Macro Monday: the mourning bee

In this post: garden bees, extension tubes and woodland lichens

The ‘Stay at Home’ message has ended in England but I’ve learned my lessons in this pandemic year. Macro is a time-consuming activity and the less time spent travelling means more time spent honing the skill and having a good time!

One person whose photos and work ethic I really admire is Penny Metal. Penny’s work is focused on a small park in Peckham, south-east London. She photographs species I would never have imagined possible in Inner London, where green space is a rarity.

The lesson for me here is: keep it local, have faith and you never know what you might achieve. From one of Penny’s accounts last week I saw a mourning bee and a comment that they were abundant.

Now, I’ve only ever seen this bee in rural Surrey near to Box Hill (for those who don’t know, Box Hill is probably the closest SE England will get to a mountain and is a hugely popular place). It seems Penny was capturing a trend – mourning bees were perhaps having a good spring.

And then, on one afternoon last week I encountered this bee in my garden. Mourning bees are parasitic on hairy-footed flower bees, a species my garden is very popular with. I was delighted to witness it feeding on the shrub I can never recall the name of.

That afternoon felt like a watershed moment. Though we have gone from 24 degrees Celsius one week to sub-zero the next, the spring bees are now on the scene. The above is a red mason bee (Osmia rufa), the first I’ve seen this year.

There were more bees, most of whom were not willing to be featured on this blog. To which I would say: whatevs.

This weevil seemed to think it was having a Lion King moment. I’m here for it.

And this yellow dung-fly. It may spend its days cavorting on cow pats, but if you’re willing to pose for a pic for me like this, I don’t care what you get up to.

Away from my garden hedge, I’ve finally bought some decent extension tubes. This is to give better magnification for my macro lens and peer even further into the wild world.

Needless to say, it’s not easy. The woods are not great at the moment, after hot and then very cold weather, the wildlife is a bit baffled. In my local Narnia I tested my new kit out on these Cladonia cup lichens. A nice person on iNaturalist identified this as Cladonia polydactyla. The red tips were so small they could not be seen without a macro lens and the extension tubes. Hopefully it’s a decent start to years of the greatest lichen images the world has ever known.

Let’s hope so.

Thanks for reading.

More macro

#FungiFriday: pixie cup lichens

Fungi Friday 15th January 2021

This week it’s a continuation of #LichenJanuary. It’s a time of year when winter is at its deepest, more grey than snowy in southern England. In towns and cities lichens come to the fore. If you’re looking for something to take your mind of the wider world this month, lichens are your friend.

The other day I had the idea to post on Twitter asking for people to share their lichen photos from around the world. In a time when we are unable to travel anywhere and people are suffering, it felt like a positive thing to do:

After a little while, people from all over the world began to post their photos. Over night UK time there were a series of posts from Japanese lichen lovers. It is one of the most incredible things about social media and the Internet, that someone can post in Japanese and the software does a decent job of translating it. A couple of the Japanese tweets included Cladonia lichens, what in English we generally refer to as cup lichens:

And here someone posted: ‘my home lichen’:

My interest in lichen originates from my Irish roots. There is a track at the foot of the Ox Mountains in Mayo, western Ireland, that I have walked many times with my family. It is surrounded by old boulders and bogs, all drenched in lichens. Some of the species I got to know there were reindeer lichens, Cladonia portenosa.

Reindeer lichen, February 2012

Reindeer lichens seem to get their name from the fact their structure is like reindeer antlers. They are also known to be grazed by reindeer where they grow in Scandinavia. I believe they are also used as for dyeing cloth and as a delicacy in posh restaurants.

Lipstick lichens, May 2017

One Cladonia that catches the eye is Cladonia floerkeana, also known as devil’s matchstick lichen. Seriously, anything red is devilish?! I like the name lipstick lichens, and I will be calling them that.

Lipstick lichens, May 2017

These lichens were growing on top of the Ox Mountains (what are really hills when it comes to height). They are covered by boglands on the plateau. Mayo is a place with very high levels of annual rainfall, making it perfect for these moisture dependent organisms.

Lipstick lichens, March 2013

The lipstick lichens were growing on top of a boulder, while others could be found growing among vegetation in the bogs. I can’t wait to go back there and see what I can find. Here is an image from a few years earlier, when I didn’t own a macro lens. It gives a sense of their habitat.

This is the land of the lichen. In the distance you can see Nephin, a mountain which has just had a new book written about it.

Cup lichens, January 2021

There is a farm near to where I live now in Sussex that has its own populations of cup lichens. I have noticed in recent years how fencing posts which are not treated with chemicals can important habitats for lichen, moss and fungi. The cup lichens above are very happy with their current abode.

Cup lichens, 2019, Sussex

These lichens seem to be noticed more than any other. They look splendid holding onto droplets of water in their cups, and their very nature of reaching upwards draws them to our attention. They are the quintessential ‘pixie’ cup lichens.

Thanks for reading.

Next week: Dartmoor

Further fungi

Recent posts:

#FungiFriday: still loving lichen

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Fungi Friday, 14th February 2020

Storm Ciara blew in on Sunday and probably washed any winter shrooms away. But I’m still spending my time with the symbiotic fungal folk found in lichens. The lichens have had a good week, heavy rain has been interspersed with some lovely winter sun.

Near where I work there are lengths of low post-and-rail fences that are covered in lichens. They’re likely to be sweet chestnut and not to be treated with any chemicals. This patch above is a joy, a mass of cladonia cup lichens with mosses and some crustose lichens smattered in between.

This is probably Xanthoria parietina which is a very common yellow lichen. I think it looks like scrambled eggs! The colours have only been very mildly edited here, it really was vibrant.

These are the fruiting bodies of the cladonia cup lichens in the previous image, far more alien-like.

These fences are close to the river Rother which was flooding the surrounding landscape in an epic manner. It’s done it twice now this year.

As you can imagine, for the mushrooms of the fungal world, this is too much water!

This is a dead alder tree that sits in the centre of the river. You can see the blue-green hue from the riverbank, the presence of lichens enjoying a sunny and moist spot to prosper in.

Next week I will actually have some 100% fungi to share!

More fungi

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