Wednesday, 30 November 2016

We saw lots of fungi on our forays up the Welcome Hills

Many thanks to everyone who came out with me on the fungi forays organised by the Friends of Rowley Fields. Despite the dry autumn that has kept our boots and dogs mud-free but curtailed the emergence of the fungi, we found a surprising range of fungi. Some were edible, some I could give names to, some were too difficult to ID in the field and all were fascinating in their own ways. 

We went on two forays. The routes were similar, starting at the reservoir area, then through Nursery Cover woods and out of the top gate into the sloping field facing the cottages next to the Welcome Hotel, up to the gate that joins to the with the Clopton Field and down to the orchard. If you came along then here's a reminder of what to look out for next time. If you didn't make the forays then here's what you missed.

Fungi aren't plants but a separate kingdom in their own right. Unlike plants, they don't photosynthesise to get the nutrients they need to thrive so, like humans, they have do get these from either living or dead matter.

When we find a fungus what we see is actually the fruit body. The fungus itself is a complex web known as the mycelium that are usually hidden from view. When parts of the mycelium meet and fuse a new fruit body is produced. The fruit body produces the spores which germinate to start a new fungus. Well, just a few of the millions produced might.

We found examples of all of these - note the pics were taken at other times and not on the days.

 Jelly Ears or Auricularia auricula grow on dead elder trees. We only found one example which was a shame because in most years these are easy finds. They are edible but usually used to thicken sauces or stews. We all had a taste. 

 Coriolus versicolor- the many-zoned polypore or Turkey Tail fungus - grows on dead wood. Plenty of these in Nursery Cover.

On a better day we wold have found lots of these in the fields - Agaricus campestris - the wonderful Field Mushroom. At the end of the first foray we found one just about big enough for us all to have a nibble and savour the true taste of mushroom better than any cultivated one. Alas, it has been a dry autumn and these were scarce. Better luck next year.

The delicate Pleated Ink Cap (Coprinus plicatilis) was found in the grass. It's very delicate and will almost certainly break if you try to pick it. 

On the second foray I remembered to take a short walk along the donkey path that runs along the top of Clopton Park to search out the gorgeous Rhodotus palmatus. What a treat it was to find this. It has a fragrant smell - I thought of honeysuckle but maybe apricots...? - and has a lovely peachy colour. Pictures don't do it justice. It grows exclusively on dead elm.

White and yellow Spindles
Once you know these are in the grass, they are a joy to find. How many of us have walked the dogs and trampled on these without ever knowing? They grow in clumps.

The best till last. Did you know the Welcome Hills has a great number of Wax Caps? They thrive on unimproved grassland and we are lucky that both the Clopton side and the Welcome side have the right conditions for these to thrive. Possibly the sloping banks of the hills help excess nutrients to be flushed away. As we discovered, these absolute beauties can easily be overlooked but the reward for careful looking is so much greater. Some are edible but they are all beautiful and we are lucky to have these. I won't label them here.  Characteristics of the Wax Caps are, slimy or silky caps, wide open gills and bright colours. Come along with me next year and see the colours, feel the textures and even taste one or two! 

Sunday, 7 August 2016

I saw a Marsh Tit up the Welcombe Hills today

On this morning's walk I was enjoying the many white butterflies and the lovely Gatekeepers that also seem to be enjoying a good summer when I spotted a small bird on the fallen horse chestnut tree down from the reservoir. I wasn't sure what it was so was pleased to be able to get a few snaps to look over when I got back home.

Marsh Tit August 2016

Friends had often told me of either hearing or seeing the Marsh Tit up the Welcombe. Apparently it's not too bothered about marshy habitats and is more frequently seen in wooded areas. It feeds on insects and seeds. I think the one I saw was after seeds from the thistles.
Marsh Tit August 2016

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

I saw lots of butterflies in the sunshine

Look at all the butterflies you can see at the moment. I snapped all of these yesterday and today.

It was great to see the Silver-washed Fritillary up the Welcombe again this year.

The Gatekeepers are now appearing…. smaller than the Meadow Brown and with two white spots. The Meadow Brown has just one.
Gatekeeper July 16

Meadow Brown July 16

Comma July 16
Comma July 16
The Comma in flight could be mistaken for the Fritillary but when it settles its cut-out wing shape makes it distinctive.

I was watching Water boatmen in one of the cattle watering troughs - how did they get there? - when my eye caught the blue of the lovely Holly Blue and it settled in the mud. Picture at the bottom.

