Autumnal fungi

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Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) (c) Duncan Hutt

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Yellow Stagshorn (Calocera viscosa) (c) Duncan Hutt

A weekend trip out to Colt Crag Reservoir wasn’t exactly rewarding from a weather perspective, showers were insistently blowing in from the coast.  Now that autumn has turned up the wildlife spotting has shifted too.  No more (or few more) hoverflies, butterflies and the like but instead here is the season for fungi.  They, like invertebrates, are a tricky group. Some easy to identify like the archetype toadstool with its red cap with white spots; fly agaric (Amanita muscaria).  Others are more awkward and easy to misidentify so perhaps the identification of (Mycena galopus) could be challenged?  These, of course, are traditional mushroom-shaped fungi but there are plenty of other variations out there such as the yellow stagshorn (Calocera viscosa) that was dotted on many of the old rotting spruce stumps.

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Mycena galopus (c) Duncan Hutt

 

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Red Underwing

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Red underwing (Catocala nupta) on a country park noticeboard! (c) Duncan Hutt

It may not have the striking colouration of a hawkmoth but at 4cm long the red underwing (Catocala nupta) is one of our larger moths.  A night flier it was resting quietly, on a warm and sunny day, on the shaded side of a Newburn Riverside Country Park noticeboard.  They can be found feeding on flowers in the early evening but it was much too early in the day for this sort of activity! It has a red underwing (unsurprisingly) but this was certainly not on show as it tried to blend in to its background.

The red underwing is a common species in the south of the UK but in the north-east there are a just a scattering of records, more in recent years but perhaps this is more to do with recording than an actual increase in numbers?

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A Channel island?

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The old fort, Îles de Chausey (c) Duncan Hut

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Petit Epail, Îles de Chausey (c) Duncan Hutt

The Channel Islands sit off the Normandy Coast and form a group of islands administered as Jersey or Guernsey, with their strange statuses as Crown Dependencies of the UK.  Yet a few miles south of Jersey is a small archipelago of islands that are French.  The Îles de Chausey are a scattering of tiny islands and rocky reefs with the largest, Grande Île, at the heart.  The tidal range here is huge and as such many islands link together at low water with sandy beaches and bays only to separate out again as the tide rises.  In summer, at least, there appear to be as many small boats as there are tiny islands and these too cluster around the largest landmass with its cluster of stone houses tucked onto the leeward side.

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Grande Île houses (c) Duncan Hutt

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Common lizard (c) Duncan Hutt

The Grande Île is reached by boat from Granville with regular summer services, albeit governed by the tides.  The sea was choppy as we left the shelter of the huge harbour walls at Granville heading for a low-lying blur on the horizon.  The islands slowly emerged from this blur to become tiny individual islets and Grande Île itself became apparent by its distinctive lighthouse and tiny white and grey houses along the shore.  The landing was onto a small wooden jetty which soon was lost under the incoming tide.

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Harestail grass (Lagurus ovatus) (c) Duncan Hutt

A walk around the island takes in houses linked by narrow paths, handcarts being the main form of transporting items to these sometimes tiny dwellings, the large lighthouse and the Napoleonic fort.  From there is turns to the southwestern shore almost devoid of habitation except for a large imposing fortress dating to the 16th century.  Otherwise the path tracks through rocky cliff edges where lizards scurried away over the warm rocks then through areas of scrub and grassland leading down to small sandy coves.  The free draining sandy or stoney soils were parched dry and this, coupled with the salt, makes for some harsh conditions for a variety of unusual plants such as the distinctive harestail grass, Lagurus ovatus, on the cliffs or Jersey sea-lavender, Limonium auriculae-ursifolium, on the sea edge.

After the boats have departed and the day visitors have gone the islands must take on a peace that comes with isolation but we were amongst that crowd of tourists to drop in for a mere glimpse of these islands.  So we embarked on the boat to Granville, a calmer and warmer return journey back to mainland France.

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Jersey sea-lavender (Limonium auriculae-ursifolium) (c) Duncan Hutt

Posted in Flowering Plants, France, Reptiles | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A moment by the pond

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Emerald damselfly (c) Rebecca Cassie

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Azure damselfly pair (c) Duncan Hutt

The day wasn’t promising, a gray blanket of cloud was the best that the morning could offer with temperatures more akin to March than July.  As the cloud broke so the showers started, heavy drenching showers with the slightest glimmer of sunshine between.  None of this is great for spotting dragonflies and damselflies but a brief burst of sun meant it seemed worth a quick trip out; part of a survey to see what species are found at Throckley Pond.  Sadly the fresh breeze also reduced the activity around the water although once you got your ‘eye in’ the resting damselflies were relatively easy to identify as they held firmly to pondside vegetation.  And it was all damselflies today, no sign of their bigger dragonfly cousins.

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Blue-tailed damselfly (c) Duncan Hutt

First to be seen were the small dark damselflies with an almost glowing blue thin stripe on the end of the abdomen, these blue-tailed damselflies (Ischnura elegans) proved to be pretty common around the water’s edge along with the much brighter blue azure (Coenagrion lunulatum).  In sheltered spots males battled over unseen territories while the females were somewhat less conspicuous or daring in the challenging conditions.  Much less common, and at the beginning of their flight season, were a few emerald damselflies (Lestes sponsa) with their almost iridescent green backs over more cream coloured flanks, only four were spotted but numbers should rise in the coming days.

