Saturday, 31 January 2015

I don't think you're ready for this jelly

On the 7th January I found this interesting orange fungi growing on a tree stump. I did not recognise it but it looked very distinctive and I took a photograph.

Common Jellyspot (Dacrymyces stillatus)

Despite looking in my books and on the internet when I got home I could not identify it, so i posted the picture onto iSpot. This started a very long-running debate, probably becoming one of the most commented posts of the year.

The inital identification of Wrinkled Crust (Phlebia radiata) was quickly questioned due to the growth pattern, not showing the radiating pattern usually seen. There was also a suggestion of this being a Brain Fungus (Tremella) species, but the isolated bodies did not look right. I was instructed to revisit the specimen to see if it was soft or firm, and it indeed had a jelly like consistency.

There was now some excitement that this could be a rare species, and I was asked by Malcolm Greaves to collect a few samples and send these to him, as he was so intrigued and wanted to solve the puzzle. This I duly did, and Malcom prepared the following slides of the spores and basidia.

Common Jellyspot (Dacrymyces stillatus) spores

Common Jellyspot (Dacrymyces stillatus) basidia

As Malcolm commented in his email

"I have attached a photo of the spores and the basidia. At first I thought the spores I saw must be from a different source because they did not fit with any of the likely id suggestions. A second slide just confirmed that it was definitely “none of the above” with septate spores and long thin forked basidia. The size and shape of the spores and the basidia are perfect for Dacrymyces stillatus but I have never seen one looking like your photo."

Malcolm then sent these pictures to a contact at Kew, who confirmed his suspicions that this was an unusual form of Common Jellyspot (Dacrymyces stillatus). Mystery solved then, a shame that this turned out to be a common species but still a new one for my 1km square.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Winter jewel

There have been two caterpillars overwintering on the side of my house, first discovered by me a couple of weeks ago. They have been clinging onto the white outside walls and presenting something of an identification challenge.

I was able to deduce that they were the caterpillar of a geometrid moth by the size and shape, but got frustrated in getting an identification. Caterpillar identification is difficult, especially the geometrids. There are few good sources of information, and one of the best - the UKleps website - involves trawling through hundreds of photos on each species.

I posted the pictures onto the UK caterpillars group on Facebook and quickly got some suggestions. Swallowtail Moth was one, which looked promising but not quite right. Another was Scalloped Hazel, but this is a species I had already considered and ruled out. It was not helped by the quality of the photograph (the white background causing my camera some difficulty), but Shropshire moth recorder and caterpillar genius Tony Jacques came up with the goods. He told me to look at Light Emerald (Campaea margaritaria), and he was of course absolutely spot on.

Light Emerald (Campaea margaritaria) larva

Light Emerald is a species I have recorded several times in the summer, and this is one of the species that overwinters as a caterpillar, so the identification was not a surprise. It is a species I expected to find this year in my 1km square, though perhaps not for several months yet. This is the first one I recorded in my garden, back in 2012.

Light Emerald (Campaea margaritaria)

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

No rolling stones please...

On the concrete block work retaining walls around the garden lives quite a diversity of life, mainly mosses, plants, lichens and the odd slug and snail. Having looked at the mosses in previous years and wondered what species they were, and noticing that they all had fruiting capsules, I decided to give identifying them a go.

Up close, the mosses are beautiful and distinctly different. At least three species are present, though more investigation will be needed through the year.

Growing in small distinct clumps measuring a few centimetres across is Wall Screw-moss (Tortula muralis). Form these neat cushions, long reddish seta hold up reddish seed capsules with a white tip. It is a very attractive looking moss.

Wall Screw-moss (Tortula muralis)

There is also a patch of Capillary Thread-moss (Bryum capillare). This moss has corkscrew-like shoots, with leaves arranged in a spiral, twisted around the stem. The large greenish capsules are held on reddish seta.

