Dog stinkhorns in Aldershot 🍄

On Sunday 6th November I led a fungi walk in Aldershot in Hampshire, on behalf of Brimstones.

Interesting fact: Aldershot means a piece of land (‘shot’) home to alder trees. It’s the same for the placename of Oakshot, sometimes with an extra ‘t’ included. Helpfully, there were plenty of alder trees on this walk and more than enough rain to keep them happy.

I whipped round the woodland to gather some specimens for the walk intro. The conditions were rough – high winds and lashing rain. I actually failed to find much of note for the first half an hour looking. It was only until moving into a heathy area of birch and oak that things began to pop.

Candlesnuff fungus – ever reliable

That said, I wouldn’t describe the mushroom situation as of 6th November as ‘popping’. More like slopping. There had been heavy downpours that morning and across the previous week. This means mushrooms are quite washed out or else just mush!

That said, when the attendees for the walk joined up and we began looking with all those extra pairs of eyes (and some lovely late afternoon sunshine) we found so much more than I could see alone in the rain. It’s a reminder that the role of a walk leader is not to know everything (ha) but to enable others to tune in and learn something yourself in return.

Local samples including white saddle and false deathcap

I collected a bunch of species, some already uprooted, to show to the group at the start and give a sense of what we were looking for. This included a brittlegill, false deathcap, brown birch bolete, coral fungus, sulphur knight, sulphur tuft, and white saddle.

Upon walking through the site I was thinking about dog stinkhorn and, moments later, I saw that very species collapsed in some bramble. Visualise the mushrooms you want to see in the world is my advice. The problem is that this is a visually challenging species.

Dog stinkhorn is one of the weird ones

Other less common sightings (for my eyes anyway) were elfin saddles. These are similar to the white saddles also seen here but are often smaller and have a blue-grey cap, if you could call it that. I took a pic but can’t bear to share it as it’s out of focus and very dark.

What I didn’t take photos of were lots of brittle gills, some fly agaric, and the hundreds of small bonnets in the leaf litter. It had the feel of a season passing its peak.

Thanks for reading.

Further reading: Fungi

A basketful of boletes 🧺

As seen on Friday 14th October 2022

In mid-October I met up with the Heathlands Reunited team at a Hampshire heathland in the Surrey borders. The meeting was to scope out a fungi walk I will be leading with them next month, and I thought it would be worth sharing some of the sightings. They will no doubt differ next month when autumn is well and truly progressing towards winter.

Very early on we found a perfect scarletina bolete (Neoboletus luridiformis)! This is one of my favourite species, having only seen one once before, on chalk on the South Downs Way in 2019.

Elsewhere in the bolete family, there were loads of brown birch boletes (Leccinum scabrum), most of which were in very good condition. Bramshott is a heathland so there’s a lot of birch there.

There were also plenty of Boletus edulis but they seemed to be mostly covered in mould after recent rain. This part of the Weald and Downs is quite misty and damp at times, so the mushrooms were probably quickly affected by the conditions.

There were lots of these red mushrooms that you may have heard of before. They’re enjoying a good year.

Other amanitas found that afternoon include what is either panther cap or grey-spotted amanita.

Less spotty amanitas included the highest numbers of tawny grisette mushrooms (Amanita fulva) I’ve ever encountered.

This grisette had fallen over. At the base you can see the ‘egg’ the fruiting body emerges from.

Along with those amanitas, the most common mushroom by a long, long way was the brown rollrim (Paxillus involutus). This is a poisonous mushroom which seems to be having a very good year.

Here’s a closer look at one of those grizzly bears. I first saw this mushroom when attending a walk from someone who taught me a lot – David Warwick – in Nunhead in SE London. He pulled what looked like a piece of rubbish from an old tree pit, what turned out to be the brown roll rim. I’ll never forget it!

As mentioned previously this season, the russulas are having a strong year. These lovely yellow ones, were appearing afresh from under the pines and birch. You can see a collapsed amanita in the background.

I have considered whether to try and spend more time learning to identify russulas. My focus is on learning families rather than getting obscure fungi down to species level. I am not completely a scientist in this and my aim is to produce photographs and write these blogs. It becomes all about how much time is available to you and what the best use of that time is.

As we finished scouting the route for the walk, we bumped into a group of women who were picking mushrooms. They had a woven basket full to the brim. From what I could make out they had picked a lot of honey fungus, ceps, a scarletina bolete and one of the leccinum boletes. We got talking to them and discovered they were Polish – I can speak a little bit, which I deployed here, always received very warmly! – and the woman in charge really knew her stuff. She said she was going to pickle them in olive oil and was happy with the slug-bitten state of that cep you can see on the lefthand-side.

