Friday, 28 September 2012

Ards - Continued

Although the primary reason behind my visits to Ards is to explore the fungal flora, I always see a host of other things that attract my attention for one reason or another.

Ards is the only place where I have found the native Golden Rod. It has a distinct requirement for woodland, and the distribution maps tend to show a western bias, and you don't get extensive woodlands much further west in Donegal than Ards.
Native Golden Rod
Eagle eyes will have spotted the odd leaf at bottom right: it's a leaf of Honeysuckle that has been mined by Chromatomyia aprilina:

Honeysuckle leaf mined by Chromatomyia aprilina
When trying to track down leaf miners, the frass (dung!) pattern is a very good starting place. Note that the frass (thin black line in the white mine) is distributed in a line down one side of the mine. That's a clear pointer that this mine has been made by the larva of a fly, so we can ignore all the moths, wasps and beetles. That leaves us with just a couple of species of fly that mine Honeysuckle, and we quickly arrive at Chromatomyia aprilina by the shape of the mine.

Wood Sage is another plant that I only ever find in woodland:
Wood Sage
Drumboe in Ballybofey is another place to find it.

Just as I was taking the shots of Wood sage, a shadow passed over and I saw a specimen of Speckled Wood landing on a Rhododendron:

Speckled Wood butterfly
Notice that it's in absolutely perfect condition, so that makes it one of the few third-generation specimens for this year. I find fresh specimens in April, July and September, indicating that we have roughly 8 weeks between generations. Interestingly enough, next year's first generation will more than likely be the offspring of this year's summer generation, since a third generation doesn't always happen. It seems that we're seeing a transition from two generations a year to three as warming increases.

I was a little surprised to see Viola riviniana in flower:

Viola riviniana - Common Dog Violet
Sometimes, when conditions are right, our spring flowers can have a second push in autumn. Day length might well be an influence here, since we normally see Dog Violets just after the spring equinox and it's just after the autumn equinox now.

Devilsbit Scabious, on the other hand, is just at its best right now:

Meliscaeva cinctella on Devilsbit Scabious
The hoverfly is Meliscaeva cinctella, which feeds on aphids as a larva.

I rather like that picture.

I found this Oak Cherry gall on a fallen leaf:

Oak Cherry gall - Cynips quercusfolii
Galls are plant (or fungal) growths made by insects for their own benefit. The female lays her egg(s) and the plant is thereby stimulated into making unusual material growth on leaves, buds, twigs, seeds or roots. The larva lives inside the growth, feeding on the inside of it. Galls are a pretty good place for an insect to develop: there is protection plus a good supply of food. But wildlife is never that simple. There are other insects who know that the gall contains food, shelter and a larva. These burrow or drill their way into the gall and then one of three things occurs: either the incomer coexists happily with the gall-maker (an inquiline), or it kills the original larva as food either for itself (a predator) or it lays eggs inside the original larva as food for its young (a parasite). It doesn't stop there, however. Some parasites and predators target only the inquilines, and so we can have a changing population of larvae, inquilines, parasites and predators all existing within a single gall. The number of different species taken from inside a single gall specimen exceeds 50.

This spider was hanging vertically on a Hazel leaf. The abdominal pattern indicates the Common Garden Spider - Araneus diadematus, but the abdomen is much smaller than I usually expect to see. It's suspect it's a male:
Common Garden Spider - male
This flower looked a bit strange amongst a bank of normal specimens. I quickly worked out what it was. Can you?
Mystery flower

And I almost forgot this huge puffball that I found near the car park. It's Handkea excipuliformis, around 20 cm tall, with a 7 cm diameter cap:

Handkea excipuliformis
The cap will soon develop slits that allow the spores to be forcibly expelled when hit by raindrops or animals (or people with sticks)

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Ards forest

I always visit Ards forest at least once during the fungal season, and Sunday promised a few dry hours, so off I went. Despite the recent rain, there didn't appear to be a great many specimens, but I did find a decent range of singletons.

