Saturday, 28 September 2013

Bannerdown Common 27-9-13

Mesembrina meridiana is a species of fly, sometimes known as the noon fly. Adults are most often seen basking in open ground or visiting flowers to feed upon nectar. Eggs are laid in cow dung, the larvae are carnivorous, and feed on other fly larvae within the dung.

Small Copper
Autumn brood Comma

Thanks to Paul Wilkins

Friday, 27 September 2013

Elm Farm Moth SIG - 25 August 2013

A particularly good Moth trap at Elm Farm yesterday. 

Click here for more Photos

Thanks to Geoffrey Hiscocks

Tuesday, 24 September 2013


Sunday 6th October: LAMBRIDGE, Bath

Trip report and pictures to follow

Monday, 23 September 2013

Trip Report Bathampton Down, 22nd September 2013

Bird’s Nests, Brown Trumpets, Brackets, Bryophytes and a Battle at Bushey Norwood and Bathampton Down, 22nd September 2013

Click Photos to enlarge

The party of 22 who gathered together for this meeting led by Marion and Alan Rayner were in for quite a few big surprises when they went down to the woods on this warm, humid Sunday afternoon.

Our adventure began quietly, taking a close look at the variety of mosses and liverworts adorning the dry stone wall at the southern entrance into the area of ancient wood pasture known as Bushey Norwood, which included the infrequent ‘Squirrel-tail moss’, Leucodon sciuroides and the ‘Wall Scalewort’, Porella platyphylla amongst a dozen or so different species. Next we walked over to the 20-year-old planting of oak trees – a memorial to young lives lost in India in 1992 – where we had an opportunity to observe, within easy reach,  the lichens, mosses and fungi growing on light-deprived lower branches undergoing the processes of death and decay that lead to ‘natural self-pruning’.One fungus in particular,Peniophora quercina, was noted, the fruit-bodies of which look remarkably different – respectively as flat, lavender-coloured crusts or pale brown patches like flaking paint – depending on whether they are moist or dry.

A fairly brisk walk then took us to the entrance of the steep, intensely shady, boulder-strewn, mossy, ferny realms of Bathampton Woods, a place in which the sense of history and mystery is tangible. As we examined the prolific tree-like outgrowths of the ‘Fox-tail feather moss’, Thamnobryum alopercurum, which resemble an aerial view of dense forest when viewed from above, Alan joked that we might bump into Merlin and King Arthur around the next turn of the narrow, winding, slippery path. Sure enough, we did – or at least a modern-day battle-re-enacting version of them, complete with swords, shields and armour! Apparently, Bathampton Down is reputed to be the location of the Battle of Mons Badonicus, King Arthur’s decisive victory over the Saxons. As a helicopter swooped overhead, we wondered just what we had let ourselves in for that our ‘risk-assessment’ hadn’t foreseen! Meanwhile, we examined the reputed burnt offerings (Daldinia concentrica) of another monarch, King Alfred, along the length of a fallen ash trunk, and a spectacular troop of around fifty trumpet-shaped fruit bodies of the shiny brown polypore, Polyporus badius on another log. Yet another ash trunk, more recently fallen across the path, gave us a chance to examine closely the rich variety of mosses inhabiting its bark – including ‘Bruch’s pincushion’, Ulota bruchii, and ‘Lateral Cryphaea’, Cryphaea heteromalla – and liverworts – including ‘Dilated Scalewort’, Frullania dilatata and ‘Forked Veilwort’, Metzgeria furcata.

Eventually we emerged back into the dull light of day on Bathampton Down and made our way across the golf course, noticing amongst other plants of calcareous grassland, a patch of ‘Upright spurge’, Euphorbia serrulata, which Rob Randall identified for us. Then as we walked along the ‘woodland trail’ and perimeter path of Bath University some of the day’s biggest surprises were still awaiting us. First, as Alan encountered a prolific outgrowth of ‘Conical Brittlestem’, Psathyrella conopilus on some wood chippings,
 Marion shouted urgently ‘look what you’re treading on!’. He looked down onto a carpet, around 4 m2  of densely packed fruit bodies of  Fluted Bird’s nest fungus’,‘Cyathus striatus. As if that wasn’t enough, a little further on we came across a beautiful young specimen of ‘Stubble Rosegill’, Volvariella gloiocephala, which resembles a death cap, except for its pink gills and absence of ring on its stem, then at the base of a large oak tree, large brackets, up to 40-50 cm across, of Inonotus dryadeus. Along a line of young oak trees, Rob Randall helped identify a variety of leaf and stem galls, including common and silk button spangle galls, cola nut galls, knopper galls and ram’s horn galls. Finally, at the base of two large beech trees we observed young outgrowths of the ‘Giant Polypore’, Meripilus giganteus.

