Sunday, 25 September 2016

Running through the woods

The kids weekends are always jam packed with clubs, birthday parties and sporting activities, meaning it's not very often that we all manage to go for a walk in the hills together. Today we did just that though and what a treat it was!

It was a day for jumping off tree stumps, eating blackberries and running through the woods.

Bug Mad Girl had her eagle eyes on, as usual, and spotted a caterpillar on the path (that we had all walked past and completely missed). We knew immediately that it was a hawkmoth, as it was large and had a distinctive tail. When they start to pupate they turn a darker colour and start to wander, so we were pretty sure that's what this one was up to.

Pine hawkmoth caterpillar
We later found out it was a pine hawkmoth, which is the first moth or caterpillar of that species that either of us have seen.

She also spotted a black snail beetle tucking into a slug and a large yellow fungus called chicken of the woods.
Black snail beetle

Chicken of the woods
Storm clouds started to gather nearby and we could hear thunder rumbling around the hills.

It was time to go home after what the little one described as an "amazing walk"!

Monday, 19 September 2016

Fabulous fungi

During my dog walk today I took a snuffle through our 'special' patch of woodland. It always seems to be full of surprises and today was no exception as there were at least a dozen huge dinner-plate sized boletes.
I used the dog to show the size of the boletes
They had pale beige coloured caps and bright red stipes, much of which had been chewed away by slugs. Boletes have pores instead of gills and theirs were bright red and the flesh was yellow. There are a few boletes that have a red stipe, but I think the pale cap, red pores and large size make these devil's boletes. Poisonous, possibly deadly, they're listed in my book as 'occasional' and are found on chalk under beech trees (which matches the location that I found them in).
The slugs had eaten a lot of the red stipe, revealing yellow flesh underneath
Red pores underneath the cap
In the same area of woodland, I found two solitary amanitas, one which was going over and another that was newly emerged. They have a pale grey cap that's covered in small white pyramidal scales. The base of the stipe is swollen and covered in bands of scales. They're listed as rare, so are quite a find.
Newly emerged solitary amanita

Solitary amanita - the scales wear off on the cap as they age. The slugs had
been enjoying this one.
Nearby I found my favourite fungus, earthstars. It's so exciting to actually spot them as they are so well camouflaged amongst the leaf litter and are smaller than you expect them to be. They remind me of tiny alien spaceships and are such an unusually shaped fungus.

As well as the devil's boletes, I've found some other boletes in the woods. The red cracking bolete is one of the more common types that we find in the Chilterns. It's smaller and has a brown cap that cracks to show the red and cream flesh underneath. The stipe is relatively thin, turning from yellow at the top to bright red at the base and the pores are yellow.

Red cracking bolete
I saw my first deathcaps so far this year. They have a pale yellow or olive cap that is smooth and shiny and the stipe grows out of a bag in the ground. They're one of our most deadly fungi!

Newly emerged deathcap
 And finally ... a slug. They are loving the recent wet weather and all the fungi that are popping up everywhere!

I'm loving the start of this years fungi season. There seem to be less fungi around so far this year compared to last year, but what there is, is all very unusual and interesting.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

30°C outside, but it still feels like autumn

Despite it being 30°C outside, there was a distinctly autumnal feel to the woods today.

The leaves are still on the trees, causing patches of deep darkness broken by dazzling spotlights of sunshine. Each one seemed to contain two or three speckled woods chasing each other around, dancing in the sunshine.

Some of them were settling on the ground, cleverly camouflaged in amongst the leaf litter. They'd fly up as I walked through the leaves, flutter around my head, then settle back down in almost the same spot that they came from.
Very cleverly camouflaged, especially when their wings were shut
All sorts of fungi had popped up throughout the woods, spurred on by the day of rain we had on Saturday.

I spotted a few firsts for the year including saffrondrop bonnets, red cracking bolettes and coral fungus. They'll soon be a fairly common site, but for the moment, they're a pleasant discovery and a hint of things to come. 

Saffrondrop bonnets - they have so much orange liquid in their stipe (stem)
that you can snap the stem and write with it
Bolettes, like big fat buns, had burst through the leaf litter.
I think these are probably newly hatched red cracking bolettes, which
will open out and then crack across the top of their cap

Coral fungus
I came across a huge giant polypore growing out of the end of a fallen tree. I love it when a fungus is so big you can use a Labrador to show the scale!
Giant polypore and Rosie
Giant polypore

They're pretty cool from underneath as well
In a few weeks the spider webs will be shimmering with frost, but today they were catching in the sunlight. They're such amazing feats of engineering!

