Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Some Winter-flowering Nettles

Lamium purpureum, Red Dead-nettle, white flowered form.  Winter flower hunt.  Hayes Street Farm, 1 December 2014.
Lamium purpureum, Red Dead-nettle, white flowered form.   Hayes Street Farm, 1 December 2014.
In December my wild flower class takes a break, and the pupils look for any wild plants that are actually showing flowers in the middle of winter.  There are many more than you might think, though many of them are ragged and there might only be a few blooms. 

I live near a farm which must be one of the closest to London.  Hayes Street Farm is always worth a visit for winter flowers.  It is bounded by houses, a main road, and some woods, and has a few nice agricultural weeds of its own.  This plant is not far from the houses and might possibly have escaped from a garden, though I don;t think many people would plant it.  It's a white-flowered variety of the Red Dead-nettle.  Dead-nettles are so called because they have no sting.

Lamium album, White Dead-nettle.   Hayes, 1 December 2014
Lamium album, White Dead-nettle.   Hayes, 1 December 2014
For comparison, here is a White Dead-nettle, a much more robust plant.  You can see that the leaves are shaped differently and have more pointed serrations.  The calyx that surrounds the flowers is larger and more spiky.  This looks a lot like the common Stinging Nettle, except for the flowers.  It's worth knowing the difference.  Both grow in waste ground and at roadsides as well as in the country.

Urtica dioica, Stinging Nettle.  Hayes, 2 December 2012.
Urtica dioica, Stinging Nettle.  Hayes, 2 December 2012.
Here are some Stinging Nettle flowers I photographed in 2012.  The leaves are similar but the flowers are totally different.  This has a couple of common relatives, as well as another harmless lookalike called Gypsywort that grows by water.  One of the relatives has an even nastier sting:

Urtica urens, Small Nettle,.  Hayes Street Farm, 17 December 2013.
Urtica urens, Small Nettle,.  Hayes Street Farm, 17 December 2013.
The Small Nettle.  Hayes Street Farm has a field full of it this year.  The flowers are similar to those of the Stinging Nettle, but the clusters are smaller.  In fact the whole plant is smaller.  The leaves are more rounded, and look at those stinging hairs!

Lycopus europaeus, Gypsywort.  Leybourne Lakes Country Park.  27 July 2012.
Lycopus europaeus, Gypsywort.  Leybourne Lakes Country Park.  27 July 2012.
Just for comparison, here is the harmless Gypsywort, which you are not likely to see in flower in December.
It has small clusters of white flowers at the stem nodes.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Knole Park, Dec 2014


Pond in Knole Park, 6 December 2014
Pond in Knole Park, 6 December 2014
I led a walk in Knole Park on 6 December.  We had just had our first really frosty night, and in the nearby woods the leaf litter was frozen solid, so it didn't seem a good day to go looking for fungi there, but the bright sunshine was lovely and the park itself was very pretty.  And as it happened, we found quite a few fungi in the grass.  It's a good season for waxcaps, brightly coloured red and yellow fungi that love the short grass, though actually we found several species in dark woodland a week or so earlier.

Hygrocybe chlorophana, Golden Waxcap.   Knole Park, 4 December 2014.
Hygrocybe chlorophana, Golden Waxcap.   Knole Park, 4 December 2014.
I took a couple of waxcap photos when I reconnoitred for the walk a couple of days earlier. That was a miserable grey drizzly day, so I was very pleased that the sun shone for the actual walk.  Several waxcaps have greasy or slimy caps, as you can see by the way this one glistens, and this Golden Waxcap has a slippery stipe as well.

Hygrocybe coccinea, Scarlet Waxcap.   Knole Park, 4 December 2014.
Hygrocybe coccinea, Scarlet Waxcap.   Knole Park, 4 December 2014.
When young, these Scarlet Waxcaps are as bright as berries in the mossy grass. The cap is slippery, the stipe is not.

