Saturday, 17 September 2011

Dragons, Ravens and Assassins

Wednesday evening I attended a very interesting talk on the history and wildlife of the local heathland. This morning I joined the hosts of the Wednesday talk, Sussex Wildlife Trust’s Living Landscapes Officer and Community Wildlife Officer, along with 6 other people on a guided walk across Iping Common.   
Torrential rain made an enjoyable morning seem a less likely prospect but optimism payed off; as we gathered in the car park the sun came out and the rain cleared up. We were blessed with glorious weather for the duration of the walk.
Our guides led us on a circular route through purple moor grass and bracken, and swathes of heather, the flowers of which are now turning from a purple haze to fir-cone brown. We walked beneath tall Scots pines, past stands of birch and mysterious fungi. Sandy soil scrunched softly beneath our feet as we brushed by woody heather plants and paused at log piles, holding our breath in anticipation of a glimpse of a lizard or two. 

Small dragonflies in smart black attire dashed past us across the bracken, more than living up to their name of ‘darters’, and soggy rain-drenched bumblebees crawled between flowers on the Devils-bit Scabious. A female Bog bush cricket found itself scooped up and studied by several pairs of eyes for a few minutes before being returned to the vegetation, none the worse for its adventure.
Flocks of Meadow Pipits and Yellowhammers twittered over head, a Kestrel hung in the breeze and a Green Woodpecker laughed from a nearby sandy track way. Perhaps his diet of creepy crawly ants tickled his belly! 
 One of our guides spotted some Dodder, a rare parasitic plant that feeds off the heather. Whilst we were admiring the tangled network of thin red stems that is part of this plant, also known as ‘hell weed’, an Assassin Bug, a ferocious heathland predator, crept out from amongst the heather plants. Perhaps thinking we were too big a meal for even an assassin bug to tackle, it soon escaped back into the vegetation, but not before being carefully captured in a pot for all to have a close look at. 
Soon after a Raven was spotted flying overhead, attracting all eyes to the sky but attention was soon drawn ground-wards again by the discovery of a very speedy, and very stunning violet ground beetle. I wonder who thought Purple and Black would go well together first – the Beetle or ‘Goths’?  
All good things must come to an end as they say, and we all too soon found ourselves back at the car park. I admit the heavy rain pouring past my window when I woke this morning, did lead me to wonder whether it wouldn’t be a wiser idea to stay in bed and watch the rugby, but I was very glad I went and, as always, I learnt a huge amount from  the wonderful guides; Jane and Michael.
The sun was still shining this afternoon, and so, having been very silly and not taken my camera on the walk, I popped back to Iping for half an hour after lunch to capture a few shots that I had missed.  

 A male Black Darter posed beautifully on the path for me and the Devils-bit Scabious drooped under the weight of the bumblebees. All in all, a wonderful day on the heath. 


September - Flower of the Month

 Devils-Bit Scabious

Welcome to Fungi Season

The last couple of weeks has seen some pretty unpredictable weather; days of bright glorious sunshine, gale force winds, dark looming clouds, thick dull drizzle, and steel grey stair-rods of rain - often all in the space of an hour! This mixture of warmth and water set my fungi senses tingling and I was itching to see what fantastic, obscure and totally weird mycological phenomenon the autumn rains had brought forth on my local patch. So, finding I had a morning free, (and thankfully dry and sunny!) off I went fungi hunting. 

Fungi can be found at any time of year, and the main bulk of the organism is a network of thread like structures under ground or in rotting or live wood (or some other forms of host) which produces the more familiar mushrooms and toadstools that we tend to associate with the word 'fungi'. These mushrooms and toadstools are the 'fruit' of the fungi, containing many thousands of spores, and the autumnal mix of rain and sunshine seems to create the perfect conditions for the appearance of these strange fruits. 
I have always been fascinated by fungi; their huge variety of shapes and colours are an eagerly awaited joy each autumn. Given the right weather conditions a woodland or even a field or heathland can suddenly be filled overnight by these mysterious growths on logs, on tree trunks and sprouting from the ground. It is easy to see why they feature in so many fairy tales and in folklore (especially as many are deadly or have hallucinogenic properties!).

But back to my fungi foray... I was right, there were many different toadstalls appearing! I visited a couple of spots where I had previously seen the remains of some unusual species of fungi hoping that this time I would be lucky enough to find some photogenic specimens. I was lucky! 
Here are a few examples of what I found... 

Collared Earth Star

Common Puffball 

Fly Argaric - this one is only just emerging, promise of more fungi fun to come! 

This is a fully formed Fly Argaric, the photo was taken last year and shows the characteristic red cap with white spots. The classic 'fairy tale toadstool'. 

And a few unidentified species...

Other sightings included this fantasitc grey fluffy Lichen carpet...

And finally... this tree stump has eyes!