Monday, 27 November 2017

A month linking up with the Late Peter Orton

The early part of October saw Janet and myself heading off south to visit her mum in Lancashire for a few days, with pleasantly bright weather driving south but some pretty horrendous rain, in parts, heading back north.  Janet’s mum had just had her flu jab and was suffering a little from flu-like 
Janet and mum
symptoms so, instead of our usual evening meal on arrival of fish and chips all-round we nipped into Accrington and to pick-up a light-weight curry which, even with just one to share, was more than enough.  My pre-breakfast outings to pick up a paper also took in a short circuit past an ex-mill lodge returning via a nicely wooded park, listing the birds as I walked.  At the end of the week 20 species had been listed with nothing too unusual.  A harlequin ladybird was also seen as was a long-legged house spider (Tegenaria domestica) which appears to be a new record for that area.  The next day 
Long-legged house spider
proved interesting and, after a nice lunch in a cafĂ© at Tosside with wonderful views over the famous Pendle Hill we decided to stretch our legs at Stocks Reservoir.  As we walked, out came the notebook and records were made of galls on oak trees, a fungus on red campion (Puccinia arenariae) and the growth on alder cones known as alder tongue (Taphrina alni).  However, the best was yet to come, and the path took us to a bird hide were there was little to see but brother John said there was another hide a little further along the path.  Annoyingly, I had left my binoculars behind but thankfully John had his and as we settled down in the second hide we were entertained by lots of cormorants either 
Pendle Hill
feeding on the water or flying past the hide on their way to roost.  Not sure how I did it, but I had also left my wee camera behind, so I was missing out on capturing the cormorants’ fly-past and also on a small flock of goldfinches that landed in a dead tree.  I was even more annoyed when the finches took off being pursued by a peregrine falcon, undertaking amazing acrobatic manoeuvres as they tried to avoid being caught.  The peregrine returned briefly to the dead tree but was off again too quickly for us to see if it had caught anything.  As it was getting darker it was time to go but we estimated that there were about 50 cormorants roosting in the trees at the end of the reservoir.  On our wedding 
Cormorants roosting and flying
anniversary day, it poured down with rain so a perfect day for a family lunch at the Calf’s Head at Worston but we had planned for another visit to the reservoir at the end of our last day.  Janet made the most of shops in Accrington and Clitheroe and as we walked I made a note of the lichen Collema auriforme on one of the Clitheroe bridges.  Thankfully the rain held off and we all met up again at Stocks Reservoir for the last couple of hours of the afternoon.  The cormorants performed again and with binocs in hand for a change, 48 birds were counted in the roost.  No more peregrines but a great spotted woodpecker wandered up and down the tree looking for insects.  A gull roost developed at the other end of the reservoir but they were too far away to identify anything other than black-headed and herring gulls.  A distant silhouette at the top of a tree turned out to be a buzzard and a couple of little grebes were diving for their supper.  In all, 22 species of birds were recorded as we sat there, so a perfect end to the day.

October was dominated, one way or another, by fungi recording and visits to known semi-natural grassland sites to look for the important waxcaps, spindles and coral fungi.  This was prompted by the destruction of an important field in Carrbridge by Tulloch Homes as covered last month.  Some of these sites were known as having the potential for the fungi to be present whilst a couple of others turned up whilst looking for other things.  Work linked to the aspen protection project paid off when project leader John thought he had seen waxcaps when visiting one of the aspen sites, so this was one to check.  The walk-in produced two species, meadow and scarlet waxcap (Hygrocybe pratensis and 
Crimson waxcap (Hygrocybe punicea)
H. coccinea) but it was actually at the aspen site where the biggest surprise came, 135 specimens of the crimson waxcap (Hygrocybe punicea) all around one of the glacial morainic knolls.  Checking one of the hazel sites near the Speyside Way for nuts was also good for this group of fungi with six species of waxcaps, three clubs and two spindles, all found within about an hour, so a very productive site.  Some of these fungi have wonderful names, splendid waxcap (Hygrocybe splendidissima), handsome club (Clavulinopsis laeticolor) and golden spindle (Clavulinopsis fusiformis).  With spindles and clubs looking similar and some being the same colour, quite a bit of time was spent looking down the microscope to check the spores to ensure they were correctly named.  However, you always learn as you go along and no more so than on an outing to check on a planning 
White fruiting bodies top and the young (left) and mature spore
(right) of the pointed club (Clavaria acuta)
application site.  Car parked, there was then a short walk along the B-class road to get to the site and, as I walked along, I first saw some earth tongues (last month’s blog) and then a big population of one of the white spindles or clubs.  Photos taken, I popped a couple of specimens into a tube for checking at home.  Looking down the microscope I saw the spores that I had been expecting, slightly elliptical and with an ‘oil’ drop inside.  However, I was also seeing slightly more oval spores which appeared to have ‘spines’ on their outsides.  Thankfully, expert Liz helped out by informing me that they start off elliptical and smooth but then start to develop spines as they mature.  I was beginning to think I hadn’t cleaned the microscope lens properly and that I was seeing spores from more than one fungus!  This fungus turned out to the pointed club (Clavaria acuta), one that I had seen previously.