Ulota bruchii
                 Thanks to Paul Wilkins for Photos
Marion and Alan Rayner

Monday, 16 September 2013

Trip Report Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve

Visit to Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve, 10th September 2013
A select team of four gathered (fully equipped with three canes, a dog lead and gps ) to assess the biodiversity of some of the site using either fungi or bryophytes as indicator organisms. It rapidly became apparent that the dry weather had stopped any possibility of macrofungi fruiting and indeed we had great trouble getting our canes into the ground.
Whilst waiting at the entrance to start we realised that this site is a dog-walkers favourite and this did not bode well for high biodiversity. The pathway to the site was littered with “signs” of dogs and giant plantain plants (leaves >40cm long and flower stalks >60cm high!) confirmed this site was subject to eutrophication on a grand scale.
We did three sites and only five plots on each site as it rapidly became apparent that further plots would add nothing more. No fungi were found on any plot and bryophytes alone were surveyed.
Site 1.  A meadow with course grasses and plentiful signs of cattle grazing. In the sample five plots we recorded  four specimens of two species  (Kindbergia praelongum and Brachythecium rutabulum) of bryophyte (sometime just a tiny thread was found). The species are indicators of eutrophication.
Site 2.  A similar meadow to site 1 but with a trackway running across it. In the five sample plots we recorded  eight specimens of four species namely the two species as in Site 1 and two species on the trackway (Pseudocrossidium hornschuchianum and Barbula unguiculata) indicating bare areas.
Site 3. Was a dried up pond where we felt we were more likely to find bryophytes and indeed this was the case and the ground was carpeted with moss albeit a single species (Kindbergia praelongum) we had already recorded.
From this survey we could tell that the fields were eutrophicated and we have set baselines for further visits and hope that the weather will be kinder to us next time.
Whilst we had our heads down we did see several common butterflies and a less common one (Small Copper), heard a Cetti’s Warbler and saw a Wheatear. In a rhyne we saw some interesting plants, including Gypsywort, Water Parsnip and Everlasting Pea, and perhaps most notably Sweet Galingale (Cyperus longus), which has been associated with the Gordano Valley since the eighteenth century, but now only remains at Portbury. We took some pictures of a spectacularly bright chestnut coloured spider (Araneaus quadratus) consuming a crane fly, and the leafhopper, Macrosteles af. sexnotatus (identified by Rob) was extremely abundant (in thousands!) hopping off the grass as we walked through.
Click photos to enlarge
Araneus quadratus
Macrosteles cf sexnotatus 

A party of seven were guided by the reserve warden (Bernie) around the reserve with a full explanation of why it is there and what the aims are.  The whole site is a Biodiversity compensation scheme resulting from the housing development (2,700 houses) adjacent to the site. The main intention is to provide wetland sites and high tide roosting sites for ducks and wading birds on the estuary and the houses are subject to a levy to support this.  Several hides have been built with views over the shallow “scrapes”, of which there are six, and a larger open water area. The scrapes seemed to be mostly populated with Gadwall. Adjacent to one hide we found a good strong specimen of Conyza sumatrensis looking like a strange Canadian Fleabane.  Rob said that this is a recent colonizer from South America (despite its name!). How did it get there?
We wandered onto the salt marsh and found a good growth of Sea Spurrey, Sea Aster and Spartina; the latter of which was infected with ergot producing long sclerotia (the fruit bodies of the fungus  Claviceps purpurea and the source of the poison ergotamine). On the mud close by were feeding Redshank , Curlew and Black-tailed Godwits (the latter in summer plumage).  On the pathway to the coast Alan found Coltsfoot infected with two fungi (Puccinia poarum and Coleosporium tussilaginis) sometimes both on a single leaf and earlier on in our walk we noticed a fine specimen of the bracket fungus, Inonotus hispidus, growing from the trunk of a large ash tree.
Finally we visited the non-public access area which was a series of scrubby areas and clearings.  This was botanically much richer although recent mowing removed most of the flowers .  Particularly strong plants of Red Bartsia (Odontites verna) were seen but perhaps the most spectacular site to see was the dozens of Southern Hawkers flying over our heads (and even landing on someone’s head).
Clearly this is a site in development and it bodes well for the bird populations being at the entrance of the Gordano Valley and adjacent to the estuary. 
Click photos to enlarge

Galingale (Cyperus longus)
Shaggy Bracket (Inonotus hispidus)

Alan Feest

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Natural Neighbourhood Watch Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Dear All,
You can view a recording of my presentation with Mike Collins to Bath Natural History Society on tuesday 3rd September on link below. 
Thanks very much to Jack Whitehead for providing the video camera and downloading to YouTube. And thanks to Paul Wilkins for manning the camera.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Devil’s Coach Horse

Monday 2 September, Claverton. A Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle, also known as a Cock-tail. We did see it doing exactly that, cocking its tail like a scorpion. Carole Catling.

