We met outside the Prior Park Garden Centre at 10am on a mild winter’s morning for our New Year Walk in Widcombe. As usual it was a popular gathering with 28 members present. After a quick look for American crayfish along the stream by Prior Park Buildings, which proved unsuccessful, we set off towards Lyncombe Vale. With no leaves on the trees the small heronry in the grounds of Widcombe Manor could be seen clearly. There were 7-8 nests surviving from last year with several birds perched in the trees. We joined the high pavement alongside the stream in Lyncombe Vale, noting a number of ferns growing in the wall, including wall rue, maidenhair spleenwort and hart’s tongue. Much of the wall was covered in the introduced plant ‘mind-your-own-business’, Soleirolia soleirolii which occupies a damp shaded niche normally used by a mixture of bryophytes.

Just beyond the school we stopped to examine the bryophytes around the ‘spring’ in the wall, which included the liverworts Pellia epiphylla, Marchantia, and Conocephalum conica in profusion. On damp banks nearby we found the leafy liverwort Plagiochila asplenioides. Helena pointed out the difference between the native Lords-and-Ladies and the introduced subspecies italicum. We walked on, passing under the disused railway, now the two tunnels footpath and cycle route. The path runs at the foot of an overgrown field, which is full of crickets in summer but had little to offer until we had a remarkably close view of a buzzard sitting in a tree. It flew low over our heads as it took off.

We turned left by Entry Hill and up the steep path leading to the top of the old Fox Hill. Two strikingly colourful fungi occurred on dead branches. The first was yellow brain fungus Tremella mesenterica, also known as witch’s butter, which is parasitic on other fungi that cause decay of wood. The second was the deep red-brown jelly ear fungus, growing on dead branches of field maple. We made our way down Fox hill alongside some huge old beech trees, hearing green woodpecker and nuthatch on route.

When we reached David and Jan Robertson’s house they kindly invited the whole party to join them for coffee and cake, and to enjoy seeing garden birds on their feeders. They regularly see marsh tits, and whilst unlucky with those several of us were pleased to see jays at such close quarters. After giving thanks for their generous hospitality we continued down Perrymead, noting extensive patches of winter heliotrope in flower with their characteristic scent of vanilla or, some say, marzipan. We made a slight diversion through the Abbey Cemetery, noting the large badger sett and ravens already in residence on the Wellingtonia tree.

We finished back at the garden centre, having had a most enjoyable walk, and recording a total of 22 species of birds, none of which were our expected winter visitors.

David Goode