|Cork Oak woodland (Martin Kelsey)|
|Angel's Tears Narcissus (Martin Kelsey)|
Despite the spacing of the trees on this slope, which gave this woodland an open feel, with natural clearings, there was enough shade to have slowed the progress of spring. On the woodland floor stood freshly opened Angel's Tears Narcissus, which I had first seen flowering this year a full two-months previously in sunny sheltered locations. Now in late March, such shady aspects provided the last remaining refugia for this herald of spring. Littering the ground were old fallen branches which showed the toughness of the remarkable material that is cork. The older of these boughs were completely hollow, where the wood had rotted away, leaving a perfecly formed tube of cork. The resilience of the cork was matched by its lightness: I could easily lift a two-metre long cork pipe with just one hand.
The textured cork and differential rotting rates of broken branches and snags help to explain the richness of the cork oak woodlands for small birds. There is a substrate for them filled with places where insect food can be found and nests can be excavated. As we stood, Short-toed Treecreepers sang and we watched one ascend a tree, initially showing up well against the smoother, dark harvested section of the tree, and then becoming extraordinarily cryptic as it crossed the line into the textured upper reaches. The stronger, firmer two-note call of Nuthatch rang out from some hidden perch, whilst equally distantly came a rapid series of notes from a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Barely audible were the whispered squeaks of Long-tailed Tits, followed by the soft trilling of a Crested Tit. Checking a movement in amongst the outer branches of a rogue holm oak on the hill slope, a Firecrest emerged, garlanded as it were by lichen.
|Firecrest (Martin Kelsey)|