I’ve written before about the place mushrooms have in historically ‘Slavic’ countries such as Poland. This is not something you would often see in England, nor to encounter someone with the level of confidence in their knowledge. Of course no nation of people can be generalised or defined in any one way but the English culture has become one of mycophobia.

If anything is to be said in riposte to that, it’s that the level of interest and intrigue in fungi in England is growing. We were here to plan a route for a public fungi walk, after all!

Thanks for reading.

Further reading: Fungi

Enjoyed what you saw here? If so, please support my work: https://ko-fi.com/djgwild

Giant polypore and more in the New Forest 🐎

There are certain species of fungi that are relevant to particular professions. Some medical experts may be aware of certain species of fungi that cause lung problems, or cheese growers may want a particular mould to improve their cheeses, for example. In the tree management world, there are several that keep people awake at night. One of those is giant polypore. Just like Jeff Goldblum witnessing a sublimly terrifying, carnivorous dinosaur appearing before him in Jurassic Park, a tree officer may look at giant polypore growing at the base of a tree and whisper the words, “Meripulus”. That’s its scientific name.

During a recent ramble in the New Forest, I was blown away by the sight of a large number of fruiting bodies of giant polypore (also known as black-staining polypore, but perhaps in America) alongside a footpath. Now, I’d seen giant polypore along this path before, where a number of beech trees grow, but I had never seen anything of this size and scale.

The image above reflects the spread of the fungus in the soil, or else along the roots of the tree. This is a fungus that decays roots, and from what I know it is a case of managed decline for the tree. Of course, we should remember that this is perfectly natural and it’s something that has been occurring for millions of years in woodlands. It’s a key process of renewal upon which biodiverse ecosystems depend.

I don’t know for sure who owns this small parcel of the New Forest, but I think it may be the Wildlife Trust. The great thing about having conservation charities as landowners is that they will make sensitive decisions around tree management more often than others, whilst always considering public safety. I say this as a Wildlife Trust employee with a woodland focus currently, and previously for a longer period!

This tree will go down at some point in the next few years, I would guess, either by natural course or by being reduced by the landowner, which is highly possible if there is resource available. Retaining standing deadwood is always preferable but not always possible.

But that is just one species, so let’s look at what else I found on this 9 mile wander in one of Europe’s most important woodland landscapes.

My first sighting of porcelain fungus usually takes place as early as June, but in 2022 it was late September. That to me is evidence of how dry it’s been this summer, with the hottest temperatutes on record in the UK. There should be more to come from this very photogenic species in the weeks ahead.

In south-east London’s oak woodlands it is proving a bumper year for beefsteak fungus (Fistulina hepatica). 75% of mature oak trees in one woodland had beefsteak in some form on the trunk. In the New Forest I found this wonderful example of the fungus, in what was the ideal state for eating. It looks so much like actual meat, it is very disturbing. This was growing on a large oak stump at the edge of a path.

This image doesn’t demonstrate spindle shank (Gymnopus fusipes) that well but they are fruiting in large numbers on oak at the moment. This is a root-rotter on a smaller scale to giant polypore, and it has a very potent aroma. It’s not unpleasant at all but is quite dominant if you know the smell.

I’ve written about boletes recently but this remnant cep (Boletus edulis) really confused me for a while. My guess here is that one of the nearby ponies or perhaps pigs munched the top off what would have been a sizeable mushroom. I identified it by the webbing of sorts on the rounded stipe. I didn’t see any others on the day. The livestock must eat quite a few of the mushrooms actually.

Elsewhere in bolete world I found a beautiful smaller species with very strong yellow pores. Here you can see that boletes and their relatives don’t have typical gills but instead pores. My guess here would be suede bolete, one of the Xerocomus species which is often found in this part of the season.

Here’s a closer look at those lovely pores. I tested them with my fingernail and they didn’t bruise blue, which you may be able to see in the top left of the photo.

Towards the end of the walk, my final find was this typical Agaricus-looking field mushroom that had been uprooted, probably by one of the cattle grazing the lawns. I am a bit indifferent to these grassland species and am wary in general of white mushrooms due to some toxic species like destroying angel, not that it would be found in the open normally.

In general, and following up on my long walk in the Forest in April, or comparing to September 2020, the landscape still looks very dry indeed. That will no doubt have slowed any mushroom fruiting. I’m hoping to return in October or November for the peak period to see how things are.

Thanks for reading.

Further reading: Fungi | The New Forest

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From Brockenhurst to Lyndhurst in the New Forest 👣

In April I walked from Brockenhurst to Lyndhurst and back in the space of two days. This post focuses on the first day walking from Brockenhurst railway station.

I’ve created a route of the walk here.

