Winter’s Hidden Beauty (Part 2)

Originally published on 4th March 2018 in www.urbanescpaist.wordpress.com

Down here on the south coast it looked as though we were going to escape snow this winter but the Siberian winds and Storm Emma put pay to that. It was nowhere near the levels of snow seen in some other parts of the country which were issued with red weather warnings but we got some snow! It was enough that I couldn’t resist getting out my camera and taking some photos. The photo above was taken at the enchanting Swanbourne Lake in Arundel Park.

This winter I aimed to dispel my belief that the period of time between December and the end of February was dark and bleak and which I am pleased to say I did. Nature offers plenty of colour in winter but as I have found more effort is needed to discover it than during other seasons.

I normally associate fungi with Autumn but whilst walking through Ebernoe Common on a damp day at the beginning of February the spectacular looking fungi Scarlet Elf Cup was seen growing in the woods. This was the first time I had seen this colourful fungi and there was a group of five or six partially hidden under decaying leaves and moss. I was taken aback by their amazing colour which makes them stand out against the dull background at this time of the ye. The fungi can be found on decaying sticks and branches in damp areas of deciduous woodland. They have a particular liking for hazel, elm and willow. The fungi can be found from Winter to early Spring and as they age their colour changes from a deep red to a lighter orange.

I had assumed Winter was a dormant season with nature taking a few months off to rest before Spring. I was proved wrong again whilst out walking in early January I noticed that Hazel catkins had already developed on the trees. These catkins commonly known as lambs tails are the flowers of the Hazel tree. Hazel is monoecious and so both male and female flowers are found on the same tree. The male flower shown in the photograph on the right forms first and after it has released its pollen the female flower forms. The female flowers look completely different to the males, they are very small and bud like with red styles. The female flowers are so easy to miss as we all look at the obvious catkins. The female flower forms after the male flowers have released their pollen to avoid cross pollination as they need to be pollinated by other trees.
As January headed towards February I noticed snowdrops had begun to flower. These are probably one of the finest sights in late Winter and a reminder that Spring is on its way. They add a valuable optimism to the late Winter setting. I took the photo below at West Dean Gardens near Chichester.

Snowdrops are found in many woodlands, gardens and parks but records only go back to the 18th century so it is not clear whether they are native to Great Britain. As snowdrops flower so early in the year there are not many pollinating insects available to help with cultivation so they mainly spread by bulb division. Alongside river banks this is helped by movement of the soil from flooded rivers moving bulbs whilst in woodland numbers the division occurs when trees being uprooted and soil movement by animals.

I noticed this Winter that sunrises and sunsets appear much more vivid than in Summer. The colours are stronger and here on the South Coast with the sun is lower we are lucky to witness both sunsets and sunrises out at sea. The Winter also provides us with the added luxury that we do not have to get up really early in the morning or stay up late to see them which is a bonus for anyone who likes their sleep. Unfortunately I was without a camera for most of the sun rises and sets I saw but hopefully I will be able to catch more next year.

As we approach Spring I am already looking forward to next winter to see what else can be discovered and a photo of a female Hazel flower is a must.

 

Winter’s Hidden Beauty (Part 1)

Originally published on 16th December 2017 in www.urbanescapist.wordpress.com

Winter has always been my least favourite of the four seasons and the season I have appreciated least of all. To me it has always appeared comfortless, bleak, unwelcoming and I pass the days waiting for Spring to arrive. This pessimistic view of mine means the virtual loss of three months from my calendar as I wait for the days to pass. This Winter I have decided to not let this happen and intend to make every attempt to appreciate the season. There must be some hidden beauty that I am missing and so instead of hiding away at home on these cold days I will be heading into the countryside and hopefully discover all that I have neglected in previous years.

The mild and dry November ended abruptly here on the south coast with December descending upon us with a marked contrast in temperature and bringing with it rain. Throughout the country there has seen plenty of snow this week although down here it has a habit of missing us and so far we have not had the pleasure of a white ground covering of snow.
Late last Sunday afternoon I managed to find a couple of spare hours and drove over to Arundel to walk around Arundel Park. This week as we approach the Winter equinox it is just about as early as it gets for the sun to set so I did not have too much time on my hands. On my last visit the trees were displaying some magnificent colours but the frosts over the last couple of weeks have taken the last remaining leaves from the trees leaving a bare framework of branches. One particular Oak tree looked magnificent against the blue skyline. The strong winds from the previous week had done a splendid job pruning the tree of its dead wood and the fallen branches were laying on the ground beneath the tree. On a number of these branches lichen could be seen growing on the dead wood.

The lichen impressed me with its delicate and complex structure. My knowledge and recognition of the various forms of lichen compares to the same extremely low level I have of fungi. I took the above photo and hoped I would have better success in tracing it’s name than I did in the Autumn months with the various fungi I photographed. Luckily for me as it was fairly common and growing on an Oak tree I found it fairly quickly on the Internet and identified it as Oak Moss Lichen (Evernia prunastri). I hope I am correct. Lichens are strange organisms being an association between a fungus and an alga. Both parties cooperate together for survival and growth. So this is a true hidden beauty of winter, hidden away from us during the rest of the year by the leaves growing on the trees and revealing itself only once those leaves have fallen.

As I walked back to the entrance by the Arundel Castle Cricket Ground the loss of the deciduous leaves and ground covering had revealed plenty of holly with its striking red berries. Folklore suggests that if there are plenty of berries then we will be in for a cold winter. If that is correct then this winter will be especially harsh as the bushes were laden.

As I neared the car there was a kestrel perched on a telegraph pole surveying the area beneath it. Winter is well and truly alive and I look forward to spending the next few months discovering more of what nature has to offer in this season. I am now beginning to realise Winter does offer beauty and finding it will be an interesting challenge.