Monday, 28 December 2015

I saw some violets in flower up the Welcombe.

Yes, we know the weather is unseasonal but to see violets in December must be unusual. I saw just a couple of these today in the woods overlooking the Welcombe Hotel.

I'm wondering what the effect of this prolonged mild spell will be. I suspect there will be winners and losers as is usually the case. It can't be bad for the birds, but the wet weather won't be good fro small mammals and as a consequence those that feed on them. Plants that bud may have those buds taken by the surely inevitable frost.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

I saw some Blackthorn flowers up the hills this morning

It has been unusually warm so far this winter. The grass is a lush green and still growing and some of the spring buds are showing early. I was a little surprised to come across these sprigs of Blackthorn flower this morning though. 

Friday, 11 December 2015

I found these pics of sunnier days from the summer

Outside it's cold, wet and it will inevitably be very muddy up the Welcombe. The dogs won't mind though so regardless of the weather we'll be about up there before too long. I was looking through pics on my computer, as I do from time to time, and came across some I took one summer  of a family flying kites on the Monument Field. Running in a field, catching the wind with your kite - how good is that? 

Here's another pic I took of the grasses and flowers on the Clopton Park side in the summer. It seems to me the Welcombe Hills has got so much to offer so many people.

The rain's pattering on the conservatory roof, the dogs are getting restless for a walk and I'm thinking about how many layers I'll need to keep warm and dry. I'm also wondering at  the incredible seasonal transformations of our countryside. Whilst it won't be a great deal of fun up there in the rain today, it won't be long before spring, the longer days and colour returns.

To be sure, I'll be up there and posting regularly. 

Sunday, 6 December 2015

I've been waiting for the Redwings and Fieldfares to arrive in numbers

The start of the winter months - November and December - don't usually give great encouragement when it comes to nature watching. The days are short, the light is often poor, the weather can be wet and windy and as far as the Welcombe Hills is concerned the mud makes some areas un-walkable. 

I've been waiting for the Redwings and Fieldfares to arrive from Scandinavia. Like so many migrating birds they are remarkable in making the arduous journey to escape the harsh winter to the relatively moderate UK climate. They arrive from October onwards and may stay as late as the following March. Similar to our own native Thrush, they are a gregarious birds and voracious feeders, stripping the hawthorns and blackthorns of their berries. The Welcombe Hills are great for spotting them but it is difficult to get close. Like other flocking birds they are noisy when feeding but difficult to see until they sense your approach. Then suddenly the sky will be full of birds for a few seconds until they land in trees a little further away.

When there is no more food to be had in the Hills they will come to the gardens and parks. We've a cotoneaster in the front garden which fruits well. The Redwings and Fieldfares will strip it within a couple of days and then move on.

Much as I love these beautiful birds and welcome their arrival, I do feel a bit sorry for the poor native Blackbird and Thrush whose larders get plundered by these invaders.

Here's a short video clip,of these birds in our front garden a couple of years ago. They usually start feeding from the top of the trees and work their way down. That's why the tree looks strange with no berries at the top but the branches towards the bottom fully laden.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Pink Wax Cap up the Welcombe HIlls

This morning I went out to the steep grassy slopes of the Welcombe Hills side facing the monument field. They are full of beautiful Wax Caps of all colours, the occasional clump of Silky entolomas, White Spindles, Golden Spindles (see pic below) and the trusty Field Blewits (see earlier post).

About 5 years ago I came across the Pink Waxcap and each year since have roamed the hills looking for another appearance. It is the only Wax Cap of that colour and was once quite rare, mainly due to habitat loss. It is still uncommon and we are lucky to have it appear. Unlike many of the other Wax Caps, the Pink Wax Cap (Hygrocybe calyptraeformis) is solitary and that may account in part for its elusiveness.

Well, this morning I came across another and a beautiful specimen it was too. Despite spending the best part of an hour on those slopes it was the only one I found and having wandered away from it, couldn't find it again. That pretty much sums up why I enjoy looking for fungi.