Capillary Thread-moss (Bryum capillare)

The commonest moss on the walls is Rough-stalked Feather-moss (Brachythecium rutabulum), which occurs in many large patches around the wall. The feather like leaves on the stalks are shared by several species, but to identify this for sure you need to look at the seta which bear the egg-shaped capsules. Through a decent hand-lens you can see that the stalk is covered with lots of small dimples, which gives the moss it's name. unfortunately my camera is not up to the job to show this fine detail!

Rough-stalked Feather-moss (Brachythecium rutabulum)

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Moths beware!

On Saturday night there was a change in the weather, the wind dropped, clouds came over and temperature raised (a little). The Robinson MV mothtrap was deployed, though still more in hope than expectation.

In the morning there were two new moth species for the year. The trap held two Tortricoides alternella and one Ypsolopha ustella. the first of these is a regular visitor in late winter, though it was only my second record of the second (the first being on New Years Eve). Unfortunately the specimens were not the best, so photographs did not result.

On the macro moth front there were three Spring Usher. This means I am still waiting for Pale Brindled beauty and Early Moth to grace the trap this year, and I am beginning to get a little worried about these species.

The most interesting capture though was an ichneumon wap, which I looked at and photographed with little hope of identifying to species level. However, a bit of investigation meant that I could pin this down as Ophion obscuratus.

Ophion obscuratus

This fantastic insect is a typical ichneumon, looking other worldly with its thin waste and wonderful eyes. the key to identifying this species are the creamy lines on the thorax and the pale corners to the dark stigma on the leading edge of the wing.

Ophion obscuratus

This species is a parasitoid of moths. The female lays its eggs in the caterpillars of various noctuid moths. Because of this behaviour they do not need the long ovipositors of the ichneumons that burrow into wood to reach deep seated wood boring larvae.

Ophion obscuratus

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Off the wall

In the National Trust Batch Valley car park there is a culvert where the stream runs through. The wall of this culvert is covered with all sorts of interesting organisms and it is a couple of those I was looking at today.

The first species took me a little while to identify. it was when I turned over the leaves and worked out that I should be looking amongst the ferns that the answer became clear. This is Wall-rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria).

Wall-rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria)

This small tufted fern is quite a common and widespread species, and a very subtle but beautiful one.

Wall-rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria)

Also on the wall there are large patches of the orange organism. From a distance is it something that you may consider is a fungi or a lichen, but when you look up close you are not so sure and when you feel it there is a very soft and almost furry texture.

Trentepohlia aurea

I believe that this is actually a green algae Trentapohlia aurea. This free-living algae is certainly a distinctive species and something needing a bit more investigation to make sure I have the right identifcation.

Trentepohlia aurea

Sunday, 18 January 2015

The trouble with lichen

One of things I have noticed walking around my patch and trying to work out what I can identify, is how many different types of lichen there are. When you get the book and look on the websites you soon realise how specialist the identification of lichen is, so I have needed a bit of help of iSpot experts to help me. There are many more species to go!

Most of the lichens I have started with are those on trees, my thinking being that they may be specific to particular species, though of course this is not always strictly true. Nevertheless, this has helped me to focus a little.

The first one I pinned down was this abundant yellow/orange lichen which seems to be everywhere. This is the Common Orange Lichen (Xanthora parietina). The name is derived from the yellow pigment xanthorin, which is thought to be produced as a defence against UV radiation, to which it is susceptible if it grows in exposed areas.

Common Orange Lichen (Xanthora parietina)

Another seemingly abundant species it the Oakmoss (Evernia prunastri), which is another common lichen of twigs. This is not just found on oak species, it is also on hawthorn (where this example is photographed). This species has grey/green branches which are typically whitish underneath, and once you start looking it can be found everywhere.

Oakmoss (Evernia prunastri)

Another species which I have found across my 1km square is Hammered Shield Lichen (Parmelia sulcata). This silvery grey/green lichen has dish-like lobes. These have an uneven surface, with depressions and pimples which give the species a hammered appearance. Perhaps similar to how Father Ted tried to even out the dent in the car.

