Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Ards Grassland

Ards has extensive areas of grassland and dunes leading down to the estuary. As we approached the area, the sun began to filter through the clouds and insects popped up from their hiding places.

The Peacock butterfly is emerging in large numbers at the moment, no doubt helped by the warm weather in July, when the larvae were feeding on nettles:

Peacock butterfly
The Silver-washed Fritillary is a large, fast-flying species, usually seen near high woodlands. A couple were nectaring, but were very fast and flighty (as usual):

Male Silver-washed Fritillary
This specimen is a male: you can see the four long, dark open scent glands on the forewings.

New to my species list, although I had seen high-flying specimens at this location before.

I found a single Fox Moth larva crawling through grass, although they feed on Heather, Bilberry and Willow in this kind of environment.

Larva of Fox Moth
New to my species list.

Hoverflies of the Sphaerophoria family are usually quite difficult to identify in the field, but the semicircular markings on the short abdomen make this Sphaerophoria interrupta:

Sphaerophoria interrupta, male
New to my species list.

I also spotted this bee, but I haven't identified it yet:

Bee on Ragwort
It has the look of a male about it, and it might well be an Andrena male, in which case that is the id closed.

One thing I noticed about the Ragwort was the small size of the petals. In my own locality, the flowers are perhaps 30mm across, whereas these were less than 20mm, although the central portion was the same size as usual. The habitat was very sandy, so perhaps these small flowers are all that the impoverished nutrition can support. It certainly didn't affect the attractiveness of the plants in any way: there were many hoverflies nectaring on them.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Foray to Ards

Given the success of my Drumboe foray, I took a trip to Ards just in case there was something early there, too. Within the first minute we had found plenty of Chanterelles in the usual place near the car park, and then I glanced up the forest path and immediately recognised the Destroying Angel - Amanita virosa:

Amanita virosa - Destroying Angel

Amanita virosa produces the same toxin as the Death Cap: this causes death by multiple organ failure within 72 hours. Something had chewed the right-hand side of the cap, destroying the symmetry of the image, but it will serve its purpose. Growing under Beech.

New to my species list (although I had seen destroyed specimens in previous years).

The next part of the foray was through mature mixed woodland, where many of the Conifers have been harvested, leaving plenty of open areas with some logs left behind to enhance the habitat. I spotted a couple of very fresh Russulas at the base of one of the stumps:

Russula velenovskyi
I had a great deal of trouble identifying this specimen when taking it through Geoff Kibby's excellent new key, with no decent match turning up. After a couple of days, however, I noticed that the stipe had developed a pink tinge at the base and that led me quite quickly to Russula velenovskyi. Key characters (in my specimen) are: blood-red cap with umbo, peeling 60%, cream gills and spores, mild taste and smell, pale pink suffusion to base of stipe. Habitat is said to be mixed woodland, and there were plenty of Beech trees nearby.

New to my species list

The next notable species was a bracket - which I hadn't seen before - on a dead deciduous branch:

Crepidotus mollis: top and underside
Thinking it was something special, I took a specimen back with me and made a spore print. It turned out to be Crepidotus mollis, which is very common and widespread, so I have no idea why I hadn't seen it before.

New to my species list

A couple of red waxcaps caught my eye: I noticed they had very sticky (viscid) caps:

Hygrocybe mucronella
Waxcaps are usually associated with grassland, but I find quite a few on bare soil under trees.

New to my species list

Many of the expected Ards fungi were not yet obvious, although I did spot a little patch of the exceedingly rare Phellodon melaleucus in its usual spot:

Phellodon melaleucus

This has clearly just emerged, and is paler than the long-lived mature caps will be later in the year.

Ramaria stricta was also very fresh-looking:

Ramaria stricta
Whilst Ards contains this ancient forest, it also has a coastal fringe on three sides, so we took a look there to see what was around. Just as we arrived the sun came out, so we were soon surrounded by insects of all types foraging, flying and just sunbathing. I'll keep that for tomorrow.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Foray in Drumboe

Based on sightings and numbers of fungi seen recently, I suspected we were having an early and productive year for them, so I went to Drumboe to see what was going on. Drumboe is usually pretty good for more common fungi, but I was astonished at the numbers and wide range of fungi that I found close together, sometimes finding half a dozen different species under a single tree: every step brought new specimens into view.

