On Sunday 30th October I was admiring Jupiter in Dartmoor’s pitch black skies when what looked like a satellite skimmed above the tower of the illuminated church (header photo only viewable in browser).
At first thought it was a satellite due to its steady glide, but then satellites don’t usually burn up in the atmosphere, which is what this object did.
It later turned out that the trail of light was part of the Orionid meteor shower. Above is a photo kindly donated to Wikimedia Commons to illustrate it.
This Orionid was seen outside the peak for this shower. It was even more lucky because the weather surrounding those nights had been pretty much torrential rain and the night sky had been tucked away behind cloud.
The Orionids aren’t anything to do with the constellation of Orion directly, but are so named because they appear nearby and their naming helps people (like me) to locate them. These meteors are actually fragments of Hally’s Comet, which you may have heard of.
This is a great time to observe the night sky and take in all the night has to offer. Redwings are arriving in their thousands and can be heard even over the most built-up and light-polluted parts of the UK. While the Orionid meteor flashed across the sky, redwings were covering the night sky in their own, invisible but audible way.
A few nights later the skies cleared after days of heavy rain and high winds. This gave a good chance to look at Orion, which was fixed perfectly from the back of where I was staying at the time of viewing:
Cropping a bit closer you can see the fierce glow of the Orion Nebula in the bottom right-hand part of the image:
I’m using a new camera (Olympus EM-1 MIII) at the moment which has the ability to autofocus stars with a special feature. It didn’t actually work that well for me, though I was taking these photos handheld and may have had the settings wrong. It was a spur of the moment kind of thing, as much as my astrophotography attempts are to be honest!
I was really drawn to this large bright star to the left-hand side(!) of Orion. I need to be better at noting the locations of stars in relation to other constellations. Looking at Stellarium I think it’s either Mars or Betelgeuse.
Your Christmas gift from me is the final part of my 2021 Dartmoor mushroom trilogy, following on from parts one and two.
I hope you can have a nice Christmas and holiday. Solidarity with anyone alone or grieving at this time. Here’s to happier times.
This post is all phone pics so there is a bit of a drop in resolution and quality, but that’s not all that matters in photography. The finds here were based on a walk from the edge of Dartmoor National Park into one of the nearby towns, outside the boundary. I found some lovely species, some of which I hadn’t seen for some time.
The walk began from our hotel, passing through a slither of ancient woodland that had been planted up with sweet chestnut perhaps over a century ago. I was delighted to find one of the first hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa) that I’d seen for several years. Also – how chivalrous am I!
A nice large spread of mushrooms on an old stump in a hedgeline were this group of scalycaps. I expect these are probably golden scalycap (Pholiota aurivella).
Cemeteries are excellent places for wildlife, sometimes for rare species of plants, invertebrates and fungi. This small churchyard is no exception to that. The main reason for this is that the grasslands are cut regularly and kept open, being in a state of grassland for hundreds of years or more.
Honey fungus (Armillaria) has had quite a late start to the year in southern England. I have found it in this particular churchyard before. I think this cluster were growing where the roots of a tree once were.
Churchyards are good places to find waxcaps, a family of mushrooms that are mainly found in ancient, unimproved grasslands. This means the grasslands haven’t been ploughed up or fertilised, hence why sacred sites like churchyards are good for them. I found a gathering of small yellow waxcaps which have been identified on iNaturalist as butter waxcap (Hygrocybe ceracea). I love the gills of waxcaps, and the phone camera does do them some justice.
At first thought this very small mushroom was a waxcap but it probably isn’t. One suggestion is that it may be a type of funnel.
As witnessed elsewhere on Dartmoor the day before, I found a couple of blackening waxcaps (Hygrocybe conica). This nicely illustrates the shift from a Wine Gum yellow to the blackening stipe.
Closer to the large cedar seen in the wider image of the churchyard, there were several blushers (Amanita rubescens) dotted around the grasslands.
Perhaps the most beautiful find, and one I’ve never knowingly discovered before was bitter waxcap (Hygrocybe mucronella). If the gills of the butter waxcap were beautiful, the combination of pale yellow and orange backdrop are something else. The gills radiating towards the stipe from the edge of the cap also look to me like flames.
Thanks for reading. Extra points if you read all three posts!
Following on from part one of my recent trip to Dartmoor National Park in south-west England, it’s now time for part two. You can read part one here.