These are probably the New Forest’s biggest towns, with Brockenhurst being bigger than Bournemouth until the advent of the railways in the mid to late-1800s.

I’ve walked many times in the New Forest. It’s an exceptional place for ancient trees, birds and for fungi. But visiting it this time it felt like it was suffering from an absence of rain, it looked thirsty. In many of the more open landscapes it looked bare and over-grazed. On these two warm and sunny days I didn’t see a single butterfly! These are just my own observations and may not be accurate.

A trackway that leads into Roydon Woods from nearby Brockenhurst opens the door to the walk.

A disused barn with oak planks

A New Forest pony grazing

I found very little fungi. The whole Forest appeared to be exceptionally dry for the time of year. This is probably lumpy bracket.

The trackway through Roydon Woods, now fenced on all sides since I last visited in 2019.

There were a few of these flies basking in the sun. I think they are St, Mark’s flies or similar.

The sporophytes of juniper hair cap moss growing on a wood bank.

There is something quite muscular about this dead standing oak, no doubt full of life on the inside.

The arrival of birch leaves is one of my favourite sights each spring.

A close up of moss photosynthesising

I had no idea that this bracken stalk had a little insect sat atop it. That often happens with macro images.

Greater stitchwort flower

Walking along the track a bird on a stump caught my eye. I realised it was a nuthatch and managed to catch a photo of it before it flew to cover. They are usually high in the treetops. This silent bird may have been gathering food for nestlings.

The Lymington River

Primroses and celandines gathering around the mossy buttresses of an oak

Ash dieback has changed the look and feel of parts of the older woodlands around Brockenhurst. The woodland is more open and clearly depleted. Ash trunks lie as if storm ravaged. This is good conservation woodland management for fungi and deadwood invertebrates.

Wood anemones at their peak, surrounded by dogs mercury, another plant of ancient woodland

A triple decker of Ganoderma bracket fungus on the remains of a beech tree

Carvings of an owl and oak leaves made in this dead tree

Arriving on Beaulieu Heath I was baffled by the sights of what looked like chalk downland in the distance. Looking at the map it appeared to be the Isle of Wight!

One of the few fungi I found, a small bracket on a fallen branch

The first beech leaves: they can be eaten (not sure if they affect people with allergies) and also used to make gin. They are soft at first but like their oak relatives will soon toughen up.

A winding forestry trail where the landscape becomes less diverse and the understory generally thins out. This is more of a plantation landscape.

Cladionia lichens on a piece of old pine wood

Can you see the crab spider here? I was astonished. It had matched the red and green of the wood spurge it was hiding in. Crab spiders are known to be able to mimic colours of plants around them. This seemed so specific, as the spurge will not keep the reddish colour for long.

One of my favourite beech trees, encrusted in white lichens

A selection of images showing the lichen communities that can be found in some parts of the Forest.

Ferns acting as epiphytes on this heavily leaning oak tree

To finish, before arriving in Lyndhurst, a selection of beech trees and one with a massive Ganoderma bracket.

Thanks for reading.

More from the New Forest

#FungiFriday: a special day in the New Forest

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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.

More mushrooms

 

Photography: The New Forest, September 2016

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This is part of my Woodlands project

View my full gallery of New Forest photos on Flickr

I hadn’t managed to visit the New Forest since May, when redstarts sang in the woods and the stitchwort and bluebells flourished under the trees. A lot has changed since then, Britain having voted by 52%-48% to leave the European Union. I am pro-EU and on the morning after the vote took place I felt a degree of sadness that The New Forest voted to leave. Why sadness? The New Forest is one of the EU Habitats Directives Natura 2000 sites which is specially recognised for its importance across the whole of Europe. One of the main barbs of the Leave campaign was that somehow the EU was an attack on individual freedoms, especially of local, unique communities in Britain. I disagree with this. The Natura 2000 website recognises that the New Forest is designated as a Special Area for Conservation because of the role that local people play in managing its habitats:

The quality of the habitats of the New Forest, and the rich diversity of species which they support, is dependent upon the management activities of the various owners and occupiers. Of fundamental importance is the persistence of a pastoral economy based on the existence of Rights of Common. The commoners’ stock, mainly cattle and ponies, roam freely over extensive areas of the New Forest, playing a vital role in keeping open habitats free of scrub and controlling the more aggressive species such as bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) and purple-moor grass (Molinia caerulea), and maintaining the richness and variety of heathland and wood pasture habitats.

Then again, don’t ask me what I think about the antics of the Leave campaign, nor the failures of Jeremy Corbyn and David Cameron in alerting people to the importance that the EU holds/held for the environment. If you’re interested there is a petition asking for the EU environmental protections to be upheld if/when Britain leaves the EU. Yet again our politicians and political system have failed to protect the environment.

