Fungi forays: a safe way to enjoy nature’s larder

September is a great month for fungi foragers. If you were out walking through woodlands at the weekend you might have noticed an array of different types of fungi along the way. However, to take advantage of this free and nutritious ingredient you need to have confidence in your identification skills, or at least know someone who does.

Rozites Caperatus, a highly regarded edible species

Rozites Caperatus, a highly regarded edible species

Some edible fungi are fairly easy to identify, others are more difficult and of course if you get it wrong the consequences can be very unpleasant, sometimes deadly. If in any doubt at all, don’t eat it without first consulting an experienced mycologist.

Hygrocybe punicea (aka waxcap), regard as edible but probably best avoided as there have been reports that some have been significantly ill after eating.

Hygrocybe punicea (aka scarlet waxcap), regarded as edible but probably best avoided as there have been reports that some people have been significantly ill after eating.

Some people can even be allergic to edible species. So if you are trying a fungus for the first time, whether you collected it yourself and are certain of its identification, or if you bought it from a commercial supplier, we recommend that you try a small amount first to see how your body reacts.

Polyporus squamosus (aka dryad's saddle), edible in so much as it's not poisonous, but rubbery and not a good one for the pot.

Polyporus squamosus (aka dryad’s saddle), edible in so much as it’s not poisonous, but rubbery and not a good one for the pot.

When starting out as a fungi collector, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with one species at a time. The fruit bodies (the bit we can see and might eat) of a species can look quite different from a picture in a book, depending on their maturity and weather conditions. Once you are confident of the potential variations of a species you’ll be ready to move on and learn about another.

Amanita muscaria (aka fly agaric), do not eat! Rarely deadly but will make you ill. Also has hallucinogenic properties. Is a food source for some fly larvae, hence its common name.

Amanita muscaria (aka fly agaric), do not eat! Rarely deadly but will make you ill. Also has hallucinogenic properties. Is a food source for some fly larvae, hence its common name.

A safe and sociable way to develop your identification skills is to join an organised fungi foray. These are led by experienced foragers with a passion for fungi and who are always more than happy to see new faces. Scotland currently has four Fungus Groups which regularly organise forays. These groups are either free, or at most £5 per year to join.

Hygrocybe intermedia, edible but also rare so we would not recommend collecting this species.

Hygrocybe intermedia, edible but also rare so we would not recommend collecting this species.

Scotland’s Countryside Rangers also organise Fungal Forays which you can join for just a few pounds and our National Nature Reserve staff hold free fungi forays from time to time. So, chances are there will be a foray taking place near you sometime soon.

Cantharellus cibarius, (aka chanterelle), one of nature's finest delicacies, enjoyed around the world.

Cantharellus cibarius, (aka chanterelle), one of nature’s finest delicacies, enjoyed around the world.

For the latest information on fungi happenings across Scotland you can follow Scottish Fungi on Facebook and Twitter.

Some upcoming fungi forays

Sunday 21st September, Templeton Woods (Dundee), 1pm, £3.50

Saturday 20th September, Don View (Grampian Fungus Group), 10.30am – 3.30pm, £5 (year’s membership)

Saturday 27th September, Calder Wood (West Lothian), Fungus Group of South East Scotland, 11am – 3pm, £5 (year’s membership)

Saturday 20th September, Sornbank Wood (E Ayrshire), Clyde & Argyll Fungus Group, Free

Sunday 21st September, Strone Hill Wood, Clyde & Argyll Fungus Group, Free

Saturday 27th September, Ardgowan (Renfrewshire), Clyde & Argyll Fungus Group, Free

Sunday 28th September, Craigengillan Estate, (E Ayrshire), Clyde & Argyll Fungus Group, Free

Sunday 28th September, Haddo Country Park (Grampion Fungus Group), 10.30am – 3.30pm, £5 (year’s membership)

Saturday 28th September, Loch Leven NNR, 2pm – 4pm, Free

Saturday 20th September, Craigievar (Grampian Fungus Group), 10.30am – 3.30pm, £5 (year’s membership)

Saturday 4th & Sunday 5th October, Tollcross Park (Glasgow) Fungi Fry Up, 10am –noon, Free

Saturday 4th October,Spier’s Fungal Foray, Beith (Ayrshire), 2pm start, Free

Sunday 5th October, Lauder Common (nr Galashiels), Fungus Group of South East Scotland, 11am – 3pm, £5 (year’s membership)

Sunday 14th October, Glamis Castle (nr Forfar), 11am start

Sunday 19th October, Templeton Woods (Dundee), 1pm – 3-pm, £3.50

All images copyright Lorne Gill/SNH

Young mycologists with a Countryside Ranger. Fungi forays can be a family activity.

