Dartmoor: finding Grimspound in the mist 🛖

Dartmoor, Devon, May 2023

It was a misty morning high on Dartmoor. We began walking from Bennett’s Cross, passing Birch Tor and heading through wintry heather moorland. The white tails of wheatears burst across the paths as we disturbed them. Their journeys here are some of the longest undertaken by any migratory animal on the planet.

After a short plateau in the moor we crossed a quiet road and ascended Hookney Tor. Here the mist came in from the north, sucking up the wider moor, and the long stone wall that framed views in that direction. We switched east to pick up the unsigned Two Moors Way and walked between the rocky eruptions of Hookney Tor.

As we continued down on the Two Moors Way, a grey bird cut across the edge of the visible moor, some 25ft ahead, before the land was hidden by the mist. It was a male cuckoo, another African bird looking for a mate to breed in this harsh terrain.

The cuckoo slid away into the mist and we headed south for our prize – the 3000 year old settlement of Grimspound.

Approaching, only the collapsed stones of the outer enclosure were visible, painted white by the crust lichens that thrive on Dartmoor stone. In the distance we could hear the voices of other visitors to this ancient place. A family were visiting, posing for photos inside one of the small enclosures that had been rebuilt.

Entering into the ring of fallen stones, the smaller huts came into view. This wall will have been intended to protect the inhabitants and their livestock from wild animals like wolves (now long extinct) and any attacks from other people.

Thanks for reading.

Dartmoor

Salmon egg slime mould 🐟

This is not a fungi post. If anything, it’s probably closer to animals. It also may exhibit signs of memory despite not having a brain. Sounds like you’re in the right place.

Tuesday 10th January 2023 was one of those awful January days in London. It rained a lot, was windy, and there was no direct sunlight to bask in.

Add to this the fact that the night before a fireball enjoyed a spectacular demise in the night sky, and was easy to view across much of the UK. At the time – 20:00 GMT – I was outside, in the dark, being distracted by the massive moon and a neighbour saying she didn’t want to run me over. Somehow, I missed the fireball and lived to hear about it on the radio the next morning.

Anyway, back down to Earth. Though the woods can be ghastly at this time of year, I find them to be a decent shout for slime moulds. Not to be proven wrong, I was proved right by the sight of little (read: tiny) orange beans at the path edge on an old oak log.

These little droplets of tangerine dream are commonly known by slime people as salmon eggs. It is amazing how these declining fish can fight their way up through places where there are no rivers, to lay their eggs in a bit of wood.

You know that was a joke, yes?

Slime moulds thrive in damp, dark places, usually in decaying wood that has been saturated by winter rainfall.

Elsewhere, the smaller polypores of turkeytail and the like were ‘showing nicely’ as the birders say, though rarely of a turkey’s tail around here.

Thanks for reading.

Macro | Fungi

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Praying for Everton’s survival among the wildflowers ⚽

On Sunday 28th May I forced myself, though tired, to go for a walk in the Arun valley in the South Downs. The aim was to try and distract myself from Everton’s final day game against Bournemouth, where my team could be relegated from the top division of English football for the first time in…

A spring epistrophe? 🐝

Another week of some sun, some showers, and some temperatures that got close to freezing. That sentence may turn out to be a spring epistrophe, but more of that later. In Scotland it reached as low as -5C. April 2023 has been a mishmash of seasons. Here’s what I encountered in my garden on 22nd…

Winter oyster mushrooms 🍄

A chilly afternoon in the Weald of West Sussex on one of those days in early January when you remember their names again. “Moonday” 9th January 2023 was appropriate seeing as the famous old block of cheese was up in the sky that night, howling back down to us. A wolf moon, indeed.

Moons are easier to come by than ‘shrooms, the main focus of my walk around a wet woodland reserve where the river ran free of its banks, merging among poplars like something from prehistory (i.e. no Internet).

A boardwalk cuts the edge of the wetlands where I usually expect to find velvet shank mushrooms. Along with scarlet elf cup, this is one of the winter gems of the fungal kingdom in Northern Europe. In truth, I didn’t find any that I could photograph without having to (theoretically) enter into a wetsuit or small boat.

Instead it was a coastal species that proved easiest to snap, if only in name. One of my favourite Twitter accounts and reader of this blog recently posted some oyster mushroom photos. Another timeline glimpse made me think – this is a seasonal trend, and I should keep an eye out in real life.

