Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

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Macro Monday 14th September 2020

The insect world is winding down, it’s true, but September can be a great month to see invertebrates. This is especially true for spiders in gardens (and in your house!). At the beginning of the month I visited Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This blog focuses on two locations, firstly the National Trust’s Sutton Hoo, near Ipswich.

Sutton Hoo is famous for its Anglo-Saxon ship burials which, on the eve of the Second World War in 1939, threw up one of the most incredible archaological finds in British history. An entire ship was found to have been buried, with much of the discovery based on the chemical shadow of what was once there. An amazing haul of items was discovered with the boat, thought to be that of King Rædwald of East Anglia, a pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon king who died in approximately 625 AD.

The boat he was buried in was probably hauled up here from the river Deben, where the boats are moored, by Anglo-Saxon warriors and buried under a mound of earth.

The National Trust have an exhibition centre which displays mainly replicas of some of the 3000 things found in the mounds. Museum collections are great for macro because they’re well lit and isolated by the darker backgrounds. This was a replica of one of the items found.

This gold pendant dates from the 4th-5th century AD, so 1600-1700 years ago.

Outside, I didn’t have macro in mind. I was carrying my micro four thirds camera and lenses which are so light they can be carried anywhere. Walking around the estate I noticed a feather on the ground, and that an insect was resting on it. I couldn’t believe it when I looked closer.

It was a robberfly, with prey in its spear-like mouth parts. Note here how I cropped to include the beautiful fronds of the feather.

The robberfly wasn’t bothered about me. When I got really close, I could see it had an ichenumon wasp as prey! Heathlands are exceptional landscapes for insect diversity, so there was always a thought in the back of my mind that something like this could crop up. This blog could not be posted without some reference to wasps.

This is an image which I hope I haven’t laboured, but it’s just an incredible thing to find resting on such a beautiful macro subject in its own right – a feather. You do see this kind of image again and again on Instagram, where I’m sure people are feeding prey to robberflies in order to get a photo in a studio. That’s not my style.

Walking around the burial mounds of Sutton Hoo, we found lots of red and orange caterpillars on the move. I’m not sure of the species! ID welcome in the comments please.

We then moved on to the Suffolk coast, which is just down the road from the Sutton Hoo estate (great job by the way, National Trust). In the long grass of one of the dunes this very similar black and orange moth was holding tight to a blade of grass.

He’s a pretty rad looking dude up close.

Coastal landscapes are something of a foreign language to me in ecological terms. A visit to the coast is far more an emotional or spiritual experience (I don’t swim), a reminder of childhood, or our vulnerability when faced with the vastness of the sea. A line was drawn in the sand.

I managed my first marine macro photo! This tiny crab was pointed out to me by my companian who was spending her time seeking out stones and other small things on the shoreline. Taking photos of tiny animals under moving water is a challenge I probably won’t have to take up again any time soon.

Thanks for reading.

Photos taken with Olympus OM-D EM10 MIII with 60mm f2.8 macro lens and 45mm f1.8 lens

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

 

 

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Macro Monday 6th July 2020

Cooler temperatures greeted us this week after the recent heatwave. The gusting winds didn’t go away, though, and that makes it tricky for macro. The constant blowing sways the plants where the insects are, meaning that the number of photos you’ll get in focus will be far fewer than if it was still. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, though.

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Though our small garden isn’t up on a hill, it’s beginning to feel rather exposed where it sits in the Arun valley in urban West Sussex. I’m open to letting more of the shrubs grow to create wind buffers, not that it will make a huge different. One of the buffers is this ornamental hedge (which, after 6 months I still haven’t checked the name of in a garden centre). I found this ladybird in a state of metamorphosis, shifting from larva to adult ladybird. You can see its shell appearing from the skin of the larva, like superman minus the phonebox and slower.

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In the raspberry patch I found a solitary wasp. My insect guide gives nothing close to a resemblence to any species.

