Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Glittering Grangelands

Grangelands was so beautiful this morning. The sun was shining and we'd had a hard frost overnight, so it looked like it had been dusted with icing sugar. It's hard to believe that in a few months this will burst into life and be full of amazing orchids and butterflies. For now I'm just enjoying the sparkle (and secretly looking forward to spring already!)

I was spoilt for choice of frosty seed heads to photograph, but teasels have always been a bit of a favourite of mine. They're so tall and spiky and such a great source of food for the birds during the winter.

The frost makes such amazing patterns on everything ...
It was good to see plenty of berries still around for the birds.
Nature's Christmas decorations draped along the hedgerows

Juniper berries
Grangelands was glittering in the sunlight and felt so calm and peaceful. What a wonderful place!


Monday, 14 November 2016

Voluptuous Death

I see lots of competitions and opportunities posted on social media and most of the time I think I could never do that. Every now and then though I pluck up the courage to give it a go, telling myself I have nothing to lose. Contributing to the Spring and Autumn books in the Seasons anthology was one such case. I sent off my proposals, thinking at least I'd tried, only to be shocked to hear that my pieces of writing had been included in the books. Even then I didn't actually believe it until I saw them in print!

Well it's happened again. I found out yesterday that a piece I wrote about death's-head hawk-moths had won the invertebrates category in Mark Avery's writing competition. It's such an honour to have won and I'm totally thrilled!

You can read the piece, Voluptuous Death, on Mark Avery's blog.

bug Mad Girl holding one of our death's-head hawk-moths

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

The secret life of a magpie inkcap

Last week I spotted a patch of newly emerged Magpie inkcaps growing in a small area that had been cleared in the car park at Pulpit Hill. I occasionally see one or two of them when I'm out walking, but I've never seen so many in such a small area before.
One week ago, newly emerged, looking very statuesque

At least a dozen magpie inkcaps in a small area next to the car park
Yesterday I went back to see what had happened to them. I found at least 15 in the same small area, in all stages of development. They first emerge as an egg, covered in a thick white veil. As the cap expands, the veil splits revealing the glossy dark brown cap underneath.

A magpie inkcap egg

The veil remains in patches on the cap, giving the fungi it's distinctive appearance and the 'magpie' name. The thick white stipe grows and the cap continues to open and extend into a dome shape.

Dome shaped newly emerged magpie inkcap

Within about a day, the cap will have opened out further and turned up at the edges so that it resembles a bell. The white remnants of the veil often remain on the cap, but may also be washed off or worn away.
When the cap turns to a bell shape it's past its best and will start to disintegrate

At this point the edges of the cap turn black and start to deliquesce (disintegrate by turning to liquid and quite literally dripping away). This process gives this family of fungi the name inkcap.

Starting to drip

Dripping away
 Eventually all that's left is the stipe and a completely disintegrated cap.

One week on, this is all that's left of the beautiful inkcap in the
first proto of this post
They're such short lived, but beautiful fungi, going from egg to dripping bell shaped inkcap within a couple of days. Finding 15 in one small area, in all stages of development, was a very lucky find.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Soggy, foggy fungi

It's been a strange fungi season so far. We've made a few fantastic discoveries, but the masses of fungi that we usually see in the Chilterns just haven't been there. It's been a dry, mild autumn so far and the fungi just don't seem to like it. They're all out there though, biding their time, just waiting for the perfect conditions.  Perhaps the recent soggy, foggy weather was what they were all waiting for ...

Very majestic magpie inkcap
My hopes were raised when I found the most enormous magpie inkcap in the car park at Pulpit Hill. There were at least 8 in a small patch of ground that had been cleared earlier in the year. Just shows how much wildlife can benefit from the hard work that goes into keeping scrub and bushes clear.

They're one of my favourite fungi as they are so majestic and distinctive. Blink and you'll miss them though as they drip away to nothing within a couple of days.

The fog was thick in places and there were so many leaves falling from the trees that it sounded like a crackling fire in the treetops. It was all very Halloweeny!

Large troops of clouded funnels had pushed their way up through the leaf litter. They're common fungi, but had been noticeable by their absence this autumn. They were obviously waiting for some damp, foggy weather to emerge as I found patches of them throughout the woods.
A large troop of clouded funnels marching off through the woods

Clouded funnel
Elsewhere there were clumps of little white bonnets on fallen branches, pretty pink rosy bonnets in the leaf litter and russet toughshanks with their curled up edges. All common enough finds, but again they've been missing in any great number this year, so it was good to finally see so many around.

Delicate little bonnets

Rosy bonnets

Russet toughshanks
The hill fort at the top of the hill felt extra spooky and atmospheric.

Black bulgar was growing on a fallen tree trunk ...

... hairy curtain crust, with a liberal sprinkling of leaves, covered a tree stump ...
... and the centre of the hill fort was covered in small toadstools with a dusting of yellow sprinkles on the cap and stipe. I'm not sure what they were, but they were quite unusual.

Some beautiful porcelain fungus was growing up high on a tree trunk ...

... and a couple of toadstools were growing out of a tree trunk. They had bright yellow gills and a yellow cap that was covered in red speckles. They may be dappled webcaps (but I'm not totally sure).

Feels like the fungi have finally burst into life. Maybe were going to have a late fungi season this year!