Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Epping Forest - 13-817 djg-41

Fungi Friday 21st August 2020

This week I thought I would write a post answering the most common question regarding fungi – which ones can you eat?

Disclaimer: I am not encouraging you to forage without following a code of respect for nature, wildlife, habitats and the environment. Your desire to eat wild food is not more important than the thing you are trying to forage or the habitats those species depend on to exist. Learn your foraging rights and exercise them with restraint. Respect habitats and know what you are picking.

Here are five well-known species:

Dartmoor 2018 djg (6)

Cep (Boletus edulis)

There are few other places to start with edible mushrooms. This mushrooms is known in Italy as porcini, America as king bolete, France as cep and England as pennybun. When finding ceps you’ll need to ensure they haven’t been eaten through by larvae from the ground up. This is done by cutting the mushroom where it’s attached to the soil and looking at the condition of the stipe. Ceps can be eaten raw in salads and are also good in risotto. I’ve only ever eaten them in restaurants. They grow in woodlands, plantations and on heathlands.

BenVrackie_Sept2018-10

Chantarelle (Cantharellus cibarius)

Chantarelles are a species I’ve only ever seen twice in the wild and I’ve never eaten one. I’ve eaten horn of plenty but they were a gift from Spain. This is the time of year to be looking for chantarelles (August-September). They are a yellowy-orange colour and look a bit like splattered egg yolk from above. People who reliably find chantarelles often have a patch that they return to each year. Not to be confused with false chantarelle. Later in the autumn trumpet chantarelles are another edible relative (that is a phrase you don’t hear often). I’ve found them growing on heathland.

Fungi - July 2018 djg-6

Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus)

I saw a couple of specimens of chicken of the woods this week, but the best time to find them is May-June. This is an easy to identify fungus which grows mostly on oak, but also on sweet chestnut and even yew. Often it grows on fallen tree trunks. Never, ever, eat this if it grows on yew. Yews are poisonous and the fungus will absorb the toxins. It’s important to know that some fungi absorb pollution, so be careful where you are picking things. They are best eaten when younger. This species is important for invertebrates so don’t hoover everything up. That should be the consideration at all times.

Epping Forest - 13-817 djg-41

Amethyst deceiver (Laccaria amethystina)

This is a very small, common mushroom in woodland. Sometimes they are so small you completely miss them down in leaf litter. In 2019 on a single visit to a favourite woodland I found thousands of them growing. They are a beautifully photogenic species and when in good light they have a lovely amethyst glow. They can be found from August to November. They have to be picked in larger numbers to be worth cooking.

Warnham - 20-10-2019 lo-res-28

Common puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum)

Giant puffballs are famous for the their unusual size and the fact you can, well, eat them. A smaller cousin of the giant puffball is the common puffball. This species grows on the woodland floor and can be found throughout the autumn. I often find them at the edges of footpaths, which are not great places to find anything you ever want to eat. I think common puffballs look like submarine bread rolls with their speckled caps.

Thanks for reading. Don’t do anything stupid.

More mushrooms

2 Comments

GDN_16-8-2020_lo-res-18

Macro Monday 17th August 2020

*Warning*: as you may have guessed, this post contains spiders. Some people may find some of these photos unpleasant, but it may help you to learn to overcome your fear. I am not a spider-psychologist so this is not professional advice, as ever.

Here are frequently asked questions about spiders if you want to dispel any myths!

Well, what a week that was. Very high nightime temperatures and unbearable heat through the day. I barely spent any time outdoors, let alone in the garden. I really struggle in temperatures over 30 degrees. Most of the images this week come from the post-heatwave days towards the end of the week.

GDN_16-8-2020_lo-res-21

One evening, after the heat had largely dipped, I noticed some odd behaviour from a zebra jumping spider.

GDN_16-8-2020_lo-res-23

It was hanging from the leaf of a climbing rose we have growing from a terracotta pot on the front of our house.

GDN_16-8-2020_lo-res-22

I noticed there was another, smaller, zebra jumping spider (ZJS) lower down on the pot. I think this was some kind of territorial or even courting behaviour. Eventually the ZJS made it down to the terracotta.

GDN_16-8-2020_lo-res-18

It was running around on the edge of the pot, looking for the smaller ZJS. It was a total nightmare to get in focus.