I also found this next item in the grass.  I had read that the droppings of Green Woodpeckers looked like cigarette ash.  We had just seen one of the birds zooming along just above the ground, and this was not far away.  It is certainly not as pretty as the waxcaps, but just as interesting to a naturalist.

Dropping of a Green Woodpecker, Picus viridis.  Knole Park, 6 December 2014.
Dropping of a Green Woodpecker, Picus viridis.  Knole Park, 6 December 2014.
My last photo for the day is the Bird House folly, currently occupied by a park worker.  It was
built in about 1761 to house Lionel, first Duke of Dorset's exotic bird collection.  

Bird House Folly, Knole Park, 6 December 2014
Bird House Folly, Knole Park, 6 December 2014
This is a view through its front gate.  The flint walls are said to be medieval, and brought here from nearby Otford.  So I suspect that the stones were brought here and then rebuilt into wall shapes. 

Our thoughts on seeing this was that it would be very dark inside, and lacking in storage space.  That might not have worried the birds, but it would be hard on the estate worker.

[The two waxcaps were taken with my EOS 6D and 100mm macro lens.  The other photos were taken with my iPhone 6; the saturated colours make the pool shot look very punchy but the depth of field and dynamic range are not really good enough for the bird dropping.]

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Seasonal Purple

Trichaptum abietinum, Purplepore Bracket, on dead Scots Pine.  Keston Common, 10 October 2014.
Trichaptum abietinum, Purplepore Bracket, on dead Scots Pine.  Keston Common, 10 October 2014.
Here are some purple, or purplish, fungi.  The first photo is the underside of small brackets that grow on dead conifer wood.  That's usually Scots Pine in this area.  Like many fungus undersides, this Purplepore Bracket is rather beautiful.  This group is a couple of inches across.

Chondrostereum purpureum, Silverleaf Fungus.  Hayes, 18 November 2014.
Chondrostereum purpureum, Silverleaf Fungus.  Hayes, 18 November 2014.
This looks similar, but is from a different family, grows on deciduous wood, and does not have visible pores on its underside.  Several of these little Silverleaf Fungus rosettes seemed to be growing from the ground, but were actually attached to tree stumps that had been cut off at ground level.  This doesn't look very leaf-like, or indeed very silvery, until you see the underside.

Ascocoryne species, Purple Jellydisc.   Keston Common, 19 November 2014.
Ascocoryne species, Purple Jellydisc.   Keston Common, 19 November 2014.
This one looks like miniature intestines.  It could be one of two very similar species, but the name Purple Jellydisc is usually applied to whatever looks like this.  Lie the other two, it is growing on dead wood.

Russula species, probably R. fragilis, Fragile Brittlegill.  Keston Common, 9 November 2014.
Russula species, probably R. fragilis, Fragile Brittlegill.  Keston Common, 9 November 2014.
At last, a more traditional toadstool!  There are a few pink species of Russula but I think this is probably the Fragile Brittlegill.  That last name is well deserved.  In fact, the gills of nearly all Russulas break up easily if you brush them with your finger.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Beauty and the Beasts

Rhodotus palmatus, Wrinkled Peach.  High Elms Country Park, 11 November 2014.
Rhodotus palmatus, Wrinkled Peach.  High Elms Country Park, 11 November 2014.
I've been walking in woodlands for a couple of weeks looking for fungi.  In most places they are not abundant, but a few can always be found eventually, sometimes really pretty ones, and in some sites they are everywhere.

This Wrinkled Peach from High Elms is interesting.  It only grows on dead elm trees.  Now, all the mature elms in this area were killed off by Dutch Elm Disease about 40 years ago.  So this dead and fallen trunk must be that old.  I know of two more in this area, and there must be many others I am not aware of.

Rhodotus palmatus, Wrinkled Peach.  High Elms Country Park, 11 November 2014.
Rhodotus palmatus, Wrinkled Peach.  High Elms Country Park, 11 November 2014.
This is the underside.  Undersides of fungi are often lovely.  When people, me included, put fungi on line to get, or confirm, an identification we are sometimes told rather testily to get more details.  What are the gills like?  How are they attached?  And, ideally, look at the spores under a microscope.  If not, then at least get a spore print, which will tell you the colour of the spores. 

