Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts by D. Greenwood

Ebernoe - 8-11-2019 blog-75

Fungi Friday 3rd April 2020 (or Friday 9th November 2019)

I can’t get out to anywhere that has mushrooms to photograph and we’re also experiencing something of a dry spell in Sussex. That means that this week I’m posting about my fungal highlight of autumn 2019, which took place on Friday 9th November. Consider this a bit of a sporting or cinematic classics TV show, until we’re allowed to venture further and any spring rain arrives. The inconsistent nature of mushroom fruiting bodies means I may have to wheel this out again to keep it going every week.

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It was mid-November with autumn at its peak. The colours of the beech trees were at their most explosive. In the woodlands of the Sussex Weald, there were millions of mushrooms. They seemed to be under every footstep and fruiting from every fallen tree.

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It was clear it was peak mushroom time. The bonnets were out en masse and many leaves were still on the trees. I have come to think that fungi hunting is so much easier before the leaves fall. The leaf litter created by oak and beech is very hefty.

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I would also consider using hazel as an indicator. When those leaves start to yellow and fall, you know it’s going to be more difficult. Winter is on its way.

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Bonnets are some of the best fungi to photograph because they’re often elevated on the limbs of fallen trees, meaning you don’t have to scrabble around on the ground. It’s also a very nice height for a tripod. A tripod gives you the steadiness to use slow shutter speeds which makes it so much easier to take pics in a dark woodland in autumn. Also, mushrooms don’t move!

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What I am looking for in general is a mushroom that can be isolated. A macro lens gives a very shallow depth of field, which means that the focus is thin and the background easily blurs. This kind of thing is perfect. I don’t focus stack images (a complex process of threading images together which have different stages of focus) but this would look really good with every aspect in focus.

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This is also what’s so nice about elevated fungi. You can play around and get some nice bokeh (the circles in the background). This is created by daylight flooding through the leaves – can you see the wash of green? I used a small LED light to light the gills of the bonnets. They look almost like paper or plastic to me. The idea also occurred to me that the white bokeh circles look like the mushrooms, too.

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These are probably more bonnets. Again, taking a photo of the gills underneath can create a really beautiful effect. I could have pulled the bit of dead wood off to reveal the other mushroom but I fundamentally disagree with damaging habitats for the sake of a photo.

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A species I learned last year was buttercap (or at least I think I have). This is said to be a common species. I like the fairytale shape of the stipe as it bulges at the base.

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The woodland was entering peak autumn colour. These beech leaves still held traces of their chlorophyll.

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It was a beautiful day to be in the woods. I can’t tell you how much a woodland stream adds to the overall experience!

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With what is approaching a lake, you’re spoiled rotten.

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Back to the shrooms. I found probably the biggest fungus I have ever seen, though you could argue it is several fruiting bodies fused together. I even added some in-photo text to help explain the situation to you. Very advanced. This is a bracket fungus that looks more like a ray. It’s probably artist’s bracket, a Ganoderma species. Below it you can see some smaller mushrooms, these are all deceivers. They were just about covering the entire area here. It was almost impossible not to step on one. By the way don’t worry that’s my hand not a mushroom burglar’s.

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All in all this was my peak mushroom experience in autumn 2019.

Thanks for reading.

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Macro Monday 30th March 2020

Like 25% of all humans, I am now confined to a new way of living. Work from home if you can and exercise in your garden if you have one. It’s not military arrest, yet. So like many others who are promoting our #NaturalHealthService online I’m starting a weekly Macro Monday blog series.

This is one of the best times of year for photography, the days have just grown longer and the warmer weather means more wildlife is making its way out of the woodwork. Much of the stuff I see with a macro lens literally comes out of the woodwork.

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I’m lucky. I have a small garden, something that is a total privilege when many people do not even have a home. If anyone doesn’t have a garden and wants to see some wildlife during the next few weeks and months, here it is.

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I have been photographing wildlife in the garden attached to the place where I’ve lived for a long time now. Above is a personal favourite, a red mason bee living in a garden gate! For me going on safari is not attractive, because of the cost, the trauma of long-distance travel for both me and the environment, and because if you have a macro lens of any kind, you can see so much close to home. You can appreciate the beauty in the everyday. I think there’s a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote for that.