GDN_16-8-2020_lo-res-17

There was also some time to clean its legs while it tried to find out what the other ZJS was up to.

GDN_16-8-2020_lo-res-13

I’ve seen these lovely spiders all throughout the spring, but much less so in the summer. It was nice to see them again.

GDN_16-8-2020_lo-res-11

I also noticed this crab spider floating in midair on its silk. There is something quite weird about this image I think. The limbs look a bit like human or robot arms. This was a pure fluke of hoping it got into focus, even then you can’t really see the spider properly.

GDN_16-8-2020_lo-res-06

I’ve noticed far fewer insects in my garden, probably because the plants we have are largely over. I need to get some late-summer to autumn flowering species like stonecrop to keep things rocking and rolling. I had a look through the hedge while having an afternoon break after the storm took the heat away. I noticed this spider tucked away down in a bunch of leaves in the hedge. The silk is there to help catch prey but also it will react to movement, triggering the spider to attack.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I visited my family home for the first time in 6 months last weekend, a really special experience after such a long time away. My parents are avid readers of this (perhaps that should say, the readers) blog and my mum pointed out to me that there was a big spider in the bath that I might want to include here! YES MUM!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now there have been several times this week when I’ve noticed out of the corner of my eye a shadow moving across the floor. This is something a lot of people are very unhappy about! But it’s the time of year when giant house spiders are becoming more evident. They are fiersome looking things yet they are harmless. They are more afraid of you than you are of it. They have every right to be afraid, because people will likely try and kill them when they see them, out of misplaced fear.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That said, they are a bit scary to look at and those mandibles are massive. I had my small mirrorless camera with me and a macro lens. The images are quite harsh and grainy because the light was so dank and the flash is a pop-up one without a diffuser.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The spider didn’t actually mind me at all. It was trying to remove some spider silk from its legs by running them through its mandibles.

Far from wanting to harm this animal, I am pleased that we can have such close encounters with big insects like these. If you let them go about their business, there’s no problem. No spider in Britain is venomous. This is not Australia!

Thanks for reading.

Photos taken with Nikon D5600 with Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro lens and SB-700 flash. Giant house spider photos taken with Olympus EM-10 MIII with 60mm f2.8 macro lens.

More macro

 

 

2 Comments

Fungi_at_war_3

Fungi Friday 14th August 2020

For a while I’ve wanted to draw attention to the amazing relationship Slavic people have with fungi, to shine a light on the troubles we have in the UK, especially in England. In ‘Slavic’ I include Russia, Ukraine, Poland and Czechia. Mycophilia (a love of fungi) also extends through more central European countries like Germany, France and further south to Italy.

Bear with me on this one, it’s quite a complex topic which I am trying to understand more about. Even though this blog is a long one, I intend to do more work on it in future.

Zuzka_Chriby_2013

Zuzana Veverkova with baby Riza in Czechia

The only mushroom I’ve ever eaten was picked for me in Czechia by my friend and conservationist Zuzana Veverkova in a huge area of woodland known as Chriby. Zuzka covered it in breadcrumbs and fried it in butter. I don’t know what species it was, probably a parasol or an Agaricus species (like the larger white mushrooms you get in the supermarker), but it was absolutely delicious.

When she picked it I asked her if it was safe to do so. She glared at me:

“I have been picking this for my entire life!”

In England, there is an overriding sense of mycophobia, a fear of fungi. We also have a knee-jerk reaction to foraging, usually translated by right-wing tabloids as an eastern European criminal underworld stealing English mushrooms. It has been the case that people from other countries have been harrassed for foraging mushrooms in English parks, woods and the countryside.

SLF - 14-12-2019 blog-23

In England we live in a nature-depleted country and people are disconnected from more natural landscapes and the wild plants, animals and, indeed, mushrooms that inhabit them. Could it also be that in Britain, higher standards of living have (in theory) been maintained due to a lack of war inland (1066 was the last land invasion) and we have not been subjected to the economic boom and bust resulting from the shifting between revolutionary communist and capitalist systems. What I mean by this is that our supplies of food have been industrialised and well-maintained without a dependency on foraged food. Then again, the impact Covid-19 has had in Britain suggests poverty is far more widespread than people realise, or Government would like to admit.

