Tuesday 23 November 2021

Broadland Country Park, 17 November 2021

This local Honeyguide event was a return to Broadland Country Park, between Horsford and Felthorpe – we also had a small group here in September – as this splendid mix of heath and woodland remains new to many people.

It was too late in the year for many flowers; a few herb Roberts, gorse (low and unscented, so probably western gorse) and some last-lingering blooms of bell heather. So it was mostly a chance to see how our fungi knowledge was developing, or being retained, not least from the recent Foxley Wood walk, which all of us were on.

Clouded funnel.
The start was immediately challenging: a large white fungus, high on a dead tree … more of that later. That was followed by a patch of clouded funnels, which we did know, and several strange white masses. At the time our best guess was a slime mould species, but having shown photos to James Emerson, they were powderpuff bracket (Postia ptychogaster). This species isn’t in Sterry & Hughes, the field guide I use.

Powderpuff bracket Postia ptychogaster, collage.

We started by overlooking the fenced heath from the picnic benches, and talking in general about what the very new Broadland Country Park has to offer before taking an anti-clockwise circuit around the country park. It was good to see the lorry and digger on site both improving the path and enhancing ditches and wetland areas.

Broadland Country Park: work in progress today to improve paths and enhance wetland areas.

Under Scots pines and bracken there were scores of common earthball fungi, at their prime on the previous walk in September and still looking good. However now they were ready to burst, sending out clouds of smoky spores. Here we also found amethyst deceivers.

Amethyst deceivers; common earthballs.

Once on the wide trackway we were among birches and sweet chestnuts. We paused to look at a fallen downy birch in a damp patch. A good find a little farther along from here was a fallen birch with many examples of crimped gill (Plicatura crispa) – another fungus that isn’t in the book. I’d seen this previously on Mousehold Heath. An online check (the National Biodiversity Network, here) suggests crimped gill isn’t yet found in Norfolk, but that database is lagging behind actual recording; a map James sent shows several recent records in Norfolk.

Crimped gill (Plicatura crispa), with distribution in Norfolk at end of 2019.

Here we also stopped to watch birds as a goldcrest was moving through a berried holly tree. Long-tailed tits then appeared, as did blue and coal tits. Other birds today were the chipping call of a great spotted woodpecker and flight calls of siskins, plus the perhaps expected blackbird, robin and jays, then jackdaws and woodpigeons on fields next to the wood.

Another fallen birch stump had around 65 hoof (or tinder) fungi. This fungus starts as parasitic, then continues to grow on dead trees.On a few of these were the cocoons of the fungus gnat Sciophila rufa. This is the species found earlier this year – including by our September group – on a different birch stump with hoof fungi at Broadland Country Park, then the third record for England and a second for Norfolk. As we’d also found this at Foxley Wood, we are still wondering if it is becoming quite widespread.

Hoof fungi on a fallen birch. On the left fungus, which is clearly layered, the bottom layer is the youngest; hoof fungi can live for up to 30 years. Top right includes a fungus gnat cocoon.

We looked up a yellowish brittlegill under dry birch trees and concluded it was ochre brittlegill. Jon read in the book that it has a ‘hot taste’, so he tasted it and confirmed exactly that!

Ochre brittlegill.

Another species near here was brown rollrim. The photo shows characteristic brown bruising on the gills, as well as a rolled rim.

Brown rollrim.

A clump of fungi may well have been burgundydrop bonnet; the name is because it exudes a dark red latex when the stem is broken. Somehow, I’ve missed this splendidly named fungus before– perhaps as there are five pages of bonnet species.

Perhaps burgundydrop bonnet.

Other fungi species today were candlesnuff, turkeytail, honey fungus, common rustgill, sulphur tuft and birch polypore. There were various fungi we couldn’t identify with confidence, including a lovely red Russula (brittlegill): bloody brittlegill is the likely species.

A Russula (brittlegill), probably bloody brittlegill.