Tricholomopsis rutilans is one of the few fungi that were traditionally allocated a common name: Plums and Custard.
Tricholomopsis rutilans - Plums and Custard
I have often mused about the reason for some species having common names, whilst the vast majority do not. All species have a double-barrelled 'formal name', but I suppose that common names were allocated to species that were:

  • a) easily recognisable
  • b) important for one reason or another (I'm thinking edibility or toxins or medicines here)
I should point out that there was an exercise undertaken a few years ago to allocate a common name to hundreds of fungi. The idea behind this is that the formal binominal is usually Latin or Greek in origin, and is therefore seen to be 'unfriendly' or 'daunting' or 'offputting'.  Having learned all the formal names, I won't be re-learning the new ones.

The Russula family of mushrooms is readily identified by the brightly-coloured cap and chalk-white stipe (stem). Many species of this family (and others!) require chemical analysis or microscopic analysis or odour or 'percentage peelability of the cap' for confirmation of the identity, so I'll preface any identifications as tentative for now. Spore prints are under preparation. (I'm currently waiting for Geoff Kibby's new monograph on Russulas to arrive in the post, so I'll update identifications as required).

Russula ochroleuca is very common in Ards, being found under conifers and broad-leaf trees: 

Russula ochroleuca

This specimen was also found under conifers:

The blackish centre and very peelable cap are leading me towards Russula fragilis:

Russula cf. fragilis

This specimen has buff/yellow gills, and was again found under a conifer:

Russula cf. erythropus
The gills are joined at their base by cross-veins and the cap peeled perhaps 10%, so this is pointing towards Russula erythropus.

Mycenas are very delicate little fungi, often found growing in moss:

Mycena in Dicranum majus moss
It's always good to see Chanterelles. Sadly, I only found one:

Chanterelle - Cantharellus cibarius

The underside of Chanterelles has thick, forked ridges, rather than gills:

Chanterelle underside

I also found a couple of Hedgehog mushrooms:
Hedgehog mushroom
The underside of Hedgehog has spines, just one of the many techniques that fungi use to increase the spore-producing area:

Underside of Hedgehog mushroom, showing spines

Last year, I tentatively identified these as Cortinarius semisanguineus:

Cortinarius cf. semisanguineus
Nobody has disagreed so far.....

I found a single specimen of Phellodon melaleucus in its usual spot:

Phellodon melaleucus
It's a very rare mushroom smelling strongly of fenugreek when dry.

I found a few specimens of Wood Sorrel in a very dark and damp part of the forest that had been infected with the rather scarce Mycosphaerella depazeiformis.

Mycosphaerella depazeiformis on Wood Sorrel
I looked up the records for Mycosphaerella depazeiformis and found that there are only 6 previous records in BI. Three are from Ireland, the most recent in 1936 in Cork. It's very noticeable, so I think it's actually rather scarce, rather than just under-recorded.

More (non-fungal) items from Ards in the next post.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Still new

A few interesting opportunities have presented themselves over the last couple of weeks.

I rather like this shot of three different hoverflies all nectaring together in a rare opportunity. Normally these insects would disturb each other and the smaller ones will fly off to find other flowers, but in this gap in the rain, any source of food is welcome and their tolerance is greatly increased.

The larger one is a Syrphus sp., probably Syrphus ribesii. The medium-sized one is a male Platycheirus sp.: you can just make out the elongated and yellow front feet. The third is a female Melanostoma scalare in the locally frequent dark form.

Trio of hoverflies on Dandelion

In the last post, I showed one of the many male wasps that can be found wandering over flowerheads at the moment. Male bumblebees have also been ejected from the hives, and can be found in much the same situation: surplus to requirements:
Male bumblebee
Male bumblebees can be identified by basically being more colourful than the workers or queens, usually in conjunction with wider yellow bands and yellow on the face.

The lights at the front door are still attracting the occasional moth, along with other insects that are attracted to light.

The wet weather tends to flush scales off their wings, so identification becomes even trickier than usual. This shot of the Common Marbled Carpet shows just enough detail to provide an identification:

Common Marbled Carpet

A number of different Thorn moths appear in Autumn: their colours and shapes enable them to merge in with fallen leaves. This is a new species for me - the Canary-shouldered Thorn:
Canary-shouldered Thorn
Food plants are Birch, Alder, Willow, Lime and (not around here!) Elm.