The general appearance of the waxcaps is the starting point for arriving at a name with the most obvious being the colour.  Is the cap dry or viscid (wet) particularly if it hasn’t been raining.  Is the stem dry or viscid?  Some have caps that look a little ‘hairy’ on top (squamulose) and can be pointed or flat. The way the gills attach to the stem is also an important feature.  One field that I checked close to where lesser butterfly orchids were counted in June had good populations of the heath waxcap (Hygrocybe laeta) and when the books says viscid brown/orange cap, stem and edge of gills, 
Heath waxcap (Hygrocybe laeta)
they are not joking, and this species is quite difficult to hold if you have to collect it for checking.  This is a very helpful set of features making it one of the easier species to identify.  However, there are two varieties so not everything is always that simple.  There is a second slippery customer which doesn’t have a common name, Hygrocybe vitelline, possibly more viscid that the first one.  Whilst checking the viscid gills under the microscope I noticed quite a lot of blackish insects running around not seeming to be affected by the slime, they even seemed to be feeding on it.  These were springtails, a sign that the fungus was getting towards the end of life and these insects, sorry, not insects, make 
Viscid edges to gills top and springtails feeding in the gills
of Hygrocybe vitellina
use of that, finding a good food source.  Despite having the usual six legs, some evolutionary biologists and taxonomists decided a few years ago that these ‘beasties’ were not insects and were moved from the Order known as Insecta to another called Entognatha, and are a difficult order to identify.  Interestingly, it is thought that there might be as many as 10,000 or possibly 100,000 per square metre across our countryside.  Amazing.

Shortly after returning from Lancashire we caught up with the red admirals again in our garden with seven seen on the 17th.  A few were recorded during suitable weather after that, mostly feeding on kale flowers and the last one occurred on the 29th just before a -30C frost the following night.  We
Red admiral on kale flowers
also saw good numbers in the amazing garden at Logie Steading on 26th where the gardening staff told us that they, like us, had seen good numbers throughout September into October.  Highly productive apple trees in their mini-orchard didn’t appear to be harvested, with lots of apples on the ground; the blackbirds and thrushes were finding lots to feed on.  On this occasion we didn’t see the
Logie House top and blackbird feeding on fallen apples
 red admirals also feeding on the apples.  The country route home took us over the moors, past the controversial but now being built Tom nan Clach wind farm before turning left along the shore of Lochindorb.  As we drove we could see lots of whooper swans landing on the loch but just too far away to get a good count, there must have been about 20.  A similar number were seen a few days later just outside Nethy Bridge, close to the River Spey.  Pink-feet were heard passing overhead from 
Whooper swans at Lochindorb
the 2nd and redwings (mainly) and fieldfares from mid-month.  With hardly any berries on the rowans this year few seemed to be hanging around though there was a single redwing on the cotoneaster hedge competing for the berries with the garden blackbirds, or could they have also been new arrivals?  We await to see if the information of hawfinches on the move produces any local records again this year.

