Fungi ๐Ÿ„: amethyst deceiver

The day after last week’s post, I headed back out to another local woodland to check up on the fungal situation. Building on the violet webcap theme, I was this time lured down an amethyst deceiver rabbit-hole. Thankfully, I was able to return from it.

I saw a tweet recently from the editor of the Inkcap Journal about how she could never find these mushrooms. The question was whether they are as bright as people say, or if that was deceptive. They are, of course, deceptive by name but also in their appearance.

I was scanning the path edges along a usual mushroom route I take through this woodland when I spotted a very small, dark mushroom under the birch and holly. It was almost black in the shade but on closer inspection it was one of perhaps 100 amethyst deceivers in the local leaf litter.

As I slowed down upon finding the mushroom, I began to see more and more. They were everywhere. I was careful not to step or kneel on them. I took some photos of them in varying states.

Herein lies this family’s deception – they are often confusing because they can look so different in anything but colour. Perhaps their name also derives from the fact they are hard to see.

These blogposts can also be deceptive. Though I have found things to photograph, we are nowhere near a mushroom peak. Things are not in full flow. The Sussex Weald’s woods look dry still, with heavy rain not yet enough to provide the water for full-on fruiting across the board. In other words, the mushrooms remain small and sparse, but there if you look. This brittlegill was exploding onto the scene like the shark from Jaws.

Something that can always be relied upon is a hard-wearing polypore. This fan of small brackets is the sort of thing you can find all year round.

This yellow stagshorn was climbing every mountain.

There were more of the typical mushrooms, but mostly in the shaded areas under holly or lower vegetation. This crew of bonnets were growing in their hundreds.

On the woodland floor I spotted some very small mushrooms with conical hats. These tips look a bit like the famous magic Psilocybe mushrooms. After a bit of research I decided that they are in fact peaked webcap.

You can forgive me for seeing their similarity for liberty cap, the magic mushroom. In this photo you can see a small amount of the webbing which gives this huge family of mushrooms its general name.

Some of the more summery mushrooms were there to be found. This included the undisputed king of looking-like-they-just-burst-through-the-door, tawny grisette.

Another amanita to be found was this blusher, I think. It is quite difficult sometimes to tell the difference between a couple of relatives in this group, including the panther cap and grey-spotted amanitas.

The pinkish-hue and appearance of the stipe was enough to suggest to me that it’s a blusher, rather than a grey-spotted amanita.

I like the felty-caps of these two friends down among the old holly leaves and sticks.

Before making my way back home I happened upon another gathering of bonnets, again under holly in very shady woodland. It’s where the moisture is and therefore where the magic happens.

If you can, make some time to get out there and find yourself some mushrooms. You won’t regret it.

Thanks for reading.

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Macro ๐Ÿ“ท: a photo each day in June for 30 Days Wild

In June 2021 I undertook a variant (not that kind of variant) of the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild campaign. I decided to try a month-long project of taking a macro photo every day: #30DaysMacro.

It was a lot of work, mainly in processing and tweeting the photos to keep up with the community aspect. But it reminded me of the importance of making time for yourself each day, even if only for 5-10 minutes, to go outside and look at things other than a computer or phone.

In the past 18 months my salaried work has become screen-based, when once I used to spend several days outdoors each week talking to people and monitoring wildlife. It’s not healthy, but it’s a byproduct of UK lockdowns.

I feel a bit as if this was such an intensive assignment that it has burned me out a bit photography-wise, among everything else happening in Brexitland (it didn’t come home in the end ๐Ÿฆ๐Ÿฆ๐Ÿฆ). I definitely hurt my back from some poorly considered leaning over waist-high hedges (bending with my lower back, not knees, etc.).

Almost all the photos were taken in my small urban garden, with a handful taken away from home. All were in Sussex. I am adamant that travelling for macro is often unwise, depending on your focus. Macro takes a lot of time and if photographing wildlife, you need to know your patch. Otherwise you spend ages trying to understand the landscape when you could be taking photos.