First sighting was the Porcelain Mushroom - Oudemansiella mucida:

Porcelain mushroom - Oudemensiella mucida
It grows on the upper ends of dead Beech wood, so it's always easy to get an underside shot, which shows the beautiful and delicate cap:

Oudemansiella mucida underside
The next tree was a very live Beech, and the floor below it was covered with mushrooms of every colour: an amazing sight. The first to catch my eye was a batch of Chanterelles:

These have a wonderful scent reminiscent of apricots. Wonderful flavour, too.....

There were various Russulas and Lactarius, mostly in some degree of wear and tear. I used Geoff Kibby's excellent new key to Russulas to identify this specimen as Russula aurora:

Russula aurora
The key features of this Russula are: the blood-red cap, fading to cream in the centre, cuticle peeling to 50%, mild taste, mild smell, white spores.

New to my species list.

The Lactarius family can be recognised by the production of 'milk' from the gills when damaged. This 'milk' can be very useful when identifying Lactarius species, as it can taste hot, bitter or mild, and the taste can be instantly obvious, or develop slowly over time:

Lactarius 'milk'
This specimen turned out to be Lactarius brittanicus, which has a strong association with Beech.

I also found Lactarius piperatus, which has very hot milk.

The same tree was host to the bolete Xerocomus chrysenteron - the Red Cracking Bolete:

Xerocomus chrysenteron - Red Cracking Bolete
(Although I'm pretty sure that one was renamed a few years ago). 

There were also plenty of specimens of the Beechwood Sickener - Russula mairei:

Beechwood Sickener
The Blusher - Amanita rubescens - is a fairly frequent find under broadleaf trees:

The Blusher - Amanita rubescens

Mycena pura can vary dramatically in size. Some specimens are small and very dainty, measuring 15-20 mm across the cap, but others - like the following specimen - can be large enough to be confused with Wood Blewits:

Mycena pura
Fortunately, the smell is instantly recognisable: it can be described as being like radishes or raw potatoes: raphanoid.

Earthballs can be separated from Puffballs by the absence of a stem:

Earthball Scleroderma citrinum
I also find earthballs are heavier for their size.

I spotted this Ascomycete, and realised that I hadn't seen it before:

Tarzetta cupularis
Tarzetta cupularis is identified by the teeth around the rim and the downy exterior, and is associated with mosses. There are a handful of Irish records.

New to my species list.

Helvella macropus is another scarce fungus, which I have previously seen on only one occasion:

Helvella macropus
It is essentially a grey cup fungus on a long, thin, felty stipe. Again, a handful of Irish records.

Another fungus which I rarely see: 

Earth Star - Thelophora spiculosa
Thelophora spiculosa is a ground-hugging fungus that can be very easily overlooked. It grows in moist soil, as do the liverworts underneath it.

No trip to Drumboe is complete without finding one of my favourites - Marasmius hudsonii:

Marasmius hudsonii
Marasmius hudsonii is specific to Holly leaves, and that shot shows a spike on a Holly leaf to the right for size. The spines which cover the minute cap can clearly be seen in silhouette. 

I feel a trip to Ards coming on for Sunday.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Shirley Estate, Carrickmacross

I joined the Monaghan field trip to this huge estate for a few hours, and was amazed by the variety of rich and unusual habitats. The estate is on limestone (yay!), and at one point we were in what seems to be a 'doline', where a stream had run underground, forming a cave which had then collapsed, leaving a kind of amphitheatre, with a smooth limestone wall to one side and trees growing round the other three sides.

Here's a shot looking down into the doline with the sheer limestone surface at the top of the image:

Looking down into the doline

I was 'doing' hoverflies and leaf-miners but, as usual, I was taking shots of whatever looked interesting.

Whilst checking for leaf-miners, I found this blotch on Horse Chestnut:

Guignardia aescula on Horse Chestnut

At first, I couldn't make up my mind whether it was a mine or a fungus, but when I looked under a hand lens, I could see the fruitbodies of a minute fungus. It's Guignardia aesculi.