Hammered Shield Lichen (Parmelia sulcata)

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Five ferns

The valleys of the Long Mynd or damp and shady places, and damp and shady places are ideal for ferns. These have been my latest challenge, as a group that I have previously not looked at closely.

Ferns on the banks of The Batch

My first fern species of the year was the one that I am quite familiar with. Hart's-tongue Fern (Phyllitis scolopendrium) is a simple fern, consisting of single-bladed fronds with spores underneath. This ubiquitous species is, unsurprisingly, named after its apparent resemblance to the tongue of a deer.

Hart's-tongue Fern (Phyllitis scolopendrium)

Another very common and easy to recognise fern is the Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes), which grows in profusion on the banks of The Batch, particularly where the bank has been stripped back and reinforced with wire cages.

Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes)

Also in this part of The Batch is a large group of Common Polypody (Polypodium vulgare). This is a trickier species to identify, but the general shape of the fronds is a good guide as it is fairly even along its length before tapering to a tip.

Common Polypody (Polypodium vulgare)
The last fern that I have manage to get an identification for is the Hard-fern (Blechnum spicant). A few examples grow from the shaded rocks and grassland on the patch around the north side of Novers Hills. This is a species of slightly acidic conditions, so the soils of the Long Mynd are perfect for it.

Hard-fern (Blechnum spicant)

The last fern I have identified is one that I did not realise was a fern when I first looked at it. It seemed to be a vascular plant growing out of the concrete culvert by the Batch Valley car park. Turning over the 'leaves' however found me looking at a collection of brown spores. This is Wall-rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria), a common fern of rocky places.

Wall-rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria)

There are several more ferns to identify, including a shield fern along the Rough Road and another typical fern found across the patch. More work is needed!

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Signs of spring... well almost

I am plugging away with the mothtrap, but for little reward. So far this year I have managed to record three species - Winter Moth, Mottled Umber and Spring Usher. There are several species I would hope to find but the weather which swings between cold and windy is causing some frustration.

Trying to stay positive, Spring Usher is a sign of spring, and is appearing a little early this year. It is also one of my favourite moths. Here is one from last nights trap.

Spring Usher

Monday, 12 January 2015

Snails pace

I am plugging away at the 1000for1ksq challenge. In a patch not blessed with much birdlife, it is slow going for starters. With my AIDGAP snail key arriving today, I decided to look for snails under rocks along the Rough Road, a damp and stony road leading from All Stretton to the Jinlye.

This tactic worked remarkably well, and I found two small snails. I assume they were of the same species but potted both anyway. I then spent this evening with the key identifying the snails, much to the bemusement of my long-suffering and patient wife.

I had succes though, and both species were identified and confirmed. The first is actually a common species, which for most people is not too much of a challenge. But for me, who has never really looked at snails, it is a journey of new discoveries! This is the Rounded Snail (Discus rotundatus), a very distinctive small snail with dense ribbing on the shell and bands of red. This species is a fungi and detritus feeder, performing an essential function for ecosystems.

Rounded Snail (Discus rotundatus)

The other snail was a different species, and harder to identify. However, I did get there and pinned it down as Shiny Glass Snail (Zonitoides nitidus). This species has a waxy, rather than glossy shell, with low straie, a milky patch around the umbilicus and it over 5mm, helping to identify this species.

Shiny Glass Snail (Zonitoides nitidus)

Shiny Glass Snail (Zonitoides nitidus)

Thursday, 8 January 2015

The yew tree

It has been a quiet winter for winter thrushes. After hearing streams of them over the garden on nights in the autumn, they have been in short supply and I had so far drawn a blank in 2015. I was pleased therefore that on a walk around Novers Hill today I flushed a number of Blackbirds from the base of  Yew tree. After the Blackbirds a few Redwings flew out, with their distinctive high pitch call.

