Friday, 7 October 2016

Catching up and getting outside

It's been a while since my last post, so this is a bit of a catch up on the last few days, which have been rather lovely here in the Chilterns.

We've all celebrated Bug Mad Girl's birthday. It's her last year at primary school, so we've been visiting lots of schools trying to decide where the best place for her to go next would be. She took the 11+ (a difficult test that decides whether you can go to grammar school or not) a couple of weeks ago, so a lot will depend on the results of that (which we get next week).

One of the schools we visited had the most amazing sweet chestnut tree in the car park. I couldn't resist picking up one of the spiky cases that had fallen onto the ground. I instantly regretted it as it was very prickly, but managed to bring it home anyway.
Very prickly sweet chestnut

Whistlejacket and his wife both seem to be well and sit in their tree (whistling at any other kites that stray too close) most days. I took this photo of them from our back door a couple of days ago as they looked so stunning in the sunshine and their copper colour really showed up well. This years babies are long gone and we only ever see the two of them in the tree now.

I planted a teasel seedling next to our patio in the spring of 2015, in the hope that it would eventually attract the goldfinches a little closer to the house. It flowered this summer and now the spiky seed heads are doing their job. I saw the first goldfinch feeding on the seeds this week and managed to take a photo out of the kitchen window. Another plan that has paid off!

They seem to have a single baby this year (or at least I've only seen one young goldfinch about). It watched the parent on the teasel, but wasn't quite confident enough to have a go for itself.

Watching from a distance
Out in the hills, we've had a bit of rain recently so there are some more fungi starting to appear, but still nowhere near as many as this time last year. The devil's bolettes that I found a couple of weeks ago have completely disappeared back into the ground. As they turned to mush and disintegrated, they let off a pretty awful, chemically smell, a bit like ammonia, that hung in the air. They've been replaced by the emergence of the first puffballs, pretty pink rosy bonnets, amethyst deceivers and great clusters of inkcaps on rotting wood. They're all common enough fungi around here, but they've been notable by their absence so far this season.
A fresh common puffball - as it ages, the scales will wear off and a
hole will open in the top to release the spores
Amethyst deceivers - these were newly emerged and looked like little purple
nails sticking out of the ground
Amethyst deceiver

A rosy bonnet being eaten by a slug - looks a pretty colour, but it's poisonous

Glistening inkcaps
We've come across some other interesting fungi while we've been out in the woods. You quite often see wood that's been stained a bright green colour by fungi (in fact this green wood was used to make decorative Tunbridge ware furniture), but occasionally this fruits to produce these beautiful little green elfcups. They've got to be one of our more colourful fungi.

Green elfcups

Green elfcups
Deathcaps are some of our most poisonous fungi (one toadstool could kill three people), but there are also fungi called false deathcaps. These are still poisonous, but are less dangerous than a deathcap. They have the same bag around the base of the stipe that they grow out of and the same large ring around the stipe, but the cap retains pieces of the grey veil that covered it when it first appeared (unlike the deathcap which has a smooth cap). I found a patch of about a dozen of these in one small area.

False deathcap, with a yellowish cap covered in grey veil remnants
Dead moll's fingers are black club shaped fungi that grow out of dead wood and are said to resemble decayed fingers scratching their way out of the ground. These caught my eye as they appeared to be making a rude gesture instead of trying to claw their way out.

Dead moll's fingers

The kids have been enjoying walks in the woods, jumping in muddy puddles, balancing along logs and looking for insects.
Muddy puddle jumping

Walking the plank

A beetle called a snail hunter - it uses its narrow head to stick into snail
shells and eat the flesh! This one appears to have a mite on its thorax
The cows are out on Grangelands and the sheep are on the Rifle Range, busy keeping the grass at bay so that next springs orchids and wild flowers can thrive. We'll stay away with the dog for the next few weeks while they're there and stick to the hills.


All is well here, but I'm thinking of all my friends and family in Atlanta and North Carolina, hoping that hurricane Matthew heads out to sea and misses them. The remnants of it may eventually make its way to us, so we could be in for some wild and windy weather in a week or two. 

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