A few hours (days!) were spent reading through the final draft of a book being produced covering the history and natural history of Abernethy Forest being written by Ron Summers from the RSPB Research Department.  Thankfully, a few outings this last month helped with one of the corrections needed, honey fungus.  In the past, honey fungus was known by just one Latin name Armillaria mellea despite many mycologists realising that ‘down the microscope’ they were seeing more than one species.  In time, it turned out that the fungus known as honey fungus was a very complex group 
Honey fungus group top and the distinctive brown scales on
the stem ring of the dark honey fungus (Armillaria ostoyae)
of species and over time several names developed.  The honey fungus family are parasitic and do immense damage in forests where they attack both conifers and broadleaved trees.  As with other fungi, the underground part of the fungus (mycelium) is known to spread over vast areas and if the fungus has managed to infect one tree, the mycelium can then infect another tree several metres away.  A recent study in America has found via the DNA, the mycelia of the same honey fungus has been found over several square miles!  In one of the aspen/hazel woods where I’ve been recording ‘stuff’ a recent visit got me quite worried because all over the place there were groups of fruiting bodies of honey fungus popping out of the ground and, just out of interest I took a couple home.  The handbook told me it was the dark honey fungus (Armillaria ostoyae) when for all other finds I 
Honey fungus fruiting up the trunk of dead Scots pine
thought I was seeing just, honey fungus.  Under the cap of the honey fungus group is something called the ‘stem ring’ where the veil that covered the gills when the fungus was young was joined to the stem.  On the white stem ring of my specimens there were dark brown to black scales telling me that I had the dark honey fungus.  When checking Ron’s book, I saw that we had, from the first draft, listed the honey fungus (A. mellea) and when I checked all the local Abernethy records, all were for the dark honey fungus so a very timely species check and correction.  A cycle ride round the local Dell Wood NNR with grandson Archie found a most amazing sight, dark honey fungus growing several metres up a dead Scots pine, something I can’t remember seeing before.

A lot of the early RSPB Abernethy Forest dark honey fungus records came via the late Peter Orton, one of the UKs highly respected mycologists.  This was just one of about 700 fungi found and identified from our joint September outings over 15 years of recording.  Several waxcaps where 
Roothole rosette (Stereopsis vitelline) and UK distribution map below

identified for the first time by Peter, Hygrocybe splendidissimus P.D. Orton for instance, so it was nice to find this waxcap in several locations this autumn.  I also remember his great excitement at finding the roothole rosette (Stereopsis vitelline) under heather by a track-side, the first time it had been seen in something like a hundred years.  In recent years this is a species I continued to find and early in the month I found it very close to our first find in 1999.  I think the attached map shows roughly where I live!  Whilst on my way back from visiting a site near Kincraig, where a very rare version of the earth tongue fungus had been found a few years ago, I popped into the controversial proposed new town site on Rothiemurchus.  On a brilliant bit of natural grassland a small inkcap 
Winged inkcap top, winged spores and something that might be
called 'the veil', all shown on the website helping with ID
caught my eye and though this is a group of fungi I tend to avoid I decided to take a sample home.  Under the microscope the spores looked a bit different from the ones I was expecting so a bit of a search on the internet followed.  Purely by chance I happened onto a website that had many inkcaps listed and eventually spores, which looked the same as mine, were found.  And the name?  The winged inkcap (Coprinopsis semitalis (P.D. Orton)) another fungus first found and named by Peter.  On my outings with Peter, and in later years with Gordon Dickson and Anne Leonard, I was mainly a seeker and finder pointing out fungi or, if in a difficult place (Peter visited until he was in his 80s) I would collect a specimen for him to see.  With the knowledge I now have about quite a few of the regular fungi I wonder if we would have made any additional finds?  I doubt it, but I might have been able to give him a name rather than a specimen.  However, in the time the ‘team’ were out recording we did find two species that were new to Britain and also many species that are classed as rare pinewood or Scottish species.  An outing when I had promised myself I was going for a walk and not a stop and search version, soon changed when I first spotted an earth tongue and then something 
The snaketongue truffleclub growing from the false truffle
with more black fruiting bodies also visible
similar, but more robust, which I was sure was the wonderfully named snaketongue truffleclub (Tolypocladium or Cordyceps ophioglossoides).  Parting the vegetation around the base of the black fungus revealed the tell-tale yellow coloured root-like cords growing out from the fungus and heading deeper underground to connect to, and parasitise a false truffle (Elaphomyces species).  The truffle in turn is connected to the roots of nearby Scots pines where the tree and the truffle assist each other by exchanging various chemicals.  The above ground truffleclub is the easy bit it’s the underground truffle that takes a little time to identify being one of probably two species.  In this case the truffle turned out to be Elaphomyces granulatus.  Having found one, several more turned up by the track with around ten truffleclubs several linked to one enormous truffle.  These are not the highly prized edible ones though many are dug up and eaten by red squirrels and probably badgers.