Red Admiral July 16
Saw this beautiful Red Admiral in the tree this morning. Then what I thought was a Large White but turned out to be a  Brimstone bleached in the bright sunshine to the eye but captured by the camera in its usual pale green as below.  
Brimstone July 16

Small Skipper July 16

Small Skippers are emerging and usually found on the purple flower heads of the Spear Thistle. This one (below) settled on a grass stem.

Holly Blue July 16

Ringlet July 16
The Ringlet above was seen this morning. Easy to identify - it has rings on its wings. Look for it in the grass. Plenty of Whites dancing in the sun. I saw this Small White yesterday but look our for the Green Veined White and the Large Whites. Often these are hard high or in the trees.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Greater Spotted Woodpeckers

About this time last year I posted a video up of woodpeckers feeding their young in a hole in a tall ash tree near the reservoir.

I've been hoping to find another nest this year but despite hearing the adults call to the young and the young birds responding and standing for ages beneath the tree where the sounds came from I've not caught sight of them. Until this afternoon.

To make it easy, the young bird (or possibly birds) kept sticking its head out of the hole in anticipation of being fed. It has a bright red head and I suspect won't be staying in the hole for much longer. 

The pictures aren't great because the hole was quite high up and difficult to see between the branches and leaves, but you get the idea. I'll see if I can get some better ones tomorrow.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Knife carving and carving spoons

For the Queen's birthday celebration event on Rowley Fields on the 12th June I will scrub up as best I can, wear something practical but clean and give a practical demonstration of simple wood carving. I'll try to show, using just three hand tools - an axe, a knife and a spoon knife - how to turn a piece of wood into something else. Like, a spoon, an owl head, a dala horse, a whistle, a fox log, a mushroom or a mouse.

I'll also be offering all my modest carvings for sale with all proceeds going to Butterfly Conservation. For those who would like to get some hands on experience there will be the chance to pay a little more and enter a draw for a free spoon carving lesson with me. 

Each spoon on display will be unique: it's size and shape dictated by the type of wood, its characteristics and how I felt at the time I carved it. In many of the spoons I've retained some of the character of the original piece of wood with knots, blemishes, cracks, a bit of bark, a twist in the grain, all kept. With 80 of these spoons for sale, there should be something for everyone. All are hand carved, sealed with olive oil and may even come with a story about the type of wood, how I came by it, how it turned out the way it did and when it was created.
Other items are just things I've enjoyed making. 

Come along and don't forget to bring some money. Everything must go so don't expect craft fair prices. A couple of pounds will secure a unique spoon and a few pennies a whistle.



Monday, 9 May 2016

Time to start looking for butterflies up the Welcombe

If the sun keeps shining this weekend it will be a good time to go out onto the Welcombe Hills and look for butterflies. Over the last few days I've seen the magnificent Peacock, the yellow Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell and the beautiful Orange Tip.

I've also been out today looking for Orange Tip butterfly eggs. Here a pic taken this afternoon. As you can see the egg is minute. In close-up you can see that it's a beautiful conical shaped object with fluted sides. With luck this egg will become a caterpillar, then it will pupate, drop into the ground below and with even more luck, emerge next spring as another Orange Tip butterfly for the cycle to start all over again. 

Orange Tip egg Welcombe Hills May 2016

Close-up Orange Tip egg Welcombe Hills May 2016

Orange Tips are busy butterflies and seldom seem to stay still. They are searching for mates and for their favoured plant to lay eggs on,  the Lady's Smock. Look out for the Orange Tips flitting along the edges of fields and hedges just a foot or so above the ground. The male has the orange tips and the female black tips to the wings. Both have the distinctive green mottled pattern on the underside of the wings. If you find Lady's Smock (clue: it prefers damp places so the bottom of the slope from the reservoir towards the hotel is good), gently examine the flower heads and you may be able to see the orange coloured egg. Only one egg is laid per plant and if more than one is laid by different females, only one caterpillar will survive to pupate. That's because they eat competitors - though this may be for moisture rather than simple competition.

The Tortoiseshell and the Peacock like to bathe in the sun. Often they will find a patch of bare ground where presumably they benefit from the warmth of the ground below and from the sun above.

The Brimstone is a truly beautiful butterfly and a distinctive yellow (brimstone being the ancient name for sulphur which is yellow of course). It also has a distinctive shape rather more exotic than most of our native butterflies.

The Common Blue will be emerging around this time. Last night sitting on the benches at the top of Rowley Fields I'm sure I glimpsed one but it flew off behind me into the wood and I lost sight of it.

Brimstone butterfly (MA 2015) 

Peacock (MA 2015)

Orange Tip (MA 2015)

Small Tortoiseshell (MA 2015)