I know someone who is in their mid-80s and is fluent in Russian, a veritable Russophile. When they learned that I had an interest in fungi, they showed me a copy of a Russian medical book they own. Beyond pretty grisly images of physical ailments are pages of both edible and toxic fungi. Another thing people commonly have told me on public fungi walks I’ve led, is that you can go to pharmacies in countries like Italy and get an identification of a mushroom.

In England, you will never get anything of the kind. I wonder why that is. One of the main reasons could be that Slavic nations enjoy far greater woodland cover. In England we have 13% woodland cover, while nearly half of Russia’s vast landmass is covered by woodland.

Look at this graph and you’ll see how wood-depleted Britain is. I appreciate it’s complicated.

Csik lo-res-6

The Transylvanian Carpathians, Romania

In Britain our lack of reliance on foraging has led to a plummet in nature knowledge and species awareness, something which is improving. In Romania you will find some of the highest levels of plant ID knowledge among local communities, especially ethnic-Hungarians in Transylvania. This is because Transylvanian hay meadows, the botanically richest grasslands in Europe, if not the world, are managed by hand, cut with scythes and have been for a very long time. Knowledge is passed down from generation to generation.

My link to family who lived in a similar way goes back to my Irish grandfather who grew up on a farm in the 1920s in the West of Ireland. On the English side, it’s probably the 1800s when my family were sheep farmers near Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire.

I knew my Irish grandfather and I spent time with him in Ireland. But his generation moved beyond that old way of living without any whiff of nostalgia in later life, and he did not pass on farming or plant knowledge to me. Why would he? I lived in London and he spent most of his life working in construction. We didn’t talk about fungi, because he had dementia by the time I was involved with woodlands and he didn’t quite get what conservation was, more for cultural reasons of how he saw the land.

1280px-kostroma_market_18_mushrooms_a1_28412463407929

Ceps and chantarelles at a Russian market: michael clarke stuff / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

Some of the only people I know in Britain who have said they once ate mushrooms in a way that could be tied to a way of life, rather than a newly inspired, 21st century interest in nature, remember foraging mushrooms as children in fields. One of those people had an Irish mother who taught them how to forage!

Could a lack of knowledge be what drives that fear of fungi, like so many issues. If you have a basic level of species ID then you would know what is toxic and the uncertainty can be controlled. That fear also masks what is in fact a deep fascination, which is beginning to reignite in Britain just as we are perhaps losing our grip in the face of the climate and biodiversity emergencies.

Fungi don’t just appear in Russian medical books. I was astonished to see a thread on Twitter recently that showed a book by a Ukrainian illustrator Ohrim Sudomora entitled ‘War between fungi and beetles’.

Fungi_at_war_1

The thread was published by Anton Savchenko:

Fungi_at_war_2

As Savchenko notes in his thread, the species representation in the book is impressive. Looking at the illustrations I could identify milkcaps, boletes, brittlegills, chantarelles, morels and, of course, fly agaric. You can enjoy the book here. Unfortunately I’m not yet able to get a translation of the folk tale, but the pictures speak for themselves.

Fungi_at_war_3

Savchenko points out that the illustrator, Sudomora, was interred in a gulag by Stalin, possibly because of these drawings! I studied Russian film at university which naturally led into literature. I know that the poet Osip Mandelstam died in the gulag after writing a poem describing Stalin’s ‘cockroach’ moustache. Likewise, Isaac Babel, one of the greatest short stories writers you’ve never heard of, also Jewish, was murdered by Stalin. He killed around 40,000,000 people.

The good news here is that Sudomora survived because Stalin died and people were set free. The scary thing is if I was writing this in Stalin’s Russia I would probably be sent to a camp.

Returning to the English distrust of fungi, two people have written an entire book about this issue and the contrast with Slavic cultures: Mushrooms, Russia and History. Interestingly, could the word ‘toadstool’ help to understand the Anglo-Saxon worries about fungi?

