Posted in nature

Leaves, Leaves and more Leaves

Leaf collection was the main job last week, especially on Wednesday through to Friday. It gets the heart pumping and is physically tiring so I definitely felt like I’d had a workout. There are still more leaves to fall so the process will be repeated for a few more weeks yet. At least it will be great for composts or as leaf mould, as well as my health.

One of my favourite trees is still holding onto its autumn colour.
The Maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba) pictured below in its glorious yellow hue.

The common name, Maidenhair tree, comes from the fan shaped leaves resembling the Maidenhair fern foliage. This national tree of China is also referred to as a living fossil. Fossils dating back to the Jurassic period have been found. It is the only remaining tree classified under the Ginkgophyta division (neither broadleaf nor conifer). This unique and beautiful tree is simply amazing.

Other plants giving interest at this time of year include
Clematis cirrhosis car purpurescens ‘Freckles’. The delicate drooping flowers appear between November and February. It is a lovely Clematis to grow over a walkway where the flowers can be appreciated from the side as well as underneath (where the freckle pattern hides).

As it flowers early in the year it is categorised as a pruning group 1 Clematis so doesn’t require regular pruning. However if you need to reduce its size then it can be pruned immediately after flowering finishes but when the risk of frosts have passed.

Viburnum tinus is also blooming now. The fragrant flowers will be around until April and followed by blueish black berries that are great for birds. This large shrub is evergreen too so it brings a welcome flourish of colour during the winter months.

Thankfully I managed to relax at the weekend after an exhausting week. I completed my handmade Christmas presents and cards, so I am ready for the festive season. As I sat crafting on the sofa I had a great view of my neighbouring Rowan (Sorbus) tree. The Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) are getting through the berries quickly; I am not sure there will be any left for the Redwings (Turdus iliacus) when they finally arrive. I do like the iridescent nature of Starling plumage and their ability to mimic sounds so I quite like seeing them. I was excited to see another bird visit the Rowan; my first ever sighting of a Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula). Due to the distance my attempt to photograph it isn’t brilliant but you can just about make out its colourful breast in the photo below.

The pinkish breast colouring means it was female (the males have red breasts). She was snacking on the Rowan berries but they also eat seeds, fruit tree buds and find insects for their young.

Other berries eaten by birds are those on the Pyracantha. This week I noticed that lots of Pyracantha plants were overladen with them. Its common name Firethorn is very appropriate and is given because of the heated, itchy reaction when the thorns pierce the skin. I can testify to this every time I have to cut it back.

I am still seeing fungus appearing in gardens too.

*Once again, please do not use this post as a guide to edible mushrooms.*

My latest find was the Pear-shaped or Stump puffball (Lycoperdon pyriforme).

This fungus grows on decaying wood and I found it in a stump.

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Crisp Autumn Mornings

The clear cold nights and frosty mornings have arrived. I don’t mind crisp starts to the day because eventually the sunshine appears.

As more trees become leafless I find other means of identifying them. I learnt two new trees last week; the first was a Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) and the second was an American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua). In both instances the first things I noticed on each was their fruit.
The unripe fruit of the Strawberry tree can be seen below alongside the delicate flowers. The common name, Strawberry tree, comes from the ripe red fruit which look similar to strawberries. The fruit of this evergreen tree will be eaten by birds. It seemed strange to see the fruit, from the pollination of last year’s flowers, appearing at the same time as this years flowers.

The American sweetgum tree also gives interest to gardens at this time of year. The leaves turn a rich mixture of yellow through to orange and red and even purple in autumn.

The spiky looking fruit dangle from the branches at the same time as the leaves turn and fall.

I have started noticing more Robins (Erithacus rubecula) hanging around lately; always eager to gobble up insects and worms that I unwittingly uncover as I work.

Moments after taking this photo another Robin swooped down and a fight over winter territory began.