On our return from Lancashire there were weather warnings for gales and hurricane-force winds in the west of the UK as the remains of Tropical Storm Ophelia arrived.  Ireland took the brunt of the storm with a few people losing their lives and much of the power network being damaged.  In our bit of the UK there was little wind to worry about but during the 16th October parts of Britain started to 
experience red skies as a result of Ophelia having dragged up sand and dust from the Sahara.  Added to this was also smoke rising from the major fires in Spain and Portugal and though we didn’t see anything of the red skies something very odd started to happen around 2pm in Nethybridge and elsewhere.  Slowly, it started to get dark!  It was almost like a total eclipse with birds falling silent and street lights coming on.  As I went outside to take a few photos a group of people walking the Speyside Way were completely baffled by the turn of events and must have been wondering if they would reach their overnight stop before total darkness descended.  They needn’t have worried and just as quickly as the darkness fell the light returned and an hour later the sun was shining.  How weird.

That’s it for another month, hope you enjoyed the read.

Stewart and Janet

Stocks Reservoir
Logie Steading
Honey fungus the “Largest Single Living Organism On Earth”
Winged inkcap
Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
Mapmate recording database
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of the British Isles

Peter Orton at work
Waxcap, spindle and coral list for 2017

Dance flies in the October sun
Puffball fungus puffing spores
Photos © Stewart Taylor

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

It pays to wash your hands!

September was a month which saw lots of time being spent on bog cranberry plants and scratching the head as to which waxcap was I seeing. The cranberry (Vaccinium spp) checking began after I remembered botanist Andy saying my photos of a plant on Rannoch Moor in 2016 looked like it had hairs on the flower stem and this confirmed that I had found the rarer cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) rather than the commoner species in our area, small cranberry (Vaccinium microcarpum).  As usual, cranberry checking started by accident as the list of ‘stuff’ in my diary for the 1st 
The brilliant bog
September reminded me.  I set out that day to look for a rare form of honey fungus that had been found a month earlier at RSPB Insh Marshes (Armillaria ectypa) in a brilliant bog area close to the Kincardine Church by the B970.  Once on the bog the first diary entry was for a collection of dead deergrass stems to see if there were any fungi present (Mollisia fuscoparaphysata) to help with Brian’s study down at Kew but as I bent down I could see something unusual popping out from the 
Bog jellydisc (Sarcoleotia turficola)
Cross-leaved heath & Eriococcus devoniensis
peaty pool.  Initially there was just one, a small round growth topped by a brownish cap and straight away I was thinking this was actually the wee fungus that grows in association with sphagnum moss and is known as the bog jellydisc (Sarcoleotia turficola).  As I searched around I found quite a few more fruiting bodies but then I noticed something else a bit unusual, stems of cross-leaved heath flowers (Erica tetralix) that were forming ‘circles’ rather than growing straight up.  There was also a small white ‘growth’ on the stem, close to the spiralling stem!  Some sort of gall?  Photos taken along with a couple of specimens which turned out to be Eriococcus devoniensis (heather scale bug) a member of the Hemiptera group of insects and it is the actions of these insects (sucking sap from the plant) that cause the plant stems to curl.  The NBN Atlas map shows just one record in the UK for this wee bug but Margaret Redfern confirmed my ID and also said that it was common in the UK but 
Cranberry leaves (Vaccinium spp) top and flowers bottom
seldom recorded.  This proved correct and I found it on all the other boggy areas I visited during the month.  I then stumbled on my first patch of cranberry and the wee light in my head asked “which species”?  Normally I just record all cranberry locally as small cranberry, but on this occasion, I decided to check if there were any hairs on the flower stem, and there were just a few so I thought if I take the flower head home, along with a bit of creeping stem and leaves, I should be able to check leaf size to confirm the species.  Wrong!  I can see entries in my diary going right through to the 20th September as I visited other bogs to check flowering stems and leaves to determine which species we were dealing with.  The simple guidance suggests if the leaves are widest near or below the middle and the flower stem (pedicel) is slightly hairy (pubescent) you have cranberry.  If the leaves are widest at the base and the flower stems are hairless (glabrous), then you have small cranberry.  However, the books also say that the flower stems of small cranberry are glabrous – or almost so – bringing in a little doubt into easy ID.  So, over the next few days leaves of cranberry plants were 
Hairy Cranberry flower stem top & difference in leaf sizes
the biggest and smallest are shown
Cranberry leaves & Exobasidium rostrupii fungus
brought back, along with a flower stem if present, and a selection of leaves were measured and photographed to see what developed.  With Andy’s help several were named, providing new local sites for the rarer Vaccinium oxycoccus, but also highlighting the fact that more work is needed to determine exactly which species is which and that, like me, folk further south shouldn’t just list cranberry, and folk further north list small cranberry, without at least making a few more checks.  The cranberry plants on the first day did though, produce something for which I’ve been looking for for a while, half red leaves, confirming the presence of the Exobasidium rostrupii fungus, a species with 
Bladderwort 'hairs' Utricularia stygia top & U. minor botton
less than 50 UK locations currently.  The diary list ended with an entry for bladderwort which, after checking the bladder hairs, turned out to be the northern bladderwort (Utricularia stygia).  At another bog site a collection of bladderwort plants confirmed that there were two species present, the northern plus lesser bladderwort (U. minor) but again only after checking the bladder hairs.  The latter species is one that may be found flowering occasionally locally but more regularly further west and north from my find location.  Here endeth the 1st of September!