They’re a beautiful fungus with dark, purple-grey tops and pale, almost white gills underneath. They’re edible, but I was just there for the pics. You can buy them in the shops or grow them yourself at home. Another friend/regular reader even has them growing in her garden from timber sleepers. Well jel.

One of my favourite actual, single funguses lives here. I’m pretty sure it’s a willow bracket, growing from the bottom of a branch like a hat plucked off someone’s head below/a UFO/some kind of weird leather cushion from the Victorian period.

It makes me laugh every single time. A reminder: if some part of nature isn’t humouring you, “you’re not doing it right”.

Thanks for reading.

Fungi | Sussex Weald

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Is this England’s national mushroom? 🍄

On a recent visit to the National Trust’s Nymans Gardens I spotted some big, cream-coloured things in the lawns near the car park. No, these were not scones or cream cakes, or even pasties discarded by visitors.

What this hoverfly doesn’t know 🐝

On Sunday 16th April my garden thermometer (kept in the shade, don’t worry) read 16C, and the garden was alive. Here’s what I found in the space of about half an hour.

Bogshrooms, and a life lived wild and free 🍄🐐

I went for an evening walk down the old trackway to the foot of the mountain. The track was flooded, meaning that without wellies I had to find tussocks and rocks to move further. Where the track turned, I noticed a ram of some kind grazing up ahead. After a time, I realised it was…

Five pines at Pulborough 🌲

Pulborough Brooks, West Sussex, Friday 16th December 2022

I arrived at Pulborough Brooks as the sun began to rise over Wiggonholt, the heath on the hill.

There are five pine trees that stand together in the open heath, I always seek them out in this light.

Frost encrusted everything where the sun was yet to reach. Young birches were thick with hoar frost, the yellow leaves of oaks held an edge of ice flakes.

There was little to hear, so much so that even a goldcrest moving through brambles made a sound.

Further round the hill the Highland Cattle were grazing among the frozen bracken. They looked so at home in their Viking get-up, heavy coats whitened by the temperatures. At 8am it was -5.

Out onto the reserve a winter landscape opened out: rock-hard fields with a herd of deer making a break for it; frozen ponds and lakes without ducks and wading birds; and in the distance the South Downs almost hidden by a rising mist.

Thanks for reading.

Sussex Weald | Photography

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Spring 2023 blog update

Hello! I wanted to do a blog update post as I have fallen behind with writing and photography, but am still in existence. Believe me it pains me not having the time or mental space to write anything, possibly more than it pains you to read this blog. I’ve just finished working on a short-term…

December leaves 🍂

One of my favourite things to photograph in winter is a frost-encrusted leaf. Where the frost remains long enough it allows for us non-early risers to enjoy some at lunchtime (to look at, rather than eat).

On the morning of Thursday 8th December I could hear sycamore leaves falling in the garden. There was a thick frost, the trigger for these leaves to let go.

At a nearby nature reserve I found this yellow hawthorn leaf, a colour hawthorn isn’t really known for. It’s one of the most underrated trees, despite its prevalence, and ecological and cultural value in England.

The image doesn’t do the real thing justice but even lichens get frosty sometimes. This is a little cluster of oak moss lichen that had fallen from a tree.

Thanks for reading.

Sussex Weald

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Apaches over the Downs

A walk from Steyning, along the field edge with those lumpy Downs caught in a smoke-like haze. The sun beat over the hilltops, the trees naked, grey and brown without leaves.

A tale of two hedges in the South Downs

The light was low over the Arun valley. To the south the Sussex coast was a band of grey concrete, the horizon between sky and sea broken only by the pale sticks of the offshore wind farms. The Isle of Wight rested out at sea to the west like a great sleeping sloth.

The Sussex Weald: Autumn sunset at Cowdray Park

A new blog post series of single images, maybe, to counteract the decline of Twitter and the TikTok-isation of Instagram?

This image was taken at Cowdray Park near Midhurst on Monday 14th November. It was a stunning autumn evening, with trees in shades of gold, yellow and orange all the way to the sumptuous Downs.

