I seem to have been away from WordPress for a long time, and the seasons have moved on. Autumn is my favourite time of year – it’s almost like a graduation ceremony for nature, where all the plants get to show the goods that their flowers and leaves have been producing during the summer.
Berries and seeds! Blackberries dot the brambles, at least until they find a higher calling as part of a blackberry and apple crumble.
They’re so abundant that there is plenty for both people and wildlife. Blackberries appeal to anything with a sweet tooth, including foxes, dormice and badgers. The parent plant is fantastically prickly but is actually more complex than it seems; there are about 300 micro-species of bramble in Britain alone.
Not that everything in the hedgerow is edible for mammals. Bryony berries have a sparkle, but are bitter and toxic.
And on high chalky slopes grows the most infamous plant of them all: deadly nightshade or belladonna. Thankfully, its giant berries are unmistakable.
On the other hand, hazelnuts are good for the health, and are readily consumed by nearly everything. Happily for mammal surveyors, the toothmarks on the nut show who has opened it. This one was chewed by a dormouse.
And, there are sloes, the fruit of the blackthorn tree, used for jellies and jam.
It is good to reach autumn. Looking forward to seeing how the season unfolds.
The dust has gone, but clouds have taken its place, and there’s little hope of astronomy tonight. But earthly stars thrive in the rain.
This bizarre fungus is an earthstar, which superficially resembles a puffball. Raindrops knock spores from its mouth.
Waxcaps are also thriving in autumnal drizzle. Parrot waxcaps are green with varying flourishes of orange. Like many waxcaps, they are indicator species which signal relatively undamaged ancient grassland.
I have hardly seen the sun today, but when it rose on Tuesday morning, there was still a Saharan edge about it.
Today the sky says that it is not an island. It’s painted sepia from lands far away, and dyes the world beneath into almond and darkness.
The air is coloured with ash from the forest fires in Iberia and dust from the Sahara, sucked northwards by the force of Hurricane Ophelia, which is currently battering Ireland as a post-tropical cyclone. At 3pm the light levels slumped as if in the afterglow of winter twilight, and humanity rebelled by flicking on streetlights and headlights – but it seemed feeble under such a sky.
Before the dust, there was colour: leaves that would seem improbable if a human artist drew them.
And fungi carved into maple leaf-shape by slugs.
Their less-eaten peers were in full show this morning. Meadow waxcaps are one of the largest of the waxcap family, and this is the first time that I’ve found one in my area.
But any giant is relative. The waxcap was dwarfed by a monster in the ancient woods. The lens cap is about 2 inches (5cm) wide, and the mushroom cap would dwarf some saucers. Its identity still eludes me, but possibly it’s an exceptionally big honey fungus.
The dust is sweeping northward and the sky is greying. I would not surprised to find a sprinkling of African sand over the cars tomorrow.
Autumn is tossing rain over us in fits of its own timing. Most trees are clinging defiantly to their leaves, indulging in a final dose of chlorophyll before the judge called Frost settles the matter.
The pioneers have fallen, and frame deadwood that is slowly being consumed by fungi – in this case, the candlesnuff fungus Xylaria hypoxylon.
White is the theme of the moment. We also have white spindles:
White warted puffballs:
And what I think is a species of cavalier mushroom (Melanoleuca).
White mushrooms often provoke fear; amongst their number are the destroying angels, the most lethal of all fungi. But something far smaller than a human tasted this cavalier, leaving toothmarks as relics in the cap.
Meal for a bank vole, a predator of mushrooms. But it still stood under its birch tree, spilling spores from its gills.
The mapmakers built it, long ago. Lichens write the years upon it, and autumnal mist steals its vista from human eyes, but it remains our grey witness to the hills.
The Ordnance Survey’s trigonometry points crown hilltops throughout Britain. Surveyors used them to triangulate distance and draw this island upon maps for countless purposes. They are a monument to scientific brilliance, but only in chorus. One trig point makes no more sense than one limb of a tree.
But its sister hill with its own trig point is still there, 11 miles away, wreathed in cloud. Trig points may have concrete hearts but they share wild nature’s habit of hinting at greater tapestries beyond our sight.
Fungi like these shaggy scalycaps are only the fruiting bodies of the mycelium, the thread-like organism that lives unseen within soil or tree.
A slime mould is only one life stage of the wood’s strangest lifeform: it existed as single cells before aggregating and becoming sessile.
Goat’s rue is a quiet monument to human hope. It is not a native species in the UK but has been here since at least the 17th century, given passage as a forage crop for livestock. Perhaps these dew-spotted petals are descended from plants tended by farmers who walked these hills in centuries past.
Crystalline clear skies seldom provoke questions about what lies just beyond our view. Mist is the master of those.