The next day we had a nice family outing to support daughter Laura who was taking on her first 5K run in Huntly.  We were picked up by Ruth and the boys and on a gloriously sunny day we headed over to Aberdeenshire to visit a town where, as a youngster, I went with mum and dad to my uncle Robs wedding many decades ago.  We all met up about half an hour before the start and saw many of 
Laura at the start and completing the run.  Well done.
the competitors going through their warm up exercises.  The middle of the town was taken over with craft stalls, food outlets and a farmers market and after we waved Laura off we took the opportunity to grab a quick bite to eat especially for the boys who’d had quite an early breakfast.  There was just too much to choose from but eventually sausage butties, chips and other goodies were bought and everything was finished just in time to get to the finish line to cheer Laura home after half an hour of running.  Well done.  Just time for a walk round the craft stalls and the local charity shops before heading back over the tops to Dufftown and on to Strathspey.

A phone call from farmer Hugh on the 4th caused a bit of excitement, he had seen a couple of red kites whilst bailing hay the day before and, as he spoke, he confirmed they had just re-appeared overhead.  Cameras quickly assembled and off I went to Boat of Garten to see if I could catch up with what is, quite a rare visitor locally.  As I pulled off the road into one of the hay fields I saw the first kite straight away followed by a second a few minutes later.  Taking photographs of the birds against 
Local red kites including a tagged one
the sky was difficult to see if the birds were carrying any tags and when I saw them land on some of the round bales in the next field, I drove along the road to get a better view.  Of the two birds in view I could see one was tagged so I tried to get as good a photo as possible to hopefully read the details later.  Being parked on the road verge wasn’t the safest place to be so I drove on to one of the farm tracks and looking back at the birds and the hay bales I could see that there were three kites but just the one with wing tags.  A bit of a battle with rooks ensued and two kites disappeared up into the woods before it was time for me to head off to pick up the boys from school.  On the way back from school we drove past the field with the bales but didn’t see any sign of the kites and Hugh confirmed that they had moved off later that day.  The birds appeared at the time the hay was cut, and Hugh told me that lots of insects and small mammals are killed or injured during the cutting and baling process and that is probably what had attracted them in initially.  The tagged bird was from the Beauly Firth and was tagged in 2015.  Was this a family group?  Might they have bred nearby?  It will be interesting to see if there are any more reports of sightings and even more interesting if any are seen at the start of the next breeding season.

