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Murphy's Notice Board

This page was inspired by Colin Bowlt. The trust realised that he had been putting up notices on the noticeboard by Murphy's Field. We thought these should be accessible to a wider audience, so began to post them online here too.

The most recent articles have been written by John Edwards : Enjoy.

The Quiet Time : September 2019

Late summer and early autumn is a quiet time for our local woodlands. The bird song, which has been mainly silent since late spring , will not resume until the following spring as birds once again think of breeding and attracting a mate. The dense leaf canopy will also muffle any sound and the leaves have not yet fallen to rustle under our feet as we walk. The changing season with shortening day length and cooling temperatures is a sure sign that winter is not far away and an early morning walk may be marked by a heavy dew and a damp feel to the air. However, there will still be things to observe before winter all too soon arrives.

This is the season for fungi and many common species can be found amongst the leaf litter in all the Ruislip woods. One of the most obvious is the Fly Agaric ‘Amenita mascaria,’ the red one with the white ‘spots’ and very poisonous. Others species lurk unseen and will be discovered if we venture off the main tracks and a decent field guide should enable identification of them, but be warned, it is not easy! The collecting of fungi, or harvesting, is a growing problem and there are notices posted in the woods every autumn to discourage this. If you find any fungi then please identify them if you can and leave them in place for the local wildlife.

At this time of year as we move into autumn there appears to be an increase in the number of Grey Squirrels throughout the woods. This is mainly because the young born during the year have now joined the adults and they are all busy gathering their winter caches of food for the coming shorter days. The Ruislip Woods contain many Oak trees and, as acorns are a favourite of the Grey Squirrel, then it follows that we will have a good population of these animals.

Another species which seems to increase at this time is the Jay. This shy and raucous resident is also out hunting for food to store for the winter and is therefore more obvious. Like the Grey Squirrel it has a liking for acorns. Later in the autumn our resident Jays are joined by birds from northern Europe so it is no wonder that they are seen on a more regular basis.

The waters of the Ruislip Lido will be attracting more in the way of wildfowl and in particular Coot and maybe Gadwall and Shoveler as well as the more expected Tufted Duck. Gull numbers will also increase dramatically with mainly Black headed Gull arriving from Northern and Eastern Europe.

It will be well into October before the winter thrushes arrive and, with a following North easterly wind, both Redwing and Fieldfare will pass through in small flocks with the early morning the best time to encounter them.

The end of the insect season is also upon us and some final species to look out for are Migrant Hawker and Common Darter dragonflies and the Red Admiral, one of our hibernating species of butterfly. In a mild autumn we can still expect to see these as late as early November.

Early autumn with the leaves changing colour and about to fall is a melancholy time for some. However, if we go out with a natural history eye open, we can embrace the changing season and appreciate the changing wildlife. After all, there is nothing we can do to stop it.

John Edwards, Ruislip & District Natural History Society.

Owls of the Woodland Edge : January 2019

Last winter the Ruislip Woods played host to as many as fifty of our largest finch, the Hawfinch. The birds stayed throughout the winter months and then departed from whence they came back to northern Europe to breed. No one saw them leave and it was perhaps no surprise that this once in a generation event did not re-occur this winter. Not one bird was seen anywhere in the woods in a return to the status quo.

It was therefore with great excitement that we were to be blessed with some more charismatic birds from places north and east with the arrival of three Short eared Owls which turned up just before Christmas. The birds stayed well into the New Year and were to be found in the large area of rough fields to the west of Bayhurst Wood. This is one of the diurnal (i.e. to be seen in daytime) species of owl and they can be expected to leave their daytime roosts in the late afternoon, hunting until dusk, which proved to be the case for these birds.

Short Eared Owl, Bayhurst Wood Fields

The open fields here, formerly a sand quarry and then a landfill site before being grassed over, also played host to three of these lovely birds two winters ago. It is unlikely that they are the same birds as this year but possibly so. To watch all three birds hunting in the late afternoon, dropping frequently into the long grass after voles etc. was a wonderful site and certainly not one that occurs very often in our area.

This picture and the one below, both show Short Eared Owls in the fields next to Bayhurst Woods.

Another species of owl has been frequenting the same area for a few months now. This is the ghostly Barn Owl. Also abroad in the late afternoon and in the evening, and again at dawn, this lovely bird is a fine addition to the local fauna. A pair were present and there is a possibility that they bred close by. Watching one of these birds out hunting in the failing light is one of nature’s wonders and the sight is enough to take one’s breath away.

