Every day at Tophill Low can turn up something new and October is no different. As the changing weather conditions bring some colder and wetter weather it means that conditions are ideal for fungi to appear in abundance; their main aim is to release their spores which are small fungal seeds into the wind for further colonisations. Overnight the fruiting bodies of the fungi burst up from their underground mycelium in all different shapes, sizes, colours and textures. Many have very apt common names such as Dead man’s fingers, sulphur tuft and honey fungus. A walk along the nature trail path can deliver at least seven different varieties. The rich colours of both fungi and the surrounding leaf litter provide good photographic opportunities for an amateur like myself so a good subject to start on. One common type of fungus that is not to be found on the ground is the tar spot fungus that is specific to sycamore leaves. Like its name suggests it looks like spots of black tar on the upper surface of sycamore leaves. It is caused by the fungus Rhytisma acerium. It appears in August as green-brown blotches on the leaves that rapidly turn black (hence the name tar spot). These spots remain visible in the autumn as the leaves change colour and they can still be seen on fallen, decaying leaves. The amount of spots indicate how heavy the infection is and sometimes the spots join together to create larger blotches. It’s not thought that Sycamores infected with tar spots are less healthy or cause the tree any problems, although leaf fall may be earlier and an infected tree will normally get the infection every year. Recent research indicates that pollution inhibits the growth of the fungus, meaning in polluted areas less Sycamore trees are infected, therefore tar spot can be a bio indicator of air pollution.
There has been quite a lot of bird movement on the reserve during the first weeks of October, in particular geese, whose numbers arriving in or adjacent to the reserve being high. Over 1000 Greylag geese and 340 Pink footed geese arrived in early October. 17 Whooper swans were noted on D reservoir on the 15th, with 7 still there on 27th. Large numbers of Teal can be found on South Marsh which is the busiest place at the moment for birdlife. Visitors were delighted to see a Jack snipe on 12th, its characteristic small size and bobbing movement distinguishing it from the larger common snipe. Marsh harriers have been spotted on a number of occasions in the southern part of the reserve. A female Red crested pochard was on D reservoir on 16th and has stayed around till the end of the month. A long tailed duck was seen on 28th and shoveler have been visitors on occasion also on D reservoir. The nature trail wood is a good place to see winter feeding parties of woodland birds, made up of tits, wrens, robins and chaffinches but its always worth a closer look and you might find a Treecreeper or some newly arrived Bramlings. Two jays were around the reserve on the 27th and the first redwings appeared mid October. Mammals have also been spotted with North Marsh the best place to spot otters and south marsh holds the best chances of seeing fox.
As with all these sightings you need to be in the right place at the right time, so don't rush your visit to the reserve. Take your time, enjoy the warmth of the reception hide's log burner now that the weather is turning colder before you set off out again to explore the reserve further.