Sunday, October 28, 2007

Stars of the Ball(s)

Most fungi kind of just sit there, but a few - the ball fungi - have a more active life when ripe, building up the pressure in the fruitbody, and then releasing spores in an ejaculant cloud.
This first isn't a ball fungus, but I decided to revisit one of my finds of 2006, the wood cauliflower, which is at least ball shaped. This year it is even bigger - comfortably football sized as you can see from this shot

It may even have a bit to grow yet, although I'm not sure when I'll get back to see. Whilst at the hospital I took the chance to see if another of last years finds was there again. This shot from last year shows the ruptured stump puffballs.
This year I was obviously earlier, and the fruiting bodies were still spiny. Quite a few had ruptured, but the spores hadn't formed.

Out in the Forest of Dean I'd come across a couple of puffballs of a different type. I think they may be 'common', but my book doesn't show the cluster of darker spines around the exit hole on the top.
But my favourite was a fungus I'd seen in the BBC wildlife magazine, yet doubted I'd find. Let alone just a couple of hundred yards up a busy road from our house. These bizarre things are earthstars. Sadly I was just a little late and they'd all released their spores, but still pleasing. I was disappointed to read that most don't return in the same place in successive years, but you never know. One for the calendar.

If you really want to see how to take a photo of one of these beauties click on the link to David Slater's website.
We mere mortals can but dream!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

More than your average mushroom

During and after my deer hunt I took the opportunity to snap some of the wildlife specialties of autumn, mainly in the Cyril Hart Arboretum.
OK not leaves, but fungi. Here are a few of the more colourful finds, with my best guess at names for most. The usual caveats apply - I expect to get mammals, most birds and a lot of flowers right, fungi and insects are harder. So if the name is wrong bear with me and please let me know.

Yellow Brain
Yellow Stagshorn
(Small and very bright making good exposure difficult in deep shade!)

Common Funnel
Glistening Inkcap
Purple BrittlegillBlack Bulgar
(Not so much a fungus, more a rash)

Violet Domecap
(Really not sure about this one, but it was lovely)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Fallow Day

If you take the trouble to read about wildlife watching and photography one of the messages that comes through is that preparation is key to most good days. Know your target, know your venue, know the time to be there, know how and where to position yourself for the best shots, etc.
If you're a snapper like me, relying on a few hours at weekends that means selecting just a few targets and putting the hours you do have into getting the shots. Or ..................... you just give it a go!
A bit of advice from Chris pointed me in the direction of Crabtree Hill in the Forest of Dean as a possible starting point in my quest for rutting fallow deer. So I turned up just around dawn and started to walk in to what was new territory for me. After a few minutes I heard what I can only describe as prolonged grunting noises. Realising these were unlikely to be boar I concluded I had found my quarry. About 15 minutes later I found myself deep in a commercial conifer plantation, gradually getting near the noise. (It really is quite extraordinary. If you want a listen click the link to the British Library sound archive and scroll down the page:
When you can stick to the firebreaks it's not too bad, but there were a lot of fallen trees, and the knees and ankles got a bit of a bashing. Trouble is the deer weren't in the firebreaks (I call them firebreaks, but maybe that isn't really the purpose - anyhow the deer weren't in the open). At times it got quite unnerving peering or trampling (quietly) through thickets of gorse and scrub, knee deep in soaking grass and ankle deep in mud, with grunting all around and nothing in sight.
In my naivety I had expected the deer to be in the open broadleaved parts of the forest, so I was lugging my cameras, a backpack and a tripod. Not a pretty site! Despite all this I got a few glimpses of females, and at one point must have been within 15-20 yards of a grunting male that I couldn't see for trees and bushes. Just as I was beginning to despair - I had actually walked back out to a track - I heard another grunt nearby and finally angled my way into the trees to get a view of a full antlered male. Sadly he had a view of me too, and for a while we just stared at each other. Maybe my cammo face net, jacket and gloves was good enough to confuse him a bit (certainly not something I'd wear in public, so maybe he was just having a laugh!). He tolerated me raising the camera, but the vegetation was so awkward I couldn't focus before he gently and silently slid away. Still, I saw my rutting male and left relatively happy.
I did get some shots of fungi which I'll post later, and a single shot of a female deer through the grass. With the eye of faith you can see a few pale spots on her rump, but none of the deer I saw wore the highly dappled coats of the stately home variety.

So was it a fallow day? Actually I had fun - and at least if I get the chance to go back (in a fortnight, sadly) I'll be better prepared for the territory and a morning's stalking in the Christmas trees.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


The comma is one of the butterflies I always tend to associate with autumn.
With it's wings folded the drab brown undersides and irregular margins mean it blends well with autumn leaves. Even the upper surface of the wings tends to blend with fallen leaves.
Thanks to the BBC Wildlife magazine I now know that the reason you see it more in the autumn is down to an unusual life history. In July the first generation appears. Larger dark winged individuals are long lived and won't be sexually mature until they have hibernated overwinter. The smaller pale ones mate immediately and produce a second generation in the autumn - hence the high numbers in the 'fall'. OK it's not as complex as a large blue being brought up by ants, but it's interesting enough!
Whilst on the BBC subject the new website they are involved with might be worth a look. It's partly a plug for the new film Earth, but has a few interesting bits if you are into worldwide wildlife.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Fallow Elk

As both Nature's Calendar on tv and the BBC Wildlife magazine have pointed out we're around the fallow deer rutting season. I know there are quite a few in the Forest of Dean, but I'm not sure whether they have particular stands that are used each year. Perhaps one for my friend Google.

One thing I didn't know is that they are the closest surviving relatives of the Giant Deer, Megaloceros giganteus. Nor did I know that this is the correct name for what I've always known as the Giant Irish Elk (apparently they weren't elk and lived in lots of places outside Ireland)
This creature caught my attention some years ago on a trip to Chillingham Castle in Northumberland, where they had a set of antlers in the cafe. You can see how they dwarf the other antlers on display. These amazing creatures stood over 2m tall, and weighed around 700kg - the antlers alone weighed 35-40kg. Like modern deer the antlers were shed annually, and it's been calculated that the male would have needed to eat 40kg of food a day to support their development in the growing season. Perhaps no great surprise they died out about 10,000 years ago.
It also reminded me of a frustrating day last year when I nearly got a nice shot of a fallow deer with a full head of antlers - nice warm evening sun, etc but it would just not raise it's head. As it was a trip out to a stately home there was a time limit as to how long I could justify standing there! You can see the likeness in the shape of the antlers, but clearly a bit more spinach needed!