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Fri 30th November 2012 20:27 by Mary Smith
Winter is at hand
I have just been reading the recent offerings of birds, fungi, a caterpillar, and other forms of life, seen in different places by different folk during November. However, we all woke up to a sharp frost this morning; not just a ground frost, but an airfrost, which is the 'real' one, producing white lawns and also white trees and white roofs. My husband walked through a park in Hornchurch this afternoon and saw frost on shady patches of grassland at the warmest part of the day: about 1:30 to 2:00pm, when it got to 4.2°C. Forecasters say we will have a repeat performance tomorrow morning. So November is almost past, and real frosts usher in December, a strong taste of winter. There is still a chance of finding Field Blewits, aka Blue Legs, Lepista saeva, one of my favourite ones to eat. And soon we should be finding Velvet Shank, Flamulina velutipes, which is frost hardy and can be found all through the winter but, although definitely edible, one has to wonder whether it is worth the effort of collecting for the pan as its taste is so mild that whatever you cook it in will cover up its own flavour. Meanwhile, birds of any kind seem scarce in our garden now, with the exception of a Magpie or two, a Wood Pigeon or two, and the ever-present Ring-necked Parakeets. Yes, we live in suburbia, but even here we normally see more birds than this. I suppose that the wettest spring since records began has killed huge numbers of young nestlings, so now we are missing new adults. We also missed wasps all summer and autumn, but I have to say that I am less worried about them! I just hope that next year will be a hot dry one, but the turbulent weather of this year is undoubtedly due to global warming, so we can only say that next year is likely to be even more turbulent. We wait to see.....
Tue 27th November 2012 16:11 by Graham Smith
This and That
November weather : when it's nice it's very very nice and when it's not its horrid! Yesterday was the former and I went for a walk (or rather a splash) to Mill Green and today the latter and I'm stuck behind a computer. My walk was not purely for pleasure, I was also carrying out work for the BTO's Winter Thrush Survey in one of my allotted 1km squares. You have to make a note on the map of every thrush or group of thrushes you see, each of which has to be entered individually on online forms together with notes on habitat and activity, including what they were eating, when observed. Bird surveys are a lot more sophisticated than they used to be! Most of the 20 or so Blackbirds I encountered were either grubbing among dead leaves beneath the hedgerows or stuffing themselves on haws in the branches; the 16 Redwings and single Fieldfare were searching for worms in some horse pasture; the 4 Mavis (the most I have seen together this year) foraging in some long term set aside grassland, and the single Song Thrush was working a garden lawn for food. They have had it easy so far this winter with all this mild wet weather. My most unexpected sighting, though, was a Red Admiral basking in a sheltered patch of sunshine on the Common.
A lot of wintering birds other than thrushes have been arriving on our shores in the past week or two. I was lucky enough to bump into a flock of 17 Waxwings at Bradwell Power Station on 13th while helping to run a bird-watching course for the Othona Community while a couple of resplendent adult male Hen Harriers have also been performing well in this area. At Blue House we were seated in one of the hides when a Meadow Pipit, hotly pursued by a Merlin, dashed in through the open window - clipping my ear in the process - then concussed itself while trying to exit through a closed one! I half expected the Merlin to come in after it but instead it flew back and forth within a few feet of us, trying to work out where it's dinner had gone! The pipit eventually recovered and we released it outside the hide. Perhaps it's not only cats that have nine lives! My little old camera was not up to photographing any of these but it manage a shot of this Snipe, also at Blue House.
A friend was recently at Cley in Norfolk during a day of thick fog. Exhausted migrants were struggling in off the sea and flopping down on to the shingle beach. At one time he counted no less than 41 Ring Ouzels strung out along the short stretch of beach visible through the fog, while Bramblings were far commoner than Chaffinches among the flocks of finches sheltering there and at one point, while he was standing in the middle of a small patch of decaying Yellow-horned Poppy, he counted a dozen Goldcrests flitting around his feet, each trying desperately to find cover is this tiny patch of vegetation! Other birds were less lucky. The remaining strength of many gave out within a few yards of the beach and they dropped into the waves; Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls - sitting at strategic positions just offshore - quickly making a meal of them. Migration in action - impressive but at the same time deeply saddening as many thousands probably perished in the sea that day.
The largely mild November weather has not only benefited insects, as Peter noted, but also fungi. Two weeks after the season has officially ended - at least for the Field Club - I visited Fryerning Churchyard on 22nd November and found a dozen species still fruiting. The only waxcap still showing - and that in abundance - was the beautiful Scarlet Waxcap Hygrocybe coccinea, but there were also three species of
Blewit - the familiar Wood Blewit Lepista nuda; Lepista sordida, a smaller species which is lilac-brown in all its parts and whose cap often ends up funnel shaped; and last but not least the very scarce Lepista luscina (now known as L. panaeola in some circles), a grassland species that is easily identifiable by the rings of dark spots on the cap, a bit like Lactarius blennius. This last was new for the churchyard, the latest - and perhaps the last - in a long line of such newcomers this autumn. It will shortly reside in the Club's collections.
Tue 27th November 2012 08:39 by Peter Pearson
On Thursday 22.11., taking advantage of a decent day, I walked the walls and New Rd, Mistley.
In spots where the sun was shining and out of the wind we were surprised to find extremely large numbers of flies.
Many went unidentified, but those that were included Drone Fly, the hoverflies Episyrphus balteatus and Syrphus ribesii, Noon Fly Mesembrina meridiana any many Blue Bottles. Of the Noon Flies 15 seen is the most I have ever noted in one area. Common Wasps were still active on Ivy flowers, One Queen and several workers being recorded at various locations together with 10+ Honey Bees.
In complete contrast only 6 7-Spot Ladybirds and one Harlequin were found despite diligent searching. Last year , at this time, there were literally thousands in this location. It appears they have taken a real hammering this year. It was also noted that both species were noticeably smaller than normal.
Sat 17th November 2012 17:02 by Graham Smith
The Fungi Season
Another Fungi foraying season has come and gone. It started promisingly in August, faltered in September, and disappointed in October despite plenty of the wet stuff by then. Some of the major groups of fungi - especially the Bolete, but also Russula and Lactarius - sulked underground all autumn and us foragers were left wondering just what it takes to produce a bumper crop of mushrooms nowadays. The Club forays were as enjoyable as ever, however, despite the dearth of some species, but we do seem to be a diminishing band and as most of us are of a 'certain age' there is a pressing need to appeal to a wider range of potential enthusiasts. What could be achieved was demonstrated by Chris Huggins, the Head Countryside Ranger for Basildon Council, who organised a foray at Norsey Wood, Billericay on October 27th. 20-25 very keen members of the public turned up and we had an enjoyable morning, the scarcity of fungi (here as elsewhere) and constant drizzle notwithstanding. We collected around 40 species in all - the average for forays this autumn - and set them out on trestle tables at the Visitor Centre afterwards so that everyone could see them and ask questions - "are they edible" inevitably being the most frequent. Perhaps we should try something similar on at least one Club foray each autumn. We would obviously need access to a building after the foray in order to set out our finds, especially if it was raining, and if tea and biscuits were available on site so much the better. Village halls spring to mind and if the foray was organised in conjunction with the relevant Parish Council and advertised locally costs could be negligible. Perhaps the Club as a whole needs to think in this way if we are going to survive another 130 years. Just a thought - from a humble ('ever so 'umble, Mr Copperfield/Harvey) foot soldier!
At my favourite foraying site - Fryerning Churchyard - the season followed a similar pattern to the above; or at least it did until late October when, in the space of no more than a few days, ten new fungi were added to a churchyard list that now stands at around 275 species. One of them was this Pholiota, growing out of a birch stump. When first found the glutinous cap surface suggested that it might be P.jahnii but unlike most species it was slow to mature and it was not until the Club Waxcap Foray on November 3rd that the caps had opened sufficiently to obtain a spore print. Tony was then able to identify it as P.adiposa which, according to the 'Checklist', is a rare species in Britain but which in Funga Nordica, is treated as being conspecific with the much commoner P. aurivella(us).
The high species total at Fryerning is in large part due to the range of trees found there, several of which support an impressive array of microrrhizal fungi associates. This is particularly true of the Silver Birches and Scots Pines. Unfortunately, many of them seem to be suffering from stress - perhaps related to the string of exceptionally dry summers prior to this year's deluge - and several fine specimens have been lost in the last decade including an impressive Indian Cedar, probably planted in the Edwardian era. Now, one of the two remaining old Yews, which is probably in the region of 350 years old, appears to be succumbing - around one third of the canopy dying during the past two years - while the other sports a magnificent Chicken of the Woods each summer, the presence of which is likely to lead to its eventual demise. Several other trees are also under attack from parasitic fungi. One, a Scots Pine, had three species assaulting one side of it - causing all the branches on that side to fall off - leaving it very lopsided. This year a fourth species joined in - Phaeolus schweinitzii, otherwise known as Dyer's Mazegill. I doubt if the tree is long for this world, the only compensation (for me if not the pine) is that it was another new species for the churchyard!
The Waxcap foray produced 6-7 species at the Churchyard, since when a further three species have appeared but it has still been a poor year. Tony was best pleased with Chelmsford Crematorium, where there were no fewer than 13 species on display this year. There was no sign of the Glutinous Waxcap Hygrocybe glutinipes (pictured below) this autumn, one the churchyard's special species, but a recent visit to nearby Highwood Churchyard did produce a fine display of Persistent Waxcap H. persistens var. konradii. H. glutinipes lives up to its name as both cap and stem literally drip with 'gluten', although a little had worn off on the photographed specimens due to handling.
Two colourful species that have fruited since the Waxcap foray have been Bearded Milkcap Lactarius torminosus, which loses its 'beard' and becomes a beautiful salmon pink colour with age and the equally stunning but much rarer Chalciporus (formerly Rubinoboletus) rubinus, which has appeared annually on nearby Fryerning Green in each of the past three years.
Finally, a species which is both rare and edible, to whit, Agaricus cupreobrunneus. Rare but widespread is how Geoffrey Kibby describes it and it certainly appears to be latter along the seawalls of the South Blackwater and northern banks of the Crouch. It is best told from the closely related A. porphryrocephalus by the larger spores but the latter may also occur as you cannot take a spore print from every specimen you find!
Fri 2nd November 2012 15:32 by Peter Pearson
Walk round Cudmore Grove
On 29.10 my wife and I took a walk round Cudmore Grove and as we reached the seawall we found the below caterpillar.
It was covered in black furry tufts and had a red head and legs. I believe it to be a Cream-spot Tiger (Artica villica)
Seen marching from the grass area, across the sea wall in the direction of the beach.
Well actually it was Margaret that found it as I nearly caused its demise, narrowly missing stepping on it, being more intent on sea watching for birds.
(N.B.) In future look down first.
Autumn colours are not restricted to trees and shrubs as this photo shows. The beach below the seawall was ablaze with colour from the Salicornia growing there.
Birds were abundant some 19 species being noted.
This Wigeon was one of many feeding in and around the borrowdyke. Being extremely tame it was photographed at a range of about 8-10feet.