Yew (Taxus baccata)

Yew is the only native conifer I am likely to find in my 1km square, in fact it is quite a distinctive tree of the Long Mynd with several ancient Yews adorning the ridges where other trees have disappeared. A look underneath this tree showed why the thrushes were so interested.

Yew (Taxus baccata) berries

The crop of berries was providing a real bounty and it was no surprise to find that when I walked past the Yew that the Redwings had returned. They were joined by a small group of Mistle Thrushes chasing each other round this old tree.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Burnt cakes

Weird and wonderful fungi have been a particular source of interest this year. Having noticed some strange and unfamiliar fungi close to Reservoir Cottage a few weeks ago, I returned to them early in my challenge to have a closer look.

This group of fungi turned out to be Jew's-ear (or for the more politically correct, Jelly-ear). This curious looking gelatinous fungi is in fact a common and widespread species found on deciduous trees. The appearance of a large floppy ear is the derivation of the name of this species.

Jew's-ear (Auricularia auricula-judaea)

Today, whilst on my lunchtime walk along Batch Valley, I found these hard black growths on an old Ash tree. These are also a fungi, and again one with a charismatic name. Whilst often listed as Cramp Balls, I prefer the name of King Alfred's Cakes due to their resemblance to burnt buns. Whilst I was looking up these fungi I came across a bush craft website describing how this hard fungi can be cut open and used as tinder for a fire, something to try if I get stuck in the snow in Batch Valley, perhaps.

Cramp Balls (Daldinia concentrica)

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Arctic Fox

This morning started with a hard frost, but beautiful sunshine. We decided on a walk up Caer Caradoc to take advantage of the beautiful winter scenery. As we walked across the valley the fog began to come, until all we could see below us was fog with top of Caradoc and the Lawley poking through. The wind picked up and the fog came, by the time we were at the top of Caradoc we were surrounded by fog.

Yet, despite the subzero temperatures and fog freezing water droplets in my beard and on my clothes, we found life. Granted, it was moving slowly, but the unmistakable larva of a Fox Moth was on the path.

Fox Moth larva

Caradoc is outside of my 1km square, but as I walked back into it I picked a few new bird species to take me up to 25 for the year. A slow start but a steady one.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

1000 for 1km square

I have set myself a challenge this year to see 1000 species in the 1km square centred on Batch Valley, SO4595. This is something that I have thought about for a long time, spurred on by the exploits described in the 1000 for 1ksq blog.

The rules are simple, I will record all the species I find, apart from obvious escapes and introduced species (eg garden plants and pet cats). Everything has to be identified to species level to count.

I am not sure that I have completely thought this through. My identification skills are pretty basic, restricted to birds, moths, butterflies, obvious insect and few flowering plants. I have very little literature, no microscope, no particular desire to kill or dissect anything and not a huge amount of time. These skills will not improve unless I push myself though, so I am determined to give this a fair go.

The year started off pretty well. The first species I recorded was a Kingfisher along the Batch opposite the house, a quality bird to start. Not everything will be as easy to identify!

New trap, new moth

Just before Christmas I treated myself to a new moth trap, a Robinson MV. This is the Rolls Royce of moth traps, as opposed to my actinic which is an Austin Metro by comparison.

It took me until New Years Eve to set the trap for the first time, but a promising night meant that I had to give it a go and I was not to be disappointed. There were six moths on the trap of five species, not a huge hall but a good selection.

Highlight was a Ypsolopha ustella, a new moth for me and for the garden. This is the only one of the family that flies through the winter, and its rather uniform appearance helps to distinguish it.

Ypsolopha ustella

The rest of the species were macro moths, with two species I had not seen since last winter. These were a very early Spring Usher and  Pale Brindled Beauty.

Pale Brindled Beauty

Spring Usher

There were also two Mottled Umbers and a Winter Moth, a good start to the year.