Here's a link to find out more about this fungus
Right, the Parrot Wax Cap. Slimy yellow cap, turning slightly green over time.

Below, Golden Spindles.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

I saw more yellow fungi in the grass

I posted earlier about the White Spindles growing in clumps. if you'd like to find out more about these then Michael Kuo is my favoured expert.  He's described them as 'little clumps of wiggling white worms'. 

Ask someone to describe what they think of when you mention fungi and the chances are they will come up with something with a cap and stem. Fungi are incredibly varied though and for me that is why they are endlessly fascinating. Spindles, clubs and coral fungi often get lumped together but as Michael Kuo points out there are many different species but share common visual features.

 Left is probably Clavulinopsis laeticolor  and 'is, as a translation of its Latin name suggests, joyfully colored; it is typically orange or orangish yellow'
Kuo, M. (2003, December). Clavulinopsis laeticolor. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site:

Below could be Clavulinopsis corniculata because of the branching stems. But it's difficult to be sure and this group looks a little small. Reading up on these, microscopic scrutiny is often needed to verify them as well as the application of iron salts to see the colour change. 

I saw Field Blewits up the Welcombe and in Rowley Fields

Lepista saeva, the Field Blewit, is also known as the Blue-leg because of the faint purple-blue colouring to its stem (or stipe as its called in mycological circles). The 'blue leg' is only seen if you pick the fungus because its domed cap tends to be the only part visible in the grass. Unlike the waxcaps, the Field Blewit's cap is a drab dirty brown but stands out in Rowley Fields and large areas of the Welcombe Hills due to its size and abundance. 

I have a theory that modern foods have changed our perception of edibility. Presentation of food is more important than taste and we have grown used to bland foods enhanced by sugar, salt and other additives. Thus the humble Field Blewit's plainness hides a secret. It is an excellent mushroom for the pot or pan! Not only that but it is able to withstand frost and cold making it available to the forager right into the new year long after other field fungi have disappeared into a mush.

The only downside is that it has a great ability to absorb water. Pick one after a wet spell and squeeze like you would a sponge to see what I mean. All that means is you have to either pick after a dry spell or dry it out a little before you cook. If going into the pot to enhance a stew then no problem.

Note the bulbous base to the stem and the white, crowded gills. If you smell one it is highly perfumed. The taste is strong but pleasant.
If you take a spore print the deposit will be pink.

In the picture below you can make out the way these Blewits are in a large fairy ring. I'll post something about how these form when I have time.

All sorts of fungi up the Welcombe

Ideal conditions for fungi up the Welcombe Hills. Loads of Waxcaps on the sunny slopes -

"It looked as though some child had taken his box of toys and, in a shocking tantrum, had thrown them down the hillside. The incredibly bright colours of the Waxcaps are the most striking in the fungal world…"
John Wright, River Cottage Handbook No 1 - Mushrooms

Two of my favourites are the Meadow Waxcap (left) and the Parrot Waxcap (below).

The Parrot Waxcap has a distinctive greeny-yellow colouring. The Meadow Waxcap is edible.

Below is the Scarlet Waxcap. It may be the most bright;y coloured fungus you'll ever see. Turn one over and examine the gills to find a bright yellow.

Monday, 2 November 2015

I saw White Spindles on Clopton Fields.

As autumn lingers on and the frosts stay away there are still plenty of fungi to see up the Welcombe Hills. Just keep your eyes to the ground and amongst the red, orange, green and white wax caps you'll very like see clumps of these White Spindles (Clavaria vermicularis). These and the yellow variety are grassland fungi and belong to a group that includes ones called coral fungi that have branched ends. These you will find in wooded areas amongst the dead leaves.

