meadow Waxcap
H. virginea - Snowy Waxcap

H. nigrescens - Blackening Waxcap

H. Calyptriformis - Pink Waxcap

H. Punicea - Crimson Waxcap

The field in front of Gibside Hall is a good site for waxcaps in autumn.

Other types of fungi which can be seen at Gibside are the spindle fungi.

Violet Coral Fungus can be found on The Avenue bank

Jelly Antler Fungus

clavaria fumosa - smoky spindles

And let's not forget bracket fungi, these are shelf or bracket-shaped fungi which grow on trees (both living and dead). Many different types are found within the Gibside Estate. An example of a particularly colourful one is shown below, this was found on a tree stump on Warren Haugh.

Turkeytail (also known as the Many-Zoned Polypore), Trametes versicolor.