I’ve been finding a lot of fungi recently on the bottoms of the dead stalks of last year’s umbellifers. They’re all exceedingly small and difficult to identify (which I find rather frustrating) but also rather gorgeous (which is why I have so far kept looking for them). This is one I was able to identify with help from my fungi friends and associates and a little microscope work. Its current name is Belonidium mollissimum (but it’s had a long list of other names – fungi keep being re-classified and renamed as researchers examine them and their DNA more carefully!) and the largest of its cups is just 1mm wide. This is a series of photos taken over the past two weeks to show how this tiny fungus has changed in that time.
I’ve always been fascinated by fossils and would love to find a little something special (I’m hoping my move to the south Wales coast will help fulfil this dream as there are fossils, and even dinosaur bones, in nearby cliffs) so imagine my delight when we visited a fossil exhibition, museum, factory and shop during a tour of Morocco back in 2014.
We were near the town of Erfoud, in southern Morocco, an area which is now extremely arid but 500 million years ago was under the ocean. Some of the creatures that inhabited that ocean – in particular, the cephalopod molluscs and trilobite anthropods – became stranded in muddy lagoons that gradually dried out and, over time, the mud and creatures were transformed into a fine-grained calcareous rock containing the perfectly preserved fossilised creatures.
The museum-come-shop had some wonderful specimens on display and for sale, including large items like tables and lamp bases, wash basins and fountains. I couldn’t quite fit a table-top in my backpack but I did buy a couple of small trinkets, shown in the last photo included here. And if I do manage to find anything more local, I’ll definitely be posting about it!
Yes, it’s another of those international days of celebration. No, this is not a post about marijuana. The Oxford Dictionary defines a weed as a ‘wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants’ but I prefer Ralph Waldo Emerson’s definition, ‘a weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered’.
So, for the obsessive gardeners out there, remember these:
Weeds provide food and shelter for insects, so they help to provide biodiversity and attract insects that are beneficial to the pollination of non-weeds.
Some weeds are also edible by humans, providing good sources of vitamins and minerals.
Weeds often thrive in impoverished soils and help to restore nutrients to those soils, as well as helping to stabilise the soil surface and prevent erosion.
Some weeds also have the ability to absorb heavy metals so can reduce contamination in industrial wastelands. They’re Nature’s clean-up crew!
Many weeds contain chemicals that are useful in medicines and herbal remedies, and research has shown that some weeds can be used as a source of biofuel.
I had a different blog planned for today but then, this morning, I saw a post on Facebook that a rather special visitor had been spotted at my local country park, Cosmeston Lakes, so I headed along to check it out. And I was exceedingly lucky as there was also another unusual visitor on show. These are they.
Ring-necked duck (Aythya collaris)
Though it’s not easy to see, this lovely little duck gets its name from its purple neck band. The Ring-necked duck looks a lot like the local Tufted duck, but without the tuft, with slightly greyer sides and a different-shaped head, and, most distinctive, those pale bands of colour on its beak. It’s native to North America but one or two birds turn up in Britain most years. I was just very lucky that this one chose my local lake for its holiday spot this year.
Iceland gull (Larus glaucoides)
I’m hopeless at picking out different gulls from a large flock but the pale, almost buff plumage of this bird was quite distinctive once it was pointed out to me. Though it breeds in the Arctic, the Iceland gull spends its winters slightly further south, anywhere from the northern areas of Canada and the United States, to Britain and Ireland, as well as in Scandinavia and the northern parts of Germany. It is sometimes referred to as the white-winged gull and those white wings are one of the easiest ways to tell it apart from other gulls in flight.
I had no intention of sliding down the slippery slope of snail identification but I’ve found a few in recent weeks and couldn’t not try to ID them. And then a friend, who has given up on that ‘too hard’ process, gifted me his guide book. Luckily, there is also a good ‘Slugs and Snails of the British Isles’ group of very helpful folks on Facebook, though you do have to know which bits of the snail to photograph for them to be able to help. So, these little snails are hopefully correctly identified as follows:
Smooth glass snail (Aegopinella nitidula)
Also known as the Clear glass snail or Waxy glass snail, this little land mollusc can be found munching away on plant matter all year round in gardens and hedgerows, rough grassland, waste ground and woodlands throughout much of Britain. It only grows to around 10mm so is quite little.
Rounded snail (Discus rotundatus)
At between 5 and 7mm across, the Rounded or Discus snail (I think that second name suits it very well) is also rather small. Its shell is quite flat but tightly coiled, with up to 6 whorls, and its upper surface is densely ribbed. It’s another very common snail (I obviously haven’t been looking very hard as this was my first sighting) and is especially partial to sheltered damp spots under logs, amongst leaf litter, beneath stones and rubble. Apparently it feeds on detritus (I’m never quite sure what that means!) and fungi.
Kentish snail (Monacha cantiana)
It may be named the Kentish snail but this is actually an introduced species. According to the German website Animal Base, it was ‘introduced to Great Britain with farmers in late Roman times and spread mainly in the mediaeval period, occupying a compact area covering S and E England, and still continues spreading (isolated sites in Wales, W central England and Scotland)’. The slight hairiness of my little friend (see photo above right) is because it’s a juvenile – those hairs will rub off as it grows to its full size of around 16mm.
Who hasn’t looked at a cloud and imagined they saw a giant, a face, a … ?
Today is World Meteorological Day, the brainchild of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and this year’s theme is ‘Understanding Clouds’. The WMO has a great website that not only explains the importance of clouds in weather forecasting and in driving the entire climate system but also has free downloadable resources to aid in cloud identification. Or, if you’d rather have a book with ‘hundreds of images of clouds, including a few newly classified cloud types’, plus ‘other meteorological phenomena such as rainbows, halos, snow devils and hailstones’ then 23 March also marks the launch of the latest edition of the International Cloud Atlas, which ‘has now been produced in a digital format and is accessible via both computers and mobile devices’.
I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn I’m a big fan of clouds and, though I’m utterly hopeless at naming them – yet another subject I need to study, I do have rather a lot of cloud photos. The sequence below covers a period of about 18 months, from my time living in an apartment in Auckland, New Zealand, where I had the most wonderful views.
Last week I showed you the largest salt flats in the world in Bolivia. This week we’re still in South America but have moved north to Peru, to Salineras de Maras in the Andean Mountains about 40 kilometres from Cusco, where salt has been mined for hundreds of years.
The earliest salt pans are thought to have been constructed by the Wari civilisation, but it was their successors, the Incas, who recognised the commercial opportunities of salt-mining and increased the extent of the pans, which now cover much of a steep gorge that runs down in to the Sacred Valley. The salty water bubbles to the surface in a small spring from ancient salt lakes now buried deep below the earth’s surface, and is ingeniously conveyed down the mountainside via a meandering maze of irrigation channels. People from the local community work constantly to maintain these channels and to ensure just the right amount of water is allowed into each pan before the pan is closed off and allowed to dry out. The sun’s heat evaporates the water, leaving behind a thick coating of salt, which is harvested for sale – and then the whole process starts all over again.
Salineras de Maras is very near the intriguing Inca site of Moray and the wonderful market town of Chincero, so combining a visit to all three makes for a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting day’s excursion from Cusco. Or, if you want to spend a little more time getting a feel for your surroundings, try the hike from Moray through Maras and the salt pans down to the Sacred Valley. It’s well worth the effort.