This was another day chock-full with mushrooms. It began well with a nice indicator of mushroom season when we found a gathering of clouded funnel on a roadside verge. This is a fairly common mushroom that can usually be identified by its size and the clouded tops. My boot is here for scale, obviously.
You can see how happy fungi are in the wet and wild landscape of Dartmoor by the presence of moisture loving organisms like these cladonia cup lichens. You can read some of my lichen posts here.
We were just on the edge of the National Park. Dartmoor’s logo is based on the famous Dartmoor pony, a semi-wild(?) species that has been running amok on the moor for thousands of years.
Dartmoor on an autumn morning. The silver birch with yellow leaves is one of the highlights of autumn, especially when the light catches the leaves.
On top of a wood ant’s nest there were two mushrooms that looked interesting. I could tell that they were milkcaps from the unusual caps and the concentric circles. Turning one of them over I cut the gills with my fingernail and, sure enough, the gills produced milk. I don’t know what the species is.
The ants were still active, with quite a lot of interaction going on. I wonder what role fungi play in the structure of certain ant hills. Ants have been found to cultivate fungi gardens inside their nests, and there must be other ways that ants mix with the fungal kingdom.
The woodlands that made up some of the best parts of the walk are known as Atlantic Rainforest. Their main tree species are oak and hazel. I’m not sure if ash was more prominent before ash dieback came into effect. This type of woodland is very uncommon with a lot of it being lost down the centuries. It is a special habitat for its plants, lichens, fungi and other wildlife. It’s very mossy and ferny.
It did not disappoint. This blackening waxcap was growing in moss on a woodbank. It is a stunning fungus when in this condition and in this light. I always associate waxcaps with grassland so often forget they can also be found in the woods.
Close by were these white spindles (I think), another sign to me of an ecologically rich and diverse woodland.
The autumn rains had the river swelled and running fast. You can see the brown of the peat-inflected water.
There is someone who has commented several times on this blog asking how or when to find honey fungus. If you’re reading this now, honey fungus is fruiting en masse at the moment. They are very photogenic indeed in the early stages, like the cartoony image of what a mushroom should be.
This fanned cluster of bracket fungi is probably turkeytail. These types of fungi can be found all year round but they look their best, like other mushrooms, in the October-November period.
I can’t claim to have found these lovely bonnets growing from some moss on a tree. I’m not sure of the species.
Here’s a snapshot of this beautiful woodland with an understory of bracken, and a tiny bit of hazel.
I’m not entirely sure but I think this is purple jellydisc. There is an organism on the birch leaf next to them which may be a fungus but could also be a slime mould.
On this walk we encountered one of the most beautiful mushrooms I’ve ever seen. This rainbow-coloured mushroom is a bitter beech bolete. It took the breath away. This was a phone pic as my camera wasn’t that happy about how dark it was. Well done Fairphone!
As mentioned in the first part of this blog trilogy, sulphur tuft is a very common mushroom. This was a nice spread. I haven’t spent any time looking to identify the other tufts, but I’m pretty sure this is sulphur.
The broadleaved rainforest was replaced on the other side of the river by coniferous plantation. The Woodland Trust owns this woodland and there was clear evidence of shifting it to its more species-rich habitat of broadleaved woodland. The walk followed part of the Dartmoor Way.
This bolete was helpful in leading us on the way along the track. Yet another bolete or relative growing from a mossy bank.
When I see a mushroom like this, I usually say to myself ‘macrolepiota‘, and leave it at that. It looks like a parasol relative of some kind.
This gorgeous little red mushroom was growing from the exposed soil of the trackway. This isn’t a mushroom I can remember seeing before.
Now here is one I have managed to identify. These tiny red-orange mushrooms were growing from the same habitat as the unknown species before. These beauties are goblet waxcaps, looking like they’re standing on the threshhold.
The walk left the woods behind and broke out onto Dartmoor proper with its famous granite tors and expansive views.
Haytor Rocks silhouetted against the wild skies often seen over Dartmoor.
Though the woods had been left behind, there was one final surprise as we descended through the farmland and hedgerows towards the National Park’s edge.
A tractor had been through to cut the hedges and road verges. In the process it had pulled up this stinkhorn mushroom. It wasn’t something you could miss. That was probably enough mushrooms for one day.
An article popped up recently highlighting the chance to see several planets in the sky at once. On the evening of the 29th December 2022, I took out my camera and tripod to see what was happening out there in the garden.