There were a few small areas of very marshy ground with associated sedges and other plants and insects. This is Bladder Sedge, which formed large drifts of densely-packed leaves:

Bladder Sedge
New to my species list.

This was my first clue that I was on limestone:
Cuckoo Pint
Cuckoo Pint (or Lords and Ladies) is a beautiful plant that I have only ever seen on lime.

We found this Great Diving Beetle as we crossed a field between bogs. There are a number of very similar species, all of them vicious carnivores. Whilst this one was being held for identification, I heard the immortal words from the identifier: "Hey, ouch, let me go!"
Great Diving Beetle - Dysticus marginalis
New to my species list.

I have noticed a few fungi peeping up on lawns and grassy areas, but this is the first 'mushroom' that I have seen this year:

Omphalina pyxidata
Omphalina is a very interesting genus of fungi, but in order to explain this, I need to take a few steps back:

Lichens are a composite organism formed from a combination of a fungus and one or more 'partners'. The partners are usually algae, but can sometimes be cyanobacteria. This association is usually described as a symbiotic relationship, but I'm having none of that: the fungi can't live alone, but the alga can, so I see this more as a parasitisation of the alga by the dominant fungus. The fungus gains the benefits of a photosynthetic partner, but what does the alga receive?

The fruitbodies of lichens are always purely fungal, and can often resemble tiny mushrooms (which they actually are), so we can have boundary species which appear to be fungi, but can actually be lichens. Omphalina sp. take this a step further: they can happily live their own lives like any other mushroom, but in times of stress, they can capture algae to supplement their food resources. So some Omphalinas are part-time lichens.

New to my species list.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Angelica time!

Angelica is one of the most important late summer nectar sources: their flowerheads are often covered in insects. Flies, hoverflies, bees, wasps, sawflies, ichneumonids, beetles and moths are often seen nectaring next to each other - mostly in harmony - but they all tend to keep a watchful eye just in case one of the sawflies gets a bit ambitious. A few spiders also lurk under the umbels and the remains of previous meals can often be seen hanging on gossamer threads.

I got a nice comparison between two identifiable ichneumonids - Amblyteles armatorius and Ichneumon extensorius - on Angelica today. Amblyteles armatorius is one of the larger parasitic wasps, at around 25 mm. long:

Amblyteles armatorius
These are parasitic on larger moths.

Ichneumon extensorius is very similarly patterned, but is much smaller, at around 15 mm. long:

Ichneumon extensorius
Sadly, the remaining 2998 or so species of our parasitic wasps need a specimen, a microscope, a reference collection and several volumes of conflicting books in order to get an identification. If I had another life, I would 'do' these.

Almost every head of Angelica has a male wasp crawling slowly over it. The males are ejected from the nest as 'excess baggage' as soon as they are ready.

Male wasp

Another frequent visitor to Angelica is the fly Sciara hemerobioides: in fact, it's the only place I've ever seen it.

Sciara hemerobioides
It took me perhaps 3-4 years to get that id: for ages I was sure it was a sawfly.

This area is on the edge of an old bog that was planted with Spruce in the 1950's. The trees were harvested about eight years ago, and some of the original vegetation is beginning to return. This is Marsh Woundwort:

Marsh Woundwort

Almost surprisingly, about 2 metres away, I found Hedge Woundwort:

Hedge Woundwort
That might explain why I have found the hybrid Woundwort - Stachys x ambigua - near here from time to time. I don't see the hybrid every year, but I suppose since the hybrid is sterile, it would need to be recreated each year.

I spotted this hoverfly and thought it was my usual Xylota segnis, but the yellow end to the abdomen intrigued me. Turns out it's Xylota sylvarum, and is new to my species list.

Xylota sylvarum
The larvae can be found in rot holes and sap runs in older trees.

The Large White butterfly was not recorded for around 12 years in my local area, but as soon as I planted some cabbage, they came flooding back. I found this batch of eggs this morning:

Eggs of Large White butterfly
Here's a close-up:

Large White eggs - close-up