A true diurnal species is the Little Owl. This species can be seen at all times of the day and can often be located by their strange single and repeated whistle call. They frequent isolated old trees on the edges of woods and in hedge lines and are recorded from the farmland bordering Bayhurst and Mad Bess Woods. The more public Copse and Park Wood do not have the right habitat for them, being as they are , surrounded by the urban fringe and a golf course.

Short Eared Owl, Bayhurst Wood Fields

We all know the Tawny Owl which also goes under the name of the Brown Owl. This is a bird of deep woodland and urban gardens and is truly nocturnal. Late February and early March is a good time to hear them as this is the time of year that they start looking to establish territories and become more vocal. This species is more often heard than seen but there is a way of seeing one in the daytime if you are very lucky and know what to look out for. If you hear a commotion of small birds whilst walking through the woods it could be that you are near a roosting Tawny Owl. Move gently towards the sound being very careful not to disturb the scene and, as you get close, you may spot the object of the small birds attention and it may be a roosting Tawny Owl. They can be very difficult to spot, especially in Ivy covered trees which they prefer, but you may be lucky and see one.

There has never been a record of the scarcest of the UK species of owl, the Long eared Owl, in the Ruisilp Woods and this is no surprise. The habitat is not right for them as they prefer coniferous woods and shelter belts in winter and summer and we shall probably never see one here, although one never knows.

As the winter comes to an end there may still be time to see the Short eared Owls before they depart back to the far north to breed. Even if you do not strike lucky you may hear a Tawny Owl or even a Little Owl on your walk. If you do spot an owl, any owl, then savour the moment as this chance does not come along very often.

John Edwards, Ruislip and District NHS.

Hawfinches : January 2018

Have you seen a Hawfinch in Ruislip Woods yet?  The winter of 2017-18 is the best time for almost one hundred years to encounter one or more of these shy and elusive finches.  During last autumn a major influx of the species into the United Kingdom took place with birds arriving from points further east and many thousands being reported at watch points in the south and east of the country. This movement of birds continued into November and soon they were being reported from any suitable woodland where they eventually settled for the winter.

Ruislip Woods is mainly made up of Oak with some Beech but also includes large stands of formerly coppiced Hornbeam. Now it just so happens that Hawfinches love Hornbeam so it was hoped that our local woods would share in this influx.  Forty years ago a very small number of Hawfinch used to breed in the woods around Ruislip but numbers declined to just the odd sighting in the 1970’s and then there were none. Perhaps they would return this winter?

During the October influx period one lucky observer chanced across a flock of up to forty Hawfinches in Copse Wood. A most remarkable sight and very exciting but sadly the birds did not linger and had soon moved on. Was this a foretaste of what was to come?
During November the first sightings of wintering birds started to come in with  up to nine  present in Bayhurst and Mad Bess Woods. Always elusive and difficult to catch up with they were nonetherless in there somewhere.  During the next few weeks reports suggested that the birds were settled around the pond in Bayhurst and sporadically in Mad Bess Woods and persistence normally resulted in a sighting of them.

The New Year arrived and a concerted effort was made to survey the whole of the Ruislip Woods for these charismatic large finches.  One day I was having a good look around and was able to confirm that there were at least twenty five birds in Mad Bess Wood. They were in the canopy and feeding quietly but good views could be had with a bit of field craft.  Good news indeed for the return of the Hawfinch to the Ruislip Woods.  Hopefully the birds will decide to stay and recolonise and it would be wonderful for a few pairs to remain and breed once more as the last confirmed breeding record was as far back as 1972.

What to look for and how to find them

The Hawfinch ‘Coccothrausters coccothraustes’ is the largest member of the finch family. It is coppery brown in colour with striking white wing patches which are clearly visible in flight. It sports a huge bill which is used to crack open the seeds of various plant species and especially those of Hornbeam.  The birds are very shy and retiring and one needs to be quiet to stand any chance of seeing them.
A walk through the woods would not be complete without the hope of coming across these birds with the best chance in the two quieter woods of Mad Bess and Bayhurst.  When walking (quietly) along the paths and bridleways keep an eye on the tree canopy and look out for the birds as they feed and perch unobtrusively above your head. Indeed, you may be very lucky and see them lower down and maybe even on the ground. The Scout Memorial in Mad Bess Wood and around the pond in Bayhurst Wood are perhaps the most reliable places to see them.
There will never be a better time to see a Hawfinch locally and this is literally a chance of a lifetime so get out there and see what you can find.  By March we can expect them to be on the move back to their breeding grounds further east so they will not be around for much longer.

John Edwards.   Ruislip & District NHS.

Thank you to Wiki Media for the pictures.

Murphy's Noticeboard 2015

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Murphy's Noticeboard 2014

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