Sunday, 31 January 2010


Ards forest is the best woodland I have ever been in, and is probably the best wildlife site I have visited: every time I approach, my heart starts to beat more quickly, because I know I'm going to see something interesting. The forest sits on a headland jutting into the Atlantic, which means it's first landfall from the west, and is thereby completely free from pollution. It is also an ancient woodland, which is sensitively managed (or will be, when the remaining spruce plantation is felled in the near future), with logs left in situ to provide habitat for fungi and beetles. This combination of clean air, age and care leads to a microclimate which nurtures some of the rarest lichens, fungi and insects. I visit several times in the autumn, and occasionally in winter. These shots are from Friday's visit:

The moss Ulota crispa is always found on the upper side of tree branches, showing no favouritism for any species of tree. Fruiting freely, this specimen shows old spore capsules (brown and open) and new season's spore capsules (yellow and hairy).

People are always looking for something to control Rhododendrons. Perhaps the Vine Weevil would fit the job?

Two microfungi (both new to me) on leaves: Firstly, Ustilago striiformis on a leaf of Canary Reed Grass - Phalaris arundinacea:

And this is the Discomycete Coccomyces dentatus, on a fallen Oak leaf:

Staying with fungi (a fungus is the dominant partner in each lichen), these are the (purely fungal) fruitbodies of Lobaria pulmonaria:

And these are fruitbodies on an Usnea:

Saturday, 23 January 2010

What freeze?

I would have thought that the coldest winter for 47 years would have set things back a bit, but today I found Willow catkins starting to appear:

We had an early frost and fog today....ideal for photographing mosses. This is the recent (40 years or so) interloper from the southern hemisphere, Campylopus introflexus:

It has the most wonderful spore capsules (~2.5 mm tall):

Close-up (blogger permitting):

That's one of my favourite shots of all time.

Baeomyces rufus is a very common lichen on exposed soil, rock and old wood. The green cluster is another specimen of Campylopus, shown above:

The fruit bodies are (of course) purely fungal ( each mini-mushroom is about 2mm. tall):

Saturday, 16 January 2010

And we're off!

The first signs of spring activity are always near the freshwater stream. Maybe the constantly-flowing water helps the temperature.

A single flower of Lesser Celandine - Ranunculus ficaria - peeked out from the sodden leaves:

The back of the ditches are always covered in mosses and liverworts, but this is the time of year to look for them, since annual vegetation hasn't yet concealed them. This is the liverwort Conocephalum conicum, which I always think has reptilian-like structures:

But wait.....what's that pale-green growth at the top right of the image? Much zooming in reveals another liverwort: Lophocolea bidentata. The shoot you see is about 10mm long and 3mm wide. This is a new species for me and a delightful discovery for my first walk of the year on the hedgerow:

Mosses are also looking good. The first is Tortula muralis (note the white-haired leaves at the base).

And this is an early glimpse of Bryum capillare (leaves are about 1mm x 2mm):

I never cease to be amazed by the beauty of mosses.

Hard Shield Fern fronds are still in good condition:

And finally, Ivy-leaved Water Crowfoot has reappeared in a muddy track:

Not bad for the first outing of the year.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Survival of the fittest

This was noon today: -6 degrees in the sun.

The vast majority* of our wildlife is under there somewhere, hibernating or overwintering as an egg or pupa. Some lie at the bottom of ditches and ponds, others in crevices in bark, some buried in the ground. Eventually, when we get a thaw, survivors will begin to emerge and start the cycle all over again. Survival of the fittest indeed.

*the remainder will be lying somewhere in Southern Europe or North Africa.