New to my species list.

Pink-barred Sallow is another Willow feeder:
Pink-barred Sallow
The larval foodplant is Willow catkins and the adults nectar on Ivy flowers.

The Ichneumonid Ophion luteus is also attracted to light, and is often found inside light traps that have been set out to attract moths.

The Ichneumonid Ophion luteus
This micromoth appeared on my kitchen window in broad daylight, and I was delighted to notice that it is also new to me. It's Acleris sparsana, a Beech feeder.

Acleris sparsana micromoth
New to my Species List.

I spotted this pair of pink mushrooms on my lawn:

Mycena pura
They smell strongly of raw potato (some say radishes), so that points us neatly towards Mycena pura.

I also noticed this little mushroom nearby:

Psilocybe semilanceata
The little pimple on the top alerted me to the fact that it might be Psilocybe semilanceata - the original 'magic mushroom', so I took a spore print to check:

Psilocybe semilanceata spores x 400

  • Spores oval and smooth
  • Spores 12-15 microns
  • Spores purple-brown

That'll do.

One of the questions that I'm most commonly asked is "When did you start being interested in wildlife?", and my answer is simply "As soon as I could walk". My father was recently going through his collection of 35mm slides and he found this shot of me with a young Starling chick:

Me aged 7 with a Starling chick
Maybe I should make that my profile picture.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Enough for a page

At last I have enough to fill a page.

The Angelica is sadly going to seed now, and I only managed a few visits in dry weather. This is one of the many male wasps that have been thrown out of the nests to forage for themselves:

Male wasp on Angelica
These males can be recognised by their long, droopy antennae and their slow movement over the flowerheads.

Leucozona glaucia has certainly been scarcer this year. I'm not sure if this has been caused by last year's excessive rain or this year's excessive rain.

Leucozona glaucia hoverfly

Amblyteles armatorius is one of the few Ichneumonids that can be identified without microscopic analysis:
The Ichneumonid Amblyteles armatorius
There are many similar species, including Ichneumon extensorius, which has the same colouration, but is half the size, at around 10-15mm long.

One of the problems with identification of Mirid bugs is that some of them change colour in the later part of the season, so there are different confusion species at different times of the year. Stenodema holsata is brown in its first season, but will be green next year:

Mirid bug Stenodema holsata
New to my Species Index.

Compare with Stenodema laevigata (which is longer and thinner) on this earlier post.

I was working a line of Alders tonight and found this mine:

Mine of the Agromyzid fly Agromyza alnivora on Alder
Agromyza alnivora is a rarely-recorded fly with a wide distribution range, and I have only found it twice. Alder is a very common tree, so there must be some reason for its scarcity. I notice that the mine is very long and tortuous, starting near centre-right and wandering roughly clockwise twice before descending down the right-hand side to the crescent-shaped exit point (bottom centre).  This is a very much longer mine than I would expect to see from a miner of this size, so I can only assume that it is a very inefficient feeder (Alder is clearly a very nutritious plant, given the number of species that feed on it). This, in turn, will increase opportunities for competing organisms to dominate and for parasites/predators to attack. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that this is a species that is relatively new, or is on the way out.

The Peacock butterfly relies on Nettles for larval food, so I'm always a bit puzzled that I see most of my local specimens in an area where there are no nettles (that I know of) for hundreds of metres in any direction.

Peacock butterfly
This area is at the edge of recently-harvested coniferous plantation, so perhaps there is some 'memory' of nettles in previous decades.

Moths to light include:

Large Yellow Underwing (a clear sign of the progressing year):

Large Yellow Underwing
Rosy Minor:
Rosy Minor

The extremely variable Common Marbled Carpet:

Common Marbled Carpet

And a new (to me) micromoth:

Epinotia nisella

Epinotia nisella is a Willow feeder. This specimen is not of the usually-illustrated form, but is more like the mainland European specimens.

New to my Species Index.