Wednesday, 30 September 2015

What's that fungus?

I've been out in the woods again, snuffling through the leaf litter and hunting behind trees and on logs. I just love the way you never know what you're going to find and can literally walk around a tree and stumble across a brilliant new fungi you've never seen before.

Fungi country - mostly beech with some oak
Fungi come in so many shapes, sizes and colours that you'd think they'd be easy to identify, but they're actually very tricky. They often change shape and colour as they mature and many appear to be very similar. To have any confidence about what you're looking at you have to look at more than just the cap, examining the pattern of the gills, details of the stem and even the colour of the spores released by the fungi. I thought all those little brown moths were hard enough to identify, but I think fungi are even more difficult.

Here are some of my finds from the last week, which I've had a go at naming ...

Dapperling - the dark brown pyramidal scales on the cap remind me of the
browned meringue on a baked Alaska

I believe this is a newly emerged death cap - as the name suggests this is
one of our most poisonous fungi and emerges covered in a white veil which
soon disappears. It had crowded white gills and a white ring around the stem

Aniseed funnel - a greyish blue fungus that smells of aniseed

Beechwood sickener - a poisonous fungus that always seems to be well nibbled
by the slugs when you find one - I assume they aren't poisoned by it!

One of the cups (not sure which one) - cup shaped fungi with no stem. It had
a smooth, brown, jelly like top surface and a white almost furry underside

Trooping funnels - large fungus with a small cap in relation to the size of the
stem and gills that run down the stem

A forest of little bonnets

Hare'sfoot inkcap - the cap and stem are covered in furry white scales

Hare'sfoot inkcap

Ochre brittlegill - as the name suggests the gills are very brittle and will snap
if you touch them

Porcelain fungus - a slimy white fungus that usually grows high up on beech
Porcelain fungus growing all over the branches of a beech tree
We've barely got going with the fungi season, so it's really exciting to find so many weird and wonderful discoveries already. Whilst I've enjoyed the sunshine of the last few days, I would secretly quite like a bit more rain, just to keep the beechwoods nice and damp so even more fungi pop up! . 

Monday, 28 September 2015

Super blood moon

Last night we had a super blood moon, a rare moment combining two significant lunar events. The super moon occurs when the moon is at its closest point in its orbit around the Earth, making it larger and brighter. The blood moon is caused by a lunar eclipse caused by the earth moving between the sun and the moon. The dust in the earths atmosphere makes the moon appear red rather than dark.

The peak of the eclipse was at 3.15 am, so myself and hubby staggered out of bed and down the stairs just in time to open the back door and see what was happening. Luckily it was a beautifully clear, starry night and we got a brilliant view of, what was definitely a red moon.


It was very strange, because the stars were shining bright but it felt so dark outside. It felt 'out of this world' to see a red moon outside our back door. The last time it happened was 1982 and the next time will be 2033, so it really was a very rare occurrence. I was very glad we made the effort to get up and see it.

Strangely the blood moon seemed to be quite small especially when compared to the amazing super moon we'd seen earlier at sunrise. I'd been driving home at about 7pm and the moon that appeared on the horizon had been totally stunning, hanging in the dusk sky like an enormous glowing ball. No photo unfortunately as I was driving.

Not to be outdone, this evenings sunset has been pretty spectacular as well!

Friday, 25 September 2015

Looking forward to Autumn

The change from one season to another is always an exciting time as we move on from the delights of the season we're leaving behind and look forward to what's in store over the next few months. Summer has been wonderful, especially the butterflies, moths, orchids and mini-beasts, but now it's time to enjoy everything Autumn has to offer.

The sun's lower in the sky, making the light more muted, casting long shadows interrupted by spotlights of sparkling sunlight. The beech woods of the Chilterns are simply stunning at this time of year.

The leaves are turning and will soon set the hills alight with a blaze of reds, golds and browns.

The berries are ripening, providing a welcome chance for wildlife to feed up before the harsh winter months set in.
Juniper berries
The seeds are set, each one cleverly designed to maximize its chances of being successfully dispersed, be that by wind, animal, gravity or even by literally exploding and shooting the seeds away (known as ballistic seed dispersal).

Conkers are starting to fall and be collected by children
Lupin seed pods after they've exploded

Agrimony seeds, covered in little
hooks to catch on fur and clothing
The cool, damp weather is triggering the fungi to fruit and burst into life. There are so many shapes sizes and colours of fungi, literally popping up overnight.
Torn fibrecap
Beechwood jellydisc
What's not to love about Autumn!

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

BBC Wildlife photo of the day

I'm very excited to have my photo selected as the photo of the day by BBC Wildlife Magazine.

