Sunday, 24 December 2017

Red squirrel steals the show

Over the last couple of months I’ve been visiting a possible site for creating a small, but new aspen stand as part of a project linked to the Cairngorms National Park.  Following an initial meeting of interested people/organisations in January comprising about 8 people, two of us have led most of the work aimed at protecting small groups of suckers growing from roots of established trees up to protecting just over a hectare of trees with suckers (mentioned in June and September blogs) by increasing the height of an existing stock fence.  This fence was initially installed to protect the trees and allow suckers to grow but, with red and roe deer managing to jump over it, very little had happened. Raising the height of the fence should help establish new trees.  My recent work has seen 
Canada geese flying overhead
Noon fly (Mesembrina meridian)
me GPS-ing the strainer posts of an existing fence, creating a map, and using this to obtain quotes for again, increasing the height to exclude deer.  At this site though, young aspens will be planted to create a new aspen stand.  Visiting the site early in November to count the number of fence posts required I heard what I though was a big group of whooper swans approaching overhead, so the wee camera was hurriedly got ready until I suddenly realised they were not swans but 50+ Canada geese!  Currently, this is still a rare bird locally, so it was a little worrying to see so many birds in one group.  There are enough problems with increasing numbers of feral greylag geese breeding locally without yet another introduced species adding to their numbers.  With the fence information collected I spent a couple of hours checking the adjacent unimproved grassland for waxcaps, three species being found along with an unusually marked fly, the noon fly (Mesembrina meridian) a dung feeder.  The high-pitched calls of a bird in the junipers had me puzzled until it popped out next to me and it turned out to be a chiffchaff, the latest record, to date, for Abernethy Forest. 

A visit to Nairn at the start of the month saw us parking up on the outskirts of the town, walking in to the shops for Janet to top up on sewing threads and materials and returning along the side of the River Nairn.  A strange plant caught our eye, and this turned out to be the oddly named ‘common fiddleneck’ (Amsinckia micrantha) a plant linked to farmland we had seen nearby once before.  Passing an amazing veg-patch we stopped to talk to the man weeding the vegetables and after 
discussing the best way to grow various species he handed us a huge turnip, complete with polybag, to take home!  Wandering back along the side of the river Janet spotted a heron on the far bank which was close enough to get a decent photo.  As I was firing away the heron walked out into the river, froze, and in an instant down went its head rising to reveal a big fish held in its beak!  We assumed this to be a ‘spent’ salmon or sea trout which, having deposited or fertilised eggs, might have been in the dying phase something that happens to many of these great fish after depositing eggs.  Thankfully, I had the heron in my cameras view and most of the fishing process was captured over a series of pictures.  Having caught the fish, the heron bashed it a few times on the rocks and within just a few seconds, it disappeared down its throat.  Despite having just swallowed the fish the heron returned to its original look-out spot possibly looking for more.  Phew! 

A few years ago, I found a strange looking fungus just up the road from the house, a group of toad’s ears (Otidea bufonia) and this year, it was there again.  As I was heading further up the road to look for the green shield-moss, I made a note of the grid reference and decided to return the next day to 
Toad's ear fungus ready for checking
Spore (top) and ascus with 8 spores before ejection
photograph.  The local spruce wood produced a few locations for the moss and a roadside location of the cedarwood waxcap (Hygrocybe russocoriacea), new to RSPB Abernethy.  As the day ended I realised I had made a huge mistake not photographing the toad’s ear fungus as the outdoor thermometer was dropping to below zero.  Next morning the temperature was at -50C and when I revisited the fungus site all the fruiting bodies had turned to mush.  Lesson learnt.  Thankfully, I had taken a specimen to check so was able to confirm under the microscope that I had the right name.  Checking a few of the known sites for the green shield-moss (Buxbaumia viridis) continued and the next day I visited an area of mature Norway spruced that had been felled a few years earlier.  The 
Green shield moss capsules
moss was here a couple of years ago and as I searched, a few new locations were found, all close to previously known sites.  One site was very unusual in that the moss capsules were all growing on the ground though they might have been associated with an underground root of the nearby spruce.  As it started to get darker I finally arrived at the location where over a hundred capsules had been found 
Blueing bracket (Postia caesia)
previously, but, with an increase in the moss and plant populations most of these had disappeared and just a few capsules were found on the trunk of a fallen spruce.  These could only be counted with the help of the wee light in my hand-lens, 12 being the number.  A bracket fungus pushing out of the dead trunk looked interesting, a sort of blue colour, and once checked this turned out to be the blueing bracket (Postia caesia) a fungus associated with decaying spruce trees.

