Stromatolites at South Elmsall

Following a fruitless trip to search for adders yesterday, three of us decided to visit a particularly interesting quarry at S Elmsall. The quarry is a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of some shapes that can be seen in the wall of the quarry. These shapes are the remains of ancient structures called stromatolites. Stromatolites are of interest because they provide the earliest signs of life on Earth, with some of the traces in the fossil record being 3.5 billion years old.My knowlege of geology is superficial but what follows is my understanding of what can be seen in the quarry.

South Elmsall Quarry

Stromatolites develop very slowly in shallow and highly saline water and they look like boulders. They are created by mats of single-celled organisms, such as cyanobacteria or algae. Mineral particles trapped by the organisms gradually build up in layers to form the stromatolite. Follow this link if you would like to see modern stromatolites.

Click here to see modern stromatolites.

The following photograph shows a small piece of fossilised stromatolite and it has been polished to reveal the layers.

Fossilised stromatolite

In the wall of the quarry, there is a clear horizontal boundary. Below this line, there is a layer of grainstones. Above the line, there are the fossilised remains of a reef and within that zone.

Quarry wall

You can see domed shapes that are the fossilised remains of stromatolites. The remains date from the late Permian period, making them more than 250 million years old.

Stromatolite

 

 

Hetchell Wood flower walk

Hetchell Wood was a delight in the spring sunshine with plenty of bluebells, lesser celandine interspersed by common dog violet and barren strawberry.  Amongst the dogs mercury and greater stitchwort, sanicle was almost in flower.   Taking the path across the meadow we stepped carefully to avoid the beautiful cowslips, common twayblade and wood anenomes continuing along the path flanked by shimmering white blackthorn bushes we scanned the bottom of the coppiced hazel looking for toothwort eventually finding this fine growth of the parasitic plant. The circular route took us past wonderful clumps of marsh marigolds with golden saxifrage clinging to the mud beneath.  Yellow archangel and green alkanet on the roadside verge were admired before we reached our cars.  A beautiful walk on a fine morning..

Toothwort

Toothwort

Cowslip

cowslip

 

Spring Mushrooms

Note: Please do not eat any mushrooms that you collect from the wild as a result of anything that you read on this page. You should not eat wild-collected fungi unless they are identified for you by an expert.

Spring isn’t the time when most people would think of searching for mushrooms but there are one or two species to be found.

Common Morel (Morchella esculenta)

A real prize for foragers is to find morels. These are amongst the most delicious of all mushrooms but they are not at all common in Great Britain. They are ascomycetes, so they do not have quite the same structure as many of the more familiar mushrooms. They are said, by some, to prefer to grow alongside woodland rides and on woodland edges, on the drip-line of trees. These two were amongst a small group growing on the grassy edge of a wide path through woodland.

St George’s Mushroom (Calocybe gambosa)

Another one to watch for at this time of year is St George’s mushroom, which grows from about the time of St George’s day onwards, until around June. These resemble the edible mushrooms that you can buy in the supermarket (Agaricus bisporus) and the common field mushroom (Agaricus arvensis) but they belong to a different genus, Calocybe. An obvious difference is that they have white gills. Also, they have a distinctive mealy smell, similar to the smell of damp flour. They are popular for eating in some European countries.

St George’s Mushroom (Calocybe gambosa)

The ones that I found were on a reclaimed colliery site, growing beneath trees. The main part of fungi that grow on the ground is an underground network of very thin threads called the mycelium. Many fungi are mycorrhizal, which means that the mycelium has a relationship with the roots of a particular plant. You will find the fungus growing near only those trees or plants with which it can form this relationship. The St George’s mushroms that I found were growing in a ring and this indicates that this fungus is proabably not mycorrhizal. Instead, it is probably saprobic, which means that it feeds on dead organic material in the soil. The mycelium gradually spreads outwards, over the years, as it feeds.

