Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Fungi survey - The Decievers

Just to pre-warn, in this blogpost I'm not going to talk about which fungi are edible or not... in fact, it is best to just assume that they are not. Apparently, those we found which were are not even very palatable anyway!

Rosy Bonnet (Mycena rosea)

There has been a bit of media coverage recently on the over-harvesting of fungi on protected land. The aim of this day was simply for conservation purposes; observing the diversity of fungi species and appreciating them in their different habitats. Fungi are a mind-blowingly huge group of organisms and in one lifetime (taking into account the need to eat, sleep and preferably interact with other humans) you would be hard pushed to know them all. Fortunately for science, some people are willing to at least give it a shot! 

Nick and members of the Sussex Fungi Group, braving the elements

I joke really. These guys and girls are actually a sociable lot and on one of the wettest days of autumn, Nick Aplin and members of the Sussex Fungi Group set out at the Land East of the Railway Line. We had missed the peak time for certain species as the cold and the rain turned many things to mush, but there was still plenty about to see. We began our route in Upper Picketts Wood, which I swiftly learned is not a good place for an umbrella.

Liver Milkcap (Lactarius hepaticus) is a species closely associated with pines

Dead Man's Fingers (Xylaria longipes)

Apart from their fantastic diversity of colours and forms, one of the best things about fungi are the bizarre but often brilliantly apt names...

Candlewick or Candle Snuff Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon

We are fortunate that Nick knows this patch of land fairly well; he has already shared his recent Gatwick fungi records with us. All of this data will go into the central database we are building for Gatwick's biodiversity.

Rain is hard to photograph! This does not give justice to the fantastical amount pouring down on us

The controversially named 'Jew's Ear' (Auricularia auricula-judae)... 
now often referred to as Jelly Ear

Crystal Brain Fungus (Exidia nucleata), named for the crystal-like mineral inclusions

Cushion Bracket (Phellinus pomaceus) a pathogenic fungus growing on Blackthorn.

We continued into Goat Meadow where the habitat changes to grassland and thinned-out young woodland. The recent bad weather and mushiness of specimens made identification an even greater challenge for Nick and co. An overwhelmingly abundant species in this area was the intriguingly named 'The Deceiver'. Its form changes as it ages and weathers, causing it to resemble other species.

The Deciever (Laccaria laccata)

A field of Deceivers. In places they literally carpeted the ground

The incredible diversity of fungi forms means that many can only be accurately identified by examination of their spores under a microscope. Failing that, a sample is sent off for genetic analysis.
    The one advantage of the seasonal weather was that a layer of oak leaves previously covering the ground had all blown away, revealing a beautiful carpet of fungal fruiting bodies.

Amethyst Deciever (Laccaria amethystina) - this stunning specimen was my favourite find of the day

Amethyst Deciever (Laccaria amethystina) with Jellybaby (Leotia lubrica)

Jellybaby (Leotia lubrica) Nope, not recommended for the kids.

Collared Mosscap (Rickenella swartzii) a tiny species which inhabits moss

We found over 60 species in one day, which might have been an even higher number earlier on in the season. Nick's highlight of the day was this rather cryptic looking specimen...

(Melanconiella/Melanconis spodiaea), under peeling Hornbeam bark (Photo by Nick Aplin)

This species is only the fourth record for the UK, so a pretty good find and a new one for Nick.

(Melanconiella spodiaea) cross-section. The black squiggles inside the chambers are the spores of the fungus, nearly ready to eject. (Photo by Nick Aplin)

Many thanks again to all who turned out for the day. All identifications are courtesy of Nick (except for where they are wrong/spelt incorrectly, then I shall claim them as mine).

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

November Thrushes survey: Weird and the weirder

North West Zone - View from the grassy slope

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Winter Thrushes survey is a nation-wide study monitoring winter visiting and resident birds and the habitats they occupy. So far, I have carried out two surveys in October and only recorded two Blackbirds. As Tom Forward (Gatwick Greenspace Partnership) has more recently been hearing plenty of Redwing around Tilgate Park, it was with higher hopes on Friday that we set out around the North West Zone.
Weird grass goo - at first glance it looks like wet soap powder

It was a cold and grim morning as we began our route at the water treatment pond, so it was quite a contrast to be greeted by a flock of 16 Ring-necked Parakeets flying overhead. These bright green exotics are part of a colony on Charlwood Road and whatever your view on their pest status, I quite like the sound of their uptight squawking. Looking back down to the ground, we noticed some strange and gooey deposits scattered through the rough grassland...

Slime Mould covered in dark spores

I think this is a species of Slime Mould (Mucilago crustacea), aka the Dog Sick Slime Mould; when it is freshly emerged it is bright yellow in colour! My apologies if you were eating your breakfast just now.
   We looped around the northside of Brockley Wood, entering the sheltered scrub and marsh area to the west. Here we paused as a large band of small birds passed close by us, moving through the scrub. In this single flock we counted around 20 Long-tailed Tits, 18 Blue Tits, 7 Great Tits and one Wren. You may notice my birding photos have not really improved with time.

Passing tit flock

Back-end of a Long-tailed Tit feeding in a Willow

Other birds we recorded here included BlackbirdReed Bunting, Siskin, and a flock of Lesser Redpolls which were passing overhead. A Roe Deer suddenly hared down the track at light-speed, followed by the not-quite-fast-enough Border Control dogs which are regularly exercised by staff in this area. At the hedgerows to the south, we heard our first Song Thrush having a confusing sound-off with a nearby Dunnock, in turn seeming to do a great impression of a Blackbird.
  While ascending and descending the grassy slope, a group of 6 Skylarks wheeled overhead, calling excitedly before settling down in the distance.

Pushing on to the hedgerows south-east of Brockley Wood, the shrill 'sreee' of Redwings signalled our first winter thrush species. It seemed to be only a single pair in a flock also made up of Song ThrushBlackbird, more roving tits, several Nuthatch and Treecreeper.

As this flock passed us by we had a quick scoot around in the Blackthorn to see if we could spot any eggs of the Brown Hairstreak Butterfly. Sadly no luck there, but I did make this gruesome yet arguably awesome discovery...

The Ex-snake

It was the remains of a Grass Snake dangling in the hedgerow, high enough off the ground that it must have been dropped there by a bird. Our guess is that one of the resident Common Buzzards snatched it, sat in the tree above the hedge and then accidentally dropped its lunch.

Skin 'n' bones

Ok, so maybe it is a bit hideous, but still an interesting find! The particularly gruesome part was that the body was wrapped tightly around a branch - a feat possibly achieved while trying to free itself or during its death throes. A pretty undignified end!
   The autumn has been fantastic for berries, so right now the birds are pretty spoiled for choice. However, this crop of food is going to be essential this winter if it turns out as cold as has been speculated.

Rambling rose suffused with rose hips

Sloe berries on the Blackthorn 

Approaching the end of the survey, we squelched through the waterlogged and boggy area by the Compost Field woodland fragment. Whilst distracted by stagnant freezing water suddenly over-topping my boots, we inadvertently flushed a Woodcock, giving a loud clatter of its wings as it shot off through the willow scrub. It took us by surprise despite this being the ideal feeding grounds for this bird! Also a new first for Gatwick since we began recording birds here... once again never a dull day with the indomitable Mr Forward!

Eurasian Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) - RSPB Website

Our Winter Thrushes route, taking in as many of the different habitats as possible