26 Jan 2015

Hair Ice

Colin Miles

Jan 13th 2015. At this time of year there is relatively little happening, but with the report of a record number of plants flowering at the start of the year, we thought we might see what we could find. For once it was wet, or rather it was snowy wet, large flakes of snow which accompanied us as we walked around for the first hour – then it cleared!

In order to cover more ground we had split up, with some of us going around the lakes whilst the others concentrated on the Double Walled Garden and surrounding areas. In terms of flowering plants it was something of a disappointment in terms of numbers. The Snowdrops were in bud and promising a bumper year, together with Early Narcissus and Daffodils, Aconites, Ground Saxifrage and Hellebores, plus Daphne, Wych Hazel, Viburnum, and some other Garden shrubs in bud if not actually in flower.

Down by the lakes we saw Teal, Mallards, Moorhen, Little Grebe and a couple of Coot. In previous years they have been quite a few around but for some reason they have disappeared apart from these. John has also placed his Wildlife Camera in position by the Gatehouse in an attempt to film an Otter.

Jan 20th 2015. Bruce had asked us to look for Lichens and Fungi in Pont Felin Gat, so most of us decided to walk there via Trawscoed Meadow where we saw a Wren and a pair of Bullfinches, male and female. And came across an interesting poo which was the subject of much discussion and sniffing. Not Fox, too small for a Dog so maybe a Stoat or some other small mammal.

On into the woods and we came across a very interesting phenomena – Hair Ice. Except that at the time we didn’t know what it was or what it was called. Anne later remembered that she had seen it discussed on Winter Watch Unsprung. It looks exactly as if a white Fungus is growing out of isolated, bare bits of wood but is in fact ice which soon melts on touching it.

Hair Ice depends on the presence of fungi in the wood. These fungi produce carbon dioxide and water as products of their activity, and the carbon dioxide helps push water out through the pores in the wood and this freezes into the beautiful structures that we saw.

However, searching the web I found that there was another phenomena – Frost flowers. This is where thin layers of ice are extruded from long-stemmed plants in autumn or early winter. The thin layers of ice are often formed into exquisite patterns that curl into “petals” that resemble flowers. Frost flowers form in part due to the difference between ground and air temperatures. On winter days when the ground is still warm enough for a plant’s roots to keep it alive but the air is cold enough to freeze, the plant continues to move water up from the roots. As the water moves into the plant, it is now surrounded by the cooler air temperature, and it begins to form ice crystals. Since water expands as it freezes, these expanding crystals split the plant stem open as they “grow”.

So were some of Hair Ice we saw actually Frost Flowers? Probably not as what we saw was mainly on twigs and similar bits of wood.

As for Lichen we didn’t find much variety, possibly because of the trees aren’t old enough and the pretty consistently wet environment. Lots of Moss everywhere and one particular area which looked as if the saplings had all developed hairy boots.

Meanwhile Jan, Keith and John had been examining the Badger set which is enormous and which needs a further examination to reveal the true extent and the number of Badgers there.

On up towards the falls which looked even more splendid than usual after the recent rainfall, and then back home through the fields with splendid views across to the Garden and the Great Glasshouse.

Many thanks as always to John and Peter for their splendid photos. And if any volunteer or member wants to join us please send an email to Jane Down– you DON’T have to be an expert in anything, just interested. If you click on the Wildlife Walks heading on the left-hand side under News you will see a list of the last 10 Wildlife Survey blogs. If you find an injured bird, hedgehog or other wild animal and want help and advice then phone the Gower Bird hospital. on 01792 371630.