It is fascinating to observe Robins, who can be relatively social towards humans, eagerly defend their patch of garden against other Robins. It is quite a contrast to the other bird which became more noticeable last week; Ring-necked parakeets (Psittacula krameri) flock together. I saw groups of this social parrot flying overhead throughout the week. They have been breeding in the area for a long time and I often see them but not usually every day.

I still notice the occasional bee and on Wednesday I saw a Buff-tailed (Bombus terrestris) bumblebee (the buff coloured tail enabled me to Identify it as a queen). I observed her walking amongst leaf litter. She could have been a new queen, going into hibernation before starting a nest next spring, or an old queen who will soon die.

More fungi are appearing as autumn continues to take hold.

*Once again, please do not use this post as a guide to edible mushrooms. I have managed to identify some but have placed question marks next to those I am unsure of.*

Those I saw last week are;

-The Bitter oyster (Panellus stipticus) fungus

-Collared earthstar (Geastrum triplex) fungus.

-Grey Spotted Amanita
(Amanita excelsa var. spissa)?

-The prince (Agaricus augustus)?

This is the largest fungus I have seen this autumn; the diameter was almost as long as my size 5 boot. It also had a slightly sweet aroma.
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Sparkling Fireworks on a Damp and Windy Saturday

The autumnal weather remains mostly damp with brief glimpses of sunshine. Even Saturday was wet and blustery, so it was lovely to see fireworks from the comfort of my sofa. Although I worry about fireworks disturbing wildlife and pets, it is lovely to have light festivals to brighten the spirits once the clocks go back. At this time of year I try to find enjoyment in small things each day to counteract the gloom; the beauty of autumn helps this. My main obsession at the moment continues to be fungi. They are as difficult to identify as moths which adds to the fascination. As with the previous two weeks, I have discovered more fungi as I work.

*Once again, please do not use this post as a guide to edible mushrooms. I have managed to identify some but have placed question marks next to those I am unsure of.*

Last weeks finds were;

– The deceiver (Laccaria laccata)?

– Fried chicken mushrooms (Lyophyllum decastes)

– Suede bolete (Xerocomus subtomentosus)

– Common rustgill (Xerocomus subtomentosus)?

– Porcelain fungus (Oudemansiella mucida)

– Wood blewit (Lepista nuda)

– Shaggy scalycap (Pholiota squarrosa)

– Tawney funnel cup (Lepista flaccida)?

Fungi haven’t been the only things I noticed last week. On Monday I saw two Long-tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus) in my neighbouring Rowan (Sorbus) tree. These social birds were eating insects and spiders alongside the regular Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) and Coal tit (Periparus ater) visitors.

I was surprised to see a Tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) last week. It was resting in the sunshine on Tuesday morning.

I usually see them between March and July so I relied on the Norfolk Wildlife Trust website to explain this sighting. New queens can be seen feeding through to October before hibernating until February; therefore it was a female bee I saw.

Another insect I saw last week was a Feathered thorn (Colotois pennaria) moth.

Due to the presence of the feathered antenna I was able to identify it as male. The caterpillars of this moth feed on various deciduous trees and shrubs with the moths appearing between September and November.

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More Fabulous Fungi

The autumn colours were glorious last week; particularly the Acers like the Acer dissectum below.

Another tree that I loved seeing was a Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipfera).

This tree is so called because the flowers look similar to tulips. I have never noticed it flower but I will try to remember to keep an eye out for them next summer.

The recent wet weather has had opposite affects on wildlife. I haven’t seen many pollinators lately but have continued to see lots of fungi. Infact the timing of this wet weather has meant it’s been a bumper year for fungi.

The few pollinators that I have noticed include Common wasps (Vespula vulgaris) on some Ivy (Hedera helix) flowers

and one White tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) on Monday.

I also saw a couple of moths at the end of the week too. The first one was a Winter moth (Operophtera brumata)

and the second one was a Scarce bordered straw (Helicoverpa armigera). The latter moth is a migrant visiting the UK.