Birches at Broadland Country Park.
The sun was still shining as we walked through the rest of the birch wood, across the small heathland of St Faiths Common and back to the car park. This reminded us to take a photo of the white bracket-like fungus on a dead beech, far out of reach. James advises that it is veiled oyster, despite not looking anything like an oyster fungus, and that it was seen on a fungus foray earlier in November. Sterry & Hughes says for this species, ‘becoming flatter and bracket-like’ and describes it as ‘occasional in England’.

Now we know ... veiled oyster.
As we went the few yards to eat picnics on the handily provided picnic benches by the heath, we saw a fresh and bright peacock butterfly sunning itself on a log, its ‘eyes’ flashing purple. It was too quick (or I was too slow) for a photo.

Chris Durdin

Tuesday 16 November 2021

A November afternoon at Hickling Broad

A November afternoon at Hickling Broad, 8 November 2021.

Guest blog by Honeyguider Geoff Morries.

Chris was waiting for us as Jane and I arrived at NWT Hickling just after midday. The visitor centre was closed but appeared to have been left in the charge of a peacock which dutifully strutted up and down outside the locked doors. From the picnic area, we watched a great spotted woodpecker as it made its way to the top of a nearby tree. Almost immediately, we started seeing common darter dragonflies – in flight and at rest on wooden fence rails that had warmed up appreciably in the November sunshine – and they continued to be a feature of our walk for much of the afternoon. One even landed on Jane's shoulder.

Common darter, Hickling.

Much more unusual, at least for Jane and me, was another member of the Odonata – the willow emerald damselfly Chalcolestes viridis. Along with a closely related species, this damselfly is unique among European Odonata in that it lays its eggs on tree branches that overhang water.  Although widespread in continental Europe, it has colonised Britain only quite recently. Chris spotted one in a willow bush close to a patch of open water fringed by Lesser Reedmace. Although we had seen the egg-laying scars on willow branches on an earlier visit in June, this was our first sighting of the creature itself. I was amused by its leg action when at rest, rather like an insect pedalling an exercise bike. Although it stayed in one spot only for a few minutes, it didn't leave the willow bush, and Chris was able to get some nice photos showing the burnished top and green sides of its thorax.

Willow emerald damselfly on autumn leaves (digiscoped).

As we walked, we had many good views of marsh harriers, often flying low over the reeds, one carrying a small item of prey. On days like this it is hard to believe that there are in fact fewer marsh harriers than there are golden eagles in Britain. As yet spared the attentions of predators was a wood mouse which stayed with us for several minutes. It seemed curiously reluctant to leave the open path for the vegetation cover alongside, and we wondered if it was unwell. 

Wood mouse on the main path at Hickling.
Brambles alongside the path provided some remarkably intense autumn colour, as did the vivid red hanging clusters of black bryony berries. Chris found spangle galls on oak leaves, and also a cluster of tiny pale blue-green eggs, each apparently with an exit hole.

We were turning oak leaves to look for galls, and found these eggs. An internet search suggests moths, such as buff tip moth. Any ideas?

A flock of about 35 curlews flew overhead, and then Chris showed us a breeding site for the fen mason wasp Odynerus simillimus, a very local species found in Britain only in East Anglia. This solitary wasp seeks out dry, bare patches within wetlands to make its peculiar nest in the ground, whose entrance hole is topped by a tiny round 'turret', like a miniature chimney-pot. 

We had brief views of a kingfisher as it flew to and from its perch on an old tree branch set into the ground at the edge of the reeds. Chris and Jane spotted a bittern flying over the reedbeds as we approached Brendan's marsh. The yellow flower still in evidence here in large patches over shallow water and exposed mud was the buttonweed Cotula coronopifolia, a composite native to the southern hemisphere, and now widely naturalised in Britain, mostly near the coast.

