Thursday, 10 October 2013

Mushrooms and butterflies

Hi everyone, how's it going? Well, we're into October and the summer sun is still trying to hold on giving us some lovely weather to go out and about in. It has seen me wandering around my local patch Purdis Heath, just looking to see what I could find. As my camera is still away being given a good clean up, I nicked the wifey's camera to capture anything I should find on my wanderings.


The first thing that was pretty evident to me were mushrooms, or fungi to be precise. They seemed to be popping up everywhere I looked. Now the only way to get good fungi photos is to get down to there level. It's no good kneeling down to get a pic, you really have to get down and dirty if you want good shots. But not too dirty though, make sure there's no dog poo around before you get prone, the last thing you want to do is go home smelling and looking like doo-doo! 

There are many different types of fungi, some are edible, and some not, so I must say here UNLESS YOU ARE 110% CERTAIN OF WHAT THE FUNGI IS, DON'T EAT IT! Even if you see some (and you will see some) that's been nibbled, it doesn't mean that it's safe to eat. Animals have completely different digestive systems to us humans and the things that affect us, do not affect animals and visa-versa. One example are the berries of the Yew tree, dangerous for human consumption, yet Blackbirds and Thrushes can eat the berries with impunity.

Like I say, they were everywhere I looked from under trees, bushes and bracken to the wide open spaces of the heath.
Under bracken

Out in the open

Each one looked amazing.
Some were small.
Some were tiny.
Others stood proud with subtle hues of delicate colour.
Others were large and twisted, yet looked amazing.
Yes, there were fungi to be seen everywhere you looked, even on the stumps of birch that had been cut down by the work parties had bracket fungus growing on them.

Bracket fungi.
Needless to say, the best ones I found were off the beaten track and usually involved me crawling around on all fours. At one point, whilst crawling out from under a tree who's branches swept low down to about a foot off the ground, two dogs rummaging through the undergrowth chanced upon me. One was a boxer and looked completely confused as it knew that there was no path here so what was I doing here and why was I on all fours? It's owners walked by on the path about 50 meters from me totally oblivious to what their dog had found. Eventually, the boxer dog followed his friend, who didn't even glance at me, and run off to chase their owners.

One thing I must point out, is that if you do pick mushrooms to eat or do whatever with, don't do it from this site as Purdis Heath is a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and removal of anything is an offence.

If crawling around on all fours is not your thing, then there's plenty to find at a more suitable height as well including these wonderfully named galls I found smothering some of the oak trees here.

Silk-button Spangled Gall
Each one of these beautiful looking galls is created by a wasp that injects its egg into the leaf of the tree. As I understand it, as the egg develops, it changes the hormones in the leaf which causes the tree to create these wonderful shapes around the egg. Then come autumn , the leaf falls to the ground taking the galls with it, which continue to increase in size even though the leaf is no longer connected to the tree. The eggs will spend the winter in amongst the leaf litter, where the decaying vegetation ensures the temperature hardly ever gets to freezing point. If you own a garden composter, you will know how warm it gets if you put your hand inside. Well it's the same in the leaf litter on the ground. Then, come spring, the new wasps will emerge from the galls to start the process all over again.

If you look carefully whilst on your walks, you will notice there are many different types of galls. In fact, I do believe there's an identification book for galls as well.

Working hard

Of course, it's not all about crawling around on all fours you know. My wifey snapped me this week deep in thought and concentration.
My thinking pose
However, there was a good reason for me being in this position and it was all in the name of nature. The night previously, I had set the moth trap up and as I had done so I noticed what looked like frass (caterpillar poo) on the floor under my buddleia bush. So, I gave the floor a sweep and went to bed. Come the morning after going through the trap, of which I caught 78 moths of 19 species, I noticed fresh frass. So, I knew roughly the position of the caterpillar, I just needed to find it. Judging by the size of the frass, I knew the caterpillar was going to be a fair size and should be easy-ish to find, but I also knew that it could be well camouflaged. In the end, it took me a good 30 minutes to find the culprit, but at least I found him, and yes, he was camouflaged in the best way possible, as a 2.5" long stick.

Can you see it?
This caterpillar is the larvae of a Peppered Moth (Biston betularia), the adults are something I trap regularly during the summer months. So it's good to know that they find my garden a suitable habitat to let their young grow up.

