By Martin Summers, Forest Ranger at Deerpark
Winter comes later to Deerpark than upcountry but most of our broad leaved trees are losing the last of their leaves now and the rides and pathways are carpeted in golden hues. Amongst the stripped oak branches, Oak Galls can easily be seen. These balls are made by a gall wasp for its young to feed and hide in. If you look closely many will have small holes where the wasps have emerged. These galls were used for ink long ago.
Now is a great time to admire the various cones of our planted softwood conifers, from the smallest, Western Hemlock, to the largest, Monterrey Pine. Norway Spruce, better known as a Christmas tree, has the longest cones at the top. The Hemlocks have wavy, almost sculptured trunks and give a soft, mossy floor below their graceful branches.
As the low winter sun hits these tall conifers the rays are splintered. They combine with the characteristic November mists to give a magical atmosphere to Deerpark's forest.
Now that most of the vegetation has died back, it is time to focus on the impressive array of ferns that thrive in our humid valley. Scaly Male ferns have huge equidistant fronds, in contrast to the small Hard ferns that line the banks. Lady ferns have appropriately graceful fronds with comma shaped “sori” on the undersides. Also standing out now are the fluffy white seed heads of Rose Bay Willowherb which line the rides high up. Lower down by the lake you may brush against the burs of Burdock, assisting this 5 foot high plant to spread its seeds by way of nature’s nearest thing to Velcro!
A winter wonderland
As November gives way to December, nature finally winds down for its winter recess. Most striking in December is the still silence of a cold crisp day. Low sunlight glinting though the narrow valley creates a stunning contrast to the crystal white, frost-covered landscape. This is when you feel that Deerpark is something special, which, of course, it is...
One wonders if the Victorian miners or powder mill workers would have had time to appreciate this beauty. The mines have an atmosphere all of their own in winter. The crumbling engine houses and ivy clad chimneys stand out now the autumn fall has denuded the surrounding tree cover.
Back at the cabins, the pond is still. Victor and the other resident geese and ducks can be seen vying for cabin throwaways from admiring guests on their balconies. If you are very lucky a Salmon might be seen from a bridge. These run the stream in small numbers at this time of the year, returning to the "Redds" (spawning beds) where they were born. Deerpark's small stream is a tributary of the minor arm of the main Looe river - and considered the best reach for these protected spawning salmon which can weigh 8 pounds - an impressive sight in such a small water course.
Life goes on – even in Winter
Now that the leaves have gone, we look elsewhere for winter colour. The bright pink fruits of the Spindle stand out, with their orange seeds splitting from inside. Spindle was an important tree in long gone times with its round hard wood, used, as you would suppose, for spindles. Gorse, with its bright yellow coconut flowers, bucks the seasonal botanical trend by producing some showy blooms now. Ask me about the folklore surrounding this singular plant when you come….
December sees some strange fungi rise up in the darkest, dampest parts of the forest. The Cauliflower fungi is the size and shape of a football, with a spongy brain-like appearance. Normally dull apparently lifeless areas of decomposing leaves can spring to life now with grey toadstool-like stands.
On Night Vision events, equally apparently lifeless forest tracks can suddenly be seen crossed by woodmice scurrying to escape detection by Tawny Owls. If there is no light pollution at all, luminous centipedes can also be seen on these same tracks - there is more life than you think going on!
And of course, human activity at Deerpark carries on regardless; the highlight being the weekly duck race which continues throughout the winter.
Winter can be as rewarding as any other season in the forest if you know what to look for. Come to Deerpark for the silence and the scenery, the hardy flora and fauna, the frost and the fun.
The Famous Deerpark Duck Race