If the cranberry plant checking accounted for quite a bit of time re site visits and leaf checking this month, a visit to the ex Boy’s Brigade field at Carrbridge started off another.  For many years this field was used as an annual camp location but, whether the agreement to use the site ended or the 
Protesters in March 2015 top and the stubble turnips
after the important Boy's Brigade field was ploughed up
Brigade found another site with modern facilities I don’t know, but in recent years I had got to know the site because of the species losses that would occur if the plan for new housing was successful.  Over the years a list of locally rare grassland fungi and plants (orchids mainly) had shown this field was something special probably due to it never having been ploughed or heavily fertilised.  When the last planning application was made in March 2015 by Inverness-based developer Tulloch Homes for 72 houses for the site, with an additional 24 close by, over one hundred protesting locals were on site when the developer and Cairngorms National Park planners and Board members made their site visit to decide whether to allow or turn down the application.  On this occasion it was turned down.  
Hygrocybe punicea waxcap now lost from BB field
However, on the BB field things were slowly changing and encroachment by increasing numbers of cattle was having more and more of an impact despite the Park Board knowing of its natural history importance.  The final nails were firmly nailed into the coffin this summer when the developer told the tenant farmer to plough it up!  So, instead of waxcaps, rare coral fungi and orchids the site is now a wall to wall field of stubble turnips and the important site has now been lost forever all on the whim of a local developer.  You don’t need planning permission to destroy an ecologically important site in the Cairngorms National Park and, despite all the information provided about the species present at the time of the planning application, no safeguards were put in place by the Park to ensure its survival.  I doubt they even know it’s gone!  The last week of September saw me start checking a few other locally important unimproved grassland sites, just to try and build up a picture of what was supported by those that remained.  The first site was the field just at the end of our road, known 
Shaggy inkcaps, fresh (top) and deliquescing inky spores (bottom)
locally as the ‘pony field’ and a location turned down for housing just a few years ago.  However, waxcaps are not the easiest group of fungi to identify so a visit of a few hours often meant many hours of checking via the microscope, especially when dealing with a group I’ve had little experience in.  On the way to the pony field I stopped at Ross’s house to photograph an amazing display of shaggy inkcaps/lawyer’s wigs (Coprinus comatus) with everything from newly emerging through to the last drips of ‘ink’ (spores) as the edges of the curled-up cap.  In all, there were about 50 fruiting bodies a few more than the 4 that popped up in 2016.  After about four hours in the field I had 20 entries in my diary comprising ten species of spindles or waxcaps with once again the crimson waxcap (Hygrocybe punicea) being the biggest and most showy.  Three new species were recorded 
Smoky spindles (top) and white spindles (bottom)
for the site; smoky spindles (Clavaria fumosa), white spindles (Clavaria vermicularis) and parrot waxcap (Hygrocybe psittacine) adding to the 12 species recorded by fungus expert Liz Holden in 2010.  However, a return visit the next day to finish off the field saw yet more species added with handsome club (Clavulinopsis laeticolor) and vermilion waxcap (Hygrocybe miniate) probably putting this field into the very important category nationally. 

A quick visit to the Flowerfield orchid site also turned up a few species along with an unusual beetle Galeruca tanaceti (a female) which feeds on yarrow and other composites and with few Scottish records. The site though that has seen the most time and effort has been the edge of the proposed 1500 houses at An Camus Mor where a small strip of grassland has produced lots of goodies.  An email alerted me to the fact that there were a lot of earth tongues growing, another group of fungi 
Galeruca tanaceti female
indicating an unimproved grassland site, along with several waxcaps.  A site visit the next day showed that there were 10’s of earth tongues along with 5 different species of spindle and 5 waxcaps, and this is where the fun started.  There is a very good book to help with identifying waxcaps ‘The Genus Hygrocybe by David Boertmann’ but when it comes to earth tongues there isn’t yet a ‘one stop shop’ detailing all the species, but this only became clear once I’d taken a specimen home, checked the spores, and then delved into various website to try and match the specimen to a species.  One 
Earth tongues (Geoglossum spp) the bottom one with
Hypomyces papulaspora fungus (white) present
Initial view down the microscope top (x40) and spore details bottom
(x1000 oil) from a cross-section of earth tongue stem
species that wasn’t too difficult to name was the white fungus growing on many of the earth tongues (Hypomyces papulaspora) but the amazing sight that greeted me down the microscope re the earth tongue was, once again, going to take me down a long road to try and ensure the right name was given to the species found.  Brian at Kew offered some guidance and suggesting details were recorded covering the general appearance of the fungus, the size of the spores and the number of ‘divisions’ (septa) within the spores along with the shape of the ‘paraphyses’ hair-like structures growing between the sacs holding the spores.  The carrot that was also dangled was that there are probably species out there that could be new to the British list.  It took a little while to get properly organised and, as more and more earth tongue were found, everything was listed on a post-it and between 10 and 20 spores measured and the septa counted.  Each specimen took about an hour to 
The broad damsel bug (Nabis flavomarginatus)
check and, as September ended, more sites were still being found. It was obvious that another wee project was developing.  Watch this space.  At one site a wee bug landed on my GPS and stayed just long enough to have its photo taken and between the British Bugs website and invert expert Stephen, the name Nabis flavomarginatus the broad damsel bug was arrived at.