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The most popular plant in the garden now is this mallow. Lots of different species are foraging from it, to the point where I know an insect has been there because of those massive pollen grains. This is a red-tailed bumblebee, as you can probably imagine.

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I’ve noticed this ichneumon wasp (one of over 2500 species in the UK) spending a lot of time flitting over the flower buds. I presume it is using that needle-like ovipositer to lay its eggs. It has a beautiful chrome-blue eye. Again it has a pollen grain on its shoulder.

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This is another yellow-faced bee that I haven’t managed to identify. I love how papery the petals of the mallow appear here.

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The wool carder bees are still busy in good numbers on the lamb’s ears. This plant has been a revelation this year. At most I’ve counted 5 wool carder bees and this week I saw 3. They seem to be more at ease with me now (if that’s a thing, probably not) and don’t fly a mile when I sit next to the plant to get photos. They also allow me to get much closer than I could back in May.

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They are really attractive bees. What interests me is that they aren’t at all interested in the mallow but only the lamb’s ears and a foxglove which has popped up nearby.

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The lamb’s ears continue to be a perch for lots of different insects. I would say this is a common froghopper.

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The hot weather really has killed part of the lawn but I don’t care. I haven’t even cut it since April! One thing I have noticed is that our yellow-legged mining bee friends have begun to proliferate further into the other living areas of the grass.

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This was one of those cooler days, so perhaps this bee didn’t quite have the energy to get going just yet. Or perhaps it was just wondering what a giant was doing pointing a camera into their doorway.

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On my way back into the house one lunchtime I found a moth fluttering around at the door. I didn’t think much of it with my normal human eyesight but the photograph shows up something far more beautiful. The (undiffused) flash exposes the carpet-like patterns of the scales, with a hint of tiger stripes to the wing tips. It reminds me of curtains closed in a living room.

Thanks for reading.

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Fungi Friday 29th May 2020 via November 2011

This autumn it will be 9 years since I first began photographing fungi. I want to share how I found a passion for these incredible organisms and show the first photos I ever took of fungi.

I owe thanks to several people for tuning me into the world of mushrooms. David Warwick, who led fungi walks for volunteers and the public for London Wildlife Trust at Sydenham Hill Wood, shared his knowledge with his fellow volunteers and helped me to gain an interest. That was where I learned about fungi and, over 7 years, had the opportunity to watch them pop up and fade away across the nature reserve.

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Turkeytail

The biggest thanks of all go to Ashley White who was the Project Officer who managed the Wood when I was a volunteer. For anyone who has ever volunteered, you will know that the person who leads you is as important as the thing you’re volunteering to do. Ashley inspired many of us to follow our interests in many areas of conservation and ecology.

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Velvet shank

My first real attempts to photograph fungi took place in November 2011 during a volunteer day. I used a Nikon D60, a 10 megapixel camera (the equivalent today is double that) that I was given as a birthday present in 2008. I had no editing software and the photos here are as they were taken in the camera, which you can probably appreciate.

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Sulphur tuft

One of the more memorable images that I contributed to London Wildlife Trust was this happy bunch of sulphur tuft. This species is probably one of the most common in the UK. It’s toxic but charming to look at. I respect its ability to show up in the street and in all manner of other locations.

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Bonnet with a droplet on top

Photography has always been a way for me to learn about much more than cameras. To identify the majority of species of fungi, you’ll need to undertake all manner of experiments that I am way too lazy/skilled enough for. I want to spend as much time outside in the company of the things I enjoy photographing. Too much time is already spent indoors. All these are excuses, I know.

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Parachute

I think one of the most interesting things about fungi are their diversity. This doesn’t just mean there are a lot of species (over 120,000 accounted for on Earth, probably more than 1,000,000 in reality). It also means they appear in all kinds of places: leaf litter, holes in trees, the ground, the pavement, sometimes even inside your house. That’s not really what you want.

