Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Oct 16th Mousehold Heath

Fungi Foray at Mousehold Heath
Mousehold Heath was hosting a fungi foray walk this afternoon. As always, fungi expert Tony Leech was taking it as he identified and talked about each species we were finding. As this event is often quite popular, I wasn't surprised to see a lot of people have arrived for this afternoon's walk. Unfortunately though, due to the unusually warm autumn that we've been having, fungi were a bit thin on the ground this year. That meant the list of species wasn't quite as long as last year, but we still managed to find a few interesting ones that might be new to the site (though don't quote me on that).

Small Coppers
Some kind of Shieldbug?
Red Lead Roundhead

The ones that got Tony really interested (and in return my attention, too) were; red lead roundhead (an orange toadstool that grows on wood chippings and can be found as widespread as New Zealand and the Americas), dog's stinkhorn (which is a much scarcer species of stinkhorn that's much thinner with a smaller tip) and willow shield (which is apparently a class A drug!).

Willow Shield

Dog's Stinkhorn

Clouded Funnel
Here's what else we found today...

Tree Stump Puffball 

Purple Pore Bracket 
Purple Pore Bracket 
Lilac Bonnet
Birch Polypore
Wood Woolyfoot
Common Rustgill
Southern Bracket
Brown Rollrim
Pale Oyster
Shaggy Parasol
Crimped Gill
Rosy Wood Mushroom
Common Stinkhorn
More Sulphurtuft
The Prince (brought over from Bungay, Suffolk)

Monday, 15 October 2018

Curiosities of Nature: Cordyceps

Nature never fails to fascinate me. When it comes to the bizarre and down right weird, it instantly grabs my attention. It won't surprise you to learn that many of these strange natural curiosities have inspired many science fiction writers to come up with iconic alien creatures. Today, I want to explore one of these strange but true curiosities in the first of a new series here on my blog.

As well as birdwatching (and supporting Norwich City FC), another of my hobbies is to play videogames. These games usually don't make a lasting impact on me, but back in 2013, one game did. The Last of Us is a game that focuses on two main character's journey across a zombie apocalyptic America as they begin as strangers but develop a father and daughter-like relationship as they fight for survival. However, it is not the characters that I want to talk about, its the zombies. What sets these zombies apart from other zombies is that they are infected by a mutated parasitic fungus called cordyceps. As the fungus develops, the infected person first loses their mind and become hungry for human flesh, then fruiting bodies of the fungus sprout out of the host and they become one of three monster types. The scariest of which is the Clicker, a 'zombie' so encrusted in the fungus that they lose their sense of sight and can only see through echolocation using a series of clicks that gives this enemy type its name.

Cordyceps sprouting out of a Bullet Ant
Of course this is all fiction. Or is it? Believe it or not, cordyceps actually do exist in real life. Thankfully, there isn't one that can infect humans, but if you are an insect from the tropics, cordyceps are a living nightmare. About 400 species of species of these parasitic fungi are found across the world, mostly in tropical rainforests. Each species target a single host species of insect, spider and even other kinds of fungi. The fungus enters the host's respiratory system as spores (fungal equivalent to pollen). It then takes over the host's body and its mind as it controls the host's every movement. The fungus urges the host to climb upwards and to cling onto a branch or something nearby. The host then dies as the fungus begins to sprout its fruiting bodies from the host's body. It can take up to three weeks to develop until one day, spores explode from the fruiting bodies, carried away by the wind to start the cycle over again.

More examples of Cordyceps fungi
Its a horrifying image, one perfect with Halloween just around the corner. For social insects such as ants, if they encounter an individual infected by a cordyceps, it will be carried as far away as possible and dumped. A cordyceps fungus can wipe out entire colonies if it is not dealt with quick enough. Now if entire ant colonies can be wiped out so easily by a fungus like this, you can only just imagine what it can do if one infected a busy human metropolis like London or New York. On the plus side, cordyceps do not, as far as I know, control its insect hosts into eating its own kind. So if you were to become infected by one, your love ones will not need to fear of you attacking them. Its the stuff that's coming out of you and what's coming out of them that they need to worry about.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Oct 11th Mousehold Heath

Moth Night at Mousehold Heath
It was Moth Night at Mousehold Heath last night. It was an exclusive gathering of four people (and a dog) as Will (the warden at Mousehold) decided to set up the trap for an extra moth session that was not on the site's main events schedule. As it has been unusually warm for October this year, it was interesting to see what different species were flying. It turned out to be a great night for moths as they started arriving as soon as the light of the trap was turned on.

Merveille du Jour

There were many colourful moths landing into the trap last night. The best of which was this green beauty. This is a merveille du jour, one of the few species that's found in the UK with a French name rather than an English one. In case you don't know French, merveille du jour translates as wonder of the day, a beautiful name for a beautiful moth. It is an unmistakable autumn moth and last night, we had many fly into the trap. This was such a good looking moth that I couldn't resist but to take photo after photo of at least three different individuals.
Barred Sallow
The moth trap was starting to resemble the colour scheme of Norwich City's football kit. While the  merveille du jours represented the green half of the kit, there were plenty barred sallows being lured into the trap filling it with a splash of yellow. Other highlights of the night include a feathered thorn, a Double-striped Tabby, a black rustic, a least carpet and a November moth.

Black Rustic

Double-striped Tabby
Least Carpet
November Moth
Beautiful Hook-tip
Feathered Thorn

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Oct 10th Strumpshaw Fen

Misty scenes from Reception Hide
This morning started out pretty foggy as the reserve was covered in a thick mist. You couldn't really see much at all. Then the rising sun began to burn it off and things became much clearer. Still, during the time the mist was melting away, there was a sense of subtle beauty complete with delicate decorations in the form of spider webs covering every bit of vegetation. From Fen Hide, blue sky was peeking through but the mist was still thick near ground level and continued to hide the Chinese water deer, mallards and marsh harriers that I could just make out from the gloom.

View from Fen Hide

Mute Swan
Spider Web

Autumnal colours
With the mist gone, I was surprised that the rest of the morning was uneventful. It was now a glorious, bright sunny day that felt like summer repeating itself again, but there wasn't anything from Reception Hide that could make this morning any more exciting. Apart from a heron standing around for well over an hour, the odd marsh harrier and buzzard flying around and a quick flyby of a sparrowhawk, there was just a collection of wildfowl to entertain me. Believe me, though I love seeing wigeon, mallards, gadwall, shovelers, teal and greylags and swans, they just can not match the same interest appeal as a kingfisher, otter or bittern. Time just seemed to drag today and it was rather dull by the end of it. To be honest, I much preferred it when the mist was around.
Cobber the Black Swan

Grey Heron