Mid-month I managed to make my trip over to Deeside to check on only the second known UK site for Bankera violascens.  The Morayshire site had done us proud (August Blog) so I had high hopes of a decent count at the original site.  As with the August site, the tooth fungus is growing in association with Sitka spruce, a non-native, and the main reason why the fungus, despite it rarity, doesn’t receive any conservation status designations.  At the site I found the grey tooth (Phellodon melaleucus) and Sistotrema confluens but not a single Bankera!  Perhaps it had been a dry summer on Deeside so I 
Mealy tooth (Hydnellum ferrugineum)
thought I should check another regular tooth fungus site near the River Dee.  The first surprise that greeted me was a group of seven scaly tooth fungi (Sarcodon squamosus) all the size of dinner plates, the biggest measuring 300mm across its cap.  Past records show that I’ve had three fruiting bodies here previously but with no mention of great size.  Lots of mealy tooth (Hydnellum ferrugineum) were present with a couple of last year’s fruiting bodies covered with another fungus, Collybia cirrata.  With plenty of tooth fungi here it was unlikely that this had been a dry summer so a little strange why there were no Bankera at the first site.  As I reached the end of the population of mealy tooth I spotted something that got me a little excited, definitely nothing to do with showiness or colour, but a drab brownish Boletus like fungus, about 10cm diameter, but growing so close to the 
Boletopsis perplexa, as found (top), underside (middle) showing pores
and spores (bottom) x1000 oil
ground it wasn’t possible to see below the cap.  If my hunch was correct, this wasn’t a species to collect so I carefully cut a section of cap away leaving most of the cap and stem in place and as I turned the cap over I could see a pored fertile surface, similar to a Boletus but with the pores of a different shape.  I was 90% certain that I was looking at Boletopsis perplexa a species I had seen close to here in the past but with very few records from the UK.  It is a fungus associated with pines and is part of the Bankera (tooth) fungus family rather than Boletus.  Once home there were just 
The 'giant' Sarcodons
about enough pores to hopefully produce spores and when I checked the next day I knew 100% that this was the Boletopsis.  This is just the thirteenth UK record.  The first was in 1876 but was mis-identified and with six recent records all coming from the same location about 10 miles from my find, this was a species with few UK locations.  My part specimen and glass slide covered in spores is now deposited at Kew.  An odd plant turned out to be northern bedstraw, and, with a northerly wind blowing, the first pinkfeet of the year passed overhead.