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Brittlestems out of focus

After autumn volunteer days I would seek out fungi anywhere I could find them. I had begun to notice some growing down in the leaf litter. As you can see from the photo above, it’s difficult to take photos on the ground without a reticulating screen. Mine was fixed which led to classic images such as the above. These are brittlestems. Over the years at the Wood I would notice this family of mushrooms popping up in damp patches under leaf litter.

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Fairy inkcap

Many of the mushrooms in an urban woodland like Sydenham Hill Wood are common species that can pop up after a decent amount of rain. These fairy inkcaps are often found at the base of steps. The steps in the Wood were constructed by volunteers using wooden sleepers, planks for the edges and then filled with gravel. These mushrooms like steps so much I have even found them growing in Clapham Junction station on steps! For those who don’t know, this was once one of the busiest railway stations in the world. Thousands of people rush up and down these stairs every day.

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What’s not to love?

For all the negativity around nature conservation in Britain – and for me all contact with nature in the UK fosters a relationship with conservation – fungi gave me a sense of nature’s attitude of I will show up where I want, when I want. For anyone who has ever felt constricted by the physical environment we are forced to live in, nature is always looking to re-align it. As with fungi, it just takes time.

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A miniscule fairy bonnet on a piece of mud

Fungi says to me (not literally) that life does not stand still. Fungi are a part of life processes which have no end. Fungi are always building and feeding a new world whether we like it or not. Perhaps that’s what seeing those fairy inkcaps on the steps of Clapham Junction station taught me. We may be extinguishing a beautiful diversity of life on Earth, first with large, charismatic animals. But nature is complex, unknowable in its entirety, and it will never stop.

Thanks for reading. Have faith.

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Macro Monday 18th May 2020

This week Boris Johnson gave us peasants the freedom to travel wherever we like. Just not to see the family I haven’t seen for three months. We were also allowed to go out for a dog-run-bike-marathon more than once a day. Better yet, we got 12 hours notice that we should go back to work if we could, by hoverboard. Safe to say, I kept my macro lens on a short lead and took it for a walk in the garden.

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A lot of people will be feeling like this dandelion head at the moment.

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Personally I find black and white photography in a digital format does not get anywhere near genuine 35mm film.

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We’re entering into a time when early summer flowers are appearing as the first spring blooms wither away. The weather this week has been far cooler and I’ve taken the chance to ignore the insects and focus more on flowers. This allium is just beginning to appear.

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These look like some kind of delphinium and are a remnant from the previous owner of our house. So far they have proven very attractive for bees, so they will be staying. Before flowering they look something akin to headgear from a sci-fi movie.

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Depth of field is an important part of macro. Macro lenses have a very shallow depth of field (ZzZzzzz), meaning that most of the image will be out of focus. It can produce incredibly beautiful and dreamy images. This is a creeping buttercup growing wild in the borders.

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Another remnant of the previous owner are chives. Like the allium this is another member of the lily family.

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These bulbous flowers have been threatening to reveal themselves for about two months. All through that time the ants have been patrolling the buds. I think they’re extracting nectar or something. Part of me wonders if they’re re-sealing the buds to keep them in this forever-state.

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I’ll finish this week’s flowery post as it began. This is what you should expect next week: bees+flowers. The bumblebee workers are now out in force, like this common carder bee. This is a potted scabious that we’ve had for two years now. Interestingly only this year have bees been visiting the flowers. Something must have been wrong with them in their store-bought state, perhaps they had chemicals in them at first? I don’t know. They’re one of my favourite plants and we’re entering into their time, when the remnant downlands of southern England will be plastered with them. For now, I’ll be in the garden.

Thanks for reading.

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Macro Monday 27th April 2020

It’s true that I started last week’s post with a parasitic wasp in my living room. That phrase is enough to make most of the UK faint. This week it happened again. But rest assured, there are other species to enjoy this week.

