What’s About in Maidenhead Thicket

Was it spring or was it winter? Some 20 hopefuls gathered at the Shire Horse ready to experience the fulness of spring in our most significant local block of woodland, but as several began to see the need to don another layer, it soon became clear that the cold north winds of our darker months had yet to finish with us. We were gratefully joined by Michael Andrews from National Trust, who manage the wood.

Soon we were in the timber cathedral, with many trees still statuesque and foliage-free against the clear blue sky above, and trying to encourage the local Firecrests to appear in their traditional corner of the woodland; but to no avail. As a contribution to the season however, a Blackcap delighted us with his song, as did a handful of others during our walk, accompanied by a goodly number of metronomic Chiffchaffs as we wandered.

Deep mud was everywhere but that at least enabled us to pick out a few deer prints from among the many canine marks left behind.

A number of traditional woodland plants were at least trying to hint at what was to come, with Lesser Celandine, Cuckoopints and Bluebells pushing up through a still-plentiful covering of winter leaves. Why have these leaves not yet found their way into the soils where they are needed? This regular occurrence seems to have been disrupted by the unscheduled fall of desiccated material in the hot-tub which was summer 2022, on top of which several subsequent leaf-piles are still present to be kicked up in autumn-walk fashion.

A lone hoverfly came to inspect us, photographed from underneath which will pose an ID challenge once the pic is circulated. One of us glimpsed an orengey, reddish, blackish butterfly: Comma? Maybe; they are on the wing now. We were enthralled with the display of lichens, liverworts and mosses to be seen, on dying timber and sprouting up from the ground, resembling the Florida Everglades.

Other birds revealed themselves from calls and song, including a distant Green Woodpecker, an unseen Coal Tit, and some circling Buzzards, whilst a playful group of Long-tailed Tits streamed through acrobatically in typical fashion.

A dainty Pill Woodlouse, hardly exemplifying its hawkish name of ‘Armadillidium vulgare’, took a break from nibbling its rotting breakfast to writhe in John’s hand. We stopped to admire an elderly Horse-Chestnut Tree, which seemed to be sprouting from all around its base and up its bole, which Michael suggested meant it was probably under stress. By this time, we all were as we realised our two hours were nearly up so we headed back to the Shire for refreshments.

A final addition to our list came about from a Merlin App, which heard for itself a Firecrest right where we had been looking for one at the Stubbings end, unaware it had been techno-tagged!

Brian Clews.