Whilst visiting a bog to check cranberry leaves I found a small population of destroying angel fungus and took a sample home (very carefully) to check.  Somewhere along the way I must have licked my spore laden fingers and had a slightly upset tummy for a day.  If trying to self-harm once wasn’t bad enough a day out in Nairn also posed a problem.  It was a lovely sunny day, lunch was taken at a nice local food stop and we then walked down towards the harbour.  Following the River Nairn, we 
River Nairn swans
stopped to watch a pair of mute swans trying to ‘hide’ and whilst taking their photo I thought I had found a group of small nettles (Urtica urens).  Whilst investigating I also noticed an unusual yellow flower which Janet suggested was the same as we had seen on our visit to Edinburgh way back in May.  Not convinced I took a sample to check once home.  As we walked along with samples of nettle and yellow plant in hand I noticed my fingers had been stained orange and I assumed I had come into contact with a leaf fungus somewhere.  Once home I got the plant book out and was working my way through the pages first to confirm I had just the common nettle (Urtica dioica), but was having trouble naming the yellow plant.  Flicking through ID books I have a habit of occasionally licking my fingers to help with page turning and as my bottom lip started to tingle I didn’t realise how grateful I should have been to Janet who had also been checking out the yellow 
Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus)
flower.  “I told you it was the same as the Edinburgh plant” she informed me and as we read through the description of greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) it informed us that “the stem is sparsely hairy, producing bright orange latex when cut”.  The cause of my orange fingers!  The plant description also told us “Introduced, and cultivated for medicinal purposes, but the whole plant is very poisonous.”  Time to give my hands a good wash and to swill out my mouth with clean water which thankfully stopped the tingling lip!  There were no further symptoms, thankfully.

At the start of the current breeding season a new project was initiated aimed at improving the conservation fortunes of six of the rarer invertebrates living within the Cairngorms National Park.  Gabrielle Flinn was employed as the Projects Officer and was based at the RSPBs Abernethy Reserve.  We eventually met up after the orchid count at Flowerfield Meadow and I was asked if I could help with a training day linked to one of the six, the shining guest ant.  The 23rd September 
Shining guest ant on leaf with wood ant top right
was the date chosen so all I had to do was find a shining guest ant for the attendees to see!  So, through late August I paid regular visits to wood ant nests where I had seen the ant previously and was hugely relieved when, early in the month I managed to find a nest with guest ant in residence.  Three days before the event I saw two guest ants on the nest so it was fingers crossed that they would be visible on the day.  The 23rd dawned very cold with almost a frost, a little worrying when the guest ant only seems to be active when the wood ants are out and about, but by 11am the sun was up.  The training day started with a visit to two big ant nests in Garten Wood so Gabrielle could explain the workings of the ants and the nest, but we failed to find any guests.  Introductions over we headed round to Tulloch to the occupied nest and, as I crouched down by the nest I managed to see a guest ant.  Slowly, the trainees came to the nest and amazingly, despite the tiny size of the guest ant when compared to the wood ants, everyone managed to see one.  In fact, as we watched we saw up to three guests wandering around the top of the nest.  The nest we were watching was just one of about 6 small nests at that site and as everyone spread out to watch their own nest, there were shouts of “I’ve got one” from four of the six nests which was something similar to what I had found a couple of years ago.  An excellent outcome and I await with interest news of new finds.  The link below gives more details about the project and the species involved.

What an amazing late summer for red admirals.  During August I had quite a few diary entries for red admiral.  Similarly, for early September.  An email though on the 20th alerted me to someone locally having 6 in his garden followed a few days later with a count of 20 then a count of 45 with the butterflies feeding mainly on Michaelmas daisies.  Our own garden was also doing well; 6 regularly 
feeding on the flowering kale plants in the veg patch and there were up to 10 on a buddleia bush just down the road.  Why?  It would appear that over the last few years the numbers of red admirals now residing in England has been increasing and some of these must be ‘migrating’ north into Scotland.  A very timely programme also popped up on BBC Radio 4 where a repeat of a Living World programme, first broadcast in 2008 explained quite a bit about what is happening, even then.  During the summer, Butterfly Conservation staff have been finding red admiral caterpillars locally, showing the butterfly must be arriving early in the summer before getting down to breeding.  One to watch into the future.

Raigmore Hospital visit on 13th and Dr. Soh is very happy with the blood tests results following the radiotherapy treatment, PSA down by two-thirds.

That’s it for another month, hope you enjoyed the read.

Stewart and Janet

Carrbridge Housing protest
Carrbridge Planning Application Map, field top, right and grid ref NH91392269
Earth tongue guide (for beginners!)
British Bugs
Boletopsis perplexa information
Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms project
Living World BBC Radio 4 – butterflies/red admirals
Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
Mapmate recording database
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of the British Isles

Janet's amazing onion crop

Late afternoon rain
'The Scream' fungus version!
Photos © Stewart Taylor.  Red admirals on Michaelmas daisies © David Hayes