Below I go through the photo captured each day. Hopefully this post unclogs my macro blogs, which have been waiting on this monster post for a while now.

Thanks for taking a look and I hope it inspires you to consider the wilder things in life.

1st June 2021: aphids protecting their young (I think) on the underside of a sycamore leaf.

2nd June 2021: a noble false widow spider in my porch. There is a whole lot of hysteria about this species, which has actually been in the UK since the 1800s. It has caused me no trouble.

3rd June 2021: a moth resting on a leaf at dusk. I was working quite hard to get this pic and as the temperature fell it calmed a bit and let me get close.

4th June 2021: a noble false widow spider on my kitchen surface ledge. The weather wasn’t great on this day, so I had to find something in my house!

5th June 2021: a red and black froghopper in the South Downs near Alfriston. I walked 20 miles on this day for Macmillan Cancer Support and found this lovely hopper snoozing in the field edge.

6th June 2021: a mint moth selecting its preferred thyme flower. This is one of the more common or visible day-flying moths I encounter.

7th June 2021: a green shieldbug, the most common of its kind in my garden.

8th June 2021: one of the highlights – a fencepost jumping spider in my garden (on the fence!). I wrote a post (lol) about this encounter which you can read here.

9th June 2021: a bumblebee worker drinking aphid honeydew from the curled leaves of an apple tree in my garden. This was fascinating behaviour, with many bees of different species visiting this tree to nectar. I posted it on Twitter and a lot of people got in touch to say they were seeing the same thing. Glad I shared.

10th June 2021: a wonderful caterpillar in my green alkanet patch. I’ve not attempted an ID yet.

11th June 2021: this is a fly I see often in the garden. It is so cool. Its wings often whirr around its body as it walks around a leaf.

12th June 2021: a weekend away in East Sussex, met this well-travelled painted lady butterfly along a country lane.

13th June 2021: the carapace of a European green crab at Rye Bay.

14th June 2021: a beautiful gingery moth that spent the weekend looking after my house for me. Not sure of the species.

15th July 2021: the halfway point and an exciting find. I spotted a bee in the garden which looked unusual. Having got a photo I saw that it was a sharp-tailed bee. Delighted to have this in my garden as I’ve never seen one before and it was a new species for the garden list.

16th June 2021: green nettle weevils are funny. They play hide and seek sometimes. This weevil was happy enough to have its photo taken for a little while.

17th June 2021: a wet and rainy day when I thought a photo might not be possible. The hedge in my garden was alive with these beautiful snails. I opened the aperture to allow blur to occur and highlight the swirling shell.

18th June 2021: common jelly spot grows on the bird table in my garden. After enough rain has fallen it bursts back to life and probably chucks out some spores.

19th June 2021: a plume moth on another wet one in the garden. I love the pattern on this species, which I think may be a beautiful plume.

20th June 2021: a trip to the Adur Valley which I blogged about here. A ruby-tailed wasp, one of the most beautiful insects in the UK.

21st June 2021: another rainy day. I have learned how to find meadow spittlebugs in grass heads in recent years after finding one just outside my back door.

22nd June: a hairy masked bee (perhaps the American name), one of the yellow-faced bees, Hylaeus. These are tiny bees and not easy to photograph.

23rd June: one of my favourite partners in macro, a zebra jumping spider. They’re devilishly tricky to get in focus sometimes. I think this is just out, but I like its posture.

24th June: a running crab spider waiting for its lunch delivery. The fly behind probably didn’t know it was there.

25th June: another highlight which caused quite a lot of back strain! Here you can see an ant harvesting (and I think consuming) the honey dew from aphids they have farmed. This needs a blog all to itself to go through the amazing ecology of these two species.

26th June: I went to my local nature reserve, a farm managed by the council, to look for some different types of arthropod (insects and spiders, basically). It was hard work but I got some decent images. I like this one because it looks like this beetle is attempting to get better signal! This visit needs its own blog post as well.

27th June: I was tired after my macro outing the day before but managed to find this small green fly in my garden. I like its 1980s robot-like compound eyes.