At the end of October I spent three days in Dartmoor National Park (on Dartmoor). I saw so many mushrooms there that I have enough for a post to cover each day. It’s a relief to have some images and sightings to share after a barren period. The mushroom season has arrived very slowly but Devon never disappoints in the fungi department come autumn. I need to say thanks to my partner Rosie who found a lot of the things shown here, exercising her squirrel gene.
As is usual for me, the fungi search was part of walks rather than seeking out food for the pot. The photos were taken with an Olympus E-M5 MIII with a 12-45mm lens and no additional equipment.
For more info about each species just click through the hyperlink of the scientific name in brackets. As ever I’m happy to be corrected if I have a species ID wrong, hence why I use iNaturalist.
The first sign of peak mushroom season was a greenway with mossy hedgebanks and some smatterings of woodland. I’ve seen ceps (Boletus edulis) growing from mossy banks in Dartmoor before, also in Sussex, and it seems to be a favourable spot for them. I wonder if it’s part of their ectomycorhizal relationship with trees growing in those banks.
Close by in the leaf litter was a trio of pink mushrooms that I haven’t identified yet.
Here’s a nice collection that we found on the ground.
Dartmoor is a very birchy landscape in places which inevitably makes it a good place to find fly agaric (Amanita muscaria). I was listening to an episode of the Mushroom Hour podcast after this trip (as in, journey) which included quite a lot of discussion about fly agaric’s cultural place in mycophobic cultures such as Britain. Have a listen for yourself here.
The fly agarics we discovered were all well beyond their best, which I think is really around September before the October rain and first leaf fall. They are clearly edible for some animals.
A scene from the wooded edge of Dartmoor’s eastern side. There are some fine woods around this part which will feature in the next post.
This was one of the nicer finds, what is probably golden scalycap (Pholiota arivella). It was a large spread at the base of a tree, where this group of mushrooms can often be found.
I’m not sure what species these leathery-brown mushrooms are but they were very attractive with that white trim to the cap.
The walk encompassed part of the Templer Way, an old tramway used to transport granite quarried from nearby Haytor Rocks. You can read more about the Templer Way here. Stone from this area was used in the construction of a version of London Bridge and part of the British Museum. As seen above, beech is quite a common embankment planting on Dartmoor, presumably by the Victorians, and perhaps even at the same time that the Templer Way was being constructed.
On the mossy bank (see a theme developing here) this false deathcap (Amanita citrina) had popped up. It can be distinguished from a deathcap by the remnants of the veil on the cap which make it look a little like a white fly agaric.
One species I haven’t seen much this year is porcelain fungus. There was one single fruiting body during this walk. This is a species almost always found on beech (Fagus sylvatica), even broken off bits of beech lying around can produce fruiting bodies.
On a large chunk of fallen beech wood this bracket fungus had grown. I’m not sure of the species. I’ve posted on iNaturalist to hopefully get an ID at some point.
In the same beechy area there was some slime mould growing on some of the more wet fallen wood.
Here you can see the beech leaf for scale against the very small slime mould. I do like this composition and the colour of the leaf.
One funny thing was finding this stagshorn fungus (Calocera viscosa) growing from a gap in a bench. I was quite disturbed recently to find it’s scalled stagshorn rather than staghorn, as I had known it for such a long time.
I love how this fungus looks like a little animated fire burning.
A distance away from the previous location I found the largest community of chantarelles I’ve stumbled upon. I’m not entirely sure if they’re two different species but some of them looked to me to be trumpet chantarelles (Craterellus tubeiformis). Again, nothing was picked and everything seen here had already been upturned.
I couldn’t resist a photo of these very photogenic glistening inkcaps (Coprinellus micaceus). The sheer dominance of moss on Dartmoor shows how wet the landscape is here.
Rosie managed to find a more complete fly agaric, but still with plenty of chewing done already.
There are many, many mushrooms I see that I’m not able to name. This will go down in that category, possibly forever.
After hiding from an unexpected, torrential downpour we hid under some holly trees where these mushrooms were growing. I think they’re a species of funnel (Clitocybe) but I don’t know.
Sulphur tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare) was at almost every location where other mushrooms were fruiting. It is possibly the most common fungus I encounter, especially in woodland. This was a lovely scene and no surprise that this mushroom was making a home there.
The weather really turned after this point when we reached the moor proper. You can see from the image above how unsettled the weather often is on Dartmoor. Haytor rocks can be seen to the right of the image.
The final mushrooms of the walk were found along the green lanes near the edge of the National Park boundary.