New Forest - 23-10-17 -1 djg (59)

Fly agaric, the classic toadstool

As a quote taken from the book states:

If ‘toad’ descends etymologically to us from toxicum, then in English as in the Breton tongue a ‘toadstool’ in its ultimate meaning is a ‘poison stool’, and the idea of poison, rather than the toad, may have been dominant in the minds of those who first applied this term to the wild fungi in the Anglo-Saxon world.

The Anglo-Saxons ruled England after the Romans left around AD 500. The Germanic tribes of the Angols and the Saxons arrived as pagan cultures, later becoming Christianised. It’s interesting that cultures that will have worshipped nature may also be the root of a deep-seated fear of fungi. To an Anglo-Irishman, it kind of makes sense.

What do you think?

Thanks for reading.

More mushrooms

5 Comments
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Horsham, West Sussex, August 2020

It’s the hottest August day since 2003 so I’ve waited to go out until the evening. The sky holds all manner of clouds as the sun slips away. There is a purple hue to the sunset, a heft, as if the atmospheric pressure is close to breaking. Down in the valley where the Arun flows, a cloud hangs below the trees. I can’t work out whether it’s mist, surely not on a day like this.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I glimpse the mist over the fields, but instead it’s a cloud of dust. On the horizon the sound of tractors rumble deep into the lingering evening heat. Following the old footway south I can see the tractor’s dust and so cover my face. With the advent of face coverings in shops and busy places due to Covid, it’s something I’m an expert in now. To the side, a tractor cuts the hay. I wonder what hay there is even to cut this year, it’s been so dry. The dust tells part of that story. I remember one of these fields back in April or May, brimming with buttercups, fresh and green. It lost its verdant glow so quickly as the rain dried up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I follow the byway uphill, stepping out of the way of two older men roaring down the track on e-bikes like they’re either escaping or attending to a crimescene. I pass a favourite local oak and thoughts turn to the autumn. Along the side of the path a green metal fence has been put up to stop people and dogs, I presume, from accessing fields where sheep, horses, and jackdaws, graze. Each time I come here I watch another tree in the horses’ field get closer and closer to a full ring-barking. One ash tree has already died this year. Anxious, I look for an oak tree which otherwise could live for hundreds of years. This evening the horses are gathered around something at the fenceline. I can only guess that there isn’t the grass for them to eat and so they’re being given hay.

I follow this new green fence and cross away towards the old park, where ancient sweet chestnuts and aging oaks dot the open landscape. In the distance cattle are grazing like moons in the grasslands. On the clay track back down, oaks overhang, laden with thousands of acorns. It makes me think of all they were once used for: coffee, flour, their galls used to make the inks that mark the Magna Carta and American Declaration of Independence. In America acorns were the staple of ‘balanocultures’, Native American communities who stashed and cached acorns as resources.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Spangle galls

Off the hill, the path is penned in by lush growth of grasses, brambles, St. John’s wort and knapweeds. There are oak saplings too. Their translucent green leaves are pocked with the pin cushions of spangle galls. These galls are home to the larvae of gall wasps. Next month the galls will fall to the ground and wasps will continue their development through winter, ready to hatch in April and begin the process once more. The seasons, they’re inescapable.

The Sussex Weald

 

 

 

2 Comments

GDN_2-8-2020_djg-1

Macro Monday 10th August 2020

Welcome to the weekly wasp.

A couple of years ago my friend recommended a book called The Snoring Bird by Bernd Heinrich. The book is a memoir about Heinrich’s relationship with his father, Gerd, an entomologist who collected ichneumon wasps but who was never fully accepted by the scientific or academic community. Bernd tells the story of his father’s escape from the Red Army in 1945 and how he buries his collection of ichenumonids so they aren’t destroyed. Gerd travelled around the world collecting specimens.

986d14cb4c3f5974e3f4e6d3c7e93fd5

In Britain we have poorer biodiversity than even our closest continental neighbours because of physical separation from the European landmass, intensifying land management practices, the impact of successive ice ages and, furthermore, the fact our climate is not tropical. But even then, we still have over 2000 species, which you can’t say for other fauna like birds or butterflies.

Reading The Snoring Bird consolidated a personal fascination with wasps, one which has not really travelled beyond blogposts, photos and seeking them out where I can. I’m not a collector of anything other than images.