I was a little surprised to see some Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) still flowering in one garden. I enjoy seeing this daisy like wild flower and like it’s common name Bachelor buttons.

The mushrooms I noticed last week were varied in size and colour.

*Once again, please do not use this post as a guide to edible mushrooms.*

I have managed to identify some but have placed question marks next to those I am unsure of.

The mushrooms I saw last week were;

– the Common puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum).

[The second photo was from a few days later. I noticed that they had matured, ready to release their spores].

-Orange Bonnet (Mycena acicula)

-Purple brittlegill (Russula atropurpurea)

-Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor)

-Lilac bonnet (Mycena pura)?

-Rosy bonnet (Mycena rosea)

-Milking bonnet (Mycena galopus)?

-Horse mushroom (Agaricus arvensis)?

-and Cortinarius umbrinolens?

The week ended with a brief visit from a Jay (Garrulus glandarius) to the Rowan tree outside my home. I can’t wait to see if I get Redwings (Turdus iliacus) visit soon as well. I usually have a few snacking on the berries each year; hopefully they come before all the berries disappear. The UK conservation status of this thrush is red so it’s always special to see them. Redwings look similar to thrushes but have a splash of red under their wings.

Posted in nature

Fabulous Fungi

One thing is certain at this time of year, I will see fungi and mushrooms in most gardens as I mow and collect leaves.

I made a point of trying to identify each one I saw this year, although this is a difficult task with fungi. I am not a hundred per cent confident that I have correctly named all of the mushrooms photographed; for this reason I would never eat any or advise others on which ones to forage.

Please do not use this post as a guide to edible mushrooms.

Unfortunately I didn’t see Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) last week; that iconic mushroom with a red cap and white spots from fairy tales (although I have seen it growing nearby in previous years). Those fungi I did see were;

– Silver leaf (Chondrostereum purpureum) fungus

– Mower’s mushroom (Panaeolus foenisecii)

– Brown roll-rim (Paxillus involutus)

– Sulphur tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare)

– Mica cap (Coprinellus micaceus)

– Stinking parasol (Lepiota cristata)

– Ivory funnel (Clitocybe dealbata)

– Banded mottlegill (Panaeolus cinctulus)

– Clustered bonnet (Mycena inclinata)

– Shaggy ink cap (Coprinus comatus)

Neoboletus luridiformis

Posted in nature

What a Difference a Month Makes

A month ago I had a weeks holiday. Signs of autumn were beginning to mingle with late summer. Now October is here autumn has definitely arrived.

As I had another week off I decided to revisit my local park, observing changes from a month ago.

In September Roesel’s bush crickets (Metrioptera roeselii) were chirping everywhere, butterflies were flitting about and some flowers still bloomed amongst the meadow (see Relaxing into Autumn).

Upon my return last Tuesday the only sounds I heard were birds singing and the meadow area had been cut and baled. Cobwebs were visible in the long dew dampened grass around the edges of the woodland too.

Hawkweed, Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris), Red clover (Trifolium pratense) and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) were only just flowering still while the Ivy (Hedera) was in full bloom.

Ivy is fantastic for pollinators at this of year. I saw a few hoverflies flying to and from several flowers but the Honey bees (Apis mellifera), that were still active from the nearby hives would probably visit them too.

It was lovely to see dried seedheads of Wild carrot (Daucus carota)

and Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris)

as I wondered around the park. They look beautiful but they are useful for insects to shelter in as well. In fact I noticed a ladybird snuggling amongst one of the Cow parsley seedheads. I also discovered field mushrooms (Agaricus campestris) growing amongst the grass.

Trees and shrubs were starting to show autumnal colours along with their ripe fruits. I found elderberries, sloe as well as haws on the Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) alongside Rosehips. However there were no longer any blackberries left on the brambles.

I noticed the leaves of one Horse chestnut tree (Aesculus hippocastanum) affected by the Horse chestnut leaf miner (Cameraria ohridella) moth.

