14 November 2015

Fungi in grassland

November is a good month to look for fungi in meadows, verges and sand dune grasslands. For example, Meadow Waxcap (Hygrocybe pratensis), which is one of our largest waxcap species, is fairly common on unfertilised garden lawns and in parkland. It's usually a subtle apricot colour (sometimes more orange) and often grows in conspicuous groups which can be spotted from a distance. Like all waxcaps it has rather thick gills which are widely spaced.

Meadow Waxcap, Margam Park

Another conspicuous species which always occurs in large groups, often in roadside verges, is Trooping Funnel (Clitocybe geotropa). It's a tall, robust species, usually beige in colour. Mature specimens have the typical funnel shape exhibited by many Clitocybe species.

Trooping Funnel, Melincwrt roadside verge

Sand dunes are surprisingly good places to look for fungi and our local coastal systems have a very diverse mixture of interesting species. One of the most beautiful is a type of Blewit named Lepista sordida (I don't know if it has a common name). It's similar to Wood Blewit (Lepista nuda), another species which occurs sometimes in grassland and on sand dunes, but it's smaller and has a much more intense lilac colour.

Lepista sordida, Baglan Dunes

Lepista sordida, showing gills

Whiteford Burrows is an excellent place to look for sand dune fungi.

09 November 2015

Armadillo Weevils have arrived in Swansea

Otiorhynchus armadillo, female
Similar in appearance and habits to the commonly seen Black Vine Weevil Otiorhynchus sulcatus, Armadillo Weevils, Otiorhynchus armadillo, are recent arrivals from continental Europe, where they are a serious pest species. So far only recorded from a handful of other locations in the UK (in which they appear to have become successfully established), they have now been confirmed from Swansea. In contrast to O. sulcatus, which is parthenogenetic, there are males in O. armadillo. In fact, spotting a mating pair of what superficially looked like O. sulcatus in my garden is what piqued my interest and led to the subsequent identification of the individuals as O. armadillo. Identification was kindly made by M.G. Morris after I approached him for assistance as the recently introduced O. armadillo is not included in his 1997 key to broad-nosed weevils. Viewed side by side, O. armadillo is somewhat stouter and broader and of a slightly lighter colour than O. sulcatus. O. armadillo also lacks spines on the undersides of the femora. It tends to move more slowly and in a more deliberate manner, and does not death-feign as readily as O. sulcatus. While O. armadillo is reasonably easy to distinguish from O. sulcatus, it is very similar to O. salicicola, another recent arrival from the continent, which could cause confusion if the latter also becomes more widespread. Max Barclay, curator of beetles at the Natural History Museum, has published the definitive paper on O. armadillo and O. sulcatus in Britain.

Barclay, M.V.L. (2003). Otiorhynchus (s. str.) armadillo (Rossi, 1792) and Otiorhynchus (s. str.) salicicola Heyden, 1908 (Curculionidae: Entiminae: Otiorhynchini) – two European vine weevils established in Britain. The Coleopterist12, 41 – 56.v

Thanks are due to Paul D. Brock for photographing the specimens

 Otiorhynchus armadillo, male

Otiorhynchus armadillo, mating pair

Alien flora

Encountering a non-native shrub in a wild situation invariably kicks off the thought process of 'could this be the next Japanese Knotweed?'. After encountering Japanese Silver Berry Elaeagnus umbellata, which was self-seeded and fruiting on sandy the soils of Margam Tip today, I was interested to read that this nitrogen-fixing shrub often grows vigorously and competitively in infertile soils and in parts of North America and is listed as a "prohibited noxious weed". Another one of an ever-growing list of ‘ones-to-watch'...

02 November 2015

Autumn Knights

A number of attractive Knights (the name given to fungi in the genus Tricholoma) can be found in the conifer plantations in the Neath and Afan valleys. Some like the Birch Knight (Tricholoma fulvum) are associated with Sitka Spruce (as well as Birch) and often grow in large groups. The cap is dark brown and often quite slimy. The creamy coloured gills develop rusty blotches, which is a good identification feature.

Tricholoma fulvum

The Ashen Knight (Tricholoma virgatum) is an attractive species with a shiny, grey, fibrous cap. Although it is often described as a species of deciduous woodland, it often grows with Spruces and Pines in our plantations.

Tricholoma virgatum

There is a large area of pine plantation on Foel Fynyddau (the hill above Pontrhydyfen and Cwmafan), where you can find Macedonian Pine (Pinus peuce), Scots Pine (Pinus sylverstris subsp. sylvestris) and Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta). With such a large area of pine forest you might expect to find some nice pinewood species. The best is undoubtedly Yellow Knight (Tricholoma equestre) which is also called Man-on-horseback (for reasons unknown to me!).

