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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.