Monday, 26 October 2015

I saw elder and made whistles

I was at the Forest School Association national conference in Shropshire over the weekend  and saw how to make whistles out of natural materials. My dad used to do this but I never knew how it was done. It turns out to be quite easy. You need a knife, some elder and any other green twig. Oh, and a little know-how…..

As it's half term I've been leaving them for children to find. If you find one you are welcome to it.

Friday, 16 October 2015

I checked out the Wax Caps and other grassland fungi

Heeding the forecast of a wet weekend I thought I'd focus on checking out the grassland fungi to see how they are doing this year. The main interest is in the Wax Caps (hygrocybe) which like unimproved grassland. Interestingly in America they are a woodland species. Wax Caps are distinguished by their bright colours and often shiny caps created by a glutinous lower layer. Over the years I've identified a dozen or so different Wax Caps up the Welcombe and it's good fun to find them. Nestling as they do in the grass and some being quite small, close inspection may be required. In other words time to get down low. To take decent pictures even lower may be required. Here are some of the Wax Caps you can find on the grassy slopes of the hills. Not all are named as I didn't take any back with me to do a detailed check (here's a link to a Wax Cap Key if you want to have a go yourself).

In a separate post I'll show images of some of the other fungi commonly found alongside the Wax Caps which you can also see up the Welcombe Hills.

Left. Blackening Wax Cap (Hygrocybe conica). This one is fairly easy to identify. Conical orange cap often appearing dirty due to bruising black when touched. As it ages it turns completely black.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

I saw a Red Admiral butterfly this morning

A good walk this morning. The sun was shining and I saw a good range of fungi and took lots of pics. The woods were particularly good. I'll post pics and some words about these later.

The other day I did write about loving the Wax Caps more than the butterflies and bees. I take that back. Sunning itself for ages was this magnificent Red Admiral butterfly. It hardly moved allowing me time to snap away with both cameras in turn and using a range of settings. The following is proof that if you take enough pics you may get one that is worth having.

Monday, 5 October 2015

I saw wax caps and a lawyer's wig this morning

Much as I love the butterflies, bumble bees and flora up the Welcombe Hills, when I come across the first of the wax caps of the year peeking out, their white, orange, deep crimson and assorted other colours cascading down the grassy slopes, I must confess to getting a little bit excited.

Welcome though the recent dry spell has been - we have just enjoyed a wonderful week in Wales after all- the fungi have been stimulated to sprout with today's rain. Wax caps thrive on unimproved grassland, i.e. grassland that has not been cultivated and improved by the use of fertiliser. There are areas of the hills that fit that description well.

Well, I'll let the images speak for themselves.
 Above, Meadow Wax Caps. These tend to be larger than others. Note the gills run down the stem (decurrent) and the gills are not crowded but open. The cap is brown-orange and waxy to the touch. It's edible but to be honest gives more pleasure where it is.
 Above, a Meadow Wax Cap and a Snowy Wax Cap I positioned amongst a group of Scarlet Hoods. wonderful.

Left, the Lawyer's Wig or Shaggy Ink Cap found under trees close to the reservoir area. It's edible when young but will turn to an inky mush rendering it inedible when older. You can see the blackening of this one around the bottom of the cap.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

I saw Polyporus badius up the Welcombe

I love all sorts of fungi. Yesterday in Blue Cap Covert (the woods behind the benches in the top Rowley Field) I came across these growing on dead Ash. They belong to the polypore family, a large group that includes the bracket fungi. They have pores rather than the gills associated with the edible field mushrooms. Sometimes the pores are so fine that they appear to the naked eye as smooth. A few of the polypores are edible (Chicken of the Woods for example) but most aren't. They tend to be woody especially when old. The Dryad's Saddle (Polyporus squamosus) which I've posted about before is also edible but only when young.

As to yesterday's find - Polyporus badius - despite the pleasant mushroomy smell, it's not edible but is an attractive fungus and we're all the better off for it being there.

I wonder how these Cyclamen got into the woods?