Young mycologists with a Countryside Ranger. Fungi forays can be a family activity.

Posted in Fungi, National Nature Reserves, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Out of sight, brought to mind

How can we show people the rich variety of wildlife and the dramatic landscapes hidden in Scotland’s seas? How do we help people to gain a better understanding of an area’s special features and how they interact with each other?

For years these have been recurring questions for our marine team. Owen McGrath from our Coastal & Marine team explains how a children’s TV programme became a source of inspiration in developing Scotland’s first series of virtual dives.

We discovered Octonauts in 2010. Parents were marveling at the amount their young children were learning about the world’s seas and oceans from watching this animated TV programme. Having watched a few episodes, we started thinking about the potential for computer animation to help us in our quest to show Scotland the wonderful life and landscapes out of sight in our own seas.

Northern sea fans and sponge community

Northern sea fan community

By early 2011 we had completed a pilot project to produce an interactive virtual dive using a mixture of computer animation, real survey data, photos and video clips. The pilot focused on Loch Sunart Special Area of Conservation (SAC), which is now also a Marine Protected Area (MPA).

The feedback we received was very positive and constructive, both from the independent market testing carried out and from people who contacted us subsequently. Technology moves at a pace so we decided to have another go in 2013, to take advantage of advances in affordable computer animation and incorporate lessons learned and feedback from the pilot project.

Feeding minke whale

Feeding minke whale

This time we focused on the Small Isles, also now an MPA and the Sound of Barra, a candidate SAC: we used 3D bathymetric data collected from surveys to reproduce as accurately as possible the seabed and geology at the sites; we included aerial video footage to put the locations into perspective; and we added narration to help us convey more information about the sites’ special features and ecology.

We are pretty pleased with the results, which we think give a realistic impression of the world beneath the sea at these sites and some of the wonderful plants and animals that live there.

Fan mussels

Fan mussels

What we’d really like to know now though is what you think! Do these virtual dives help you to share some of our passion for the hidden world in Scotland’s seas?

All three virtual dives are available on our Scotland’s seas interactive webpage. You can let us know your thoughts via Twitter, or by commenting on our Facebook page.

Posted in Marine, Nature in art, Protected Areas | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Passing through: autumn migration on Noss

Craig Nisbet is one of the seasonal rangers working on our Noss National Nature Reserve in Shetland. This is his last post from Noss this year as the island reserve will soon be closing and Craig will be flying south. He’ll be back on Noss next spring but in the meantime you can keep tabs of what he’s up to on the Loch Leven NNR blog.

Noss may now be closed to the public after another busy season but some visitors are only just beginning to arrive. The wardens will stay until mid September and hope to find a few more passing through before their own migration south. Shetland is an important location for passage migrants, being the last point of land before the long crossing over the North Sea. Two distinct seasons are noted for migration, as thousands of birds make their way north to breed, or south to winter. Autumn migrants start to arrive in August, with numbers picking up through September and October.

A small flock of turnstone

A small flock of turnstone

Throughout August wader numbers begin to build, as many breeders and non-breeders flock together in preparation for their southward journey. Dunlin, ringed plover, turnstone and redshank may eventually be joined by early juvenile migrant sanderling, purple sandpiper, knot and ruff from Scandinavia.

Two juvenile knot

Two juvenile knot

 

A key factor for bringing migrants in from the North Sea is the direction of the wind. Strong easterly winds blow large numbers of birds in from their sea crossing, and they are invariably keen to rest at the first sight of land to re-fuel. Early in August we were visited by a young willow warbler, looking very fresh and yellow and clearly in need of a good feed, actively hopping from stem to stem amongst the hogweed and nettles.

Juvenile willow warbler

Juvenile willow warbler

 

A few days later the first garden warbler of the year appeared on the cliff dyke. Renowned for being characteristically plain in appearance, this one brought a smile to both our faces!