Ichneumons have what we perceive as an unpleasant ecology. Females use their needle-like ovipositor to ‘inject’ their eggs into the burrows of insects, into crevices in wood or, most appallingly to our species, caterpillars or the larvae of bees. The eggs hatch inside the live caterpillar and eat it. It’s probably where the inspiration for the Alien films came from. To balance things out, insects inspired the creation of Pokemon.

GDN_2-8-2020_djg-9

Last week I was sitting in my garden catching up with visiting family. I looked to my right at a pot of ornamental yarrow flowers (Achillea). I had noticed a bit of activity and glanced over to see a slender insect flying around the flowers. It was the equivalent of a video buffering over a poor quality internet connection. When it landed on one of the flowers I recognised it instantly as an ichneumon wasp. I ran inside to get my camera and managed to get some good photos: in focus, well lit and sharp enough.

GDN_2-8-2020_djg-10

I have always wanted to see this species. Its scientific name is Gasteruption jaculator. To find it in my garden was a real surprise and one of the highlights of my time seeking wildlife.

Why might it have visited? We actively garden for wildlife, insects particularly, and there is a log store that this kind of species will seek out. A couple of months ago I saw a similar species hovering around the logs, but I couldn’t get my camera quick enough and it moved on.

GDN_2-8-2020_djg-5

There are people whose first reaction to seeing this insect may be to kill it because of its ecology. That, to me, says everything about our misunderstanding of nature. A natural history lesson will tell us that without solitary wasps such as these we would have no social bees, a community of insects which prop up our dependencies on pollination of both crops and other flowering plants (including trees). Social bees evolved from solitaries wasps. The ichneumon’s ecological relationship with bees is one millions of years old, one small part of a web of life that has given human societies licence to develop through an abundance of food.

coulsdon-30-6-17-djg-42

However, this is an insect which has affected the way some of the science’s key thinkers have framed their own mortality. Darwin doubted that any benevolent God could have created animals which behaved in this way. Not sure about you, but I often think that about Donald Trump or Boris Johnson.

A few years ago I encountered a cousin of the ichneumon that visited me in my garden. It has a far shorter ovipositor and its scientific name is Gasteruption assectator. I was walking on the North Downs when I found the insect nectaring on hogweed flowers. A woman passed me and asked what I had found. I said I’d found the insect that made Darwin doubt God. She looked away with a knowing smile:

‘I remember reading about them,’ she said.

Thanks for reading.

More macro

Recent photos taken with Nikon D5600, Sigma 105mm F2.8 macro lens, Nikon SB700 flash and Raynox 250 adaptor.

 

 

 

3 Comments

Ebernoe_1-8-2020_djg-4

Fungi Friday 7th August 2020

Since March I have owned a bicycle. Living in Sussex, you are largely dependent on a car to get around. My bike is the first one I’ve ever owned, and I’m in my 30s. Growing up on a hill, it never seemed like something I’d need. For the first time this year I drove further to visit a special nature reserve in the Low Weald of Sussex: Ebernoe Common.

Ebernoe_1-8-2020_djg-21

Ebernoe is a National Nature Reserve belonging to Sussex Wildlife Trust (SWT). It’s a very special place for bats and is rich in all kinds of fungi. It’s ancient wood pasture, with large meadowy areas dotted with trees. SWT don’t allow foraging on their nature reserves (from what I know) and so people should respect that. When I visited, the woods were very dry, as they were in the Wealden woods reachable by bike near where I live.

IMG_20200801_164242714_HDR

There were some mushrooms on the ground but most had dried up and split in the heat. I think the one above (a phone pic) is something like rooting shank. If it doesn’t make it past my phone, that’s a sign it’s not in great shape.

IMG_20200801_163754443_HDR

Something I wish I’d spent more time looking at and getting more than a phone pic of, was this fungal map of the world. This is a beech tree that had fallen over a footpath and been chainsawed across to re-open the path. This fungal effect on timber is quite desireable commerically, where it’s known as ‘spalting’. What you can see here are the zones of a fungal mycelium within the heartwood of the dead tree. It looks like a map of a country, perhaps the north-eastern corner of a nation like Sweden with its archipeligos. I’ve heard these patches referred to as ‘war zones’. They are certainly competing for territory.