28th June: I had been observing a large, dangly spider that lives in the corner of my kitchen for several weeks. I decided to get a closer look and was amazed by what I found. This is a cellar or daddy longlegs spider. They are from the tropics and are well established in the UK, having been here for hundreds of years. This also needs its own post!

29th June: I planted stachys (lamb’s ears) especially for this species, the wool carder bee. I haven’t seen much of them this year but they did show up towards the end of June. I love them, they’re also easy to photograph in cooler weather as they just clamp on to the flowers and chill. I blogged about them in 2020.

30th June 2021: and so the final day. I dropped by a favourite Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve on the way home, which I posted about here. This tiny slug was having a good look at me as I searched for mushrooms and slime moulds. It felt like a good reminder that as much as I was watching the wildlife, it was also watching me.

Thanks for making it this far and I hope you will spend some time out there looking out for insects, spiders, slugs and snails. They need us.

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Fungi ๐Ÿ„: amazing woodland unicycles!

A few weeks ago I visited a local woodland with high hopes for a summer burst of mushrooms. A couple of years ago in July this woodland was showing up some great soil-based mushrooms, species like blusher (Amanita rubescens) and the brittlestems (Russula). Though I didn’t find that this time, there were huge numbers of one species – twig parachute (Marasmiellus ramealis).

The image above is one taken with my camera’s in-built focus stacking, as illustrated below. It takes several images at different focus points and blends them to provide an image which is completely in focus (I don’t know why the halo-effect is happening, for info). With this cluster of mushrooms it’s able to tell the whole story.

When I posted this pic on social media, a couple of people came back with their own descriptions: Julian Hoffman called them “amazing woodland unicycles”, which has to be my favourite. In respect to my aunt who may be reading this, she got there first with “bicycle wheels”.

The set-up needed to get this image is a camera like an Olympus E-M5 which has in-built focus stacking, a small tripod-like thing, some extra lighting and a remote shutter release. You also obviously need a mushroom. The remote trigger allows you to take a photo at very slow shutter speeds which are susceptible to blurring if there is movement. That’s the beauty of fungi and other stationary subjects, you don’t need a huge full-frame camera with exceptional low-light ability. You can just use slow shutter speeds instead.

Though it is of course not fungi, this was another focus-stacking subject on that walk in the woods. Alongside a footpath, on a piece of wood being used as edging, I found this dog vomit slime mould (Fuligo septica)… yes that’s its common name. It was in the process of covering the surface of the wood and extracting nutrients and minerals along the way. Look at the networks of slime as they build across the wood.

And here is another of the VIP behind the scenes phone photos. It’s nice to put the image in context. A vari-angle screen is also incredibly helpful in these situations. If you want any advice on this kind of fungal or slime mould photography, do post a question in the comments and I’ll happily let you know what works for me.

By the way, I was using a 30mm macro lens (60mm outside of Micro Four Thirds camera/lens config). You can actually see the settings if you look at the screen.

Thanks for reading.

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Fungi ๐Ÿ„: nipping to The Mens

Last week I dropped in on a favourite Sussex Wildlife Trust woodland. It’s a place I only ever visit when travelling to or from work. It’s a place with a funny name, The Mens. It’s even funnier when I tell others I’m going to The Mens after work. The name is said to derive from the word ‘common’, a place where local people would have had foraging and grazing rights in centuries past. It’s now a significant ancient woodland in the Sussex Low Weald, holding National Nature Reserve status. It’s special because of its naturally occuring beech and holly, though I’m no expert on its specifics. It is a uniquely beautiful woodland. It is highly sensitive, and when I go I do my best to treat it with a high level of respect and care.

It’s one of the few places in SE/central southern England outside of the New Forest, that I have visited, where moss and algae cover tree trunks. Above is the typical assemblage of mature beech, oak and a surrounding sea of holly.

You can see indicators of how many mushrooms are likely to be in fruit when you first enter a reserve. I saw the above within the first few paces. It’s is a mushroom called spindleshank Gymnopilus fusipes (to my knowledge, happy to be corrected), which grows around the buttresses of oak trees. In a separate recent walk, it was the most common fungus I saw, and so is enjoying a key fruiting period.