I’ve been meaning to write about the diversity of trees and plants in Dartmoor hedgebanks for years, but I hadn’t really considered their fungi. Above is an ascomycete fungus, a cup fungus. It’s probably hare’s ear (Otidea onotica).
This absolute bruiser of a mushroom is probably a pestle puffball (Lycoperdon excipuliforme). Usually it grows vertically from the soil but in this case was protruding at an exactly horizontal angle from the hedgebank.
As darkness fell, there was one final opportunity to see the mushrooms before night fell. This was the evening of the clocks going back one hour. The mushrooms above are clouded funnel, a common and fairly easy to identify fungus that grows in a group. It gets its common English name from the cloudy shading on their caps.
Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for episode two of ‘3 days on Dartmoor’.
On a recent visit to Streatham Common in SE London, I was taken aback by the number of December mushrooms. In SE England we’ve switched from -5 one day, to 12C a few days later. The seasons seem to be collapsing around us, and then reviving themselves. It feels like the only reliability we may…
As seen on Sunday 11th December, my final guided walk of 2022 for London Wildlife Trust. London woke to freezing fog with hoar frost in places, as temperatures stayed well below zero. These are difficult days to get out of bed, but the rewards of a foggy, frosty oak woodland are too good to miss.…
Dartmoor is renowned for its moorland and rocky hillscape in Devon, south-west England. It’s famous for its graphite outcrops or ‘tors’ which dot the landscape. It’s a very wet place, another reason why it’s so boggy. All in all a tremendous place for lichens and other moisture-loving organisms like mosses.
One of the most famous places in Dartmoor is a small area of woodland called Wistman’s Wood, a National Nature Reserve near Postbridge. This well-loved wood is home to scraggly oaks dripping in moss and lichen. These are also exceptional places for lichens. The wood itself is known for its misty scenes, with the trees clinging on to the moisture in the air. That is only a good thing for lichens and mosses.
This bubbly-looking boulder lichen was growing on the approach to Wistman’s Wood. The threads in the lower right-hand part of the image are hairs from sheep or cattle which have squeezed past the rock.
Another boulder held a spidery community of foliose (leafy) lichens.
Here is a rather nice example of a lichen-covered boulder in the river Dart. This is a female mandarin with her ducklings. This was in June and while rain isn’t unusual in Dartmoor in summer, you can see it has been warmer around the time of the photo because the mosses are blackened and dessicated.
The lichens in woodland like Wistman’s are found on rocky substrates and the branches of the trees. It’s interesting that these boulders are at great density in this woodland but not the same in the wider landscape. That is probably because the wider landscape has been cleared of woodland and then the boulders left behind, for livestock grazing. Woodland was cleared from Dartmoor long ago, mainly during the Bronze Age, from what I know.
This photo won’t display in portrait, but it’s an oak trunk covered in epiphytes – lichens, mosses and ferns coating the bark. This is the British and Irish equivalent of rainforest, or Atlantic oak woodland.
Dartmoor’s oak branches are rich in beard lichens, I think this is a species of usnea.
Some of the less flamboyant lichens, but probably more common, are these pore lichens. I think pore lichen is an American name, which isn’t used in Britain. I don’t really care and am always frustrated with the rigidity by which species recorders approach these issues. We need common names to encourage more interest in nature. I know Tyrannosaurus rex is a popular name, but Latin names do not capture the imagination in the way that common names do. Stinkhorn, anyone?
As someone who grew up in a city, cemeteries were some of the first places I began to notice wildlife. I think they are special places also because their atmosphere is so different to the rest of the built-upon or managed landscape. At Widecombe-in-the-Moor, there is one of the best lichen cemeteries I know. Not that they’re dead, they’re well and truly alive and kicking.
This cross is a dream. There are foliose and crustose lichens, and it hasn’t been tidied up by the cemetery managers (I don’t. The air quality is also excellent in this area, allowing for more species to find a place to live. Below is a selection of the species I found growing on gravestones in this cemetery:
I couldn’t let this woodlouse get away without being included along with these frosty fruiting cups.
Above is a really cool insect, a downlooker snipefly! I’ve also found this species on lichen-encrusted boulders in Western Ireland, a similar climate and landscape type.
The village of Widecombe has a large sycamore growing on the edge of the green. This tree shows why scyamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) is a good wildlife tree, because it can provide habitat for lichens.
It looks like a perfect place to sit and cotemplate the amazing lichens you can find in Dartmoor.