I went for a rather nice walk the other day in Worth forest, a mixed woodland of both deciduous trees and conifer plantations that goes back a very long way in Sussex’s history. It was a chilly but pleasant autumn afternoon, there was a gusty breeze ruffling the tree-tops, grey clouds scudded overhead and the wet ground was plastered with orange leaves. At this time of year Woodpigeons can be seen in large flocks as they move around the country or even out of the country, it isn’t totally clear where these birds are going but throughout my walk I saw many scattered groups of Woodpigeons loosely flapping across the sky.
It was very quiet in the wood, no birds were calling and I only saw a few other people, the main source of noise was the leaves tumbling down through the branches, punctuated by the regular explosions of male pheasants uttering their strangled, heart-stopping cries. I came across several different fungi just off the path beneath the trees, the most striking were the creamy-white, rough textured heads of common puffballs that were quite fresh above the earth and were hard like rubber-balls. Some deep purple toadstools were beside them; they were dainty with large open gills and wavy-edged caps but looked dangerously untouchable.
I came across a yew tree on the edge of the wood in which many birds were fluttering, they kept making high-pitched calls and flew in and out repeatedly, some made rattling calls and it was clear they were congregating to feed on the soft red berries that coated the yew. It turned out that most of them were Song Thrushes, a small bird with warm mushroom-brown upperparts and white undersides flecked with dark tear-drops. There were also some larger birds, the ones making the rattling calls, these were Mistle Thrushes and had cold-grey uppers with cold-white unders – heavily speckled with black. All were busy gorging on berries but they were all also nervous and flighty, no doubt keeping a wary eye out for predators that would be attracted to such a gathering.
A little further on I came across a very high and sweet trilling call, it was difficult to locate but eventually the bird gave itself away high in the branches of a nearby birch – it was a Goldcrest. With impressive acrobatic skills this minuscule bird hopped among the thin twigs, often swinging upside down or hovering in the air to peer under a bud or leaf. Its sprite or fairy-like nature is accentuated by a jeweled crest of the brightest yellow, tinged slightly with orange.
My attention was diverted from the decaying beauty of the trees for a time by a repetitive hammering noise coming from within the upper branches of an Oak just off the path. In the gloom of the branches it took a few moments to spot any movement, then I saw a little head striking down onto the bark, the head was attached to a little body with a short tail – it was a Nuthatch, using its dagger of a bill to crack open an acorn it had lodged in a crevice.
The slightly wheezy calls of the diminutive finch known as the Siskin were prevalent around the forest as these frustrating birds twittered far overhead on blurred wings, seemingly never landing in order to deprive me of a close sighting. A loud-calling Coal Tit was hunting energetically for food in a dense stand of hazel and birch, its small size and white neck stripe distinguishing it from the similar Great tit.
The Sweet Chestnut coppice areas were predictably devoid of animal life but nonetheless I found the smooth bark and tall, gently curving poles of this attractive tree quite nice to walk through, especially as most had lost their leaves already so the dim November rays of the sun brightened the area up a little. At the end of my quiet and peaceful woodland walk I met a very large Oak tree standing at the edge of a field, its bole was of considerable girth and it had a healthy crown, it was likely an old pollard as all of its limbs sprouted from the same point high up the trunk, it must have been at least 350 years old.
Autumn is here and winter is coming, I do so love the smells and sights of this changing, unpredictable season, the cold and frost is still novel and I revel in it, this is the best time for long walks in the country.