The violet webcap returns 💜

As seen on 11th October 2022

On a recent visit to a local woodland, I accidentally stumbled into teletubbyland. I don’t mean some bizarre, super-rich person’s eco village, simply that I had bumped into one of the characters from this incredibly weird but very popular childrens TV programme.

Violet webcap

Of course I’m not actually seriously saying that some giant purple baby thing with an antenna on its head was hanging out in the woods – wouldn’t surprise you though, really – but something in its image. I’m talking about a violet webcap (Cortinarius violacious).

This is a species that I saw for the first time last autumn in nearly the exact same spot, almost a year to the day (above, in mature form).

Bay bolete

Moving to less colourful characters, in the same area I found a large community of bolete mushrooms, a mix of bay bolete (Imlera badia) and ceps (Boletus edulis). I didn’t pick any if you were wondering, but I did take some pictures!

This is a rather tellytubby-esque bolete, with its friends in the background. There were huge numbers of fungi here, a lovely thing to see. I posted about these recently.

Fly agaric

Of course it would be wrong to leave the wild emojis out of this post, which appear to be having a very good year indeed.

I was doing the rather annoying thing of using two cameras for this walk, which meant having hands full but trying to crouch down and not tumble downhill at the same time. I used my wider angle zoom lens for this lovely little russula. The sunlight touched its cap at the perfcet moment to create some very nice highlighting. More and more I think I prefer images where the mushroom can be seen within its habitat.

Here’s some more interesting perspective. I couldn’t work out what this bracket fungus was from afar. It was growing in the barkless section of a beech tree that had part collapsed.

This illustrates it a bit better. I’ve not done any work to try and identify it just yet so am not sure of the species. As ever, if you do know please pop me a comment below.

I struggled to get a picture I was entirely happy with here. This is a false deathcap (Amanita citrina), a common species in oak and beech woodlands. This one was in perfect condition. The light from the sun in the background was quite harsh. I used my phone torch to highlight the gills and stipe.

Here’s the mushroom again from above. You can see the veil remnants on the cap, which have become attached after it broke through from the ‘egg’ seen at the base of the stipe. Looking at the iNaturalist page it says this species is about to be broken up, taxonomically, into several species!

There were many fine Russula mushrooms to be found, and many not so fine. They were perhaps at every couple of footsteps in this part of the woodland. I’m not sure of the species exactly but I like the droplets and the colour of the cap. Russulas also have lovely clean stipes when they first arrive. Doesn’t last though!

I took some mushrooms that had been naturally uprooted home to identify them. I was quite interested in this little group and picked one to take back for ID. Looking through my books and using iNaturalist, I think they are a species of chanterelle. Probably Craterellus cinereus or Craterellus cornucopioides.

Moving even further away from the more typical gilled fungi, I found a nice little grouping of coral fungi. The above look to me like little white fires in the moss. I’m not sure of the species.

These are about as far away from teletubbyland as you’re going to get in this blogpost, so a good place to end.

Thanks for reading.

Further reading: Fungi | The Sussex Weald

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

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The deep blue sea comes inland 🌊

A lot of rain has fallen in Britain in January. One way I like to gauge just how much, is to visit the wetlands around Pulborough and Amberley in West Sussex.

Salmon egg slime mould 🐟

This is not a fungi post. If it’s anything, it’s probably closer to animals. It also may exhibit signs of memory despite not having a brain. Sounds like you’re in the right place.

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

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

  • Praying for Everton’s survival among the wildflowers ⚽

    Praying for Everton’s survival among the wildflowers ⚽

    On Sunday 28th May I forced myself, though tired, to go for a walk in the Arun valley in the South Downs. The aim was to try and distract myself from Everton’s final day game against Bournemouth, where my team could be relegated from the top division of English football for the first time in…

  • Dartmoor: finding Grimspound in the mist 🛖

    Dartmoor: finding Grimspound in the mist 🛖

    It was a misty morning high on Dartmoor. We began walking from Bennett’s Cross, passing Birch Tor and heading through wintry heather moorland.… Continue reading Dartmoor: finding Grimspound in the mist 🛖 →

  • A spring epistrophe? 🐝

    A spring epistrophe? 🐝

    Another week of some sun, some showers, and some temperatures that got close to freezing. That sentence may turn out to be a spring epistrophe, but more of that later. In Scotland it reached as low as -5C. April 2023 has been a mishmash of seasons. Here’s what I encountered in my garden on 22nd…

Cep-tember: reflections on foraging in England 🍄

In the early weeks of September, the first autumn mushroom boom hit. This was after a number of stormy downpours finally gave up some of the long-held rain to the land below, where us humans are most of the time.