Ebernoe_1-8-2020_djg-3

Like so many weeks over the summer stages of this blog, I found lots of bracket fungi. These were almost only Ganoderma species. The fruiting bodies were sticking out of the old rootplates of fallen trees like trainers or ‘sneakers’.

Ebernoe_1-8-2020_djg-1

I visited a heroic veteran beech tree that holds a gigantic bracket of the same species as above. This is a tree I visit in the autumn, when a huge number of species can be seen on it, as below:

Ebernoe - 11-10-2019 djg-18

Here I can see giant polypore on the bottom left, honey fungus in the middle and lots of Ganoderma on different levels. The softening of the tree’s remaining wood will provide habitat for a huge range of invertebrates and other life. This is a habitat we have lost so much of over the past 70 years, as woods have been tidied and aforested for commercial production. That seems to be changing.

Ebernoe_1-8-2020_djg-13

Beyond fungi, into a different species group but one that behaves in a similar fashion, I found a few slime moulds. This patch was splotched like someone’s old melted sandwich on a mossy log. Slime moulds are not in the fungal family. I learned recently that fungi were only separated from plants in 1969! Well done humans, literally a billion years later.

Ebernoe_1-8-2020_djg-14

Here was an older specimen of the previous slime mould. It had been broken into by something that was probably eating it. It looks like a meringue, to my eyes. Also looks like an eye.

Ebernoe_1-8-2020_djg-16

It was nice to head out further afield to seek out some ‘shrooms. But I have become so used to cycling or walking to the woods that it felt weird driving. It’s not lost on me that nitrogen dioxide, emitted by cars, is driving declines in fungal life as it alters the chemical make up of the soil. This is also impacted by air travel. I will make an effort to keep my emissions as low as possible. In terms of finding fungi, one of the problems with driving is that you cut yourself off completely from the world. When you’re walking or cycling somewhere, you’re immersed. I think I know what I prefer.

Thanks for reading.

More mushrooms

 

2 Comments

GDN_31-7-2020_djg-17

Macro Monday 3rd August 2020

Summer came back last week. The annual breach of 30 degrees celsius took place, with more forecast for the month ahead. The warm weather meant there was a lot of activity in my garden, with opportunities to find wildlife lasting until dark.

GDN_31-7-2020_djg-3

The hedge has seemed less active in recent weeks, whereas in early June I could sit in front of it and find too many insects to photograph. But this week I found this tiny sawfly, or at least I think that’s what it is.

GDN_31-7-2020_djg-6

It’s a relative of the bees, wasps and ants (Hymenoptera). I know this because of its eyes, both the compound side set and the ocelli on the top of the head. The antennae are long and wavy like an ichneumon wasp’s. I didn’t quite manage to get it perfectly in focus but I think the composition came out quite nicely.

GDN_31-7-2020_djg-8

I’ve noticed a number of amber-coloured beetles around the outside of my house and the garden. I also found one in the raspberry patch. I think it’s a hawthorn leaf beetle. It was nowhere near a hawthorn.

GDN_31-7-2020_djg-9

The other week I disturbed something in my garden that flew up from the grass and away into a small tree a few gardens away. It looked a bit like a flying fish. Picking raspberries one evening, under the only trees we have – small sycamore, rowan and a larger magnolia all crammed in – I noticed that this cricket was trying to remain hidden among the long grass. It’s a dark bush cricket.

GDN_31-7-2020_djg-13

One of the most important parts of managing my small garden for wildlife has been to allow the grass to grow long for a time. I’ve also found frogs at the back in a cooler, shadier area where the grass has grown. If you can leave some of your lawn to grow between May and mid-July, I would really recommend it. I only mowed mine this week, mainly because the rye grass is setting seed and my old sleepy cat seems to be allergic. Also, it’s the right time of year in the world of meadow management.

GDN_31-7-2020_djg-21

I’m starting to see more nymphs appearing, and I don’t mean the fairies. That’s another story. This is probably the nymph of a dock bug. Again, it’s in the raspberry patch, which is where this blog ends with a flourish.

GDN_31-7-2020_djg-14

As I mentioned earlier, the warmer days have meant that insects have been active longer. When we were out picking the day’s raspberries, I noticed an insect pollinating the raspberries at speed. I couldn’t get a proper look or get a decent pic.

