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.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

I saw some Common Blue butterflies this morning

Having previously only seen one Common Blue before today I was resigned to the prospect of another poor season for these lovely creatures. We went out this morning in the sun and headed for the Clopton Park side of the hills. The intention was to try to get some pics of Treecreepers. These are small birds and can be seen mouse-like working their way over the bark  in search of food. They don't really stay still for long so seeing them isn't a problem. Photographing them is.

Anyway, we headed up the hill and we eventually stopped on one of the slopes facing the town and sat in the short grass amongst the Woolley Thistles enjoying the peace and the sunshine. That's where first one, then two and then three Common Blue butterflies settled on vetch quite close. There was one male and two females. 

 Above, female Common Blue. She doesn't have as much blue as the male (below) but more oranges and browns particularly on the upper side of the wings. I notice in the image that she has her tail curved down and on to what looks like Birds Foot trefoil. That's what she lays her eggs on and possibly that is what she was doing. 

The male has that wonderful blue colour fringed with white on the upper wings.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

We found a Leopard Moth in Rowley Field this morning

That's Katie four dogs and me. What a lucky find this beautiful moth was. It was in the grass just in front of the woods adjacent to the top Rowley Field. It was very dozy and went easily onto my arm. After a few snaps I put it on a post by the woods from where it would hopefully find a safe place to see out the day.

The larvae of this moth do lots of damage as they burrow into trees. I suspect the woodpeckers love them though.