It was a rainy day so there were lots of big slugs around on Pulpit Hill. This one was very busy eating some fungi and didn't seem to mind at all that I was there.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Magic mushrooms

The fungi seem to have really burst into life over the last week, with all sorts of little treasures popping up. They're neither plants nor animals and belong to their own classification kingdom. The part we see above ground is just the fruit and the main body actually stretch underground. They're a vital part of the woodland ecology, helping with the decaying process, providing food and homes to many creatures and forming complex relationships with plants and trees.

Today I decided to take a look 'off road', climbing up the side of Pulpit Hill through the trees instead of on the path. It was very steep and my nerves weren't helped by the dog playing a game of racing down the hill and skidding through the leaf litter into me, but it was worth it because often you find the best things by veering off into the wilderness a little.

I chose to climb up at that spot because I'd heard that bird's-nest orchids grew up there, so thought it might be a chance to check out the area and look for some fungi at the same time. I'm fairly sure I found the orchids and there were around 30 stems in a small area. They've gone to seed now but at least I know where to look next spring.
I'm hoping these are bird's-nest orchids

I found some interesting fungi whilst I was there. With branched, pointed tips and flattened stems I believe this must be crested coral fungus. It's usually white but can sometimes be cream or ochre, as in this case.

This large, deep red fungus was growing on a fallen log. I think it must be an oyster mushroom, but they're usually white or grey. This was a lovely rich burgundy colour and was quite unusual with a very tough, leathery cap and a white, off-center stem.

I also saw one of the huge Roman snails on the move. We see them regularly on Pulpit Hill during the Spring, but I hadn't seen any for a while and thought they might have hibernated already.

Yesterday we took the dog for a walk on Chinnor Hill, another favourite fungi haunt and found this newly emerged magpie inkcap 'egg'. It will open out into the distinctive inkcap bell shape within the next day and will have 'dripped' away and disintegrated within about another two days.
Magpie inkcap
We saw several distinctive fungi in different stages of growth. They looked similar to fly agaric (red fairy toadstalls with white spots) but the cap was grey with a hint of pink. They were covered in cream coloured 'warts' and had white, crowded gills. I believe these are either grey spotted amanita or a fungi called the blusher, but I'm not sure which. Both are in the amanita family and are related to the fly agaric.

Just emerging our of the leaf litter

This fairy ring was hiding in the leaf litter and was made up of clumps of little peach bonnets with grey stems. Tradition has it they're formed where the fairies dance around in a circle, but we didn't see any fairies!

These tiny little collared parachutes were covering the woodland floor. Such delicate little things that you could easily completely miss them.

Finally, the base of  a tree was covered in little puffballs. The fact that they were growing on wood makes them stump puffballs instead of common puffballs which grow out of the ground. Some lovely decoration for the tree!

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Wild Oxfordshire

We spent the afternoon at the River and Rowing Museum in Henley, which on a normal day is a lovely museum in a fabulous setting.

Today it was extra special though as it had been taken over by Wild Oxfordshire, giving the kids a chance to hold all sorts of beasties and engage with some of the local (and not so local) wildlife.

Very keen on the tarantula

No we can't have one as a pet!
The giant millipede was nice - very smooth

Happy to touch, but 'too leggy' to hold apparently!
Great crested newt

Giant African land snails

A very handsome Indian eagle owl called Ruben

No we can't have one of them as a pet either!
We also had a look at some of the fossils that have been found locally, including this cast of a dinosaur jaw. The original was found almost 200 years ago in Oxfordshire, then it was spotted by an Oxford professor who identified it as a reptile jaw, making it the first 'giant lizard' fossil to be discovered.

The giant sharks teeth fossils were a bit of a hit and I liked this perfect shrimp fossil.

The kids did the fossil lucky dip and came home with their own fossils.

We saw snakes skins and the skulls of crocodiles and alligators.

Doing an impression of Sobek, the Egyptian God of the Nile
The Environment Agency had brought some river life along and we fished some shrimps and worms out of the water, taking a good look at them through the hand lenses.

They'd also set some traps the night before and caught a signal crayfish in one of the River Thames tributaries near Wallingford. They're an introduced species that has caused havoc with the native white-clawed crayfish, spreading disease to them. They also eat the eggs of native fish and damage river banks by burrowing into them.
Signal crayfish
We all added some artwork to the riverlife mural.
Our resident artist at work
The little one drew an otter, chasing a fish that was chasing a worm!

I drew some snake's head fritillaries on the river
bank - one of my favourite plants!
 Then we headed out to the meadow to play a red kite game. We had to build a nest, then our red kite protected the chicks while we collected food for them. Unfortunately some of our food was poisoned and one our chicks died! Took my best powers of persuasion to persuade our red kite to leave the nest!!

Rusty the red kite - he's to scale showing the huge wingspan of a red kite

There's lots of lovely things in the rest of the museum and it's definitely worth a visit.