In terms of tree health, I wouldn’t say it was a ‘good’ sign because there is some decay going on and it is defined as a parasitic species. In a woodland like this, it is normal and part of the life of the woodland. It helps to disconnect ourselves from our normal notions of life and death when in woodlands, it doesn’t play out in the same way there. Dead and decaying trees are crucial to a woodland’s life and longevity.

Spindleshank is often first seen like the group below, bursting on the scene. It is probably attached to a root or piece of wood under the soil.

This was the only fruiting mushroom I found during the short walk but there was a large abundance of slime moulds growing on fallen wood and some standing trees.

These orangey-pink blobs are a slime mould known as wolf’s milk Lycogala epidendrum. It’s famous because you can pop it and it emits a gunk of the same colour. It’s quite cool.

You will find it on decaying wood that has been in situ for several years, often in shady and damp conditions.

This species looks a bit like slug eggs. As with most slime mould I find, I’m not sure of the species.

We have had a very wet time of it in southern England, which should be cause for celebration, really. This same species was making the most of the conditions.

Behind the scenes on the slime mould shoot

My camera is capable of doing in-camera focus stacking. This means it can take several images at different focus depths and merge them together to make an image with everything in focus. This is a dream come true for macro photography, especially when the subject is so tiny.

This is a species of coral slime mould. I have seen so much of this in the past few days spent walking in oak woodlands in West Sussex. It’s clearly striking while the woodland is wet.

And so is this little slug.

Thanks for reading.

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Unlocking Landscapes podcast: Being a Bee Doctor with Dr. Beth Nicholls

After a month off this summer, Unlocking Landscapes is back and this time it’s outside, with a guest! In August I met up with Dr. Beth Nicholls at Bedelands Local Nature Reserve in West Sussex. Beth is a researcher on the subject of pollinating insects, with a key focus on bees. She works at the… Continue reading Unlocking Landscapes podcast: Being a Bee Doctor with Dr. Beth Nicholls

Macro ๐Ÿ“ท: a ruby-tailed wasp in the Adur valley

I got to spend the afternoon wandering around the Adur valley recently. The River Adur runs through West Sussex where it reaches the sea at Shoreham. There are wonderful views of the South Downs, especially from the area I was wandering around.

Truleigh Hill on the South Downs, seen from the Adur valley

This landscape fascinates me because it was once a much wider and wilder estuary. The town of Steyning had its own port, but the river’s margins and the marsh has become farmland. Looking at the maps you can see Rye Farm, with Rye potentially from the West Saxon word for ‘island’, just as it once would have been when surrounded by water or wetlands.

The River Adur

It was the end of a very rainy period and the insect life was out in force. There were hundreds of bumblebees on tufted vetch in the damp margins and probably thousands of newly emerged grasshoppers.

I wasn’t alone on this walk and so couldn’t linger too long. But along one of the lanes I found some umbellifers. On one flowerhead there was the unmistakable green and red of a ruby-tailed wasp!

They are stunning insects – with metallic blue-green thorax and a ruby-red abdomen.

The wasp was feeding on hogweed, a popular plant with pollinators.

This is a better view of the ruby abdomen.

There were just so many insects out and about, it was a joy but also a massive distraction. Buttercups are often the favoured haunt of sawflies – the earliest relative of wasps. This is a species in a group of rather elongated sawflies.

Tufted vetch was growing in the flowery margins where the bumblebees were in great number. There were also large numbers of small tortoiseshell butterflies.

On a fence near the river a blue damselfly was eating some kind of bug. It was so focused on chewing its prey that I could get very close indeed.

The number of ladybird larvae was also great, with many either on the hunt for aphids or setting themselves up for their metamorphosis.

Elsewhere on hogweed I found these carpet beetles. They are very, very small and can’t seem to tear themselves away from the nectar.

The Adur Valley with Chanctonbury Ring in the distance on the South Downs

Thanks for reading.