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Let’s see how this goes, an outlet for the frustrations to come but also a view into the world that will continue its natural cycles despite what us humans do. This week I have had to apologise to neighbours on several occasions for hanging around the hedge with a camera. I have several macro lenses and one of them is quite long and could easily be mistaken for a snooper’s telephoto lens. To the person who is a couple of gardens away but too far for me to apologise, I’m sorry.

The hedge I’ve been hanging around was one I actually intended to remove because it’s quite dominant and I’d prefer a mixed hedge which will support a greater range of insect species. But this hedge has been brimming with life, especially droneflies, a species of hoverfly that look much like a honeybee. Hold on tight:

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You may already have lost count of the amount of images of animals close together with the caption ‘ha, they don’t care a damn about social distancing!’ so I’ll leave that one alone.

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The insects I look out for most of all are the bees. We have over 200 species in the UK and the diversity is astonishing. I think this is a yellow-legged mining bee. I’m not sure why but bees and wasps do seem to be more attractive in their side eyes and the three ocelli on top, also providing optical vision.

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This is probably one of the leafcutter bees but I’m not sure. It was happy to be approached while basking on the shrub that all the insects seemed to enjoy.

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Away from the insects, spiders have a predilection for the wooden fence on one side of the garden in the early morning sun. This zebra jumping spider gave me a right run around. Later that day I actually found one in the house, not the first time, but I think it had squeezed its way under the window.

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Early spring is also a time when spiders are basking in sunny spots on leaves. I bought this stachys flower last year and planted it out, only for it not to really do anything. Since moving house I transplanted it and am hoping it will come to life this year. It’s a member of the dead-nettle family and proves very good for bees.

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Perhaps a little more sinister, this spider looked to me to be eating salt from the soil. I have no ecological basis for that argument other than I know butterflies and other invertebrates do the same.

Thanks for reading.

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Fungi Friday 27th March 2020

It’s estimated that 25% of people on Earth are now under some social restriction due to the Covid-19 pandemic. While the non-human organisms are probably enjoying this hiatus, it’s certainly harder to continually produce these finger-on-the-pulse-docu-drama Fungi Friday posts. This week I confess I have no fungi photos worth sharing. I even sat in the garden just now for half an hour trying to get extreme macro images of a mouldy orange. No word of a lie. Look:

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So the only sensible thing to do is admit defeat – I have no mushroom images to show you from this incredibly sunny and dry week in Sussex. But this blog has only been running since Christmas and so this is a chance for me to spend some of those Fungi Fridays I’d been storing in the mushroom bank.

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In early November I took a walk one Sunday around a nature reserve close to where I live. It’s a mixture of wetland, wet woodland and plantation. I featured some pics from it last week before the powers that be sent us packing. I found a very unusual looking mushroom growing along the path edges in patches of woodchip. This was a new species for me and apparently too for our great nation.

I struggled with some serious mushroom envy at times last year due to lots of images of a blue mushroom that every mycologist and her dog had found. I felt a bit better about it after meeting its cousin, the redlead roundhead, for the first time. This beautiful red shroom is a naturalised species which originates in New Zealand. As the Covid-19 pandemic shows us, things can spread easily around the world if their manner of reproduction is microscopic, airborne and supported by intercontinental human travel. Tree diseases, I’m talkin’ to you!

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I was trying out a new zoom lens on my little mirrorless camera and these funeral bell mushrooms enjoyed their opportunity to show off their poisonousness. Their name should tell you what eating them does. They are very similar to sheathed woodtuft and anyone looking to eat fungi should be very careful when trying to decipher between these two species. I’m just going to flat out discourage that!

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The path edge was also rich in puffballs. The birch log at the side of the photo is path edging, what is sometimes known as a fungi super-highway. These puffballs are quite weird looking but they’re in their prime. I think they probably common puffballs but they could also be pestle puffball, which I believe is a bit larger than this really. 10 points if you can identify which small mammal has nibbled into the hazelnut in the bottom right.