Monday, 14 September 2015

A bag full of fungi

Ann and I went on an impromptu fungi foray this afternoon and came up trumps. Giant puffballs, Horse Mushrooms, Field Mushrooms, Fairy Ring Champignon and Jelly Ear. We munched some as we went along, had a great time and I hope that stir-fry went well. Ann though did ditch the Jelly Ear as she wasn't too sure about that.

We also saw some Wax Caps (the first of the season) and some Bovista plumbea (a small puff ball).

Monday, 7 September 2015

Fungi, Speckled Woods, blackberry wine and wooden horse carving...

The Fairy Ring Champignon is springing up all over the place forming clusters and fairy rings in the fields. I picked a bagful yesterday and most of these are now in the dehydrator. Most of the horse mushrooms I picked are with them, sliced and slowly drying. The remainder are in my tum. Garlic, black mustard seeds, wild fungi and chickpeas. The juice was mopped up with bread made yesterday from wholemeal flour we bought the weekend before during the open day at Hampton Lucy Mill.

To the right are this morning's fungi haul. Note the maggoty ends of the stems. Picked young, the maggots won't have had time to eat their way further up so the end can be cut off for a maggot-free feast. 

This particular species is abundant at the
moment. Distinctive characteristics:

  • bulbous cap when young
  • gills white at first then deep pink to brown when aged
  • a slight yellowing of the cap margin
  • a ring that becomes detached as the cap opens and flattens
  • mushroomy smell
  • firm flesh

The Speckled Wood butterfly, along with various Whites is the butterfly you'll most likely see up the hills. 
The one here settled on blackberries in the morning sun. 

We've made blackberry wine this year and will probably get some elderberry going too. The blackberry makes a lovely wine but won't be ready for 2 years. Elderberry is good too. It's rich in tannin but takes even longer to mature to a silky smooth finish and for those harsh tannins to tone down a bit.

Some may have seen me whittling away on my walks around the fields. K is mad on horses so I whittled her the one she's holding below. The design is based on the Swedish Dala Horse and was hand carved from an old piece of mahogany window frame I found in my woodpile. It has a wax finish to bring out the grain.  

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Thoughts on fungi foraging

I've been collecting and eating fungi for many years and am happy to walk up the hills pick and eat the fungi I find. I haven't killed myself nor gotten ill. Yet.
As the traditional fungus season approaches I've given some thought as to whether I should offer advice to others. It's tricky though as I'll try to explain.

I was out yesterday and came across 3 common, tasty types of fungus:

Marasmius oreades - Fair Ring Champignon
Agaricus campestris - Field Mushroom
Calvatia gigantia - Giant Puffball

To me these three are easily distinguished from other fungi and can be eaten without any worry at all. But, I considered, if you knew nothing about fungi at all, would they be so easy to  distinguish from lookalikes? 
Well, in the case of the Giant Puffball no problem. The Field Mushroom? Mmm, there are very many similar types  and most  of them edible. Some better than others. What about the Fairy Ring Champignon? Well, sitting in the grass I saw a couple of, to the untrained eye at least, similar species. I wouldn't normally pay attention to these so wouldn't consider how they might cause confusion and that got me thinking.
The fungus in my hand on the left is probably The Ivory Mushroom, otherwise known as the Sweating Mushroom. So there's a clue as to why you might want to avoid it. In the other picture is the similarly sized and shaped Fairy Ring fungus (on my knee). Seen growing these 2 could be confused. One tastes good, the other, well look again at it's name. The differences though are obvious when you know what to look for. I'm holding both fungi and have sliced them to reveal the flesh and the way the gills and the stems relate. The Ivory Mushroom's gills run down the stem slightly whereas the fairy Ring fungus' are free from the stem. Other differences are smell - Fairy Ring: almonds/Ivory: mealy and the Fairy Ring has a characteristic fibrous stem that bends and doesn't break.

