That Old Chestnut

There’s a heavy crop of oyster mushroom (above) on some sweet chestnut logs, the entire trunk of a felled tree, which have been left as a habitat in Thornhill Park. Oyster mushrooms are currently £10.80 per kilogram at Sainsbury’s, so there must be hundreds of pounds’ worth here, although some are a bit past their best.

The logs are also sprouting honey fungus (left), which is said to be edible when young.

On the stump itself, the common bracket fungus of dead wood, Trametes versicolor is growing. The brackets are paler around the edges.

This silver birch, down by the canal near the Figure of Three locks, was catching the sun. I’ve added a watercolour filter in Photoshop to bring out the texture of the diamond-shaped scars of its bark. Hopefully, I’ll be getting down to actually painting some watercolours in the new year!

I feel that I can already tell that the days are getting longer and it’s good to think that, in two months time, dogs mercury and lesser celandine will be springing up on the hedgebanks with coltsfoot appearing on disturbed ground.

For the moment though, the only conspicuous flowers are those of hogweed.

The rainbow didn’t show up in my photograph as much as it did in real life, so I’ve boosted it a little in Photoshop.

Hazel catkins, as yet unopened, are now prominent in the hedgerows.

There was a soft arc of a rainbow over the valley this morning as we set off across the fields via Smithy Brook to Thornhill.

Boxing Day Walk

I’m pleased that over the Christmas period we’ve managed to get out into our local countryside to walk our regular ten thousand steps because a news item in this month’s Healthy Food Magazine reports that researchers at The University of British Columbia have:

“found a link between getting a nature top-up with an increase in general happiness and health during a two-week study. Participants were split into three groups: a control group, a group noting down human-made objects and those documenting nature finds. It was the last group that experienced the biggest boost in self-perceived wellbeing.”

There was me thinking that catching up with my family and eating lots of Christmas cake and mince pies was what had given me a seasonal glow of wellbeing. I should have realised that it was getting my boots muddy and observing rainbows, fungus-covered logs and birch bark.

Who wouldn’t be happy doing that?


The University of British Columbia Noticing Nature study

Healthy Food Guide

Glistening Inkcap

At the tail end of what’s so far been a mild winter, there are still a few fungi about.

This Glistening InkcapCoprinus micaceus, is growing near a large Ash in the woodland by the Lower Lake at Nostell Priory.

Its white gills turn brown, then black and finally dissolve into ink as the egg-shaped cap expands into a bell-shape, splitting and sometimes rolling up along the margins.

The top of the cap is sprinkled with powdery flakes, which are the remnants of the veil that covered the emerging fungus.

Ear Fungus

I’ve done a bit more on the watercolour of ear fungus that I started drawing from a photograph a few weeks ago. I’d intended to keep things simple but I’m fascinated by detail and the macro photograph not only gives me a reference for the fungus, it also brings the miniature landscape of the bark of the felled tree into close focus.

I could go on working up all that detail for a few more hours, but I’m going to leave it at this stage because I didn’t intend this to be a sharp focus still life study. It’s fine as it is.

Ear Wash

I photographed ear fungus growing on a log at Nostell this morning and I’ve made a start on a watercolour, working from the photograph, this afternoon.

Starting with a pencil drawing, I’m adding the lightest colour in each area. This initial wash looks exotically bright for the subject of fungi on an old log but, as you can see from the detail from my photograph, there’s a surprising amount of colour there.

The next stage will be to add the darker washes.


Candlesnuff Fungus

This candlesnuff fungus, Xylaria hypoxylon, is growing on wood chip beneath the rowan. It’s the first time that I’ve found it growing in our garden. It’s a common species, usually found on stumps and dead branches.

I’ve drawn it from a macro photograph; the fungus is about the size of a matchstick.

Knopper Galls

Knopper galls

Hundreds of knopper galls are scattered beneath the oaks in Nostell Park. On some you can see the way that the acorn has been transformed into the home and the food source for the larva of the gall wasp Andricus quercuscalis. The acorns have stalks, botanically penduncles, so these are the acorns of the common or pendunculate oak, Quercus robur.

It’s the asexual generation of this gall wasp that produces the knopper gall; the alternate sexual generation produces tiny galls on the male catkins of the Turkey oak, Quercus cerris. Turkey oak acorns have ‘mossy’ cups, that remind me of the furry Russian hat that Ivan the Terrible might have worn. There are several Turkey oaks at Nostell.

Bracket fungus

This species of bracket fungus is sprouting on deciduous stumps in the woods around the lakes.

Rabbit Mesh

Additional security around the lettuce bed.

The head gardener is adding wire mesh to the newly restored iron gate to the walled garden.

“Is that to stop the ducks getting in?” (It’s been a good year for the mallards on the nearby lakes).

“No, rabbits.”

“I worked on the film of Watership Down, so I’m always rooting for the rabbits.”

“There’s plenty of grass out there!”

Bonnet Fungus

bonnet fungusGrowing on a lush mat of moss on our front lawn, this looks like one of the bonnet fungi, Mycena.

Buds of winter aconite are swelling in the flower beds in Holmfield Park.

Bracket Fungus

TrametesThis bracket fungus, Trametes veriscolor (formerly Coriolus versicolor), is growing on a stump at the Denby Dale Road end of the carriage drive in Clarence Park, Wakefield. When Clarence, Holmfield and Thornes Park were laid out as a public park by the Victorians, horse chestnuts were planted along this drive.

Boletus in Stoneycliffe

Oaks, Stoneycliffe WoodStoneycliffe Wood YWT nature reserve, 3.50 p.m., 52°F, 12ºC

boletusWe’re getting misty mornings and still sunny afternoons as we’re under high pressure. With no breeze and no birdsong the woods are surprisingly quiet as I walk up Coxley Valley for a short sketching session.

There’s a clatter of wood pigeon’s wings in the oaks above me. Mallards are quacking on the upper dam. Brief calls from jackdaws and a thin desultory song which I take to be a robin.

There are plenty of fungi about following the recent rain and this settled spell of fine weather including this boletus.

Lichens on Poplar

poplar bark

Bracket fungus on willow
Bracket fungus on willow

These lichens, yellow Xanthoria parietina and pale  Parmelia saxatalis, were growing on a poplar at Alverthorpe Meadows which we walked around with friends Roger and Sue recently.

In a nearby tree was a mystery bird. It was the size of a song thrush but had the streaky spots of a mistle thrush. On a dull day looking up at it silhouetted amongst the bare branches I couldn’t get much further with an ID but luckily normal redwingRoger had brought his bridge camera with a powerful telephoto and when we viewed the bird on screen when we got back we could see clearly that it was a redwing. It’s unusual to see just the one redwing on its own, so I think that threw us.

white blossommagpie's nest

The pied plumage of the magpie in blends well with the bare branches.
The pied plumage of the magpie in blends well with the bare branches.

But the trees won’t be bare for much longer. It’s good to see the blossom (not sure what species this is) appearing. But whatever time of year there’s always something to see, even if it’s just the bracket fungus on a willow or the magpies busy repairing their nests.

Bracket fungus
Blushing bracket fungus Daedaleopsis confragosa on willow

We met one of the Wakefield countryside rangers who told us she was planning the annual toad-count. She realises toadthat it’s important to choose the right night for it – mild and damp – or you won’t get a good impression of the numbers.