Rhodotus palmatus, Wrinkled Peach.  Spore print, 12 November 2014.
Rhodotus palmatus, Wrinkled Peach.  Spore print, 12 November 2014.
So here is its spore print.  Pinkish, as you can see, and if I anticipate a light coloured print I try to get it on dark paper; and I had some blue lying around.

Collybia butyracea, Butter Cap, being eaten by fungus gnat larvae (Mycetophilidae).   Hayes Common, 9 November 2014.
Collybia butyracea, Butter Cap, being eaten by fungus gnat larvae (Mycetophilidae)
Hayes Common, 9 November 2014.
But looking at gill attachments can produce some surprises.  This is a different species that I cut down the middle, only to find it was hosting a little group of larvae.  Finding a sudden handful of wriggly things is an everyday hazard when slicing fungi.  Even when they are not obvious, if you leave them out for spore prints and don't sort them out within a day or so, you are likely to find larvae appearing.  So I suggest not doing this in a bedroom.

These are fungus gnat larvae.  You can also find various beetles.

Collybia butyracea, Butter Cap, being eaten by fungus gnat larvae (Mycetophilidae).   Hayes Common, 9 November 2014.
Collybia butyracea, Butter Cap, being eaten by fungus gnat larvae (Mycetophilidae).
Hayes Common, 9 November 2014.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Two Iris Seed Pods

Seed pods of Yellow Iris, Iris pseudacorus.  Spring Park, 17 October 2014.
Seed pods of Yellow Iris, Iris pseudacorus.  Spring Park, 17 October 2014.
Two types of ripe Iris seed pods seen on wet days.  First is the Yellow Iris or Yellow Flag,  a plant that grows in shallow water and so is common around the edges of ponds.  This one was in the pond at the bottom of Spring Park wood.  These pods look a little like miniature corn on the cob.

Seed pod of Stinking Iris, Iris foetidissima.  Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, 4 November 2014.
Seed pod of Stinking Iris, Iris foetidissima.  Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, 4 November 2014.
And the showy pods of Stinking Iris, crammed full of vermilion seeds.  The leaves have a very odd smell when crushed, which is sometimes compared to roast beef, though I wouldn't want to eat it if it smelled like that.  Those who have tried them tell me that it takes a long time to get flowering plants from these seeds.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Oak Leaf Galls - and a Festoon

Common Spangle Galls, gall wasp Neuroterus quercusbaccarum.  West Wickham Common, 14 September 2014.
Common Spangle Galls, gall wasp Neuroterus quercusbaccarum.  West Wickham Common, 14 September 2014.
Some oak leaf galls from the local commons.  These are fascinating things, created by tiny wasps that somehow cause the oak leaf to grow these shield-like shapes behind which the larvae grow.  At the end of the year, the galls drop off, and just now they can be seen scattered over the woodland floor.

Silk Button Spangle Galls, gall wasp Neuroterus numismalis.  West Wickham Common, 15 September 2014.
Silk Button Spangle Galls, gall wasp Neuroterus numismalis.  West Wickham Common, 15 September 2014.
A different type of gall.  I went back the day after the gall walk to get some better shots, including this one and the next.

Smooth Spangle Galls, gall wasp Neuroterus albipes.  Hayes Common, 15 September 2014.
Smooth Spangle Galls, gall wasp Neuroterus albipes.  Hayes Common, 15 September 2014.
And yet a third, with one of the first type also in the picture at top right.  All these are created by different species of wasp.

And to prove that they drop off:

Fallen oak leaf galls.  Two Common Spangle Galls, gall wasp Neuroterus quercusbaccarum.  One Smooth Spangle Gall, gall wasp Neuroterus albipes.  Keston Common, 30 October 2014.
Fallen oak leaf galls.  Two Common Spangle Galls, one Smooth Spangle Gall.  Keston Common, 30 October 2014.
 Here are some fallen galls photographed in late October.

