Sunday, 31 October 2010

The Colours of Autumn

Is it just me, or has this been a particularly colourful autumn? In Redesdale, and in the surrounding countryside too, a palette of yellow, red, gold and bronze fills the woods as autumn gives way to winter.

At Sidwood this week, the autumn colour has been at its very best, such as here, alongside the lane which runs through the woodland ...

In places, the woodland floor is carpeted in cones and leaves ...

Nearer to home, at High Green, larch and some deciduous trees add colour to what could otherwise be a dull conifer plantation.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Sidwood Fungi

The first of the fungi found at Sidwood on a recent visit, the Horsehair Parachute (Marasmius androsaceus), is common and widespread but was easily overlooked amongst the debris on the woodland floor where, before a little 'gardening', only the caps were visible ...

Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools describes the Horsehair Parachute as "small but conspicuous parachute with a very long, horsehair-like black stipe. The cap is up to 1cm across, convex, becoming flatter and usually with a depressed centre; strongly radially grooved, furrowed and wrinkled; pinkish-brown but sometimes paler towards the margin. The gills are concolorous with the cap. The stipe is up to 5cm long, cylindrical, thin, tough and wiry and black. Its habitat is usually on plant debris, often heather and conifers, and is less often associated with deciduous trees". The examples in my picture were 20mm tall.

I think that this is The Deceiver (Laccaria laccata) ...

And this is Root Rot (Heterobasidian annosum), seen here growing on the roots of a connifer ...

... and its underside ...

Monday, 25 October 2010

Butterflies and Buddleia

Winter in Redesdale last year started earlier, lasted longer and was more severe than most in recent memory. So when spring eventually stirred, I couldn't help but feel just a little relief.

Happily, the four buddleia bushes in my garden had survived the winter and were starting to produce new shoots. They were little more than rooted twigs, throw-aways from a neighbour's garden, when I had planted them five years before. But as time passed they matured, flowered beautifully in purple or white and, just as well-behaved buddleias should, attracted lots of butterflies (as described here in one of two pieces published in August, 2009)

Then one night, when the new growth was coming along nicely, the temperature plummeted to -12 and shrivelled it all. At first I thought the frost had killed the bushes entirely, but as spring moved on, they recovered and new growth returned, mainly from the base of each bush.

This said, they certainly flowered later than in previous years, and as a result were still attracting butterflies during the few mild days we enjoyed at the start of October. Here are two of those late visitors ...

Red Admiral (Vanessa atlanta)

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Making Autumn Chutney

Having bought more Bramley apples than I needed for my recent blackberry and apple jam making, I thought it would be a good idea to use the left-overs in a chutney. In Good Old-Fashioned Jams, Preserves and Chutneys by Sara Paston-Williams, published by the National Trust, there's a very simple recipe for Autumn Chutney; if you have any windfall apples or pears, this a great way to use them up.

The ingredients are ...

2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped
1lb of cooking pears, peeled, cored and diced
1lb of cooking apples, peeled, cored and diced
Grated rind and juice on one lemon
Half a pint of malt vinegar
Half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon
Large pinch of ground ginger
Large pinch of ground cloves
8oz of soft brown sugar

... and the method is: Cook the onions in boiling water for five minutes to soften them, then drain. Put the pears, apples, onions, lemon rind, vinegar and spices into a large pan, then cook them over a low heat for about twenty minutes.

Stir in the sugar and lemon juice and continue to cook over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved, stirring frequently, then bring to the boil and simmer uncovered for about an hour until the mixture thickens. To tell when the chutney is cooked, make a channel right across the surface with a wooden spoon; if this does not fill with vinegar, then it is ready.

Spoon into warm, sterilized jars, filling them up to the rim, and seal. Store for at least one month to mature before using.

Top left & right: The left-over Bramley apples; The apples diced; Bottom left & right: The pears peeled and ready to dice; The finished chutney waiting to be spooned into jars.

The finished chutney filled five, 7oz, jars ...

I've not yet opened a jar of the chutney but I can say that it tasted fine before it was put into its jars.

I find making jams, jellies, marmalades, and now chutney, particularly satisfying and it's a great diversion on a miserable autumn day. My friends also seem happy to receive and enjoy the gift of a jar of something homemade and some of my production this autumn will be used as stocking fillers at Christmas.

I recycle a lot of jars, and friends and neighbours keep me going with jar donations, but I do buy new tops and other jars from the Jam Jar Shop. The friendly and helpful people there have a great selection of glass ware, equipment, accessories and even ingredients; I particularly like their 7oz jars, used here for the Autumn Chutney. It's easy to order on line and orders are fulfilled and delivered quickly and in tact.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Scorpionfly at Sidwood

I happened upon an insect I’d not seen before while walking at Sidwood in July. I thought it was rather unusual so I took some pictures to help identify it when I returned home. The insect turned out to be a female Scorpionfly, an insect with a long and interesting family history.