This sounds very complicated and I wouldn't be surprised if I've put people off altogether. But it really is obvious when you get some experience. My tips are:

  • start with the easy ones - Giant Puffball!
  • Go out with someone who knows their stuff - enlist for a foray organised by a mycologist (Warwickshire Fungus group
  • Get a good field guide
  • Get several good field guides! (let's have a look, I have 6 guides)
  • Try to learn about fungi. Learn why. Naming without any underlying understanding won't get you very far.
  • Take fungi home to examine in more detail - take spore prints, smell them, note what they were growing on, slice them and enjoy the fun of learning.
  • Don't be scared - you will only come to harm by ingesting poisonous fungi. It's usually ok to taste and this can be helpful in the ID process. Don't swallow though…. on reflection, maybe just smell them?

I'd be happy to go out with some of you when the season really gets going. I'll post something up.

Oh, and here's the Fairy Ring Champignon. You'll find it in grassland in rings (there's a surprise). Don't eat the stem - too fibrous and the maggots love them so check before you take them home and get all disappointed - I prefer to be the first to eat the fungi, others are not so fussy. This fungus is also very good at surviving dry periods as it reconstitutes itself when watered. Thus it is good for drying. Add to soups and stews.

Take care!

Friday, 28 August 2015

Signs are good for the main fungi period but still in search of that perfect Common Blue pic

The recent rain may have been a nuisance for us walkers but the fungi have been springing up all over the Welcombe Hills. The other day it was Giant Puffballs (yum yum) and they continue to flourish. Now the Field Mushrooms (Agaricus campestris) are appearing. These are absolutely my favourite. They are easy to distinguish in that the flesh turns slightly pink when cut and the gills are pink when young, turning to brown as they age. The smell is a pleasant mushroomy smell. Unfortunately the fresh young specimens I picked the other day didn't get photographed. Such was my eagerness to sample the first of the season (for me anyway), they were quickly picked and when I got home were soon an important part of my lunch (with eggs, yum yum). 
I have to say I showed remarkable restraint in saving them until I got home - I didn't have a bag so put them in the hood of Maggie's anorak - as I usually eat them on the spot as long as they are not maggoty.

I'll be out today and if I can restrain myself will take some pics for ID in case others want to enjoy the experience.

The Common Blues are still about and I'm after the perfect picture. They will fly off if you get too near so any attempt at moving obstructions that spoil the picture are out of the question. In the one below that single blade of grass was the problem affecting the composition and the focus. Beautiful beastie though, I'm sure you'll agree.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

I found Calvatia gigantica - Giant Puffball

The Welcombe Hills has been reasonably good for the Giant Puffball mushroom over the years. I like the fact that they can appear anytime from June onwards and not always in the same place. That makes finding them a particular delight. I came across this one late this afternoon opposite the Welcombe Hotel. If left it could have ended up the size of a football. So why did I pick it? Well, it probably wouldn't have survived to grow to full size: the cattle knock them over when moving or grazing and they often get kicked over by people (not sure why). Then there are those blooming mushroom gatherers getting in before me.
Quite the best thing for it was for me to pluck it from the ground, take it home, cut into cubes, fry with a little garlic in olive oil, splash a little soy sauce towards the end of cooking and add to fresh buttered toast. Yum yum.

Dogs don't look too impressed.

I saw this rubbish...

I don't know how others feel about the regular summer camping in the reserve but it has been going on for as longs we have been here. If people cleared up and took away their detritus it wouldn't be so bad. 

I had my hands full yesterday and couldn't clear this up (it's in the reservoir area) at the time. Perhaps today.

What do others think? Is this a big problem? Campers do light fires and there is evidence of tree damage.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

I saw a large White butterfly

Large White's are the cabbage loving butterflies hence it's latin name of Pieris brassicae.
This is the female. The male has the black wing tip but not the two spots.

And here are a couple more pictures of the female Common Blue also seen in this morning's sun.