Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Grey Herons in Kelsey Park

Young Grey Heron, Ardea cinerea, in Kelsey Park on 27 October 2012
Young Grey Heron, Ardea cinerea, in Kelsey Park on 27 October 2012
I am not a bird-watcher, but occasionally they present themselves to be photogpaphed, like this young Grey Heron.  There are several heron nests in Kelsey Park and the young ones seem to be less concerned about people than their more experienced elders.

The bird below seems to be going for a stroll.

Young Grey Heron, Ardea cinerea, in Kelsey Park on 27 October 2012
Young Grey Heron, Ardea cinerea, in Kelsey Park on 27 October 2012

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Shaggy Inkcap

Coprinus comatus (Shaggy Inkcap or Lawyer's Wig). Beacon Wood Country Park, 20 October 2012.
Coprinus comatus (Shaggy Inkcap or Lawyer's Wig). Beacon Wood Country Park, 20 October 2012.
This little group, standing about 8 inches tall, was right at the entrance to Beacon Wood near a rubbish bin.  They like disturbed ground. Last year I saw a clump growing through the gravel of a friend's driveway.

They grow fast, and you can see clumps of earth on top that have been raised out of the soil.  The skin of the cap breaks up into shaggy scales as the fungus grows, revealing the fibrous hair-like understructure which gives it its species name.

Originally they are quite white, and the cap is attached to the stipe by a membrane called a partial veil, which protects the immature spores.  At the stage shown here, the only remaining trace of the veil is the loose ring which has fallen down the stem.  (Not all fungus stipe rings are mobile like this.)

As the fungus matures and black spores ripen, the edges of the cap liquefy and drip as a black liquid. You can see this clearly in a related species I showed last year: Magpie Ink Cap.

Here's a closer shot of the largest cap from a different angle.  I am reluctant to pay a lot of heed to those amber-coloured droplets on the caps; they are not mentioned in my books, and for all I know they might be dog urine. 

Coprinus comatus (Shaggy Inkcap or Lawyer's Wig). Beacon Wood Country Park, 20 October 2012.
Coprinus comatus (Shaggy Inkcap or Lawyer's Wig). Beacon Wood Country Park, 20 October 2012.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Amanita Muscaria


Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric).   Beacon Wood Country Park, 20 October 2012.
Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric).   Beacon Wood Country Park, 20 October 2012.
This is not what you expect to see under this name.  That's because it's a baby, just pushing out of the ground, and is still covered with its universal veil.  We found these in Beacon Wood Country Park, near Bean.  There is an extensive area of Silver Birch woodland on what used to be the bottom of a commercial clay pit, and there were hundreds of these startling fungi in clusters and in long crescents.

Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric).   Beacon Wood Country Park, 20 October 2012.
Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric).   Beacon Wood Country Park, 20 October 2012.
The red cap starts to push through the scaly yellow veil.

Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric).   Beacon Wood Country Park, 20 October 2012.
Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric).   Beacon Wood Country Park, 20 October 2012.
You probably see it most often like this, with a white stipe, domed scarlet cap and yellow scales.  It's not fully mature yet, but often it doesn't get much further because slugs just love it.  In fact you can see that the one on the left has lost a chunk of the stipe.  If there were not so many of them all at once I would probably not have got to see this ...

Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric).   Beacon Wood Country Park, 20 October 2012.
Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric).   Beacon Wood Country Park, 20 October 2012.
A fully mature specimen nearly a foot across, quite a giant for this species.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Some Myxomycetes

Lycogala epidendrum var. terrestre.
Lycogala epidendrum var. terrestre.
I mentioned Myxomycetes a couple of posts ago.  They are also called Slime Moulds, and have a life cycle in which they grow from spores into little amoeba-like creatures, come together into a larger and still mobile slime, then put up spore cases and spread their spores again.  (I have omitted much detail.)   Their slimy stage, called a plasmodium, can be small or quite large.  Most of those you can find in the UK are small.

There was a Myxo foray at Sevenoaks on the 14th of October, and at the start we were shown some examples by one of the group who had brought them along from elsewhere.  The first photo is a group of fruiting bodies, and you can see the small scale from the part of my thumbnail visible on the left.

Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa var. poroides
Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa var. poroides
Here's another, a slightly smaller specimen.  You can see some plasmodium on the left, and some patches of a honeycomb-like fruiting structure.

Tubifera ferruginosa
Tubifera ferruginosa
Another of about the same size, on which you can see plasmodium and both young and mature fruiting bodies.

Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa.  Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, 14 October 2012.
Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa.  Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, 14 October 2012.
This is one we found on the day, and is a fruiting structure.  It's a different variety of the second one, apparently - I can only repeat what I am told about Myxomycetes.  But they do look fascinating.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

A Parasitic Fungus

Pseudoboletus parasiticus on Scleroderma citrina.   Keston Common, 7 October 2012.
Pseudoboletus parasiticus on Scleroderma citrina, a Common Earth Ball.   Keston Common, 7 October 2012.
It's not only people and slugs who like eating fungi.  Other fungi do, too.  There are quite a few parasitic species, and while it's often not easy to tell what is going on, in this case it is obvious.  This bolete is growing out of the side of the Earth Ball it is parasitising.

The Earth Ball still looks healthy enough and will be full of spores, so it must have a good supply of nutrition if it is feeding that big mushroom as well as itself.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Identification Answers

Fungi and Other Goodies
OK!  Quiz answers!  The fungi in this group are numbers 1, 2 and 6.  1 is a Small Stag's-horn Fungus, Calocera cornea; rather immature.  2 has the delightful common name of Crystal Brain, and can also be called Exidia nucleata.  6 is a Pale Staghorn,  Calocera pallidospathulata.

Number 3 had me excited when I saw it in wet rotting wood.  But on closer examination it turned out to be two holly berries that had fallen from the bush above.

I found Number 4 by turning over a piece of fallen wood.  It is a cluster of slug's eggs.  I don't know what species.  They will be familiar to most gardeners.

Number 5 is probably a bit of a trick question.  It's a Myxomycete, or Slime Mould, most likely a species of Trichia; it would take an expert with a microscope to determine which species.  Although Slime Moulds are often lumped in with fungi, because they have a lot of superficial similarities and they grow in the same places, many biologists think that they actually belong to a different kingdom and are related to Amoebas.  Some of them are quite mobile for part of their life cycles.  But they also reproduce by disseminating airborne spores, like fungi.  They are truly odd.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Identification Quiz

What are they?
Three of these are fungi.  I am not asking you to say what species of fungi, just to pick them out and tell me, if you can, what the others are.  They were all found in woodland, either on rotting wood or in the damp leaf litter, on Keston Common on 7th October.  I will reveal all, or at any rate all that I know, next time.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Three Keston Plants

Wild Angelica, Angelica sylvestris.  Keston Common, 15 September 2012.
Wild Angelica, Angelica sylvestris.  Keston Common, 15 September 2012.
Three photos of autumn plants from Keston Common.  The first is a seed-head of Wild Angelica.  The stems of a closely related cultivated species are candied and used as tasty sweetmeats and cake decorations.  ("Candying" is essentially boiling pieces of the stem in a strong sugar solution to infuse sugar into them, then cooling them.) Here you can see the typical four-winged seeds of the wild species.

Water Mint, Mentha aquatica.  Keston Common, 15 September 2012.
Water Mint, Mentha aquatica.  Keston Common, 15 September 2012.
Wild Angelica and Water Mint both grow in wet areas and beside ponds and streams.  On Keston Common they grow in its small wet meadows.  Water Mint is a true mint, but does not seem to have a culinary use.  However, it does hybridise with Spearmint, that well-known chewing gum flavour, to give Peppermint.  It's a late flowerer, much appreciated by bees, and I saw some flowers still out on 6th October.

Sapling of Holm Oak, Quercus ilex.  Keston Common, 15 September 2012.
Sapling of Holm Oak, Quercus ilex.  Keston Common, 15 September 2012.
At first glance you might think that this is a sprig of holly, but it is actually a European evergreen oak that has become fairly well established in Britain.  In fact its alternative common name is the Evergreen Oak, and I am including it as an autumn plant because it looks so fresh and green in September.  This one is growing at the edge of an area of heath.

"Holm" means Holly, so Holm Oak presumably gave its name to the UK soap Hollyoaks, though you will have some difficulty finding any botanical storylines there.  It's only the young saplings that have prickly leaves, and unlike Holly leaves, they have whitish down on their undersides.

