Upon my latest visit to Half-Penny, it was not that birds that, as usual, occupied my undivided attention. Despite both the local Kingfishers and Dippers performing admirably. Nor was it the sites mammalian inhabitants, despite a Red Squirrel putting on a mighty fine show as it collected hazelnuts from the riparian shrubbery. No, today it was the trees – those towering, leafy cornerstones of Half-Penny – that held the most allure, entrancing in all their seasonal glory.
Structurally, Half-Penny is a very odd woodland – falling into the bracket of semi-natural woodland yet boasting a number of distinct transitional areas, each characteristic of other woodland types. For example, there are two growths of mature Beech trees, open and spacious, as well as dense riparian areas of willow, Alder and Hazel. Midway into the wood, there is a spacious area dominated entirely by three species of oak – Sessile, Pendunculate and the non-native Turkey – while elsewhere, spread between these patches, the majority of the wood is comprised of a delightful blend of Wych Elm, Sycamore and Ash, dotted in places, with the odd Yew and Horsechestnut. It is this charming blend of species, native or otherwise, which makes Half-Penny the place to be come Autumn, when chlorophyll retreats and formerly vibrant leaves begin to turn.
Today, the variety of colours on show in the wood was nothing short of spectacular: from the pure, golden hue of fallen Beech leaves to the radiant yellow of Field Maple. Syacmore leaves, grey/brown and dotted with the characteristic black spots of Rhytisma acerinum , blanketed the footpath, blended artistically with lemon yellow foliage of Wych Elm and the elongated leaves of ash which, by now, have turned myriad colours ranging from sickly, diluted green to outlandish purple. Indeed, everywhere I looked my eyes found themselves besieged by colour: from the marvellous crimson of the sites scant Wayfaring Trees and the auburn of crisped oak leaves. Colours contrasting remarkably with the that of the curled, purifying leaves of a whole manner of woodland titans cast downwards weeks before. Most of which, by now, have blended with conker shells and wilted grasses to form a tricoloured mulch of ominous black, mouldy grey and fading brown on the woodland floor.
Looking closely at the trees, it was clear from my latest excursion that it has not been a great year for nuts. Few acorns adorn the sites oaks and both beech masts and cobnuts remain scant. A trend, I fear, which may have a knock on effect on the species reliant on the crop at this time of year and I suspect that, over the coming weeks, both Jays and squirrels will become scarce as they are forced to seek food elsewhere. Unless they turn their attention to berries that is. It has, after all, been a bumper year for fruiting Elder, Hawthorn and Dog Rose – something not lost on the weary Winter thrushes currently traversing the depths of Half-Penny in noisy, roving flocks. The sight of sixteen Redwing on this visit giving considerable hope for things to come, as the season creeps forward and numbers of these vocal travels swell ahead of the continental chill.