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The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust’s Roydon Woods is one of my favourite reserves to visit. It was silent but for a few flocks of blue tit and long-tailed tit, and one of only a few insects I found was this lacewing larvae (Neuroptera). It was carrying this backpack around, what I think is tied together by the downy hairs of leaves, possibly willow or hazel.

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Autumn is a special time, though there has been little rain in recent weeks, there were several large bracket fungi to be found. This is a newly emerging chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus).

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The solitude of the New Forest – most areas away from campsites, car parks and cycling routes are largely devoid of visitors during the week – means you can encounter some wonderful things. I looked up to find a roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) watching me, half way between a field and the woods. There is a clear browsing line in the New Forest and very little natural regeneration of trees because deer and other herbivores, generally New Forest ponies and other livestock, are eating the new growth. Chris Packham has recently said that the New Forest is dying because of over-grazing.

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It’s not often that you come across a perfect specimen of a mushroom. Fruiting bodies are short-lived and very quickly deteriorate. To find this giant polypore (Meripilus giganteus) was a moment of sheer joy. As I’ve said in my fungi round-up for last year, I don’t pick them, just photograph them. I’m not precious about this nor hyper-critical of mushroom picking, I just prefer that other people and indeed animals can enjoy them. This mushroom was about 2ft in length and just beside the path. I hope others manage to see it before it decays.

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Out on Beaulieu Heath it was drizzling and grey. Stonechats were low in the leftovers of gorse, a flock of medium-sized birds flew overhead and down into the heather which I couldn’t identify. Horseflies dive bombed from the woody margins, the sound of their wings is unmistakable and unnerving. They only want one thing. Along a denser edge of trees and scrub a hare burst free, then came a stoat, turning on its heels at lightning speed to return to the cover of bramble. Spotted flycatcher was also a nice sight at the corner of Lodge Heath.

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In the Frame Heath Inclosure forestry operations were underway with mature sessile oaks (Quercus patraea) being harvested. I’ve been reading about the Forestry Commission’s attempts to remove broadleaf species like this from the Forest in the 20th century. It took ministerial intervention and local opposition to stop a near complete shift to conifer plantation.

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Sitka spruce (Picea sitkensis) is one of the preferred species for foresters. They are shallow rooted trees liable to windthrow in more open landscapes. This spruce had been taken down by just that, a large hole bored through its middle where the soil had fallen away.

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The gentle giants of English oak (Quercus robur) are far ‘happier’ standing alone in the landscape. The reason they are not surrounded by regenerating trees is because of the aforementioned grazing taking place around it. Give me these beautiful old trees any day over a spruce or pine monoculture. We should be thankful to all the people who have fought to fend off intrusive forestry practices in the Forest.

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It is these ancient and veteran trees that makes the Forest so unique in Europe. The number of these old trees draws the breath, in areas which are not Inclosures where oak, pine or spruce are planted in regimental fashion for timber, there are just so many of them to be found.

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Balmerlawn is close to Brockenhurst and hosts two spectacular old English oaks. This one has a trunk about 6ft and I would approximate it to be over 500 years old.

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Next door to it is a younger oak with a massive ‘wolf branch’ as arborists call it, reaching out towards the road. Where it swoops closest to the ground there are two patches where the grass has been worn away by kids jumping up and down over the years. It’s a dream to climb.

Photography: The New Forest, May 2016

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This is part of my Woodlands project

English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) growing in the open, grassy woodlands of Roydon Woods National Nature Reserve, managed by Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. Bluebells grow freely away from tree cover and can often indicate the site of former ancient woodland in areas of open land.

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An English boundary oak (Quercus robur) There are an inordinate number of ancient and veteran trees in the New Forest. The New Forest is of European importance for this reason, amongst others. It is a treasure trove of old trees and landscape features.

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The New Forest is significant also because of its roaming herbivores, in this image one of the many New Forest ponies can be seen grazing under the boughs of another boundary oak.

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There are also a number of notable beech trees, this one contained an intuitive birder, not a species native to this area.

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May to June is a good time to spot Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus). This specimen was unmissable, it was massive, something like 40-50cm in length across the log.

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The breaks of sun in Roydon Woods gave warmth and light to invertebrates on the edges of the paths. This beautiful demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) was resting on plants growing in a ditch.

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But the New Forest is in fact more heathland than woodland. There were a good number of stonechat (Saxicola torquatus) singing atop gorse bushes out on the heath.

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It was a joy and a pleasure to hear cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) singing in the distance. It was an even more pleasing feeling to see this male shoot past us. Spring, it is the most precious time of year.