Winter oyster mushrooms ๐Ÿ„

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 didnโ€™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 โ€“ this is a seasonal trend, and I should keep an eye out in real life.

Theyโ€™re a beautiful fungus with dark, purple-grey tops and pale, almost white gills underneath. Theyโ€™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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Salmon egg slime mould ๐ŸŸ

This is not a fungi post. If itโ€™s anything, itโ€™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.

Five pines at Pulborough ๐ŸŒฒ

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

Recent posts:

Winter oyster mushrooms ๐Ÿ„

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 ๐Ÿช

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.

Wishing you a very jelly Christmas ๐Ÿง 

On a recent visit to Streatham Common in SE London, I was taken aback by the number of December mushrooms. In SE England we’ve switched from -5 one day, to 12C a few days later. The seasons seem to be collapsing around us, and then reviving themselves. It feels like the only reliability we mayโ€ฆ

December leaves ๐Ÿ‚

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 isnโ€™t really known for. Itโ€™s one of the most underrated trees, despite its prevalence, and ecological and cultural value in England.

The image doesnโ€™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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Looking for birds in the frost and fog ๐Ÿฆ

As seen on Sunday 11th December, my final guided walk of 2022 for London Wildlife Trust. London woke to freezing fog with hoar frost in places, as temperatures stayed well below zero. These are difficult days to get out of bed, but the rewards of a foggy, frosty oak woodland are too good to miss.โ€ฆ

Oak timbers: Arnside Cottage, Hampshire

I was travelling into East Hampshire for work in August and realised it would probably be one of my last chances to photograph a cottage I had passed several times. Arnside Cottage is, as you can see, situated at the road side, in the village of Clanfield in East Hampshire. Technically it has been adaptedโ€ฆ

Splitgill fungus, another weird one! ๐Ÿ„

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.

It’s a species I most often find on deadwood, usually on fallen beech trees in Sussex. It’s particularly visible in the winter months.

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.

Thanks for reading.

Further reading: Fungi | Sussex Weald

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December leaves ๐Ÿ‚

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 aโ€ฆ

Muggeridge Field path ๐Ÿ‚

There’s a field I pass by on walks near where I live. Recently I was walking along the path next to the field and took the photo above, the oaks turning to yellow across the landscape. The shadow of trees to the right, combined with the sunbeam, make it look like half of the Greenโ€ฆ

Oak timbers: Old Stack Cottage, Amberley

In early December I was passing through the village of Amberley in West Sussex. It’s a very quaint village at the foot of the South Downs in West Sussex.

White saddle: one of the weird ones๐Ÿ„

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.

I soon realised that these were white saddles (Helvella crispa).

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.

Here’s an update on the status of the violet webcap which I blogged about again in 2022. It won’t thank me.

The sun shifted into the line of this false deathcap (Amanita citrina – about to become several different species!) and made a very nice autumn scene.

Brittlegills are some of the most photogenic little mushrooms, largely due to their clean stipe and gills, and fruit gum-like caps. I’m not sure of this species but I like it.

A Medusa-like group of honey fungus (the most feared fungus in the world).

A younger patch of fruiting bodies, where you can see the lovely honey colour.

I’ve not encountered much stagshorn this year, perhaps only during this walk, which seems unusual.

A puffball at the point of puff.

Elsewhere in the weird fungus stakes is this scalycap growing out of a hole in a beech tree. It was as large and intrusive as it looks here.

Thanks for reading.

Further reading: Fungi | Sussex Weald

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Earpick fungus in Hampshire ๐Ÿ‘‚

Here’s an account of the final fungi walk of my calendar for 2022. It was held on Saturday 19th November on the birch and pine heaths where Hampshire and Surrey cross paths. West Sussex isn’t far away either.

Grey heron at woodland edge

A grey heron (Ardea cinerea) at the edge of a woodland at Warnham Nature Reserve in West Sussex, Sunday 4th December 2022. The heron was looking back and forth across the reeds and wetlands. The temperatures have dropped to more typical winter levels, meaning birds and mammals that don’t hibernate will be under added pressureโ€ฆ

Books: On Gallows Down by Nicola Chester ๐Ÿ“š

Another short book review to point you in the direction of a great read. On Gallows Down by Nicola Chester is a personal account of a life lived within a frame of chalk – Berkshire, Hampshire and Wiltshire. It’s a story of major development threats, many of which prove unstoppable. We’re talking here about theโ€ฆ

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.

Books: Starling by Sarah Jane Butler ๐Ÿ“š

I recently finished reading Starling, a new novel by Sarah Jane Butler. I’m no reviewer of books and never feel comfortable giving books a rating, but I wanted to promote a book from a fellow Sussex Weald-resident. I really enjoyed the book, which I read while on holiday in a village much like the one portrayed in the book, which helped bring the book to life.

While I’m not necessarily sold on all the books that would come under the moniker of โ€˜eco-fictionโ€™, I like the grounding of ecosystems in this kind of fiction, and how much more you can do with that.

That said, Zoe Gilbert (who I recorded a podcast with recently) uses fantasy and folklore to take real life ecosystems and historic landscapes to all kinds of special places (I told you I’m not a literature reviewer) in Mischief Acts.

Sarah Jane Butler

Another important thing that this kind of fiction can do is put social and ecological issues firmly alongside one another – something that general nature writing often avoids. Starling explores social and ecological challenges, following an abandoned young woman (Starling) on her journey in trying to find work and settle into a new community. As you can imagine, itโ€™s not straightforward for her. I’m keen not to attempt a write-up of the story here, you should read it for yourself if it interests you.

You can buy the book in hard back or digital at the moment, with more information available on Sarah’s website.

Thanks for reading.

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The South Downs: old ash tree

This week’s single photograph is an old ash tree in Amberley, West Sussex, taken on 2nd December 2022.

A basketful of boletes ๐Ÿงบ

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

The violet webcap returns ๐Ÿ’œ

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 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.

Flushing woodcock in Dulwich ๐Ÿฆ†

On Saturday 12th November I led a fungi walk for London Wildlife Trust at Dulwich Wood in south-east London. I only managed one photo on the day because I was working and leading the group around, but it was a pretty good one nonetheless. When doing a pre-walk check I accidentally flushed a woodcock fromโ€ฆ

Books: Starling by Sarah Jane Butler ๐Ÿ“š

I recently finished reading a new novel by debut novelist Sarah Jane Butler. I’m no master reviewer of books and never feel comfortable giving books a rating, but I wanted to promote this book from a fellow Sussex Weald-resident.

The fungus in need of a piggyback ๐Ÿท

Plus other things seen on 7th October 2022

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.

It’s messy out there – a West Sussex heathland, October 2022

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.

“The classic Asterophora picture is probably plate 5 in part 8 of Oscar Brefeld’s Untersuchungen aus dem Gesammtgebiete der Mykologie, published in 1889″ (via Australian National Herbarium)

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 (Lycoperdon perlatum). 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.

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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Dog stinkhorns in Aldershot ๐Ÿ„

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 andโ€ฆ

A basketful of boletes ๐Ÿงบ

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.