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.
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…
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…
I encountered splitgill fungus again at the end of October. It’s a very attractive species due to its interesting ‘split gills’. But it also has a fascinating biological story. I considered outlandish titles for this blog post, including ‘the fungus that has 20,000 sexes and sometimes lives in humans’. After researching a bit more, that 20,000+ figure was so common it looked like clickbait. I have standards, people.
Visually splitgill fungus is known for its vein-like gills, as seen in some of the images here. Otherwise it’s known for its potentially serious impact on the lungs if you’re ever incredibly unlucky enough to have it make a home in, well, you. As Covid-19 has reminded us, despite our attempts to lord it all over nature, we are a habitat in ourselves, with fungal spores also being present in our bodies as they are pretty much everywhere in the environment.
The splitgill apparently has 28,000 sexes, which may not be as remarkable as us simple humans think. I don’t have the space to go into sex in fungi on this blog, it’s complicated, but it’s also not the same as it is for humans.
The splitgill is also perhaps the most widespread fungus in the world.
One of the best articles online about the splitgill mushroom is this one, from February 2000! I was a teenager just encountering chat rooms then via my parents’ 56k dial-up modem. Coincidentally, the author of this blog, Tom Volk, passed away in recent weeks. He obviously has contributed a great deal to people’s enjoyment and understanding of the fungal kingdom.
As mentioned earlier, splitgill fungus is also known for some extreme medical issues in isolated cases. Not that you should worry about it:
This is a very interesting YouTube video on the Learn Your Land channel. It lays out all the information about the fungus affecting people medically, and some examples, in a much more interesting way than I can here. Do have a look if you want to know more.
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.
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…
On 24th October 2022 I spent the morning taking photos of fungi in the Sussex Weald, and was treated to one of the final flourishes of the season. There had been heavy rainfall in recent days and the beech leaf fall had begun, meaning that the mushrooms were beginning to disappear. This often marks the end of the main mushroom glut in autumn, from my experience.
To fast forward to the end, just as I was on my way out of the woods and putting my camera away, I noticed what looked like discarded tissue in a ditch at the edge of the track.
This is a very unusual looking fungus and isn’t the typical gilled mushroom despite their appearance of having a stipe and something resembling a cap. They’re actually ascomycete fungi, so spore-shooters, rather than the often gilled basidiomycetes.
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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…
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.
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).
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.
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 Craterelluscornucopioides.
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.
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.
From over a decade of speaking to (often random) people about nature, wildlife, landscape, etc., I’ve noticed that one of the things that really surprises or troubles people is when things grow on/in other things.
On this list I would include trees, insects and fungi.
The understanding that insects grew inside other insects was enough for Charles Darwin to doubt his own faith. The idea that cuckoo hatchlings are hard-wired to chuck out the eggs of the dunnocks, wrens, pipits or warblers it shares a nest with, is also deeply disturbing to people.
Imagine how you’re going to feel about mushrooms that grow from other mushrooms. Prepare yourself.
At least twice now I’ve found a white fungus growing from black mushrooms in the woodlands of the Sussex Weald. The first time was a few years ago on a National Trust property, on what turned out to be powdery piggyback fungus (Asterophora lycoperdoides) growing on the caps of blackening brittlegill (Russula nigricans).
The image above was taken on what may well be that species, but I’ve not done any work on identifying either of them. From the images I would guess it was more likely to be silky piggyback (Asterophora parasitica) which has a nice write-up here.
Piggyback fungi are parasitic due to the fact that they ‘invade’ the tissue of mushroom fruiting bodies. It should be obvious, due to the prevalence of fungi in our world, that fungi grows on just about everything. But it’s rarely illustrated in such an elfin manner. Mould on a mushroom doesn’t have the same allure as ‘little mushroom guys’.
Elsewhere on this walk I spotted two common species gracing us with their presence for the first time this season. One of those was another parasitic species, but this one is much more well known and seemingly reviled in some quarters.
This is one of the honey fungi (Armillaria) which only this weekend (15th October ’22) was described as ‘the most destructive fungal disease in the UK’ by the Royal Horticultural Society. That, to my understanding, is not true. The only way to deal with that is in another blog post so we can crown the actual most destructive fungal disease in the UK. If you can’t wait for that, one of the most viewed blogs on this website is this one about honey fungus which I wrote previously.
Don’t worry though, this website is not a greatest hits archives just yet!
The Most Destructive Fungal Disease in the UK is quite beautiful when it appears in its natural habitat of ancient oak woodland.
Another fungus that decided to show its face is the common puffball (Lycoperdonperlatum). This is an edible species that I usually find alongside footpaths but is also often presented deeper into woodlands (sounds like a Yo La Tengo song). It always reminds me of the submarine rolls my parents would buy me from M&S as a kid during Saturday trips to the shopping centre.
Russulas have already made an appearance in this post with the shrooms they’re giving a piggyback to. I would say it’s been a strong year for this group of difficult to identify fungi, but they are often out in good numbers. This is a family that can be found with a clean, white stipe and white, brittle gills.
To finish, I went to check in on the stairway to mushroom heaven that I posted about last week. It was quite amazing to see that these edible stepping stones remained. Evidently the foragers in this particular woodland are few and far between, be they human or squirrel.