GDN_31-7-2020_djg-15

Given some time, I saw that the insect, a type of wasp, was going to the same flowers in a cycle around the patch of raspberries. It didn’t mind me getting closer as time went on and the night drew in.

GDN_31-7-2020_djg-17

My first thought was actually quite extreme – Asian hornet! But this wasn’t an invasive non-native, “killer hornet”. It was a species of wasp. With more time to observe it I could see its red eyes and red striping to its body. It’s a red wasp. I love those eyes! Let’s also not forget that these wasps here are pollinating raspberries that my family and friends will later eat. Wasps are pollinators more than they are pests, the tide needs to turn on that damaging myth before our insect populations are harmed any further.

GDN_31-7-2020_djg-24

I know this blog is pretty much a wasp fanzine week after week, but these animals are so amazing. I had never expected to see this species in my garden. But it highlights the joy of this entire project. Each species seen here this week, bar the dock bug, is a new species for the garden list. Many of the species I’ve seen I will never be able to identify, but that feeling of newness and discovery is precious to me.

Next week: more wasps.

Thanks for reading.

Photos taken with a Nikon D5600, Sigma 105mm f2.8, Raynox 250 adaptor and Nikon SB-700 flashgun with diffuser.

More macro

 

Leave a comment
SLF_30-7-2020_djg-1

This is not an omlette

Fungi Friday 30th July 2020

Welcome to one of those weeks that is little more than a lament at how dry southern England is. This week I’ve been in two different woods and the story is the same – the recent rain in Sussex has not given much of a boost to fungi. I managed to zoom round a local woodland one lunchtime and found a couple of things.

SLF_30-7-2020_djg-4

To give a sense of the impact of warm dry weather, even in the space of about ten days, check out the difference here. What is now a very dehydrated piece of birch wood was previously alive with slime moulds and all kinds of other life.

SLF_19-7-2020_djg-7

It is mainly a matter of rehydration, however, and when the temperatures drop and more rain arrives, the show can go on.

SLF_30-7-2020_djg-3

This is a species of Ganoderma bracket fungus growing on fallen wood. I only later noticed that a snail is hidden away in a nook of the fruiting body! You can tell I was in a rush. I wrote a lot more about brackets recently.

SLF_30-7-2020_djg-2

This is smoky bracket, not an omlette. I have seen this small community of brackets growing over the past few weeks. Again, it was only later that I noticed the other life, in this case a resting fly.

I was pretty disappointed in this mushroom hunt but then it was somewhere between 25-30 degrees (Celsius). The area which I’ve mentioned before, that has been opened up, is now experiencing more trampling, including mountain bikes coming through. From my experience of woodland management, that was predictable.

SLF_30-7-2020_djg-6

But some management that was really positive was the creation of dead hedges of logs and branches in a well-shaded area. This was where the mushrooms were hiding! I found a nice patch of oysters that were swamped/protected by brambles. This is a nice edible mushroom, not that I’m picking.

SLF_30-7-2020_djg-7

I also spotted this small mushroom, such a joy to find something. I like its veiny-cap and the reddishness. I’m not sure of the species.

Dry times such as these make alternative topics a pressing need. At the moment I’m researching an article on fungi and Chernobyl, so stay tuned for that.

Thanks for reading.

More mushrooms

 

 

Leave a comment

SLF_21-7-2020-lo-res-8

St. Leonard’s Forest, West Sussex, July 2020

Evening. The sun kindles embers in dangling birch leaves. The songs of birds have gone, spring is a memory. I think of autumn: the cool that grows where the sun can no longer reach. My footsteps crunch and snap in the dry, leaf-littered banks beside the gill. This stream was dammed centuries ago for the Wealden iron industry. But it still runs, just not now. The hammer pond it’s been forced to feed is now the realm of private fishing.

The beeches twist and turn on the slopes, in this light you might have thought they’re creeping up behind your back. It is so quiet that any sound feels like a warning. I hear the first faint murmur of a tawny owl.