Similarly there was evidence of caterpillars (most likely another moth) having been on a Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) tree.

The eggs and excrement are still visible on the nibbled leaves.

I ended my weeks holiday with a visit the Horniman museum in London.

On route to the train station I saw a Brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) running across a path. It attempted to cross the road until either the traffic or pedestrians scared it into fleeing towards a nearby hedge. Once I arrived in London I realised that I never see rats in the underground any more. I used to enjoy seeing them scurrying between the tracks. I have owned pet rats for many years so I find wild rats intriguing. I also like to watch Squirrels as rodents tend to act in similar ways to one another. After lunch I observed two Grey Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) scamper about.

The nearest squirrel had an acorn in its mouth and appeared to bury it in different places. I once saw a television programme on squirrels in which one was observed ‘pretending’ to bury a nut in several places while in the presence of other squirrels to avoid their stash being taken. Presumably this was occurring with the squirrels I was watching on Friday.

There is a butterfly house and aquarium at the Horniman museum. The butterflies were looking a little aged with their wings rather worn, however they were still beautiful. As soon as I entered the butterfly house a Malachite butterfly (Siproeta stelenes) landed on me which felt wonderfully welcoming.

The photo below shows a selection of the many butterflies I saw.

Feeding on the fruit are one Blue morpho (Morpho peleides), one Brown clipper (Parthenos Sylvia philippinensis), two Blue clipper (Parthenos Sylvia) and three Owl butterflies (Caligo memnon).

There were lots to see in the aquarium as well but my favourites were the White spotted jellyfish (Phyllorhiza punctata); watching them was so relaxing.

Even at the weekend nature was visible. As I ate breakfast on Saturday morning I heard and watched a group of Coal tits (Periparus ater) on the Rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia) outside. I have never seen Coal tits on this tree before, I hope to see them again.

Another animal I became aware of last week was a Red fox (Vulpes vulpes). I first noticed it on my way home on Wednesday night and again on Sunday morning. It was making itself known on Saturday night too as it was being very vocal.

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A Chill in the Air with Beautiful Sunrises.

Occasionally I am still surprised by nature. One instance of this occured on my way home last Monday when I saw a Heron (Ardea cinerea) standing on a rooftop. I had to double take to confirm it was real; thankfully it moved it’s head slightly. The house was near a river but I guess it was looking for an easy dinner from someone’s pond. Infact this wasn’t the only time I saw Herons during the week. On Wednesday I also noticed a couple flying above where I worked. One of them was calling but I think it was warning the other off because they eventually went their separate ways.

Jay’s (Garrulus glandarius) also became more visible last week as they harvested acorns before the squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis). I love the Jay’s colouring and the meaning behind their Latin name. Garrulous is a word that refers to their noisy chattering while glandarius translates as ‘of the acorn’, very appropriate.

Garden spiders (Araneus diadematus) seemed to be very busy creating their orb webs amongst perennials and shrubs; especially as I often managed to get my face tangled amongst them by accident (meaning their well deserved rest was cut short).

There was a chilly start to Thursday and I woke to a beautiful sunrise. Even though the temperature has dropped slightly, my Asters and Penstemon continue to flower well. Hopefully pollinators are still visiting them. I noticed some bees and a Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) flying about in other gardens.

A Honey bee (Apis mellifera) visiting Helenium ‘Lemon Queen’.
A Common Carder Bumblebee (Bombus pascuorum) visiting some Aster flowers.

On Friday however, I saw
2 Box tree moths (Cydalima perspectalis). These pretty moths with a purply-brown pattern set against white wings were not such a welcome sight. This is the first year I have noticed these moths. I first saw their caterpillars in another garden during the summer too. It is the caterpillars that cause the damage as they defoliate Box (Buxus) plants. They are considered a pest and are spreading further across the country (for further information see Butterfly Conservation).