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Macro ๐Ÿ“ท: the fencepost jumping spider

Another week and it’s another spider post. This time, it’s a spider that also likes posts.

One evening a couple of weeks ago I had logged off from work and went out into the garden to look at something other than an email. It was a warm evening and the sun was dipping below the surrounding roofs. I noticed a blemish on the fence, a place of macro dreams.

I identified the blemish immediately as a jumping spider but one bigger than the usual crowd. Even better, it was sitting still!

The grey-brown colouring of the spider helped to camouflage it against the sun-bleached wood of the fence. It was no surprise at all, when looking at my spider book later, that I learned this was a fencepost jumping spider!

Finding a jumping spider as relaxed as this and in an accessible position can raise the adrenaline levels, meaning you can lose composure and not get images that are in focus. That said, probably about 90% of macro photos I take are out of focus because the range is wafer thin. The stars aligned this time, however.

The spider was so still that there were no issues. It seemed quite interested by me and looked straight down the lens, as far as I could tell.

One of these images will certainly go down as portfolio worthy, at least in terms of happy memories. And really there’s no better place to end this post than looking into the eyes of Britain’s largest jumping spider!

I hope you like (my) posts, too.

Thanks for reading.

Equipment used: Nikon D5600, Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro, Nikon SB-700 flash, Raynox-250 macro adaptor. Photos edited in Adobe Lightroom.

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Macro ๐Ÿ“ท: the zebra in the room

I know that this blog has focused a lot on spiders this year. My spider knowledge is basic and these posts, their photos and required dip into spider ecology (arachnology) helps me to improve that knowledge. I recently purchased a spider ID guide (Britain’s Spiders by Bee, Oxford and Smith) and it’s helped me to gradually open a better understanding of these, well, misunderstood animals. I do wonder how much the tales of antipodean killer spiders has made people in England, where there are no venomous native spiders, needlessly fearful. Of course it’s different for arachnophobes.

My favourite group of spiders are the jumping spiders, the salticids. The first jumper I ever saw or photographed was one of the zebra spiders, of which we have three species in the UK. You can only identify them with microscopic assessment of their genitals, which is beyond this blog. Regardless, I found a zebra spider on the wall of my living room, which I now appreciate is just a giant invertebrate trap. I have actually also had a starling find its way in.

I knew this would be a good chance to try and get some good photos of the spider because there are few places to hide. I helped the spider onto my finger tip which, though the photo isn’t focused properly, does show how small (and harmless) it is.

And here is a reminder to you all of how most macro photos come out – out of focus. I suppose it’s half the fun.

Zebra spiders are beautiful inverts. Their name obviously comes from their black and white patterning.

One part of the spider that I really wanted to share is its fangs. They are seen below the pedipalps, what are effectively reporoductive organs for spiders. I presume the spider was hunting for prey, or perhaps even looking for a mate.

I helped the spider back out onto the windowsill where it wandered along the draught excluding brush. I hope it found what it was looking for (unless you were the thing it was looking for!).

Thanks for reading.

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Macro ๐Ÿ“ท: spring spiderlings

Just a note that throughout June I’m posting a macro photo each day for the Wildlife Trusts’ #30DaysWild campaign, which you can keep up with here!

There has been a clear shift in the invertebrate world and it’s resulted in a lot of macro photos for me. So much so that I can’t fit them all in one post and will need to post more than once a week!

After early May’s heavy downpours, warmer weather arrived towards the end of the month and with that the insects, spiders and other arthropods. Summer feels closer now, with June being that tipping point between cooler spring weather and the hot mess of July.

One day last week I noticed a small clutter of, well, things on the garden fence. From a distance they looked like a smudge. At closer viewing they were tiny spiders all bundled together. This will be quite disconcerting to some people perhaps, including a friend of mine who I hide social media posts from because of his arachnophobia. I don’t have that problem luckily and I’m fascinated by spiders.

I had no idea what the spiders were until I submitted the record to iNaturalist and then waited for a suggestion. I leafed through my new spider book and landed on a page with the same image as the one that heads this post. They are garden spider spiderlings! The scientific name is Araneus diadematus.

