Country Diary: Seldom seen mammal by grass verge


At 6am we’re greeted by the song of a robin, hidden in a nearby tree. Already he’s proclaiming his territory in advance of spring!

Breezes stir the spreading branches of whitebeam, revealing the silvery-grey undersides of the toothed, oval leaves, making the trees appear almost white. The scarlet, slightly oval berries rival those of the rowan.

Driving towards Filey, we glimpsed a mammal seldom seen – a stoat! Michael spotted the characteristic black tip to its tail, as it dashed to the opposite verge. Some confuse it with the smaller weasel, but the tail readily distinguishes it.

Visiting Filey Dams Nature Reserve is always a pleasure on a bright sunny day. Standing tall on the far bank was a stately heron, the largest long-legged British bird that wades in water. Then a round, white face appeared in the reeds. Slowly emerging, it proved to be a pure white cat. Creeping closer to the heron, it then vanished.

It was a calm, peaceful scene, with the floating leaves and pink flowering spikes of amphibious bistort cloaking the water.

From the main hide, mallard and moorhens were joined by 11 teal – Britain’s smallest dabbling duck. You can often distinguish it from a distance by its agile flight as it springs from the water. The drake has a fine head pattern of brown and green, whilst the female has a green speculum.

Two gadwall and a couple of wigeon had previously been recorded, along with several sightings of a barn owl.

From the East Hide, at the far end of the board-walk, one could count well over 100 gulls, and a solitary cormorant flew over the water. It’s our largest, all-dark seabird with a white face-patch.

Almost concealed amongst the vegetation of a small island was a shelduck. It’s a large black and white duck resembling a small goose. As it preened, we observed its bill which has a red knob at the base.

A red damselfly kept alighting just ahead of us along the wooden fencing. It almost came onto my finger, but darted off almost immediately on its quest for insects.

Autumn is here, and with it our quest for mushrooms. Wet conditions have proved ideal for fungi in the 
lawn, but not the edible varieties.

In the local cemetery we found one fly agaric, with its large, brilliant orange-scarlet cap flecked with white scales making it so easily recognised. Attractive, but not edible.

Then, on the grassy bank beneath trees were about ten white-capped mushrooms.

This season we wouldn’t be fooled so easily into sampling them! The white cap was turning yellow in older specimens. The swollen base did not turn yellow when cut. The stalk had a hanging frilly ring. The gills were greyish brown, and smelt of aniseed. It was the wood mushroom, alas inedible!