I visited a local Sussex woodland in the second week of the month and was astonished by the change the rain had brought about. I have never seen so many blusher mushrooms (Amanita), which were honestly as common as muck, as the English saying goes. It’s also the start of the Russula season, with the first explosion of the brittle-gilled, uniformly white mushrooms. They are spectacularly beautiful to look at before the squirrels, deer, or slugs get to them, as they should.

Blusher mushroom

I was on my way out of the woodland when I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of a perfect mushroom. It was perfect in appearance and is thought of as perfect for its culinary quality. At the edge of the shady path, under the branches of a young holly tree, was a cep (Boletus edulis).

Recently I’ve read a book about mushrooms and foraging that really got me thinking. It challenged my perceptions of whether we have it wrong about mushroom foraging in this country in terms of tone, and whether everything I thought I knew about what a woodland’s state would mean for its fungi.

More on that in a bit. You may have guessed that I picked this mushroom, took it home and ate it. I lived to tell the tale and it was indeed very tasty.

In recent weeks there have been Instagram posts showcasing hundreds of ceps in France and Russia and it’s made me realise something. One of the best times to pick edible mushrooms is in August and September before leaf fall and when there is still drier weather to be had. Wet weather also allows detritivores like slugs to feast on mushrooms.

Cep (Boletus edulis) also known as penny bun or porcini

Ceps in particular seem to be more likely to be free of decay and of insect encroachment into the stipe in drier months, which forms the core of the mushroom’s edibility.

For the past ten years I have remained fairly sniffy about mushroom foraging and only really ever eat wild mushrooms as a one off to see what they’re like. Part of this comes from working as a woodland warden for 6 years in an ecologically sensitive but hugely popular nature reserve. In my view and experience, I still don’t think foraging is sustainable in small city woodlands where the impact of footfall can degrade a habitat’s viability. There is also the fundamental fact that access to certain places has its controls, which are legal requirements in some cases. It’s also a sad reflection of the state of the English landscape which is said to be one of the most nature-depleted in the world.

Reading The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing made me appreciate just how nature-depleted we are in the UK, and how this is a cultural as well as ecological issue. I’ve written before about mushrooms in the Slavic world. Mushrooms seem like such a rare thing now that their picking is treated in numerous places as an offence, and this still with no solid evidence that picking mushrooms reduces an ecosystem’s viability or biodiversity. It does seem to come down more to commercial ‘theft’ than anything else, which you can understand if ‘organised’ groups are technically asset-stripping public lands. Mushrooms like ceps have a market value, something Tsing covers in greater detail.

As mentioned earlier, in small urban woodlands I think large-scale foraging could be harmful in that it can introduce lots of feet to healthy areas of woodland soil and seal it up, blocking the vital movements of gases like oxygen and CO2, fungal and invertebrate life, resulting in tree death. Soil is, after all, a living thing. It’s another reminder that woodlands with high visitor numbers do need to be managed for their long-term health.

Bradfield Woods

But disturbance of a different variety may not be so bad. It may even help to promote mushroom dispersal. Tsing’s book shows that disturbed landscapes seem somehow ‘better’ for matsutake in America, with landscapes damaged to a degree by industry actually being reawakened to different communities of fungal life. We are of course talking about wooded landscapes of much greater scale than most that are found in the UK. That’s a key element to consider.

Two years ago I visited Bradfield Woods, a managed coppice-with-standards woodland in Suffolk that also happens to be a National Nature Reserve. It was absolutely chock-full with boletes and many other species of fungi, including stinkhorns! Bradfield Woods is coppiced regularly for its hazel wood and its mature oaks are felled for timber (hazel = coppice, oak = standards). It was one of the most fungally-rich woodlands I have ever visited in central or southern England, again this was early September.

The management by the Wildlife Trust at Bradfield Woods is sensitive and sustainable, unlike most plantations where an entire woodland is effectively created from scratch (or from an ancient woodland, similar to how rainforest turns over to palm oil monoculture) and managed aggressively with large machinery that damages the topsoil. Then again, Bradfield Woods is not needing to produce toilet paper and other goodies for 60million people. It’s important to remember that that’s why plantations are managed as they are, for products we all depend on in our daily lives. This is probably an issue of globalisation.