The site was oddly lacking in butterflies around the flowery margins and sheltered banks of the pond.  The lack of the almost ubiquitous speckled wood was unexpected and the newly emerged ringlets were also strangely absent.  In fact the only butterfly of the day was a large skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) that settled on a tiny piece of willowherb by the path as we left the site.

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Large skipper (c) Duncan Hutt

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On Eycott Hill

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Blencathra from Eycott Hill nature reserve (c) Duncan Hutt

Eycott Hill isn’t one that comes immediately to mind when thinking Lake District fells, unless you are a geologist apparently.  This small volcanic outcrop is the centre on a newly opened Cumbria Wildlife Trust reserve, visited on the day it officially opened.  The hill is actually quite small and oddly only a couple of metres higher than the small car park for the reserve.  The view out is to the surrounding Lake District hills such as Blencathra and Great Mell Fell in the near distance and south-west to the more distant Scafell range.  These large hills frame the site and its upland type habitat seems to be entirely in place despite its relatively low altitude.

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Great Mell Fell from Eycott Hill nature reserve (c) Duncan Hutt

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Newly created meadow at Eycott Hill (c) Duncan Hutt

The path from the entrance to the summit crosses newly created meadows formed by spreading green hay from other local sites onto prepared and cleared ground which was perviously species poor.  There are more areas to do but at least one field  looked exactly as it should with yellow rattle, plantains, and hawkbits amongst the sward of wild flowers.

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Lasallia pustulata (c) Duncan Hutt

Beyond the meadows the land opens out into a mix of acid grassland, small patches of heath, with heather and bilbery, and areas of fen and bog.  The white splashes of cotton grass on these mires standing out from the mellow greens and browns around.  Small craggy outcrops speckled the surface, the rock crevices home to parsley fern and lichens such as Lasallia pustulata, both west coast species barely found back at home in Northumberland.  The summit itself was a windswept outlook and a painted lady bravely defended this vantage point from another foolhardy cousin that swirled past on the wind.

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Small pearl-bordered fritillary (c) Duncan Hutt

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Small pearl-bordered fritillary underwing (c) Duncan Hutt

Back below the summit the sun emerged more consistently from a sky that had doggedly held on to a plethora of grey and white mottled clouds.  With the sun a few more butterflies emerged; the small heath defying the wind to flick past only to settle with a plunging descent to a seemingly random stem of grass, wings tight closed as it landed.  Here too the rarer small pearl-bordered fritillaries darted past settling to show either their orange and dark brown patterned upper wings or the more mottled underwing.

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Marsh cinquefoil (c) Duncan Hutt

The bogs and mires were home to an interesting range of plants like the colourful marsh cinquefoil, bogbean and spearwort and some more diminutive sedges such as the rather unimpressive few-flowered sedge (Carex pauciflora), a species that is uncommon outside Scotland.

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Few flowered sedge (c) Duncan Hutt

The site had been overgrazed during a relatively short lasting ownership before the management was taken over by the Cumbria Wildlife Trust and it is only now beginning to recover from this interlude.  The grazing was taken off completely for a while and is now being returned slowly and carefully using a small herd of Luing cattle, a hardy breed that will live here year round.

All going well this is now a site that is only going to improve in the years to come, much work has already been done and there is much more to do.  It is a fascinating and almost unknown corner of the Lake District providing an almost secret vista out on to the rest of the world around.

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Luing Cattle (c) Duncan Hutt

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Common by name

 

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Common blue (c) Duncan hutt

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Common vetch (Vicia sativa) (c) Duncan Hutt

At last the cloud and drizzle lifted today and the sun came out providing enough warmth for a few butterflies and other insects to appear.  There was enough time too to get out from work meetings to have a look at a sunny bank on Druridge Bay.  Here the swathe of wildflowers provided a colourful pattern of mostly purples and yellows; in amongst them the diminutive common vetch (Vicia sativa) with some attendant ants hunting over the flowers and leaves.

Most butterflies must have struggled over the past few days to hide out of the way of the damp and cold but a large white was the first to appear as the sun warmed up the day.  Here too a common blue flitted into view, its wings not entirely uncurled indicating this to be a new emergence of the day.  Hopefully this was good timing but as the sea fret rolled back in off the North Sea it may have wished it had stayed in its chrysalis for a day or two more.

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Do look up

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Beech leaves in Cairn Wood (c) Duncan Hutt

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Horse chestnut leaves (c) Duncan Hutt

It’s an odd thing that most of us live our lives at eye level and below.  We may look down to the ground in front of our feet or at the distant horizon but rarely, unless prompted by the sound of a bird or an aeroplane, do we look up.  In cities the tops of all but the most iconic buildings remain largely unseen; in the countryside it is the trees that suffer our neglect.  In Cairn Wood, in the countryside above Belfast Lough in County Down, the bright sunshine and fresh spring leaves combined to provide a spectacle directly above.  The light breeze added to the dynamics of the vista with leaves playing in the dappled shadows of those above, dropping in an out of semi darkness.

The woodland trees were not all Irish natives: horse chestnut, with its seven fingered leaves, is an introduction to this part of the world along with beech.  Beech has a ‘natural distribution’ which includes the south of England but further north it has been assisted by people (would it have made it on its own by now to the north of England and beyond?).  In Ireland it’s a bit more clear-cut as it’s not native here at all and with the Irish Sea in the way would never have become so on its own.  Horse chestnut is a south-east European species introduced to both Great Britain and Ireland.  Alongside these two species were a few English oak and the occasional rowan but it was the beech that dominated here in this woodland.

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Beech and oak leaves meet in the canopy (c) Duncan Hutt

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