St George’s Mushroom (Calocybe gambosa)

Swan skirmish at Nostell Priory

Yesterday, Sunday 18 March, during another arctic blast I witnessed a male mute swan, known as a cob, chase off an unwelcome visitor to the lower lake at Nostell Priory.  The newcomer was no doubt seen as being too close to the resident pair’s nesting and feeding areas, possibly threatening their breeding success this year.  Male mute swans are fiercely territorial and this encounter was no exception.  With the female swan (called a pen) watching from nearby, the cob suddenly started to display a range of aggressive postures towards the pretender and the whole lake became a battleground with goosander, tufted duck and coots caught up in the cross fire desperately trying to find cover and safety. Eventually after nearly an hour the intruder flew away to find a new territory. Images of the encounter are attached.

mute swans fighting

mute swans fighting

mute swans fighting

mute swans fighting

Thornes Park in Winter

This week during the current Arctic weather I have been unable to reach my usual local wildlife watching countryside haunts. However, while travelling along Thornes Road, Wakefield I stopped briefly for a look at the lake at Thornes Park. There were the usual suspects such as Canada geese, mallard and quarrelling moorhens. Less obvious was a goosander busy diving although I am not sure if it was actually finding any fish to catch.

The park appears to support a good population of stock dove which are relatively common in the UK, but is often overlooked or just confused with various pigeon species although it is an attractive species in its own right. My final sighting was a rather flamboyant lone male mandarin duck not deterred by the larger bustling mallards. Mandarin ducks appear to have escaped from private collections and feral populations are now becoming established in various parts of the UK. Their natural home is north-east China and Japan.

My visit, albeit brief, highlighted that urban green space areas such as Thornes Park so close to city centres with their old trees and quieter areas are vital places for our own well being and offer massive potential for making contact with wildlife, although the difficulties associated with developing their future care and management are very much appreciated.

Images of a general view of the lake, goosander, stock dove and mandarin duck are attached.

Mandarin Duck

Mandarin Duck

Goosander Thornes Park Lake

Goosander Thornes Park Lake

Thornes Park lake

Thornes Park lake

Stock dove at Thornes park

Stock dove at Thornes park

Winter fungi

We are well into the winter but there are still some interesting fungi to be found.

Common candlesnuff (Xylaria hypoxylon)

Common candlesnuff is easy to spot on decaying treestumps and smaller pieces of dead wood. However, if you want more of a challenge, you can watch out for beechmast candlesnuff, which grows only on the seed cases of beech trees.

Beechmast candlesnuff (Xylaria carpophila)

To find beechmast candlesnuff, you may have to turn over the fallen leaves to get to the beechmast that is in the correct, damp condition for the fungus.

Another common winter fungus is velvet shank.

Velvet shank (Flammulina velutipes)

This fungus has a slimy cap and is often seen sprouting from logs.

A much less common fungus that appears about now is scarlet elfcup.

Scarlet elfcup (Sarcoscypha austriaca)

To find scarlet elfcup, look for mossy logs or smaller pieces of decaying wood on mossy ground.

Scarlet elfcup Sarcoscypha austriaca)

If you are lucky enough to find a red, cup-shaped fungus, you can’t be certain about the id without using a microscope because scarlet elfcup is almost identical to ruby elfcup. One feature used to tell the two apart is the microscopic hair on the underside of the cup. For scarlet elfcup this hair is twisted and tangled but it is straighter for ruby elfcup.

Microscopic hairs on scarlet elfcup

This microscope image shows the hairs on one of the specimens in one of the images above.

Peregrine in Residence at Old Moor

Exciting news in recent weeks has been the identification of a peregrine that has taken up residence at RSPB Old Moor as PAA – a female from this year’s Wakefield Cathedral brood.

Photo: Clive Barraclough

Young peregrines don’t breed until two or three years of age and they can travel great distances during that time. PAA hasn’t moved a huge distance from Wakefield but she hasn’t needed to. She has found a great site, with plenty of available food, on which to spend to the winter. It is normal for peregrines to settle on a suitable location in which to get through the difficult months of winter.

Photo: Ian Bradley

PAA spends much of her time sitting on pylons which overlook the reserve. She comes down to the lakes frequently to catch prey and she spends a significant time on islands which can be seen from the Family Hide and the Wader Scrape Hide. She feeds on the islands, she bathes on the water’s edge and she spends long periods sitting on posts on one particular island. She seems to have a fondness for moorhen but she has also been seen to take common gull and golden plover.