Picking up the paper the next day from the Nethy post office/shop informed me that sadly, one of our local, famous characters had died, the Grantown vet George Rafferty.  George came to fame in 1980 by being the expert brought in to help re-capture the grizzle bear, Hercules, that had escaped on Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides whilst filming an advert for Kleenex, and had been on the loose for three weeks.  Darting the bear from a helicopter with a powerful anaesthetic, George was then landed close to the staggering bear, eventually managing to lasso it, and after being dragged around a bit 
before he could administer a second dose of anaesthetic, he eventually managed to re-capture it.  A few years later George was filmed going about his vet work by BBC TV, the first of any of the now popular vet programmes – real fame at last.  We met George occasionally when we had a hand milking cow on a croft in Tulloch and he came to check our cow and other cows owned by the farm tenant, Miss Mac.  On one occasion George arrived to castrate one of the bull calves, croft resident Roger and myself went out to help tie up the calf and keep it ‘calm’ whist George did the operation.  The ‘operation’ involved George cutting into the calf’s scrotum and, one by one, removing the two testicles.  Roger was at the head end of the calf holding the rope and I was at the rear holding the tail and as each testicle was removed George winked at me as he dropped them gently into Rogers wellies!  Roger only discovered the testicles when we all returned to the house for a ‘wee dram’, served up by Miss Mac as a thank you.  This was typical George, a real character, and it was sad to hear of his passing.

Mid-month saw me heading north to Strathpeffer for the HBRG AGM.  As always when heading so far north, I set off early to spend an hour or so checking out trees, plants etc near Rogie Falls.  I found the aspens here had good populations of rare lichens a few years ago but on this visit I crossed the 
Rogie Falls (top) and Dutch rush
bridge to see what trees were on the other side of the river.  Nothing too unusual so I dropped off the track to look for any green shield-mosses, a species that had been recorded here on two fallen birch trees several years ago.  There was a lot of fallen deadwood to check so progress was slow but, in the distance, I could see a large patch of a green plant which looked a bit like a rush.  Eventually I arrived at the plant and was delighted to see it was Dutch rush or rough horsetail (Equisetum hyemale), a plant with a scattered, local distribution.  I was running out of time, having to get back for the AGM by 10.30, so a few quick photos, a GPS grid ref, and, just as I was about to go I noticed a strange, 
Jelly tongue fungus (Pseudohydnum gelatinosum)
white fungus on a fallen spruce tree.  Turning one of the fruiting bodies over I could see lots of ‘teeth’ (not gills) hanging down, so this had to be the jelly tongue (Pseudohydnum gelatinosum), just time for a photo before heading off.  A couple of locals who were attending the AGM didn’t know of any Dutch rush populations locally and once home I found that this was a new site and a new 10km square record.