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When I see an insect trapped indoors, I am the sort of person who needs to try and let them all out before being able to sleep at night. I accept that is probably a compulsive behaviour reflecting an anxiety disorder. In this instance I didn’t get the chance. I went to drink from my camomile tea, dear reader, and there was a small insect floating in the water.

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I plucked the insect out of my tea and it lay perfectly splayed on my fingertip. It was a tiny ichneumon wasp, a group of insects which I went into more detail about last week. As it dried out its beautiful form began to appear. I found a piece of paper and placed it on the white surface. My cameras are now living in the living room so they were close by and I took a few snaps. It was a beautiful specimen. I am not intending to try and identify it because I will probably get told off by the local Hymenopterist via iRecord.

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My time in the garden in the past week has largely been spent chasing this small bee around. It’s probably a male blue mason bee with the Latin name of Osmia caerulescens. Another book is telling me (not literally) that it’s Osmia leaiana. They have large green-blue eyes and zip around for a while before settling down on a hot surface like a cat in a sun patch.

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To say this tiny solitary bee gave me the run around is probably understatement of the lockdown era next to ‘drinking disinfectant will not help you’.

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The bee liked to rest just long enough on a surface for me to get there. I had to approach it with exactly the right camera settings and focus on my lens to be able to get a decent photo. The satisfaction of getting a decent image was massive. Little wins and all that.

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I think this is a female blue mason bee having a bit of a rest on the roof of the logstore. Safe to say the highlights of the past six weeks in many ways have been getting an in-focus photograph of an insect like this.

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The internet is awash with stunning photos of jumping spiders. They are cute and fluffy with massive cartoon eyes. This was the best attempt I made at getting something in focus. I don’t believe in taking them out of the wild for a photography shoot – the ichneumon wasp doesn’t count! – so I am trying to get them in focus in the wilds of my woodstore shelf roof. If there is any type of spider that will help people get over a fear of spiders, it should be this one.

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My car hasn’t moved very much in the past 6 weeks but it’s proving useful for insects basking in the afternoon sun. This mint moth was doing just that on the bonnet.

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The biggest surprise in the garden this week was spotted early one morning before I started work. On the side of a hexagonal flower pot I noticed some unusual wing shapes. I realised it was an insect and nipped inside to get my camera. It was in the shade and temperatures were only just rising. It was a mayfly, one of 51 species in the UK. I know very little about this group of insects other than that they appear en-masse over rivers and that they only live for one day. How did it get to my garden? The River Arun is ten minutes walk away but it was a real joy to think it had used my garden to shelter for half its short life.

Thanks for reading.

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#FungiFriday 10th April 2020 (via October 2017)

With another week of social distancing and time spent indoors, I am once again recalling a classic mushroom experience. Sorry to disappoint both of my readers, but this does not involve the ingestion of hallucingenic fungi. If I said that on Instagram I would lose probably all my followers. Don’t tar me with the liberty cap brush!

This week I am recalling one of the great days out I’ve had in search of mushrooms to photograph, hot on the heels of last week’s look back at 2019’s highlight. This time I invite you to the New Forest, virtually, and the moment I snapped what I think is the most perfect mushroom scene I have witnessed.

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It was October 2017 and I’d travelled from London by train to Brockenhurst to do a long circular walk from the station, taking in some beautiful ancient woodland, plantation and bits of heath. The New Forest is a National Park in Hampshire, southern England. It is home some of the most intact stretches of semi-natural woodland in Europe. Semi-natural woodland equals mushrooms.

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On arrival the signs were good because the dead wood held smaller shrooms in nice condition, such as this probable bonnet. That’s a mushroom name I wish existed.

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The richer areas of woodland were under beech. You can see that the leaves had already fallen, what can be a bit of a pain for photographing shrooms because they’re all hidden, basically.

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This mushroom seems to dissolve into the background glow of the newly fallen beech leaves.