You could say that Chris had saved the best until last. We hadn't been at Stubb Mill for many minutes when five common cranes flew majestically in front of us, shortly followed by another five, and then yet another five birds. A little while later one landed within sight of us. I had wanted to see these magnificent creatures in Britain for almost as long as I can remember, and I wasn't disappointed.  The stately bearing of the cranes against the low sun, flying with an easy, confident motion, necks and legs outstretched, trumpeting as they went, was something timeless and truly special that I shall not forget.

 Five cranes flying, photo by Tony Brooks, who was there with us at the 'raptor viewpoint' and kindly sent his photos.

More photos from today are also on Honeyguide's Facebook.

Geoff Morries

Sunday 14 November 2021

Buckenham Marshes with Geoff Crane, 14 November 2021

Geoff Crane is the man behind Crane's Cape Tours & Travel, both our local leader and ground agent for Honeyguide in South Africa. Flights recently restarted between South Africa and the UK, and Geoff was here visiting family. He also took time to come to Norwich, staying at Oaklands Hotel (which Honeyguide uses for Norfolk breaks, in and near the Norfolk Broads).

Geoff's visit coincided with Malcolm Crowder's birthday, so that gave two good reasons to organise a gathering of Honeyguiders for a celebratory meal.

A grey and damp Saturday afternoon at NWT Thorpe Marshes wasn't the best way to showcase November wildlife, so on the Sunday morning seven of us went to Buckenham Marshes, part of the RSPB's Mid Yare nature reserves. 

The Buckenham Marshes area is known for its huge roost of rooks and jackdaws, and during the day it remains a good place for rooks. Seeing them with an overseas visitor was a reminder of how we all have to learn the difference between rooks and crows. A flock of redwings moved west, though there were more starlings: Geoff said how there are European starlings in South Africa and they still go into winter plumage, but only for about a fortnight.

There were several Chinese water deer feeding on the grazing marshes. Geoff said their shape reminded him of waterbuck (though an antelope, not a deer). 

Birds of prey this morning were buzzard, kestrel and marsh harrier; there was no sign of the local peregrines. 

Wigeons, Buckenham Marshes.

Wintering wildfowl are always the main attraction here. With it being so mild, wigeons numbered in hundreds rather than thousands, but were still flying in impressive flocks and settling very close to the track. There were good numbers of shovelers and teals plus a few shelducks and gadwalls. Lapwings were scattered among the ducks and two golden plovers flew over.

It would have been surprising if we saw no pink-footed geese, especially as skeins had come over my house on the edge of Norwich at breakfast time. As well as plenty of 'pinks' in flight, on the marshes there were good numbers of Canada geese, greylags and handful of a local feral population of barnacle geese.

It was time for Geoff to think about heading back to Hampshire, though first we were treated to coffee courtesy of local Honeyguiders Tim and Cheryl.

Before last night's dinner I did a count of Honeyguide holidays with Geoff in South Africa: 124 of us in 15 parties since 2005. That's a lot of happy memories, myself included on four of these trips. Realistically we'll have to concentrate on closer holidays in 2022, though if there are any intrepid Honeyguiders who'd like to travel to South Africa, do get in touch and probably Geoff could be your guide.

Honeyguiders with Geoff Crane (middle, back).

Chris Durdin

Wednesday 10 November 2021

Foxley Wood guided walk, 5 November 2021

An autumn outing to Foxley Wood Norfolk Wildlife Trust nature reserve was with fungi in mind, though like any Honeyguide group, eight of us today, we looked at all kinds of wildlife. Two marsh tits and a calling nuthatch were bird highlights, and a flock of redwings flew over the car park as the last of the group finished their sandwiches.

A few late lingering flowers included red campion and black knapweed; red admiral and an unidentified hawker were the most obvious late insects. We also found evidence of a rare invertebrate: more of that later.

The wood was nicely busy this sunny morning. A work party was assembling and moving tools at much the same time as the Honeyguiders arrived, and later we saw them spreading cuttings from woodland rides onto a field that is extending the nature reserve. One of NWT's fundraising team was escorting some people around, and I was able to tell Kate that today's walk included a contribution to NWT - we sent £75.

