Lichen

It’s easy to ignore lichen, those vaguely mossy patches on twigs, branches, stones, walls,… Yet lit up by a low November sun they prove to be rather attractive.

Now don’t they look like some sort of vegetation? Certainly the following looks rather akin to a moss.

But they are not. Moss is a plant; lichen is not. Lichen is actually type of fungus, but one that can only exist in symbiotic relationship with algae or cyanobacteria. The algae/cynobacteria provide the lichen with photosynthetic energy, while the lichen provides a protective environment.

According to Wiki, there are over 20,000 species of lichen, covering 6-8% of the surface of the earth. How easily we ignore such an incredibly successful life form.

Crab Apple

Branches are mostly bare now at Anderton Country Park, although the younger and more sheltered oaks and beeches still sport plenty of brown and yellow. But here in a Hawthorn hedge is a mass of colour, which on closer inspection turns out to be not haws, but some sort of Malus / Crab Apple, embedded in the hedge. A wonderful sight on a sunny day!

Featured image is a close-up of the fruit.

Black Fungi

I seem to have come across a few black fungi recently, so tried to identify them.

This one was in grassland on a cliff in Devon in the summer, 1-2 inches across. I’m not sure about this, but it could be indigo pinkgill.

This one was on a dead birch log in the autumn in Cheshire, a few centimetres across, part of a group of varying sizes. I think this is King Alfred’s Cake fungus, so named because it looks like burnt cake. Surprisingly, it can be used as tinder.

The final one is a much larger bracket fungus (6-8 inches) in Derbyshire in the autumn, on a dead beech stump. A common name is willow bracket, but it is found on other broad leaved trees. This is another fungus that was used for kindling.

The heron and the swan

For less than a minute this grey heron and mute swan faced off on Shakerley Mere. They were perhaps in each other’s way. I managed to pull compact camera out of pocket and take this before the confrontation ended, the heron backing off. The heron seemed to be hissing at the swan, but I couldn’t capture that moment.

The limpid water gave rather good reflections of the individual birds.

Shaggy Ink Cap 2

This damp autumn has seen many fungi in Britain. These shaggy ink cap mushrooms were at Shakerley Mere, Cheshire.

These are said to be edible for just a few hours after picking, they rapidly turn black (hence ‘ink cap’) and decompose. According to Wikipedia they “can sometimes be confused with the magpie ink cap which is poisonous”. The usual rule applies – don’t eat wild fungi unless you know what you are doing.

Compare also the recently posted similar but prettier glistening inkcap – same family, obviously.

Glistening inkcap

These glistening inkcap mushrooms were at Goyt’s Valley, Derbyshire, on rotting tree stumps. Identification of these things seems to be rather difficult, despite having to hand a ‘fungi guide’.

According to Wikipedia, these delicate mushrooms are edible for an hour or two, when they begin to slowly dissolve into a black, inky liquid. No thank you.

Fly Agaric

Fly agaric is a remarkably striking bright coloured toadstool, of which we’ve seen several specimens in this damp English autumn.

Young specimen in Calke Estate, Derbyshire
Older and much larger specimen on a grass verge in Cheshire

According to Wikipedia this fungus is not edible unless suitably treated. It also contains psychoactive substances, historically used for this effect in some cultures.

It is said that this fungus was used, mixed with milk, for getting rid of flies, which were attracted to the psychoactive chemicals, hence the name. Or alternatively the ‘fly’ came from the psychedelic effects of eating it.

An agaric is a type of fungus characterized by a cap that is clearly differentiated from the stalk, with gills on the underside of the cap.

The Old Man of Calke

It was salutary recently to visit the National Trust’s Calke Abbey in Derbyshire and come across the Old Man of Calke, an oak tree believed to be over 1000 years old – indeed there are two such oaks in the grounds. This tree was well established by the time of the great Norman conquering of England in 1066 and has ‘seen’ times of nearly a millennium since then, while living its majestic existence in the peace of the Derbyshire countryside.

Now that puts quite a context on the relative sound and fury of the affairs of the English since then. So many kings and queens, wars and revolts, comings to agreement and falling out with European neighbours, so little effect on this majestic being. Until the modern days, when who knows what threats climate change might mean for its continuation.

Brent geese galore

Another mass of migrated birds we recently found at Cley and Salthouse Marshes in Norfolk was these Brent Geese. The white patch on the neck is distinctive of this bird.

These appear to be dark-bellied Brent Geese, which migrate back to their breeding grounds in the tundra of northern Siberia via the Baltic in April. The other sort are light-bellied, and these migrate the other way, to Iceland and then Canada.

According to Wikipedia these are also known as Brant Geese, after the genus Branta. Apparently, the Brent Oilfield, off the Shetland Isles, is named after these geese.

Whilst we were watching, these geese stuck together, occasionally flying off in unison to a nearby field, almost taking turns with a herd of cows to feed on a particular area. Maybe there is some synergy there.

Common green shieldbug

Here’s another green/brown shieldbug I came across in the garden, lurking in a corner, possibly looking for somewhere to hibernate. This is the common green shieldbug.

According to the Wildlife Trusts, the black dots distinguish this from the southern green shieldbug. The common green was once restricted to Southern England, but has recently become widespread across much of England and Wales, due to the effects of climate change. Nature really is on the move because of the changing climate.

I found it upside down, as in the featured image. The crazy world of insects doesn’t bother much about gravity.

They’re also called stink bugs because of their reaction to being disturbed. I’ve never come across this feature.

Combe Martin

The long narrow village of Combe Martin is typical of the North Devon coast – high rocky cliffs interspersed with narrow valleys. Walking on the clifftop path from the high points of Great and Little Hangman there are views of the spread-out village. The path meanders through a dense thicket, suddenly emerging onto a steep grassy slope, where the harbour nestles below.

A fine viewpoint

The name Combe Martin comes from the Norman feudal barons the Fizmartins, who came over after the Norman invasion of 1066. It surely originates from the Christian St Martin of Tours many years before that.

Grey sky

You know that feeling – you look through a set of photos and one just stands out. Surprisingly, this one is almost totally grey with few features, but the light on the sea gives it life.

Yes, this is a genuine colour photograph taken on a grey day in South Devon; convert it to greyscale and it just loses a bit of warmth. Even in such circumstances, the combination of sun, cloud and sea can be quite magical.

I can only apologise to our friends from across the pond, of course you would use the spelling ‘gray’. But I suspect you did it just to annoy the English!