Scorpionflies are the only UK representatives of the insect order Mecoptera, derived from the Greek mekos, long, and pteron, wing, and referring to the shape of both the front and hind wings in most species.

In evolutionary terms, the Mecoptera is an old group; fossil specimens have been found from the Permian period, 300-250million years ago. However, the group was far more diverse in prehistory, when there were nine families, than now when only three remain. The Mecoptera are also one of oldest known homometabolous groups, having complete metamorphosis (egg, larva, pupa and adult stages), and as such may be the forerunner of other insects that have complete metamorphosis such as butterflies, moths and caddis flies. To see pictures of fossil Scorpionflies click here

The three present-day families of Scorpionflies are Common (Panorpidae), Snow (Boreidae) and Hanging (Bittacidae). There are some three-hundred species of Mecoptera world-wide of which thirty species can be found in Europe. The Common Scorpionflies, the Panorpidae, are the largest family but only three Panorpa are found in the UK. These are Panorpa germanica, Panorpa communis and Panorpa cognate; they are all so similar that it is impossible to tell them apart without examining their genitalia under a microscope. To read more about Snow and Hanging Scorpionflies click here

It is only the Common Scorpionflies that have the upturned scorpion-like genitalia or 'tail' that gives the order its name. They are brownish yellow and black insects with mottled wings and are found amongst shaded vegetation, such as the one I found at Sidwood, and in hedgerows. To see pictures of other Scorpionflies, including males, click here

The adult Scorpionfly is about 15mm long. Its head is shaped like a beak, as in my picture above; it is this feature that is useful in distinguishing them from other insects and which first attracted my attention. And while the adults look a little scary, they are in fact quite harmless. They feed on dead or dying insects, including any they might spot in a spider's web, and on pollen and flowers. They are also partial to ripe fruit and, when it's available, to human sweat.

Panorpid males attract females by vibrating their wings. When it's time to mate, the males find a good source of food and attract females with pheromones from their enlarged genital segment. When the female approaches, the male exudes a mass of brown saliva, which serves as a nuptial gift. The female chooses a male based on this gift and in response to this, the males have evolved saliva glands so large that they take up most of their body cavity.

After mating the eggs are laid in soil, expanding greatly just before hatching. The larva are caterpillar-like with conical legs. They have compound eyes, which is unlike the larva of most of the other homometabolous insects (for example, caterpillars and beetle larva do not have compound eyes). They can pupate quickly, sometimes in a week and hatch as adults. An illustration of a Common Scorpionfly larva can be found here

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Fungi at Rupert's Wood

Rupert's Wood, a mixed woodland including some ancient trees, is little more than four miles to the north of my home in Redesdale. The wood is owned by Lord Redesdale and occupies some thirty-one hectares enclosed by a dry-stone wall.

A view of Rupert's Wood, taken on an earlier visit

The wood is home to a stone-lined pond dating from the mid-nineteenth century, reputedly used in the past for swimming. Its best use today is as a mirror, providing some wonderful autumn reflections and reminding me of Escher's Three Worlds lithograph ...

Rupert's Wood is an excellent site for fungi and several pictured during an earlier visit can be found here. During my visit this week I found others, including two new to me comprising this Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) ...

... and this cluster of Sheathed Woodtuft (Kuehneromyces mutabilis), growing on the decaying wood of a deciduous tree ...

Despite it being a sunny autumn day, there was not enough light to take pictures amongst the undergrowth in the deeper parts of the wood, at least not without using my camera's flash ...

Yellow Staghorn (Calocera viscosa)

The Sickener (Russula emetica)

Coral Spot (Nectria cinnabarina) : The soft cushion-like pustules of the conidial (pre sexual) stage

I also found this Birch Polypore or Razorstrop Fungus (Piptoporus betulinus), a more mature example than that found at Sutton Hoo and shown in my previous piece ...

Finally, this view showing upland Northumberland at its best, looking north from Rupert's Wood, across Upper Redesdale towards the hills of the Scottish border ...

Thursday, 14 October 2010


It's almost three months since I wrote something for these pages. Now autumn has arrived and I'm nagged with the mixed feelings of regret, for opportunities missed during the lost months, and concern for what I'll find to fill these pages during the winter.

I'm not long returned from a short trip to Suffolk where I enjoyed visits to Constable Country and Sutton Hoo, so these might be good places to start.

Willy Lott's house and the 'flat ford' crossing

Flatford Cottage

Valley Farm

My first Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

At Sutton Hoo, the exhibition at the National Trust visitor centre was fascinating, not least the remarkable reproduction of the Saxon helmet unearthed at the site in 1939 ...

Following the woodland walk to the burial grounds, I found this perfect Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) ...

And this equally perfect Birch polypore (Piptoporus betulinus) ...

And in the hedgerows surrounding the beautiful farmhouse home of my young friends Kerry and Paul Baker, I found sufficient blackberries to make, on my return to Redesdale, a winter-long supply of blackberry and apple jam ...