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Looking for fungi, it’s difficult to ignore the mushroom of the insect world otherwise known as a dor beetle.

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One of the pains of photographing fungi is how much time you have to spend down in the dirt. Upon leaving the first area of woodland on this circular walk, a gang of bonnet mushrooms were poking their heads out from a fence post at head height. This is the kind of thing you see in peak mushroom season.

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The walk left entered more grassy and open woodland at the edge of the heath. This is a good place to find fungi. This Leccinum or birch bolete was pushing the boat out. Half the shroom had already been eaten on the other side by slugs!

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The walk followed on to the edge of Beaulieu Heath. The richest parts of the New Forest are those which don’t suffer from over-grazing. This tawny grisette was in a grassy area of heathland interspersed with oak and birch trees. It should have been an indicator of peak mushroom. It was.

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A metre or so away from the footpath this fly agaric was unmissable. I crouched down in front of it to find the best way to get a photo. A family came out of a cottage across the way and stopped to see what I was doing. ‘Oooh, a magic mushroom!’ they said. I didn’t get into discussing how in fact it is a mushroom that has hallucinogenic tendencies and is consumed for tribal purposes in northern Scandinavia. It should also be considered poisonous as standard.

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Here is the VIP behind the scenes view. A perfect end to a classic mushroom photography experience. Here’s to more special mushroom days in autumn 2020. The way things are going it will probably be another mushroom reminiscence therapy next week.

Thanks for reading. Stay away from each other. Both of you.

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Happy Fungi Friday everyone!

I’m a Londoner and I learned most of what I know about fungi and nature in London. Take that in physical and psychological terms, having spent most of my life there. One Tree Hill is a Local Nature Reserve in south-east London that has offered many happy wild hours (ecologically). I visit One Tree Hill as often as I can and did so to find some Christmas shrooms this year.

One Tree Hill has a weird history of being a remnant ancient woodland that had been cleared of trees and then has re-wooded itself in the past 60 years. It has old oak trees and new oak woodland spread across areas of old acid grasslands, which are rare but not in good condition anymore. It provides one of the best views of London you can find. You can read more about it here.

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December is never a good month for the most exciting fungi species because it’s cold and they struggle to fruit without milder weather. But I found a few species that I look for at this time of year.

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This photo was actually taken over Christmas 2018 at One Tree Hill but it’s one of the more photogenic things you can find at this time of year. They grow out of the fissures in bark, most of the time on oak. I’m not sure of the species.

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I think this is the same species but growing from a horizontal position in the late summer.

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In the more open, grassy areas atop One Tree Hill I found something I’ve not seen before. This is a deceiver (Laccaria laccata) with gills growing out of the top of the cap. I don’t know what the name for this ‘deformity’ is and an internet search definitely didn’t help.

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Deceivers get their name because they come in many different shapes and sizes, looking like different species each time. This year I saw huge numbers of them in the Sussex Weald. Here’s one in better condition:

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This is from Scotland in September, which you can read about here.

Wishing you many happy wild adventures in 2020. Thanks for reading and of course please share any interesting sightings or ID requests in the comments below!

Daniel

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Spider silk



Reaching for the black
and bulbous fruit
I risk the crab spider
opening its arms and
legs in defence

might it mistake
my finger for the body
of a honey bee

paralyse it, carry it away
into a brambly underworld

perhaps not
but still my fingers
bloodied by raking thorns
and broken berries

they are knotted
in discarded spider silk
a long-forgotten scaffold

with bundled bodies
of emptied hoverflies


© Daniel James Greenwood 2018

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The falcon etched



Wait with the falcon etched
into cove rock at Malham,
meadowsweet aglow
in the fields below.


Wait for the falcon etched,
with those cheeks streaked,
drawn like the scars
on the limestone it enlivens.


Does it ever move,
bird or fossil.


This dale holds great riches
for those talons and talents
to savour.




© Daniel James Greenwood 2017

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