As I got out of bed on the 13th I could see we were getting our first real snow with heavy showers covering the ground.  The birds were very active on the hanging feeders as well as visiting the big, home-made fat-cake on the ground.  I paused breakfast to try and get a good photo of the blackbirds around the fat-cake but with completely black birds against a totally white background I wasn’t having too much luck.  Coat tits and great tits didn’t hang around too long when perched on snow covered branches of various bushes with the photos mostly blurred.  Similarly, a robin bobbing about in the veg-patch proved too elusive, but I then spotted a woodpigeon, perched high up in one of the birch trees, and these photos looked more promising as the bird just sat there with the snow-flakes creating a nice feature as it was snowing.  At about the same time a red squirrel visited the peanut 
Philip Avery and Simon McCoy with red squirrel back-drop
feeder and as I looked for more bird/snow photos I realised the squirrel was heading up the telegraph pole just below the woodpigeon.  From the house window I was just about able to zoom-in and find it as it reached the top, but, instead of leaping off into the birches and away, it decided to sit in the snow at the top of the pole.  Despite the falling snow flakes it remained quite visible allowing a few photos to be taken.  Then it was off.  When I finished my breakfast I wondered if any of the photos of the woodpigeon or red squirrel would be suitable for uploading to the BBC Weather Watchers site and after checking, one of each was copied over, along with the usual temperature and air pressure details.  Via the ‘photos near you’ section of the BBC site I could see that a couple of local people had already been active with one of them having captured a nice snowy bird table/garden scene.  When I walked down to the shop for the paper I popped in to see if neighbour Rita wanted her bird feeders topped up and mentioned the photo I’d taken of the squirrel.  Over lunch Janet and myself watched the BBC news and on the Scottish weather bulletin the bird table and snowy garden photo from just up the road, was the presenter’s selection to highlight the snow fall.  Mid-afternoon and the 
The one that didn't make it!
phone rings with Rita saying the squirrel had just been on the national BBC weather report and the presenter, Philip Avery, had said it would be on again on the next bulletin to highlight something!  Half an hour later we were ready and prepared with camera all set, just in case it appeared again.  Not only did it appear but it was the main backdrop as Phil was chatting with news reader Simon McCoy about the snow and as he did the weather bulletin my squirrel photo was the lead-in to say the cold weather was bringing in hawfinches from the continent!  Amazingly, it was still popping up on the evening bulletins and also appeared on the Scottish weather bulletin, the best yet for Weather Watcher Hydnellum.  The phone rang again about 5pm and this was chalet guests Sid and Jenny phoning from Braintree in Essex to say they had seen Hydnellum and Nethy Bridge on the weather bulletin and just checking that this was me.  This is about the third time they have rung following a national weather bulletin now aware that Hydnellum leads to yours truly!

A request from Stephen Moran at the HBRG AGM set an amazing ball rolling.  During his presentation about the rare spruce cone beetle (Gastrodes abietum) he stopped and asked me to stand up.  On the screen was a photo of two beetle recorders from the late 1800s and Stephen used the link between them, me and Stephen himself to highlight that all the current Scottish records for this beetle had been found by just these four people!  My find was from earlier this year after I’d collected fallen Norway spruce cones from the village and managed to get one beetle to drop out.  The spruce cone beetle feeds and hibernates inside the spruce cones and Stephen was asking for HBRG members to go out, pick up a few freshly fallen cones and tap them, pointed end down, gently on a rock or something hard, and see if any beetles fall out.  About a week after the request I was heading for a group of aspens by the River Spey at Grantown when I spotted a small plantation of Norway spruces, 
Fluted bird's nest fungus (Cyathus striatus)
so just had to pay them a visit.  I was looking for the fallen, but current seasons cones and, with few places to tap them easily available, I popped 20-30 in a couple of poly bags and took them home for checking later. Back on the path by the Spey a small stack of logs attracted my attention because I thought I could see candlesnuff fungi (Xylaria hypoxylon) popping up.  Sure enough they were there but at the start of one of the long-dead logs I could see something that I had long hoped to see – one of the bird’s nest fungi.  There must have been about 50 of the cup-shaped growths with the spore bearing ‘eggs’ clearly visible inside them, the grooved shape of the cup leading me to think of the fluted bird’s nest fungus (Cyathus striatus).  An individual fungus was about 10mm high and about 8mm diameter at the top.  To ensure I was able to correctly identify the species a few of the fungi were collected to check later.  It was only when I checked later that I realised what a complex fungus 
A single 'egg'-  peridiole (top) and spores x1000 oil (bottom).
Spores measure 12-21 x 7-12 microns
this is.  In Britain 4 species of bird’s nest fungus have been recorded with the one I’d found being the most common with over 800 records.  Worldwide, just over 50 species have been recorded.  The one thing they all have in common is the ‘eggs’ (peridioles) are the reproductive part of the fungus, but this is where it starts to get quite technical and also amazing.  Despite the peridioles looking round, they are actually disc-shaped, measuring about 1.5mm across and within are the spores.  They are attached to the ‘nest’ part of the fungus with a short stalk within which is a long but coiled cord which is attached to the peridiole.  The peridioles are ejected by raindrops splashing into the ‘nest’ shattering the short stalk but releasing the coiled cord which stretches out, often wrapping itself around adjacent grass stems or other plant material.  It is thought that the peridiole containing the spores is then ingested by grazing animals with the spores passing, unharmed through the animal to be deposited in their dung elsewhere!  It’s worth clicking on the Wikipedia link below to see 
Norway spruce cone (top) spruce cone beetle (middle),
snake fly larva (bottom) & distribution map below