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In another coniferous patch I found this expanse of common funnel mushrooms. I spent several years working in a woodland that housed trooping and clouded funnels in the same areas pretty much every year. But the above was a species I’d only seen once before. Also using a zoom lens made it a lot easier to express the scale of their spread, compared with the narrow depth of field a macro lens provides.

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Next week I’m planning to recap my peak autumn 2019 mushroom experience which I never got round to posting last year. I promise no more mouldy fruit unless it’s aesthetically worth it.

Wishing you well, thanks for reading.

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Blackdown, West Sussex, March 2020

We climb the hill on a winding, muddy path through woodland. The trees are sprawling yew, rotten beech and broken holly. On the thick, black soil holly leaves have fallen. We listen to the spinning coins of a goldcrest’s song as it moves close over our heads in the twigs of a yew. These tiny birds weigh little more than a 20p piece and must eat 90% of their body weight each day to survive in winter.

The light at the top of the hill comes through the branches. Woodland becomes heath of gorse, bilberry and birch. The voices of a walking group echo down as we step up through sandier soils now. A screen of crooked birches are splayed across the view, desperate to keep its secret. Their birchen secret is out.

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From up here, the highest point in the South Downs National Park, the Sussex Weald opens out. Soft brush woods are broken by fields where individual oaks express themselves as they once would have, in landscapes kept open by now extinct herbivores like aurochs and wild horses.

Then there are the folding Downs catching in a spill of light from the west. The beechen clump of Chanctonbury Ring, with the heavy metal orchids of Truleigh Hill further east.

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A woman is here with her son and his girlfriend, walking the dog. She tells them in a faintly Irish accent that you can see the Isle of Wight on a good day. This is not one of those days.

The families and walkers are dissipating and the view is now ours for a moment. Just as the last person leaves, a call rings out from the woodland we crept up through.

One call, and then the truncated follow-up. A tawny owl, calling from the rafters of the Weald at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon.

The Sussex Weald

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Fungi Friday 20th March 2020

Happy Spring Equinox! Yesterday was a special day, the first proper mushrooms of 2020 made an appearance in Sussex, to me at least. Problem was I completely missed this mushroom, blewit! Wood blewit, that is (sorry). Thankfully it was pointed out to me and I had a glove model on hand (lol) to show it off.

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This has been an incredibly difficult week for people and it’s hard not to talk about it here. Heading out to see which birds are now singing or which mushrooms might be fruiting is a massive tonic to the social frenzy which is hitting pretty much everywhere at the moment. This week I heard my first singing chiffchaff of the year, a rubberstamp of ecological spring. This female great tit may soon become a mum.

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We have to look to nature now as spring arrives. It puts you back in your place and gives a picture of the longer term. The wild life will go on. But we should also consider that the problems we are now facing are linked to our awful devastation of the natural world, the abuse of its wildlife and ecosystems. Seriously people, we have to consider what we are doing to wildlife and their habitats first hand and also by our consumption of unsustainable products like beef from Brazil or chocolate from companies with poor ethical standards. I really hope that people can find a love of nature now that makes us slow down, consume less and see that our impact has to change forever before nature changes us more abruptly. After this, there can be no going back.

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As I say quite often on this website, I’m not a forager of edible plants and mushrooms, though I know a fair number that I could eat. By that I mean plants and mushrooms, not actual foragers. I have never lived in a place where the foraging of anything beyond blackberries is sustainable. Some foragers must have been banking on this moment of temporarily empty supermarket shelves. Though our numbers are too great and nature’s larder probably too diminished to sustain our diets now. Shame that the toilet roll you find in the woods ain’t ripe yet.

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Most of the fungi I saw yesterday was not edible, either because of its species or just generally because something else had already eaten it. The Coronavirus situation should remind us that there are millions of other species with lifestyles that are far more sustainable than ours, and we are vulnerable to pandemics, especially as we force our way ever deeper into untouched ecosystems that have been intact for millions of years or disturb people who have lived in harmony with those landscapes for a long time. The fungus above is probably shaggy bracket or Inonotus hispidus, one you usually find in bits on the floor having dropped off from higher up. I learned this species conducting tree health surveys with tree inspectors.

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A common mushroom popping up now is glistening inkcap. The ‘record shot’ above is enough to show you how few mushrooms I’ve seen recently. The standards should get better as winter diminishes in the rearview mirror.

