In my happy place

Just a brief piece, but I wanted to celebrate the couple of days I’ve been able to spend identifying and cataloguing some of the hundreds of fungus photos that I’ve taken over the past couple of decades. The weather here has been continuously wet and windy – not so much as in the South which has been hammered – but enough to make staying and working indoors a guilt free pleasure.

Fungi can be surprisingly difficult to pin a name to. As time goes by you do get a bit better, but as I’ve sorted through some of the ones I’d already named I’ve found some real bloopers. Somehow I often seem to take the wrong photo; missing out a crucial detail so some will remain un-nameable; but gradually as I’ve gone through them all several times, the list and its attached photos gets satisfyingly longer and more reliable, and I sit in bliss; surrounded by my books, and checking the minutest details. I’ve found that phone apps are far less reliable than manual checking with fungi, but the exercise of close attention is just the habit I need to cultivate if I’m ever going to be any good at leading a fungus foray.

It was a slow start to the season but I’m off with a couple of friends on another recce tomorrow near a place that I’ve known since I was about 12 years old; a holy well dedicated to St Anne that’s now so diminished and overgrown I doubt that even local people know it’s there. I was once chased by an angry cow there and I accomplished one of the most extreme long jumps over a barbed wire fence and a stream that I ever did. I had spotted a newborn calf lying apparently dead in the field. At the time I had no idea that cows often momentarily leave their calves immediately after giving birth. Of course as soon as I came close she chased me with murderous intent and I had to run for my life.

But I’ve had the most lovely day. I know that my passion for cataloguing and lists; keys and databases makes me a borderline wingnut but there we are. My first book was a children’s dictionary and I haven’t looked back. Anyway there are plenty of people in our Natural History Society just like me. I feel almost normal occasionally when I’m at meetings.

Mirror mirror on the wall …


In the case of the five spot burnet moth versus spear thistles I’m not sure I could choose. The first sight of the moths was a carmine red blur of wings supporting the black body. I’d love to know how they make such large wing structures move so fast – that’s two moths in succession with this mesmerising and exceptional gift. but the sheer structural beauty of the spear thistles is pretty mind blowing as well.

The common blue butterfly was obligingly still for me. 90% of the time I take photos with my phone, and that means stalking and getting well within my quarry’s comfort zone. Most butterflies will take exception even to a shadow, let alone my clumsy great body looming over them, and so you have to do a rapid mental list of the attributes to fill in the gaps left by a poor photo.

This, of course, is why my photos are so biased towards the more cooperative subjects like plants – because they stay still. As I reviewed the pictures I was thinking, why on earth spend all that energy and money on safaris when you can find all this right where you are?

Both burnets and common blues feed (we’re told) on birds foot trefoil and its close relatives. The field we spotted both in was full of trefoils and yet both were feeding (don’t like the word ‘nectaring’ it sounds a bit red lipped and over-excited) so both were feeding on the spear thistles. Just goes to show that creatures don’t read textbooks. That’s twice recently I’ve found things where they’re not meant to be and discovered that there’s no such thing as never in the natural world. ‘Normally’ is much less authoritarian but allows amateurs like me to think in terms of probabilities rather than absolutes.

img_5644Being slightly obsessive I caught myself naming plants – with their Latin names if I knew them – as we walked down to the village today. Thank goodness no-one can hear the conversation in my head – if they could I’d have been locked up years ago!

Just to finish, here’s why a bit of botanising can be such fun. If you’re out for a walk on an earth or grass track and you spot this plant – Matricaria discoidea – like Plantain it doesn’t seem to mind being regularly trodden on – pick one of the yellow flowers and rub it between your fingers and then smell it. Now you know why the English common name is pineapple weed – one for the children! Field botany is such a multi sensory activity.

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