drawings of this structure.  Our local Badenoch and Strathspey Herald carried a half-page article I wrote about this amazing wee fungus.  The spruce cones didn’t disappoint either and once home I tapped the cones as advised and 3 beetles dropped out of one cone and 1 more from another providing Stephen with another location.  The beetles were returned, along with the cones to the wood where they were found.  Interestingly, a couple of larval stage snake flies also dropped out along with a pseudo-scorpion and a common flower bug (Anthocoris nemorum).  Searches in two other Norway spruce woods failed to find any more so the search goes on.

An early morning outing to try and see Venus and Jupiter close together failed miserably.  When the experts said they would be very low and close to the horizon, they weren’t joking.  I went to my usual sky viewing site near Broomhill Steam Railway Station and sat a little while to see if there was anything obvious close to the horizon.  I then started to realise that the area of the sky where they might be visible was hidden behind one of the low hills so I guessed there would be little chance of them appearing, particularly as they disappeared below the horizon at around dawn.  Sadly, when I 
got to my viewing location I didn’t set up my camera and tripod straight away, because, as I looked up I could see the Space Station gliding overhead and though I couldn’t have got a photo of it, a long exposure would have let a white line intriguingly appear across my photo.  However, there was a partial moon so I fired a few shots off at it as well and the council gritting lorry, driving through Nethy Bridge with its orange lights flashing – just an orange line on my photo.  A couple of days later and it was grandson Finlay’s birthday.  Having fun trying to light all eleven candles using matches, without getting his fingers burnt, I nipped out to the bike shed and dug out a couple of fir-candles, slivers of Scots pine wood heavily impregnated with resin and something that has appeared in an 
earlier blog (April 2015).  Despite lots of smoke, they worked, and once again ancient methods came to the rescue.  Janet was also busy during November with three craft fairs in Nethy Bridge, Aviemore and Grantown, so lots of sewing to keep up with and after helping Janet to set up in Nethy Bridge I managed to catch up with checking a row of aspens by the River Spey, trees I’ve driven past for years.  Nothing too unusual but interesting to see lupins (wild) still in flower, a stonefly which, going 
Pipe club fungus (top) and contorted pipe club (bottom)
off photos of its wings, was Leuctra fusca, the late needle fly.  Despite it being November I also came across a couple of pipe club fungus (Macrotyphula fistulosa) growing from buried deadwood in the grass but then followed that up by finding its tree growing variety contorted pipe club (Macrotyphula fistulosa var. contorta).  The Latin name for this fungus is ‘just what it says on the tin’.  Macro = large and typhula = smoky, fistula = pipe or tube and contorta = tangled/complicated.

As I type, thankfully the winter solstice and the shortest day is past, I can see why people now, and in the past, danced around standing stones to celebrate!

Enjoyed the read and all the best for Christmas and 2018.

Stewart and Janet

Common fiddleneck
Blueing bracket
Calf castration
Rogie Falls
Fluted bird’s nest fungus (Cyathus striatus)
Blog April 2015
Parkswatch
Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
Mapmate recording database
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of the British Isles

 
Singing dipper on the River Spey

Spey lupins still in flower

Photos © Stewart Taylor

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

Springtails
Stocks Reservoir
Logie Steading
Honey fungus the “Largest Single Living Organism On Earth”
Winged inkcap
Parkswatch
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