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 café 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
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
Honey fungus the “Largest Single Living Organism On Earth”
https://www.asturnatura.com/fotografia/setas-hongos/coprinus-semitalis-p-d-orton-3/11834.html to see details click on translate.
Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
Mapmate recording database
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of the British Isles
|Waxcap, spindle and coral list for 2017|
|Dance flies in the October sun|
|Puffball fungus puffing spores|
Photos © Stewart Taylor