There was no fungi expert in our group, and it was very much a case of pooling our knowledge, seeing what we could find in books and taking some photos for later. James Emerson has kindly looked at many of those photos, in some cases confirming IDs, sometimes not. As you’ll see in the comments below, often an ID to species isn’t possible in the field and especially just from photos.

Unidentified Russula (brittlegill).
These colourful brittlegills (Russulas) were an early find. We puzzled over the various red species in the book and came to no conclusion. James says they cannot be identified to species from photographs, which is in a way encouraging  and supports not plumping for a species ID. 

Milkcap sp.
Our best guess on this was oakbug milkcap. James says: "The other one is a milkcap, but not Oakbug Milkcap, which has noticeable concentric circles visible on the cap. There are quite a few orange milkcaps, so this isn't identifiable further just from photos." So that continues the theme that don't know is OK! That's despite all of us sniffing it. References say oakbug milkcap has an oily smell, similar to bed bugs, which didn't help any of us, though another scent mentioned is wet laundry, which we all knew and thought fitted. Hey ho.

False deathcap.
False deathcap was more straightforward (James agreed); it has a smell of potato peelings when broken.

Butter waxcap.

This yellow toadstool had us leafing through waxcap images; James later concurred with our conclusion of butter waxcap.

Stump puffball.
This small puffball was, at first, a puzzle. It looked like stump puffball, though that usually grows in clumps. A gentle feel under the moss revealed a small stump, from ride management presumably, and as it's the only puffball to grow on stumps, it's a good ID.

Trooping funnel, Clitocybe geotropa.
This funnel was one we photographed for later study. James advises it is trooping funnel Clitocybe geotropa.

Bolete, perhaps bay bolete.

James says "I'd say this one is likely to be Bay Bolete, Imleria badia" and not the bolete we plumped for while on the field. Somehow we missed that one in Sterry & Hughes, and this book has two more things in its favour. One is that there is a photo of blue discolouration, like this; the second is that it's in their 'top 100' species.

Milkcap sp.

Note the milk-like fluid on the above. James says: "The last one is definitely a milkcap, I'm not completely sure which, but Fleecy Milkcap, Lactifluus vellereus would be my guess."

Clouded funnel Clitocybe nebularis.

Julie and I knew these large, clumped toadstools, having seen them recently at Felbrigg: clouded funnel.

Fly agaric.
One we all knew, at last, in rides on the return loop - fly agaric.

Honey fungus Armillaria mellea.
I'm going to add one more species, as honey fungus is something I think of as clumps, often around the base of a tree or stump. Yet these were growing as singletons or scattered, and the same was the case at Strumpshaw Fen on the following day. ID confirmed by James. 

There were other species, and more photos, but that's probably enough for here. Helen Crowder kindly kept a list of the fungi that we saw, and in addition to the above those narrowed down to species were:

Common rustgill, common earthball, King Alfred’s cakes and sulphur tuft on same tree trunk, amethyst deceiver, blushing bracket, birch polypore, lilac bonnet, candlesnuff, witch’s broom gall on birch caused by a fungus called Taphrina betulina, hairy curtain crust, turkeytail.

Hoof fungi plus cocoons of a fungus gnat Sciophila rufa.

And now, that special find. The Honeyguide group in April found some hoof (or tinder) fungus on a tall birch stump. We re-found this – or possibly another similar birch trunk with hoof fungi – close to the path, just after the fenced area on our clockwise circuit. Looking closely at some of the around 50 hoof fungi, there were insect cocoons underneath them. I recognised these from our Broadland Country Park visit in September. They are the cocoons of a fungus gnat Sciophila rufa. Unless there has been a rush of recent records, and assuming this record is accepted, this may well be only the fourth record for England and a third for Norfolk.

Chris Durdin

Valencia: bird ringing sheds light on wetland warbler survival

For many Honeyguiders, one of the highlights of our March Valencia trip is to attend a bird ringing session at Pego Marshes Natural Park. Ou...