Click to enlarge

Thanks to Carole Catling

Monday, 2 September 2013

Trip Report Savernake Forest

Bath Nats with Wiltshire Botanical Society in Savernake Forest, Saturday 31st August 2013

Around 30 members of Bath Nats and Wiltshire Botanical Society met on a sparkling late summer morning with Joan Davies and me for what was to prove a fascinating and varied day steeped in the extraordinary ancient and modern forest that covers 1100 hectares of the landscape just east of Marlborough, Wilts. After an introduction to the history of the forest from Joan and a call from me to imagine its inhabitant trees and fungi as living and dying fountains, we set off down one of the paths that had been specially cleared for our visit with the help of Tom Blythe of the Forestry Commission. It wasn’t long before our attention was diverted by one of the profuse outgrowths of sulphur polypore, Laetiporus sulphureus, which we were to see frequently on decaying logs and tree trunks during the day. I demonstrated the brown rot decay that this fungus produces in the heartwood of large oak trees. Soon we came across some more specimens on a log that also supported luxuriant growths of the mosses Dicranum scoparium, with its scythe-shaped leaves, and Tetraphis pellucida, which forms ‘gemma cups’, like tiny bowls of fruit at the tips of its shoots. Nestling amongst these was a tiny fruit body of the fungus, Galerina hypnorum, and on the path nearby a much larger fruit body of Tricholomopsis (=Megacollybia) platyphylla. I excavated the surface soil and leaf litter around this to reveal the spreading network of mycelial cords by means of which this fungus interconnects pieces of decaying wood over distances of many – perhaps even ultimately hundreds of metres in forests and woodlands. These cords form the communication channels from which the fruit bodies emerge as fountain-like outgrowths. At this point Joan reminded us that we had already been ‘walking’ for an hour, and had got less than a quarter of the way round our planned itinerary before lunch! So our pace had to quicken – which was difficult when there was so much to see and enjoy.
Eventually we reached the replacement King Oak. Joan explained that by the early 1900 the King Oak had completely died and in 1945 it was decided to replace it with a tree grown from an acorn from the original Savernake Cluster Oak. Unfortunately the leaves of the replacement oak show very little sign of clustering and the tree has grown poorly.  Both the replacement King Oak and the oak next to it have recently been pollarded in the hope of encouraging them to become the ancient trees of the future.

The replacement King Oak was the start of a parade of ancient oak trees that in all their decrepit, broken-hearted, heavy limbed, epiphyte-strewn, ridged, grooved and gnarled magnificence were our primary focus for the morning. Most impressive, for me, was one called the ‘Spider Oak’. We noticed how the distribution of epiphytic ferns, mosses and lichens on these trees followed the drainage patterns of rainwater down their trunks and branches, and reflected on the relationship between processes of growth, dysfunction, death and decay that contributed to their evocative appearance. We were concerned also by the luxuriant growth of bracken, bramble, young trees and other understory that blocked our access to them. This exemplifies one of the great difficulties facing managers of our forests in these times when the expectations of the public for access and recreation have been increased but their ability or willingness to contribute to what needs to be done has decreased. The increased growth of understory is due to the thinning out and removal  of trees around the ancient ones, which has allowed more sunlight to penetrate to ground level. To remove this growth without voluntary effort from the public is very expensive.

Eventually, we made our way out onto the ‘Charcoal Burners Road’ where we met Dr Jack Oliver, who informed us helpfully and in some detail how to recognise the two native species of oak and their hybrids and varieties that can be found in the forest – as well as the non-native ‘Turkey Oak’. We returned through the forest back to our starting point for a latish lunch, which some of us ate sitting around Thornhill Pond, where water soldier and fringed water lilies were seen, amongst other pond life. We then drove on to our afternoon destination and were led hastily along a cleared forest path to the base of one of the oldest oak trees in the forest, perhaps dating back to Saxon times and with a circumference at 1.5 m of 10.8 metres – the ‘Big Bellied Oak’. Amongst other things we admired on this old pollard was an outcrop of ‘beefsteak fungus’, Fistulina hepatica, on its flanks. We wandered more slowly back through the forest to our cars, admiring more magnificent oak trees and a specimen of the blusher, Amanita rubescens, along the way. But this wasn’t quite the end of the day for a group of about 15 of us, who walked on to Cadley Church, now a private home, where we were met by Rosemary Davies. Rosemary showed us around the graveyard and her garden, where over 120 species of colourful wax caps and other fungi have been recorded over the last 25 years or so since I last met her (but that is another story). We saw several red, yellow and blackening wax caps and some ‘white spindles’ (Clavaria vermicularis) as well as a little yellow brittle-gill, which my faltering memory eventually decided was Russula solaris, quite a rare species. Hence an already very enjoyable day ended on a high note.  Click Photos to enlarge
Exposing network
Spider Oak

getting logged

Alan Rayner
Photographs by Tom Cairns: