Patchwork Challenge 12 - Fungi Forage

Saturday, November 16, 2013 Adam Tilt 2 Comments

It's been a very grey and dreary day here but at least the rain has held off giving me the perfect opportunity to catch up with events out on patch. It's fair to say that my Patchwork Challenge list has stalled somewhat having taken the last couple of months off, but that's not to say there aren't still opportunities to be had. Nuthatch and Treecreeper for instance are glaring omissions that will hopefully be filled whilst there's always a chance of that first patch rarity. With that in mind today was very much a re-familiarisation exercise to see what was about.

P1060261 - Autumnal Cefn Drum

Starting on Gopa Hill it was nice to see a flock of at least sixty Starlings feeding on spilt seed over at our neighbouring farm, easily the biggest group we've had locally for some time. Hopefully a few will make it into the garden again this winter as they've been sorely missed, even if they do tend to eat us out of house and home. Blackbird numbers were similarly buoyant with alarm calls belting out from all quarters as I made my way towards the top from where I got great views of two retreating Mistle Thrushes. Another greeted my arrival at Bryn-bach-Common but it was to the ground where my interest was quickly drawn. I mentioned in my last entry that this year seems to have been rather successful for fungi and the common is certainly no exception. Every step I took revealed another species, many of which were new to me and have certainly led to a bit of head scratching this evening. Star find though definitely has to go to this Scarlet Caterpillarclub (Cordyceps militaris).

P1060275 - Scarlet Caterpillarclub (Cordyceps militaris)

At only a few millimetres high you'd imagine it to be hard to spot but that bright orange colour stood out a mile and easily drew me in. Fascinatingly this particular fungus is parasitic in nature and grows on the larvae of moths and butterflies pupating beneath the ground. Initially the larva is effectively mummified inside its pupa and kept alive just long enough so that enough biomass can be generated to produce the fruiting body of the fungus. When this is achieved the pupa is killed and all of its remaining energy used in spore production on the mushroom pictured above. An amazing relationship I'm sure you'll agree and one which I was unaware of until now.

Keeping to the small stuff I easily recognised this Candlesnuff (Xylari hypoxylon) and managed to get what is probably my best photo of the species to date. Not finding it in thick woodland for a change probably helped.

P1060269 - Candlesnuff Fungus (Xylari hypoxylon)

Moving up in scale we come to the aptly named Turkeytail (Trametes versicolor), easily one of my favourite species and seemingly very common locally at present. Recent clearance of Gorse has left plenty of suitable habitat for this fungus to colonise with these two examples being some of the best.

P1060267 - Turkeytail (Trametes versicolor)

P1060273 - Turkeytail (Trametes versicolor)

Things start to get a bit trickier from here on however as I'm sure any of you who have delved into the world of fungi can probably attest to. The species below for instance is clearly a Puffball, but which one exactly I can't be sure. Given that I found it blowing in the wind I originally went with Grey Puffball as this detaches from its substrate at maturity, but the texture doesn't look quite right and there's no guarantee that a grazing sheep hasn't simply kicked it free on its way past. Instead Grassland Puffball may be a better fit as the habitat was certainly suitable and the key characteristics of a papery mosaic skin and tapering stalk are both present.

P1060279 - Puffball

These next two have left me simply stumped however which is doubly frustrating given their distinctive nature. You'd think identification would have come quickly but alas I can't find anything to match.

P1060277 - Unidentified

P1060270 - Unidentified

I was of course keeping my eyes peeled for birds at all times and was eventually rewarded when a small flock of thrushes flew in from the south-east. My first thoughts, given the time of year, immediately went to Redwing and after a degree of manoeuvring I finally got good enough views to confirm my suspicions. Though much of the flock had moved on there were at least three individuals feeding along with another Mistle Thrush. My first of the season and a real sign that winter is just around the corner. The usual residents were also in attendance with a pair of Stonechats easily giving me the slip and an occasional Buzzard drifting in overhead. One of these was particularly interesting as it had obviously recently fed judging from its bulging crop.

P1060283 - Buzzard with full crop

A brief walk along my patches western spur delivered a calling Yellowhammer and several Pheasants, though sadly the peace was rather shattered by a group of riflemen attempting to shoot the later. With much of the bird life laying low it was back to fungi with some cracking examples of Yellow Brain Fungus on display.

P1060292 - Yellow Brain Fungus (Tremella mesenterica)

There were also several areas of Gorse covered in what I believe are Gorse Cramp Balls (Daldinia fissa). This species grows almost exclusively on burnt Gorse of which sadly there is plenty here after each summer.

P1060291 - Cramp Balls

My return route took me back along the lower slopes of Cefn Drum where I had great views of two Green Woodpeckers. It's good to see them still here as I've not heard them yaffling from behind our house in quite some time. There were also yet more species of fungi present so I sense another forage could be on the cards soon.