The Mushroom at the End of the World has a lot to say about globalisation, focusing on the matsutske mushroom, one of the most economically important species in the world. Tsing covers the (human) immigrant communities in Oregan, USA and how their livelihoods depend on picking. It reminded me that the anti-foraging arguments in a lot of the UK media are along xenophobic lines, which Tsing does cover in regard to white supremacy in the United States. One English video lingers in my mind, of East Asian women picking mushrooms in a London park and being accosted by a local volunteer who is also filming them. Without pretending to be an expert or to define an entire region of diverse peoples, picking mushrooms appears to be a perfectly normal activity in East Asian countries.

Tawny grisette

There is also the interchangeability of the phrases ‘gang of foragers’ with ‘gangs of foreigners’, which I very embarrasingly said by accident in challenging the very concept at a guided walk once. This kind of language is far more easily accessed in certain British newspapers, which are hostile to immigration and refugees more generally and seek material to boost their propaganda. As you may have seen, a lot of people continue to express racist or xenophobic views in 2022, and sometimes people don’t realise how those ideas can surface in the most unlikely of places – a love of the nature deemed to be ‘ours’ and under ‘our protection’. These are issues and messages here that need to be considered carefully.

Perhaps the fears about foraging harm wildlife because our disconnection from these places has contributed to ecological decline. Perhaps it’s also that we need to accept our failure of stewardship – have we done enough to champion the positive use of our woods and their wildlife or have we not broached the topic meaningfully enough out of fear?

The last few days has shown that UK conservation charities have had enough of the Government’s total failure to secure environmental protections, at a time when access to nature and a rich ecological environment is crucial to societal wellbeing.

If sustainable foraging can allow people to connect more deeply with suitable green spaces, and to understand their ecology and improve their management, surely that has to be a good thing?

Thanks for reading.

More mushrooms

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

The cheeseburger fungus 🍔

It has been a torrid spring and summer for street trees in southern England. We are breaking all the records for extreme heat and also enduring drought conditions. Street trees have it tough, not only because of the lack of rain but because it can be hard enough for them to access water anyway.

That was hammered home with a tweet I saw recently of someone who had replaced the verge outside their house (not their verge) with plastic grass. The verge was also home to a tree, which will have probably suffocated due to lack of air through the soil and only being able to access water underground.

That said, it has been known for tree roots to seek out water over long distances. Some trees will cross underneath roads to quench their thirst. This becomes increasingly more understandable when you learn that a tree’s roots often extend twice the distance of their height in length under the soil.

Weakened trees on city streets almost always end up with wounds that they struggle to heal, leaving openings for fungi to invade. It is perfectly normal and natural for fungi to grow on trees, and many of them are beneficial. They can help to remove excess dead wood and also act collaboratively with a tree’s roots to trade nutrients.

Some fungi will cause a tree to fail mechanically or biologically. Some will just look like a massive vegan cheeseburger attached to a tree.

I encountered this bracket fungus on a street tree in south London recently and was amazed by the yellow spider silk and webbing. This is the product of the yellow spores the fungus evidently produces, so miniscule that they attach to the sticky silk and turn it fast-food cheese yellow.

The spider that made this web must really be confused by this situation. Perhaps it’s happy with the random redecoration that’s occurred. I wouldn’t mind, it’s actually the colour of my bedroom wall!

I am fairly certain this is Inonotus hispidus or shaggy bracket. It’s a surprise to see it at eye level, whereas it’s usually very high in a tree. You may have seen it as a black fungus sitting at the bottom of a tree trunk. By that point it has finished fruiting and has fallen from its perch. It’s usually on ash but on this occasion was on a whitebeam (Sorbus). If you go walking in an ash woodland at this time of year do take a moment to crane your neck and see if you can spot one up there in its shaggy glory before it comes crashing down to earth.

Thanks for reading.

More mushrooms

Latest from the Blog

Winter oyster mushrooms 🍄

A walk around a wet woodland reserve where the river ran free of its banks, merging among poplars like something from prehistory (i.e. no Internet).

Night photography: Jupiter snuggles up to the Moon 🪐

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.