SLF_21-7-2020-lo-res-5

The bracken is high and it’s hard to see around the bend of this winding desire line. On the hill the sun lends the ranks of pines some splendour. But it’s the heather battling down in the bracken that holds most promise. Men have stolen the sun from this heath with forestry, but the pines have been forgotten. Nature lies in wait, its disruptive forces breaking rank in a way so slow it’s not known until it’s done. This place will not be the same in decades to come.

Blackbirds and thrushes shuffle song-less in the shrub layer. The dryness amplifies the sound of their size to large mammal. That old fear ticks and tocks in me. A barometer I forgot I had.

Out on the woodland ride the ditches promise an explosion of new flowers: fleabane, ragwort, valerian, hogweed, and hemp agrimony where small cream moths nectar. One is held aloft, frozen in mid-air. Peering round, I see the camouflage of a crab spider hidden among the florets.

The Sussex Weald

Leave a comment

GDN_25-7-2020-lo-res-43

Macro Monday 27th July 2020

The garden is very dry and the insects are becoming more scarce, but that can help to focus on a species and reach deeper into their ecology and the relationship we have with them. We’ll get to that in good time.

I’m writing this on a rainy day so hopefully summer won’t come to an end prematurely. I have one plant which I’m hoping will flower soon that my invertebrate friends will like.

GDN_25-7-2020-lo-res-14

I did a lunchtime circuit of my garden on a warmer, sunnier day and found pretty much nothing. I was just heading back into the house when I spotted this zebra-like patterning on a towel that was drying in the sun.

GDN_25-7-2020-lo-res-15

I realised it was a species of picture-winged fly! I think it’s a species of Urophora.

GDN_25-7-2020-lo-res-13

I snapped a few pics and luckily they focused in on the eye. Looking at a towel this close shows what we fail to see with the naked human eye in terms of microfibres.

GDN_25-7-2020-lo-res-08

The fly family were the most visible subjects in the past week. This is a species that seems not far from picture-winged flies. It’s probably Sepsis cynipsea, a scavenger fly. Its wings do this rotating movement as it hops around in the hedge. They’re known for their relationship with cattle dung, and there are farms about 2 miles away so maybe they travel into small towns as well for fun.

GDN_25-7-2020-lo-res-07

Another black and white fly but much larger than the other species above. I really like these flesh flies, their black and ash-white patterning, and bright red eyes are really attractive. I appreciate that is probably not to everyone’s taste.

GDN_25-7-2020-lo-res-12

But of course, this blog would not be complete without checking in on those gorgeous greenbottles.

GDN_25-7-2020-lo-res-03

To The Man on the Street’s acute frustration, wasps are now active. I saw a wasp peeking out from behind a leaf in a hedge one lunchtime and found that it wasn’t moving. I picked it up and saw that it had been predated, with its lower abdomen missing. I think this was probably the work of a bird, as species like great tit are known to eat bumblebees by basically disemboweling them. House sparrows are also in good numbers in my garden and I often see them picking bees, flies and butterflies out of the air. In this case I’m praying that insects don’t feel pain 😦

GDN_25-7-2020-lo-res-43

Over on the other side of the garden, this wasp was doing its woodcarving work. These woody fibres will be taken away and used to build the stunning nests they make. For anyone who has read this blog series before, you’ll know that I love wasps and am keen to promote their conservation in any way I can. Let’s talk about their nests a bit.

Czechia August 2016 lo-res-1961

This probably isn’t a common wasp nest but it’s the best external image I have. It’s a nest in a protected landscape in Czechia, the White Carpathians. I think it’s a social wasp nest, rather than a solitary species because it’s a bit bigger but I could be wrong.

czech-rep-2016-blog-29

This was also taken in Czechia but in a different location. This is what it looks like inside a social wasp’s nest. Can you believe that this is built by wasps? It’s absolutely mind-blowing. We were walking along a forest road and it was sitting there on the ground. The best explanation we could come up with was that the nest had been predated by a honey buzzard and dropped in flight. Honey buzzards mainly eat this kind of thing. At least, that is the most spectacular explanation for why we found it.

Czech Rep 2016 blog-33.jpg

So next time you consider needlessly destroying a wasp nest, think about all the craft and insect-skills that went into it. Do you really need to harm it? Can you learn to accept them and keep a safe distance? Can you learn to love them?

Thanks for reading.

More macro

 

 

3 Comments