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Late Insects

Thursday, November 14, 2013 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

With the nights drawing in ever earlier it's been heartening to see the last vestiges of this years insect population still on the wing. My rarity filled visit to Cosmeston on Sunday will be remembered as much for the mating Common Darters as for a wayward Turtle Dove. Although the internet tells me that the former is often seen well into November I can't recall personally having observed one so late, and certainly not on such a mild day.

P1060204 - Common Darter, Cosmeston

While on the subject it's also worth mentioning that my (neglected of late) patch delivered two Red Admiral butterflies just over a week ago as well as a rather decent fungi display. I'll be back out to check on both again in a couple of days time, as well as to try and get a few final species onto my Patchwork Challenge list. Wish me luck.


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Cosmeston Lakes - November?

Sunday, November 10, 2013 Adam Tilt 1 Comments

I'm reliably informed by numerous electronic and physical devices littering my house that somehow, unbeknownst to me, November has crept in to take the place of summer. It seems like only yesterday I was watching Terns on the Burry and yet here we are with another seasons leaf growth blocking the gutters and Christmas advertising inextricably seeping into our every day lives. The intervening months have been a blur of work, stress and the occasional bout of serious walking which has left little time for birding. Clearly that's a state of affairs that could not be left to continue so mid-morning today found me stalking the reeds at Cosmeston country park. Much to my delight it only took a few minutes before the distinctive calls of a Bearded Tit could be discerned, quickly followed by the bird itself. True to form it managed to stay almost completely obscured though not to such an extent that the small group of gathered observers weren't able to watch it feeding avidly for a good couple of minutes. Of course getting a photograph was almost impossible but this effort is one of my best yet. At least you can tell what it is!

P1060193 - Bearded Tit, Cosmeston

When it did eventually vanish back into the reeds that call allowed us to keep tabs before a couple of superb flight views really got the juices flowing. Anticipation was high for a repeat performance but sadly it seemed that the increased footfall was getting a little too much and the Bearded Tit went to ground. Not to worry as numerous Reed Buntings flitting through the reeds were a more than adequate distraction. It's been a long time since I've seen any quite so accommodating with this female being one of the best.

P1060187 - Reed Bunting, Cosmeston

I could only manage a few more minutes however before the attraction of another rare visitor had me crossing the muddy west paddock to where a small gathering had formed. Of all the birds I'd expect to see at this time of year Turtle Dove doesn't even feature, but here was one feeding happily on the sodden grassland barely twenty meters away. It seemed oblivious to our presence and I can safely say that they are still one of my favourite birds. There's just something about their intricate plumage and that eye which elevates them beyond the ordinary and always makes me think of the orient. Considering the rarity level I consider myself more than fortunate to have seen three individuals in recent years and hope that something can be done to ensure the species long term survival.

P1060238 - Turtle Dove, Cosmeston

P1060245 - Turtle Dove, Cosmeston

After half an hour and an encounter that at times had come down to just a few foot I considered my fill suitably taken and left the bird to its own devices. Judging from reports later in the day we probably could have held a tea-party there and I doubt it would have even batted an eyelid. What a stunner.

The day of course wasn't just about rarities and I spent a happy couple of hours walking the rest of the park and getting reacquainted with some of our commoner species. This Magpie posed perfectly against what has become a rare sky in recent weeks whilst nearby a particularly guilty looking Wood Pigeon was wondering if I'd seen it hoover up a whole heap of seed. I had.

P1060251 - Magpie, Cosmeston

P1060248 - Wood Pigeon, Cosmeston

Disappointingly I didn't spot any Redwings but a couple of Mistle Thrushes could be heard near the east lake where flight views of a Common Snipe and Great Spotted Woodpecker were very welcome. A copious supply of bread and unsuspecting children's fingers there also meant the usual gathering of Mute Swans and waterfowl, but as usual it was the gulls that stole my attention. Cosmeston really is the best place I know to get up close and personal with Lesser Black-backed Gulls of which there are always many. The following shot I particularly like as it really captures that sense of cunning which these birds often display (particularly just after the bins have gone out).

P1060255 - Lesser Black-backed Gull, Cosmeston

This Black Headed Gull on the other hand just looked rather fine in the sunlight.

P1060253 - Black Headed Gull, Cosmeston

With a strengthening breeze and an influx of yet more people I baled to the quieter confines of Lavernock Point, a reserve to which previously I have never been. First impressions are very promising and I shall certainly be adding it to my list of haunts even though things appeared relatively quiet today.

Back at Cosmeston and one final stakeout of the Bearded Tit delivered brilliant and prolonged views though always close to ground. Still, what a way to get back into the groove of things and hopefully a good omen for the months ahead.


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