A new Earthstar

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You can’t have a blog called Earthstar without occasionally having a post about an Earthstar, so here it is.

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Though I searched for these amazing little fungi at a known location in Cathays Cemetery a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t find any. So, I was delighted when a birding acquaintance showed me this solitary Earthstar at a completely new location earlier this week.

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This is Geastrum triplex, a Collared earthstar. I’ve previously only found them under conifers but the experts say they are most often found, like this one, under hardwood trees.

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I gave its sac a poke to show my friend how the spores are released – let’s hope that also helped to spread the spores so we see more of these little stunners in future.

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Variations on a theme

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With its seeds attached to tiny botanical parachutes that can be distributed far and wide by the wind, the Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale agg.) has evolved an extremely efficient method of disseminating its seed. It’s not surprising, then, that many other species use a very similar method to disperse their seeds.

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I don’t think I’m getting my wish this time around!

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LBJ

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In birder-speak (and, actually, also in mycologist-speak), there’s an oft-used abbreviation for those small brown birds that look very much alike and so can sometimes be difficult to identify: LBJ (Little Brown Job). I think you can see why.

(To be completely honest, not all of these images are from LBJs; some are from BBJs. I won’t ask you to guess what they are.)

Who’s jealous then?

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I wasn’t the only one watching the Great crested grebe fishing at Cardiff Bay wetlands on that sublime autumn day. This juvenile Grey heron flew in half way through the fishing session and settled itself first on one side of the small pool, then on the other.

 

And the heron watched in awe as the grebe caught fish after fish so effortlessly and in such a short space of time.

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I’m sure I detected a look of jealousy, and perhaps hunger, on that wide-eyed face!

Fisher extraordinaire

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It was a lovely late autumn day, with a bit of a nip in the air but gloriously blue skies overhead and still a little heat in the sun. It was the perfect day, in fact, to stand on the boardwalk at Cardiff Bay Wetlands Reserve and watch this Great crested grebe catching itself breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and supper, all in the space of just 6 minutes (I can tell from the times on my photographs).

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No wonder this successful little fisher-bird was grinning so broadly as it headed into the reeds for a snooze!

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The windhover

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Most of my sightings of Kestrels have been of birds rapidly beating their wings to maintain their incredibly static position in the air as they watch intently for the small mammals they prey on, and this ability to remain almost stationary is the reason for some of their many vernacular names: windhover and windfucker, hoverhawk, wind bivver, wind fanner and stand hawk. (This series of stills was taken recently of a Kestrel doing just that at Lavernock Nature Reserve.)

I was particularly delighted, then, during our recent birding trip to Portland, to do a little hovering of my own – albeit at ground level – as I edged ever closer to a Kestrel that was taking a short break from its almost constant hunting and sheltering from the gusting northerlies on a nearby roof top. What a stunning bird it is!

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Earpick fungus

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During a wander around Cardiff’s Cathays Cemetery last Friday, I found my first Earpick fungi (Auriscalpium vulgare).

Now, you might think Earpick is a very odd name for a fungus – you certainly wouldn’t want to use them to clean your ears out! – but it’s actually quite logical. Auriscalpium is a combination of the Latin words auris, meaning ear, and scalpare, the verb ‘to scratch’. The stem of the fungus certainly does look quite scratchy, as does the underside of the cap, with its mass of tiny cone-shaped rods. And it’s those rods that are the connection to the word ‘ear’ in the fungi’s name – have you ever seen a magnified photo of the sensory hair cells of the human inner ear?

Vulgare just means common, though this fungus is certainly not that – when I checked the biological database for Wales, I found only 10 previous recorded sightings.

These fungi were growing at the base of a conifer but I didn’t realise until I started reading up about them when I got home that the fungi nearly always grow on the rotting cones of pines and other conifers. I didn’t notice any cones but they must have been there, under the moss and grass. Fascinating!

A white-headed Ruff

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The Ruff is another bird I had only seen at a distance, or through the ’scopes of generous birding friends, before our recent birding weekend on Portland, when we got good views of a single Ruff during our stopover at RSPB Lodmoor.

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I have to say this was an odd-looking bird, with a head that seemed far too small for its body – especially on the white-headed winter-plumaged bird we saw – though it did have something of the look of an elegant dandy, with its snowy onesie topped by a splendid brown cape of wings.

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The Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) is a particularly fascinating bird: in the breeding season the males, resplendent in long-feathered collars of red, black or white, perform dance-and-display competitions at specially chosen sites (known as leks) to attract females (known as reeves). And, even more fascinating, there are three different types of male – you can read more about that on the BTO website here. I assume, from its white head that the Lodmoor bird was a ‘satellite’ male but I may be wrong about that. 

Ruffs can look quite hunched much of the time but will stand tall and alert when alarmed about something, as you can from the bird’s stance in the photo on the right above. I hasten to add that it wasn’t alarmed by the birders watching it but something – probably a bird of prey – had caused many of the nearby birds on the reserve to take flight, so the Ruff was keeping an eye on the skies. It also decided at this point that there was safety in numbers and sidled over to stand closer to the other waders nearby.

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Ruff, on the left, with a Lesser yellowlegs and two Greenshanks

The Ruff used to breed quite extensively in Britain but now seldom does. We mostly see these birds as they migrate from their breeding grounds in Scandinavia to their wintering locations in Africa and vice versa, which is a great pity, as I’d certainly like to witness one of their leks some day.

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I’m following a tree: November 2018

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At the end of September, various circumstances combined to prevent me from visiting my Mono (Acer pictum ssp. mono), the tree I’m following this year, but I did manage to pay it a visit on 19 October. And I’m so glad I did, as I managed to get some photos of it in all its autumn glory, before last weekend’s storm-force winds blew most of its leaves off.

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So, here it is on 19 October, a blaze of orange loveliness …

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A closer shot of the leaves still on the tree, and another looking up through the canopy from underneath.

Some close-ups of the leaves on the ground. I love the variety of colours in these.

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And here’s Mono on 2 November, a shadow of its former gloriousness, though what remains is a lighter, more yellow colour than before. It’s interesting to note, too, how more leaves remain on the left side of the tree, presumably because that side is a little more shaded and sheltered.

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Soon, all that will remain will be this carpet of leaves below the tree and skeletal branches above.

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