Talking of caterpillars and going back to Purdis Heath, I came across this beauty which is something I've never had in my moth trap, even though the site is only a few minutes away from where I live.

The larvae of a Fox Moth (Macrothylacia rubi)
This caterpillar was 2.5 - 3" long and as you can see, quite furry. This fur is a protective measure and in some caterpillars it is an irritant. I actually found a caterpillar in my garden last week where this form of defence may have actually saved its life.

Looking the worse for ware.
 I found it crawling along my deck chairs and at first began to think that it was some species of sawfly larvae. In fact, when I posted it to various entomology based social media sites, several others said the same. That was until Neil Prince from the Amateur Entomology Society said it looked like a Nut-tree Tussock Moth (Colocasia coryli) but without the hair. Upon further checking, it turned out he was correct, the caterpillar had lost all of its hair and judging by the scab in the mid region (you can just see the lump on the other side in the photo), it'd been mauled by a bird. Whether the hairs were ejected by the caterpillar to irritate the bird, we don't know. But one thing for certain, is that it wasn't being attacked by anything when I found it. Lets hope it'll make it through the winter.

A Good Reason To Get Involved

Again, as I am always pointing out, there's something out there for everyone to get involved in and if you're wondering if your input actually makes a difference, read on.

Back in the 80's and 90's, Purdis Heath was awash with Silver Studded Blue (Plebejus argus) butterflies (SSB) I kid you not. The figures were in the hundreds and thousands. However, in 2010, the peak count for these butterflies were less than 10, yes, less than 10 butterflies. Something was wrong and something needed to be done pronto. That's when Matt Berry and Butterfly Conservation stepped in to start making habitat improvements, improvements that are still continuing to this day with the help of volunteers who give up their time on a Saturday morning to help chop, lop and saw down encroaching deciduous trees that are destroying the heathland habitat favoured by SSB's.

The following figures show how that work is beginning to pay off:

Peak counts for SSB's

2010 = <10
2011 =   10
2012 =   17
2013 =   44

So already we are beginning to see an improvement in population numbers, but we are a long way from saying the population is safe and more work needs to be done. This is where YOU can help.

The work parties are due to begin on the first Saturday of the month beginning on November 2nd up until March 2014. The work involves cutting down small trees and saplings with bow saws and loppers and using the chopped down material to build habitation piles and dead hedges which benefit other wildlife such as hedgehogs and viviparous lizards which occupy the site.

We meet up at 10am in the lay-by on Bucklesham road opposite the Trimley Showground (Enter this Grid ref: TM212423 into

Meet where the arrow is.
We usually finish by 3pm, but you are welcome to come and go as you please. You don't need to bring anything except some proper outdoor winter weather clothing, stout boots and a packed lunch, although tea and biscuits will be provided. If you have your own work gloves, please bring them as supplies are limited.

Obviously, the weather plays a huge part and if conditions are significantly bad, it may be cancelled so please give the volunteer site warden Julian Dowding a call beforehand on 07910 170609.

It's a great way to get involved in helping nature and meeting like-minded people at the same time. Don't worry if you can't do heavy manual work, do to injury at the moment, I can't either, so I'll just be walking around with loppers doing some light work. Every little helps and the more helping the more gets done and hopefully come summer next year, you'll get to see more of these wonderful looking creatures:
Male Silver-studded Blue underside

And from above

The female
Again, the female from above.
So, you've got plenty of time to get ready and clear your diary for the first event on Saturday 2nd November, I'll be there and I hope to see you there too.

A BIG thank you to Matt Berry of Butterfly Conservation for the info and amazing photos of the SSB's, much appreciated.

Next time...

I'm off to the Amateur Entomology Society Fair at Kempton this Saturday, so next time I'll tell you all about it.

But till then, take care.


  1. Pleased to find your blog ... and I have just posted my Fox Moth pics from Minsmere.

    1. Glad you like the blog. Lovely big caterpillars aren't they. :)

    2. Yes. I endorse what Hawk Purdis SSB's. They had a 'good year' this year but part of this is probably due to the amazing July and late start they had (one month later than last year) holding them back and then concentrating them all into that month. So...they are in dire need of help....please come and support us. Also there are chances for week day work if you can make it. Again give me a bell first in case of anything cropping up..

    3. Nice fungi pics there! Great post, really enjoyed it . . .

  2. Thanks Jacob, glad to be of service :)