Larva of a Festoon, Apoda limacodes.  West Wickham Common, 14 September 2014.
Larva of a Festoon, Apoda limacodes.  West Wickham Common, 14 September 2014.
While looking for galls, the walk leader found this, which I was very pleased to see.  It's the odd-looking larva of a Festoon moth.  Festoons are scarce taking the country as a whole, but where they do live, they are often numerous, and there are plenty around here.  There's a good shot of an adult at the bottom of this post showing moths in July, trapped less than 100 yards from where this photo was taken. 

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Ivy Feeders



Honey Bee, Apis mellifera, in flight.  Gates Green Road, Coney Hall, 21 September 2014.
Honey Bee, Apis mellifera, in flight.  Gates Green Road, Coney Hall, 21 September 2014.
Again, tidying up my photo folders, here are some insects feeding on ivy in September.  Ivy is the last big feast for many insects, and a bank in flower on a sunny day can always be relied on for an array of photogenic creatures.

I was pleased to catch this bee hovering, so that its body is sharp even though its wings are moving so fast as to be almost invisible.  This was taken at 1/180th of a second.  It has pollen baskets full of yellow pollen but still seems to be after some more. 

Some say that the honey-bee's role as a pollinator is exaggerated because the pollen it collects is packed away in a solid wet lump, and that much is true, as you can see here.  But you can also see how much dry pollen is scattered over its head, body and legs.  That is perfectly good for future pollinations.

Hoverfly, Eristalis pertinax.  Gates Green Road, Coney Hall.  31 August 2014.
Hoverfly, Eristalis pertinax.  Gates Green Road, Coney Hall.  31 August 2014.
This Eristalis pertinax is a Dronefly, so called because of its similarity to a male honey bee.  In fact it's a hoverfly, and completely harmless.  Here it is working over one of the ivy's anthers.  Compare this to the honey-bee and you can see that this fly has only a few grains of pollen on its legs.

Hoverfly, Eristalis tenax.  Gates Green Road, Coney Hall, 21 September 2014.
Hoverfly, Eristalis tenax.  Gates Green Road, Coney Hall, 21 September 2014.
Though this one, also a pollen-eater, seems to be a bit more messy!  It's a closely related species, Eristalis tenax, that is distinguished by its darker lower legs and the vertical row of hairs on its eye.  The eye of the other species is hairy all over.
Hoverfly, Myathropa florea.  Gates Green Road, Coney Hall.  31 August 2014.
Hoverfly, Myathropa florea.  Gates Green Road, Coney Hall.  31 August 2014.
Another hoverfly, the photogenic Myathropa florea.  This fly has more of an overall honey colour and has a distinctive pattern on its thorax that looks like the Batman logo.  (That small white ring in the middle of its thorax is a reflection of my camera's ring flash.  The ring flash a great tool and has let me take many good shots, but it has this one drawback.)

You can see the looped vein towards the end of its wing that is the mark of the Eristalini.  You can see the same loop on the Eristalis pertinax two pics up, once you know where to look.

Hoverfly, Syritta pipiens.  Gates Green Road, Coney Hall.  31 August 2014.
Hoverfly, Syritta pipiens.  Gates Green Road, Coney Hall.  31 August 2014.
Another hoverfly, the smaller Syritta pipiens, from a different group and with quite a different look.  It is distinguished by its fat thighs.  This one is after the nectar produced by the ivy.  Although ivy does not have petals, it produces nectar from a dome-shaped hypanthium.

Nursery Web Spider, Pisaura mirabilis.  Gates Green Road, Coney Hall, 21 September 2014.
Nursery Web Spider, Pisaura mirabilis.  Gates Green Road, Coney Hall, 21 September 2014.
While I was photographing the insects on the ivy, I was pleased to see this very smart Nursery Web Spider on the nettles below.  As with all spiders, this creature has interesting and often startling mating habits, and the male will sometimes pretend to be dead to get close enough to mate.