It is pretty amazing that they will develop to be such large spiders, holding their places in webs over the summer months. Imagine the biomass of flies and other insects this clutch will manage to consume over the months ahead. Then again, many of them will be taken as prey themselves by birds and other insects. Don’t forget there are such things as spider-hunting wasps.

Here is one of those spiderlings (I am guessing) having set up its own web on the other side of the garden (approx. 3-4 metres).

And here was one of the adults garden spiders. I don’t know enough about the ecology of this species to say if this could be the parent or one which appeared earlier in the spring. One thing is assured – they will be getting much bigger and by August you won’t be able to miss them.

Thanks for reading.

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Macro ๐Ÿ“ท: the oak jumping spider returns

I came back from a walk the other day and, customarily, went straight to wash my hands. Looking in the mirror, I noticed something small dangling from my hair. Having just been on a walk my nature senses were fine-tuned and I realised it was an invertebrate. Looking more closely and removing it from my hair with care, I realised it was, one – alive, and two – a jumping spider.

I am fortunate enough not to have any fear of these spiders and, unlike a close friend, I’m not arachnophobic. I also have them fresh in my mind, after having a species of a nationally scarce spider confirmed by the county recorder earlier this week.

I looked at this tiny spider as it rested on my hand and thought, ‘it’s the same species’. I had my camera with me but perhaps not the best lens, i.e. not a macro, but one with some close-focusing capabilities. I took the spider outdoors, anxious that it might jump and never get outside again. I took photos with what I had. Without a macro lens I had to crop the images heavily in post-processing.

Looking at the photos, I am confident it is the same species again, Ballus chalybeius, the oak jumping spider. That confidence is boosted even more by this purchase, which arrived in the post the other day:

I have no idea where this particular spider came from – possibly from any of the oak trees I walked under? The book above states that the species is one of the only ones found only in trees and bushes. Its common name is oak jumping spider, which means I may have picked it up during my walk as there are no oaks anywhere near my house or along the street. It could also means it’s more common than is understood. That’s the beauty of community science!

Thanks for reading.

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Macro ๐Ÿ“ท: is that a nationally scarce spider sitting on the fence?

*Update: this record has now been accepted as correct by the county expert and has become official ๐Ÿ˜*

Most of the jumping spiders I find in my garden are sitting on the fence, LITERALLY.

The jumping spiders are a group of beautiful arachnids (spiders and arachnids are not insects FYI) that are renowned for their cartoon eyes and ‘cuteness’. There is something very ‘floofy’ about them. This video by Thomas Shahan has some lovely images of some American species:

I love to see them in my house, exploring the doors and window frames. One got into difficulty recently and was captured as prey by another window-dwelling species. Even the indoor parts of our homes are wild places at macro level.

Most of my macro is getting done through intensive 5 minute breaks during my working day, in which I take rushed and low quality photos (as seen here). I am stuck at a computer all week at the moment and these micro-macro garden safaris are keeping me ‘productive’.

I spent some of the time checking out one of the fences where I’ve found lots of interesting species like hornet-mimic hoverflies, digger wasps and jumping spiders (above).

During one break I noticed a tiny jumping spider exploring one of the posts and attempted some snaps. The pics are grainy and nowhere near portfolio quality, but that’s not what matters here. I put the photos on iNaturalist and an Italian spider expert gave an ID of Ballus chalybeius.

I tweeted the British Arachnological Society and they were happy enough that it was this family, with only one species within that family in the UK. Looking at the map of their records, it has not yet been recorded in this part of West Sussex. It’s also Nationally Scarce. Bingo!

One of conservation’s big problems in the UK is its insularity and misanthropic tendencies. Thankfully organisations like BAS are active on sites like Twitter to speak up for spiders and to engage with people online. Nature conservation in the UK is claimed to be better when bigger and more joined up. You could say the same for its ability to communicate and gather information. That’s me off the fence, then.

Thanks for reading.

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