 Tricholoma equestre

Yellow Knight is a really interesting species. In Britain it is mostly known as a species of Scottish pinewoods and it appears to be very rare in southern Britain, so its occurrence in the pine plantation on Foel Fynyddau is notable. It is sometimes recommended as an edible species, but recently there have been a number of serious poisoning incidents associated with it and it also seems to accumulate mercury under certain conditions. Perhaps these two things are related.

21 October 2015

Some fungi this autumn

Just a few images of some of the species I've seen this autumn, which overall has been a little disappointing. It started well enough at the end of August with a tasty display of Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) in a small woodland near Ystalyfera. Like other edible fungi, this beautiful species is often over-collected and this has led to its decline in many parts of the country - a matter of some concern.

Cantharellus cibarius in a wood near Ystalyfera

September was a month of glorious weather but it was a poor month for mushrooms and toadstools. October has been better. Some of the reclaimed coal tips in Neath Port Talbot have been particularly good, at least as far as some of the common species like Brown Rollrim (Paxillus involutus), The Deceiver (Laccaria laccata) and Woolly Milkcap (Lactarius torminosus) are concerned.

Paxillus involutus on coal tip near Ton Mawr

Laccaria laccata, on coal tip near Ton Mawr

The cracked cuticles of the The Deciever caps shown in the photograph here are unusual, but it gives the specimens a striking and attractive appearance. It is a very variable species (hence its common name).

Lactarius torminosus on coal tip near Rhigos

Perhaps one of the best species seen on the coal tips was Pale Poisonpie (Hebeloma fragilipes). This pale capped species is much less common than Poisonpie (Hebeloma crustulineforme), which has a brownish flush in the centre of its cap.

Hebeloma fragilipes on coal tip near Ton Mawr

Hebeloma crustulineforme on coal tip near Crynant

Webcaps (Cortinarius species) are a large group of species in Europe and are often difficult to identify. Some, like Frosty Webcap (Cortinarius hemitrichus) are quite distinctive and have a subtle beauty.

Cortinarius hemitrichus on coal tip near Crynant

A number of Webcap species can be found in our conifer plantations where they are often associated with Pines and Spruces. This year there was a nice display of Cortinarius vibratilis in the conifer forests near the Maes Gwyn wind turbines.

Cortinarius vibratilis in a conifer plantation near Banwen

This is a seldom recorded species and its occurrence this year in Neath Port Talbot may be a first for Wales. 

10 September 2015

An afternoon in the Pelenna Valley

Forestry Road in the Pelenna Valley with typical tall herb flora in verge 

There's a nice walk along a quiet forestry road in the Pelenna Valley that goes from Ton Mawr to the Coed Morganwg Way near the top of the Melincwrt Valley. Wet, Purple Moor-grass verges are full of Bog Pimpernel (Anagallis tenella) in places and the gravelly edges of the track have a fairly typical forestry track flora, which includes Trailing St John's-wort (Hypericum humifusum) a characteristic species in this type of habitat in Neath Port Talbot.

Hypericum humifusum, Pelenna Valley

The conifer plantations along the road are good places to look for fungi in autumn, but yesterday there was little to see except a dried up troop of the Birch Knight (Tricholoma fulvum), which grows with Sitka Spruce here, and some Whitelaced Shank (Megacollybia platyphylla), which grows on buried wood. One of the identification features of this common toadstool is the presence of white mycelial strands that arise from the base of stipe, which can be seen in the photo below.

Megacollybia platyphylla, Pelenna Valley

At this time of year the tall herb flora along the track has lots of conspicuous Rosebay Willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) and Hemp Agrimony (Eupatoria cannabinum). These are good places to look for inverebrates at this time of year. For example, an  Elephant Hawkmoth (Deilephila elpenor) caterpillar was seen chomping its way along the midrib of a Rosebay Willowherb leaf.

 Elephant Hawkmoth caterpillar on Rosebay Willowherb in the Pelenna Valley

Nearby, a hornet-mimicking hover fly, Volucella zonaria, was feeding on some Hemp Agrimony flowers. This large, handsome hoverfly first appeared in southern Britain about 75 years ago and it has been extending its range westwards ever since, particularly in the last 20 years. Numerous individuals have been recorded in South Wales in recent years. Judging from its torn, weather-beaten wings, this individual must have 'been around the block a bit', but it was a powerful flier nevertheless, with a loud buzzing flight.

Volucella zonaria on Hemp Agrimony in the Pelenna Valley

Pennard weasels

Been meaning to say. Eve and I walked along the cliff top at Pennard towards 3 Cliffs when two weasels rushed along and across the path in front of us; a few moments later one dashed back again. I readied the camera in case the second one followed but to no avail.
Lots of Autumn Lady's Tresses though, which I hadn't realised was an orchid.