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Some fungi need a bit more before they’re ready to go on stage. Here we have a splitgill fungus, which I covered a few weeks ago. Still this snowy white shroomster was a pleasant sight against the blackened rings of this log.

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I am getting mentally ready to spend a lot of time in my garden this spring. I am very privileged to have a garden and, having eventually got to this point, I will never take it for granted. During one of this week’s WFH lunch breaks, I found this miniscule fungus frowing on the remains of a magnolia leaf. I wasn’t even looking for it, I saw it later when editing the RAW file on the computer.

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This very tiny fly was resting on a patch of fungus in the pigment of this leaf. I’d like to learn more about these types of fungi but one of the more recognisable ones is that which grows on bilberry (blaeberry, blueberry) leaves.

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I owe lichens for getting this #FungiFriday blog close to completing its third month. Let’s hope that Fungi Friday can help us adapt to the life changes we are all experiencing just now. I plan to do a virtual Fungi Friday guided walk if we’re still allowed out, in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned for that, but most of all stay tuned to the season rather than your news app on your smartphone. It will help you when you need it.

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The Sullington Yew, Sullington, West Sussex

The South Downs is renowned for its ancient churches. Its chalk soils have also proven hospitable to yew trees. Some of the most extensive yew woodlands in the UK (if not Europe) are on the chalk of the North and South Downs in southern England.

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I had a couple of minutes in the village of Sullington at the foot of the South Downs close to Storrington in West Sussex. The village is made up largely of an ancient farmstead and the Church of St. Mary.

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The Sullington yew sits in the churchyard, supposedly 1200 years old. To me it looks like it could be younger due to its lack of hollowing in the heart of the tree. If it’s that old it would pre-date the church by several hundred years. It is true that many yew trees pre-date the churches they share a plot with. Yew trees hold strong spiritual significance to pre-Roman/Saxon Brits who were Pagan. Therefore churches came later, being Christian, on sacred Pagan sites.

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The church itself is built of flint, sandstone and other materials. Part of it is Saxon, meaning it survived the Norman Conquest of 1066. It is thought to originate from 1050.

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Here’s the tree on the Ancient Tree Inventory.

 

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Fungi Friday 13th March 2020

No self-respecting person goes out looking for mushrooms in March. The mushrooms come to you. Or in this case (above), the bracket mushrooms will hover over your head and attempt to abduct you ala UFOs visiting nocturnal fields in the southern states of the USA. I’m unsure of what this bracket fungus is but it is probably the funniest. I actually ‘laughed out loud’. It’s growing from a poplar in a wetland reserve in the Sussex Weald. If you look closely enough it also looks like a grumpy frog.

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This great spotted woodpecker was looking for his lunch nearby. Thankfully his attempt to fool me into thinking he was a bracket fungus didn’t work. It got more weird:

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Alongside what is known in Sussex as a ‘gill’, a stream rushing through woodland, I found this horror. Now I’m unsure whether this is the jellied remains of an old bracket fungus or simply the remains of a jelly fungus. It could also be something far worse. I prodded it with a twig and it jiggled, so I would go with it being a jelly fungus. It was delicious. Kidding, it wasn’t. As in, I didn’t eat it.

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The only fungal wow moment of the past week has been this encounter with splitgill fungus growing from a pine tree. This was a plantation of thousands of pine trees with very little variety in structure, tree species or ground flora. Keep an eye out for my next Sussex Weald post on that. These mushrooms stood out like many sore thumbs.

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The lichenised fungi also provided a rather artistic sight. I think this is a species of poplar. It has crustose lichens growing around the trunk. In a tweet the British Lichen Society pointed out that this is evidence that trees grow outward rather than upward. Why is this? It’s because trees are constantly putting on new layers of wood internally, behind the bark. These layers of tissue form the static mass of the tree. It is in effect a kind of waste product but it gives the tree some structure.

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Take this stunning dead oak which was also seen on the same day as the lichens. The bark is falling away from the tree as it decays (thanks to fungi in part) and the layers of wood internally are exposed.

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All that, from the fact that lichens look a bit like bird poos delivered at high velocity from the leftfield.

Thanks for reading!

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