If you live in Britain you must be sick of hearing about it: England recorded temperatures of above 40C this week for the first time on record. Wednesday the 20th July was 230 years in the making, and it didn’t feel great.
Why 230 years? The Industrial Revolution is described as beginning around the 1790s and the epic burning of fossil fuels since then has built up so much carbon in the atmosphere that the globe is warming at a rate that earth’s current residents haven’t ever had to deal with before.
Why am I mansplaining this? I spoke to someone the other day who said that we should just enjoy the weather.
My body seems to want what Western Ireland had to offer on the hellfire day, 17C and cloud, rather than the 36C my West Sussex garden thermometer clocked up in the shade. Not much enjoyment there.
It was so harsh the spiders had to leave their nooks because it was too hot under the black painted wood of the shed. A few hours later when the sparrows reappeared they went hunting for eight-legged snacks.
I’ve spent much of the past week feeding my cat in-law, doing regular evening and morning walks across town. I’ve noticed birds behaving differently: a green woodpecker feeding in the middle of a quiet road, a jay sitting on a gravestone at 9pm, and butterflies fluttering around the garden at dusk.
I’ve found a local house martin nest is occupied for another year in the old part of town, the parents flying around before 8am when it was nearly 30C. It turns everything inside out.
I’ve also noticed how many front gardens have been paved over and how much of a bad move that is when the mercury rockets. It also looks terrible. It’s another product of cars becoming status symbols, especially when 3 of them are sitting in front of your house. That house is now several degrees warmer because of the lack of vegetation or water.
Recently I’ve heard a bird of prey calling from high above my house. Last week I managed to get a photo and a sketchy video. I sent the video to my friend and he confirmed it was a pair of peregrine falcons. I’ve heard them almost everyday through the heatwave, and even woken to them at dawn. I wasn’t sure if that was a dream, however. I’ve been suspicious that they might be local having spotted them flying over the town and also heading south, probably to the South Downs and one of the old chalk quarries. Maybe their exposed perches have been too hot for their talons, sending them out into the sky.
Last August I recorded a podcast with Dr. Beth Nicholls about bees. The podcast was recorded at Bedelands Local Nature Reserve in the West Sussex Weald. You can listen to that entertaining jaunt (your thoughts and mine) through bees here.
I only had a couple of hours to record with Beth and spent the time afterwards seeing what was living there. There was a lot of wasp-faking going on, that’s for sure. It’s taken me nearly a year to actually find the time to look through the images and process some of them.
Bedelands is a Local Nature Reserve (a local authority designation for green spaces of ecological and public significance on land which is in public ownership or similar) in Burgess Hill. It’s a mixture of Wealden woods of oak and hornbean, some wetlands, and Wealden grasslands. The grasslands seemed to be quite rich to me in both invertebrates and flora. A lovely space.
This is a very cool hoverfly that can be found over quite a large international range. It’s one of the more obvious wasp-mimic hoverflies. Its scientific name is Chrysotoxum bicinctum. Absolute wasp-faker.
A more common hoverfly is one with a great common name (among others) – the footballer! It’s another wasp-mimic species. The football name comes from the stripes along the thorax (below the eyes above) which look like Newcastle, Grimsby or Juventus style kit colours.
In the moth world, I found this small grey-brown species that appeared much like a grass head. It was reaching over an oak leaf and wasn’t bothered about my lens getting super close. This appears to be one of the grass veneer moths. Moth knowledge is not strong in this one.
The scales of moths are quite incredible up close, like little roof tiles or pieces of paper.
Here’s a closer look.
Moving into the non-insect, invert world, August is a month of arachnids. This is a European harvestman, a harmless thing. They use their legs to do their ‘seeing’.
The desiccated seed cases of a flowering rush was the hiding place of one of the ground crab spiders.
I have been seeing this in my garden, but they seem to be quite common elsewhere and in places like grasslands.
Perhaps the most exciting and dramatic sighting was this wasp spider, of which there were a couple around. They’re recent arrivals in the British wildlife community, and another addition to the wasp-mimic gang.
The underbelly of the wasp spider doesn’t do justice to its name. From this angle you can see just where it gets its name from.
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.
One of the most beautiful sights in English nature is a Low Weald bluebell woodland. The shimmer of blue in the evening sun pocked by the white stars of wood anemones. These are my favourite evenings of the year, the promise of spring but still delivering on all you had hoped to see in the darker months. Summer just can’t match this.
This square of woodland in the Sussex Low Weald was not officially open access, but we kept to the paths and no bluebells were harmed in the making of these images. There is a lot of conversation about access to the countryside at the moment in England, and how power and privilege resonates in the landscape. These are important conversations and the issues are complex.
It was my first visit to this woodland, much like another picturesque bluebell wood a little further north that has now been completely closed to public visitors. A look at the maps shows how a larger landscape of natural woodland had been chomped up by farmers to become fields, leaving this section completely isolated. That will have occurred over the past few hundred years.
However, it had all the key indicators of ancient woodland, as seen here: English bluebell, wood anemones, greater stitchwort, dog’s mercury, wood spurge, and all under a shrub layer of hazel and high canopy of oak.
This kind of habitat is very much human-made, with centuries of coppicing hazel and felling of oak standards. That doesn’t stop it from being good for wildlife, coppice woodland is one of the richer landscapes in the UK.