Orb web spider
Poor Bug Mad Girl has the 11+ test tomorrow, so I'll make her blackberry and apple crumble for tea (using apples from the garden and blackberries from the hedgerow). It's not really the weather for it, but I doubt that will stop her. Then a stroll through the woods might be just what she needs to unwind after all the stress!
Perfect post 11+ relaxation!

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Flying ant day

Looks like it's flying ant day today, as our back garden has erupted in a mass of ants. They're fascinating to watch, as they serge out of the ground, climbing over each other to crawl up the longest blade of grass (knocking each other off in the tussle) until one makes it to the top and flies off.


I think they're black garden ants and are a mixture of males and females that fly away from the nest in search of a mate from another nest. The males will die within a couple of days and the females will establish their own colonies.

In amongst all the black winged ants were a few smaller red ants (you can see one in the picture below) that seemed to be overseeing the launch site.

Interestingly we heard (but couldn't see) a green woodpecker in the garden earlier in the day. Wonder if it knew the ants were about to fly!

The Royal Society of Biology run a flying ant survey each year, trying to track when the ants fly around the country. We've reported our sighting and you can find out more at

Thursday, 1 September 2016

End of the summer holidays

The summer holidays are almost over and we've been really busy. We've still spent plenty of time outdoors though, so this is a bit of a round up of some of our best bits from the last week ....

We had two exciting finds from our walk around Whiteleaf Hill this morning. The first was a stinkhorn, covered in flies and smelling suitably stinky. They smell of rotting flesh to attract the flies, which then disperse the spores. We found one in almost the same place about 4 years ago and every time we walk past we have to look (and smell) for one. Bug Mad Girl's is always sniffing for stinkhorns, so it was great to find one again. We also had a bit of a laugh about what it looks like!

Then we found a large skull in the grass. It's about 20cm long and belongs to a herbivore (judging by its teeth), so I would guess it's a type of deer. We brought it home, so we'll clean it up a bit and try to find out what it is.

A walk through the woods on Chinnor Hill is a real treat at this time of year, even if it's a bit cloudy and drizzly.
The woods on Chinnor Hill
Hiding away in the deepest, darkest corners, there were still a few violet helleborines in flower, although many had already gone over. They're some of our taller helleborines with lots of flowers on each spike, so when you do spot them, they're very impressive (but hard to photograph in the gloom).

Most have gone to seed already
It's been a bit too dry for most fungi recently, but if you're lucky you can find a few treasures. This one was growing around the base of a beech tree and I only noticed it because I happened to look up when I was photographing the violet helleborines. Looks a bit like an oyster mushroom with the shell shaped cap, but it was very thick and solid, with several caps growing out of a single base. It didn't really appear to have any obvious gills or pores underneath, so I'm not sure what it was. Quite impressive though!

No obvious gills underneath the cap
When you break through the trees, the views from the plain on the top of the hill are spectacular. We always have to pause for a minute and take a look out over Chinnor and across towards Oxford.

We can't visit Chinnor Hill at this time of year without taking a look at the Chiltern Gentian. They're such beautiful flowers and really brighten up a bit of a gloomy day.

Chiltern Gentian

Chiltern Gentian and friends!
We've also been to Watlington Hill this week, for more fantastic views.

It's a great place to spot butterflies and we were lucky enough to see one silver spotted skipper. We followed it around for a while, but only managed a few out of focus photos!

Silver spotted skipper
There were lots of common blues flitting around and we even managed a slightly better photo of one of them!
Common blue
Bug Mad Girl spotted this bolette in the grass. I believe this is a bitter beech bolette as it has a distinctive red stipe. It really feels like the fungi season is just about to kick into gear soon!

Bitter beech bolette
If you read this blog regularly, you'll know that we've spent quite a lot of time searching for frog orchids on Watlington Hill and Aston Rowant Nature Reserve, both this year and last year. We managed to find a handful of plants at both sites, but we stumbled across dozens of them on this visit. They're past their best, but at least we know where to look for them next year. We must have walked right past them on previous searches. I just happened to be kneeling down to take a photo of the bolette that Bug Mad Girl spotted, when I noticed a frog orchid nearby. I looked closer and they were everywhere. Another lucky find!

Frog orchid

A fun way to end the summer holidays!