Photo: Jeremy Hughes

As well as entertaining the human visitors to the reserve, PAA has made her presence known to the avian visitors. She has been seen to bully and chase away a marsh harrier, buzzards and sparrowhawks. Also, her menacing presence on the pylons has probably been the reason why the starling murmuration has not got going this year. The starlings would normally settle on the pylons before murmurating.

It’s great to see one of Wakefields young peregrines thriving and we hope to hear more news of it in the future when it reaches breeding age.

Earth Tongues and Other Interesting Fungi

One of the things that I have learnt in recent months is that a great place to look for interesting fungi in late autumn is amongst the moss in patches of grass which have not been pampered for many years.

Meadow Coral (Clavulinopsis corniculata)

Neglected lawns, the outfields of cricket grounds and the mossy grass amongst the graves in churchyards provide a great habitat for some interesting species. meadow coral is a common species but you have to look closely to find it.

Clavulinopsis species

You should also see the yellow tongues of other Clavulinopsis species. A microscope is needed to identify these positively at the species level.

Common Powdercap (Cystoderma amianthinum)

An interesting capped mushroom is the common powdercap. This species can be very small but it is attractive. It is also host to a rare mushroom called the powdercap strangler. You would be very lucky to find this but you should google it to learn more about it.

Geoglossum fallax

Earth tongues are always of interest to enthusiasts and they can turn up anywhere where there is mossy grass. The commonest is Geoglossum cookeanum, which I found by a main road in the centre of Ackworth, and the one which is next is G fallax, which I found in a north Leeds churchyard.

Geoglossum cookeanum

These two earth tongues have been positively identified by looking at their spores under a microscope.

Caterpillar Club Fungus Cordyceps militaris)

An exciting find for me recently was caterpillar club fungus, which I spotted in another churchyard in north Leeds. This fungus infects the larva of a moth, beetle or other insect which has pupated underground. The yellow arrow indicates the remains of the pupa. This fungus is cultivated in the far east, where it is used in traditional medicines.

Fungi on Heath Common

Colin Booker and I had a look on Heath common yesterday to see if there were any interesting fungi.

Hygrocybe pratensis (Meadow Waxcap)

As we had hoped, we started finding colourful waxcaps almost immediately.

Hygrocybe psittacina (Parrot Waxcap)

Hygrocybe psittacina (Parrot Waxcap)

Some waxcaps are indistinguishable without the use of a microscope but a few are quite recognisable, such as the parrot waxcap, which comes in a range of colours but has characteristic green colouring in its stem or cap at some stages in its development.

Hygrocybe irrigata (Slimy Waxcap)

 

Slimy waxcaps live up to their name and the caps of heath waxcaps can be quite sticky.

Hygrocybe laeta (Heath Waxcap)

Amongst the grass, we found lots of bright yellow stems of a Clavulinopsis species.

Clavulinopsis species

There are a number of these small yellow fungi and a microscope is needed to be able to name them with confidence.

Cystoderma species

This tiny Cystoderma species is one to keep an eye on because it could be the host for an unusual and rare parasitic species of fungus called Squamanita paradoxa.

Panaeotus semiovatus (Egghead Mottlegill)

The dung left by the ponies which graze the common has provided a habitat for the egghead mottlegill mushrooms. These were one of the few little brown mushrooms that we could identify positively.

Lepista saeva (Field Blewit)

 

I couldn’t resist a second visit to the common today and I found a ring of field bewit – quite a distinctive fungus, with a brown cap and a pale violet stem.

Over-Wintering Butterflies

I’ve been spending some time searching for waxcap mushrooms (Hygrocybe) whilst in West Wales. Today, I looked in the graveyard of the small chapel at Berea, near St Davids and I found something interesting.

Large White Butterfly (Pieris brassicae)

On some of the gravestones, there were a number of chrysalises, tucked into recesses in the stonework.

Gravestone at Berea, West Wales.

Species of moths and butterflies can over-winter as adults, eggs, larvae or pupe, depending on the species. The large white spends the winter as a pupa.The area around St Davids is often windy, being flat and very close to the sea, and the pupae were on the sheltered sides of the gravestones.

Each one was held in place by what looks like a single strand of silk. I don’t know whether this is really a single strand or is made from lots of individual strands.