I read recently that this is the only oak to have acorns which are not only edible, but actually palatable, so if I ever find some on a tree and within reach I will try a nibble.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Giant Polypore

Giant Polypore, Meripilus giganteus, on Beech roots in The Knoll, Hayes, on 3 October 2012.
Giant Polypore, Meripilus giganteus, on Beech roots in The Knoll, Hayes, on 3 October 2012.
"It's a good year for merip! It loves the wet." So said Luke, the Ranger for West Wickham Common. The subject was the so-called Giant Polypore, Meripilus giganteus. It's biggish, but I wouldn't describe it as giant. But it does love this weather. It is cropping up all over, on the bases and roots of Beech stumps, and occasionally on living trees like the one shown above, which is bad news for them as it causes root rot and will probably kill the tree.

It's a fast grower, taking only a couple of weeks to go from brown nodules to the display you see.  Here is part of the outcrop on the 25th of September:

Giant Polypore, Meripilus giganteus.  Fungus on the roots of a Beech tree on The Knoll, Hayes.  25 September 2012.
Giant Polypore, Meripilus giganteus, on the roots of a Beech tree on The Knoll, Hayes.  25 September 2012.
And here it is on the 3rd of October:

Giant Polypore, Meripilus giganteus.  Fungus on Beech roots in The Knoll, Hayes, on 3 October 2012.
Giant Polypore, Meripilus giganteus, on Beech roots in The Knoll, Hayes, on 3 October 2012.
Here is a section of the fungus from the underside. You can see the fine pores and, at the edge, the white fibrous structure.  This piece is from a different outbreak of the same fungus.

Giant Polypore, Meripilus giganteus.  Fungus on a beech stump just off Layhams Road near Wickham Court School.  2 October 2012.
Giant Polypore, Meripilus giganteus, on a beech stump just off Layhams Road.  2 October 2012.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Keston Windmill

Keston Windmill from outside.   31 August 2012.
Keston Windmill from outside.   31 August 2012.
This time, a post with no natural history, from an outing for the West Wickham Common and Spring Park volunteers, set up by the City of London Open Spaces Department.   Part of it was a visit to the Keston Windmill, a restored but not functional post mill just by the roadside to the south of Keston.

Keston Windmill.  The lever for engaging the gears.  Metal gears against wood, to avoid sparks.  31 August 2012.
Keston Windmill.  The lever for engaging the gears.  31 August 2012.
We had  a very interesting and informative guided tour.  The mill is not often open to the public, so this was a great opportunity to learn.  For example, I knew that flour dust in air is highly explosive, but did not know how mills like this dealt with the threat. Here you can see that iron gears were opposed to wheels with wooden teeth, to prevent sparks.  

Keston Windmill.  The coarse stone lower grinding wheel, for grinding animal feed.  31 August 2012.
Keston Windmill.  The coarse stone lower grinding wheel.  31 August 2012.
There were two pairs of grinding wheels, one pair of coarse stone and one of imported fine stone.  This is the lower wheel of the coarse pair, used for grinding animal feed.  The finer one was for humans.

Later in the mill's life, people came to desire even finer flour, and so the output from the fine wheel had to be hauled up again and put through a sifter.

There was a good view from a small window in this part of the mill.  This last photo shows structures by the Thames near London Bridge and the Embankment.

View north from Keston Windmill.  St Paul's Cathedral and The Shard.  31 August 2012.
View north from Keston Windmill.  St Paul's Cathedral and The Shard.  31 August 2012.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Hammock Weaver

Spiders' webs on gorse, Hayes Common, 8 October 2010.
Spiders' webs on gorse, Hayes Common, 8 October 2010.
Photos from the past.  On a misty autumn morning, fine droplets of water cling to spider silk, revealing the huge number of webs on the gorse. This photo is from 2010; I haven't taken a better one of this phenomenon since. But a year ago I took some shots of the creature that makes all these webs; the Common Hammock-weaver, Linyphia triangularis.

Spider, Linyphia triangularis, Common Hammock-Weaver.  Orchid Bank, High Elms Country Park, 15 September 2011.
Spider, Linyphia triangularis, Common Hammock-Weaver.  Orchid Bank, High Elms Country Park, 15 September 2011.
You can see the distinctive tuning-fork mark on its thorax. This spider weaves horizontal platform webs with strands running up to the foliage above. A flying insect that hits those strands might fall onto the platform below; and underneath it, the spider waits. It can quickly run along the underside and bite its prey through the web. The spider can deal effectively with substantial prey ... This one is in the same place I took the top photo.

Spider, Linyphia triangularis, Common Hammock-Weaver, dealing with a relatively large fly. Hayes Common, 22 September 2011.
Spider, Linyphia triangularis, Common Hammock-weaver, dealing with a relatively large fly.
Hayes Common, 22 September 2011.