Garden warbler

Garden warbler

 

The next species appeared fleetingly at first; a wryneck landing right in front of me as I ate my lunch near the cliff dyke. There was only a moment to reach for the camera before it was off. But spirits were raised with the anticipation of more to come.

Wryneck on cliff dyke

Wryneck on cliff dyke

 

Sure enough, after a couple of days of easterly winds toward the end of the month, a day both wardens had been waiting for arrived. Saturday 30th August started with the discovery of 2 bar-tailed godwit on Nesti Voe, a stone’s throw from Gungstie, our accommodation on the island. A species recorded annually but the first visit of the year this season.

Two bar-tailed godwit

Two bar-tailed godwit

A couple of willow warblers in the garden were present, along with a couple of juvenile white wagtails flitting between beaches. The second wryneck of the month was discovered shortly afterward, in the lower levels of the new stick tree, created specifically for these birds to find cover during their brief stay. Our hard construction work had already paid off!

The new stick tree at Gungstie

The new stick tree at Gungstie

The next discovery was arguably the find of the day; only the fourth record for Noss of curlew sandpiper, and the first record involving more than one bird. A beautiful passage wader, they can be distinguished from dunlin at this time of year by their longer bills and prominent supercilium.

Two curlew sandpipers

Two curlew sandpipers

 

Andy set off up the hill with a good feeling in his bones, and his optimism was rewarded with views of pied flycatcher, redstart, sparrowhawk and black redstart.

Black redstart

Black redstart

 

As he returned down the hill he saw me skulking around in the garden. I had just seen a notoriously elusive bird for the first time, and was keen to get a better look. Eventually the individual hopped up onto a fence line for just long enough for a quick shot, before it was off into the nettle patches again. Barred warblers are larger than willow warblers, and their distinctively barred vent can be seen even in juvenile plumage.

Barred warbler

Barred warbler

 

This rounded off a thoroughly satisfying day of birding, in which we recorded four new species for the year. Another couple of days like this before we set off would be fantastic, and you can’t help but wonder what may turn up in our absence. Oh well, there’s always next spring!

Posted in National Nature Reserves | Tagged , , , , ,

Aliens in our mindst

Summer sees more people exploring the countryside, admiring the plants and animals. However, not all is as it seems, aliens might be lurking in the undergrowth! Sarah Smyth, our Biodiversity Implementation Officer, explains how work is afoot to tackle this issue and an innovative online approach should prove very helpful.

 Invasive non-native species are a major concern. It is estimated that in Britain alone they cost the economy £1.7 billion every year. They can also harm native species by spreading diseases, out-competing them or even eating them!

North American signal crayfish arrived in Europe in the 1960s. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

North American signal crayfish arrived in Europe in the 1960s. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

To help people who want to learn more about non-native species we’ve helped produce an e-learning module which is available free online. With lots of examples to illustrate the problem, the course looks at why invasive non-native species are a concern; how many there are; their impacts; how they got here; and what we can do about them.

Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) is an invasive non native plant. © Lorne Gill/SNH

Himalayan Balsam is an invasive non=native plant. © Lorne Gill/SNH

The e-learning package currently covers five topics:

  •  Introduction to invasive non-native species
  • Introduction to identification and recording
  • Identification of invasive freshwater plants
  • Identification of invasive freshwater invertebrates
  • Identification of invasive riparian plants

A test is available for each topic and once you have completed all five you can take a test covering everything you’ve learned on the course. Pass this and you’ll be awarded a certificate to print and hang with pride!

Giant Hogweed, Heracleum mantegazzianum, growing by the River Tay in Perth._©Lorne Gill/SNH

Giant Hogweed by the River Tay, Perth. © Lorne Gill/SNH

So keep your eyes peeled next time you are out for a walk and if you see something a bit different please record it using irecord or the Nature Locator mobile phone app. You may have spotted an alien and by recording it you will have contributed to the national picture of non-native species! More information is available on our website. You can register and begin the course here.

Posted in Projects | Tagged , , ,

Hugh Miller

Hugh Miller is not only Cromarty’s ‘most famous son’, he would be on many a list of ‘Great Scots’. Born in 1804 his name belongs in the ranks of the truly influential geologists and although he died when only 54 he made a huge impact in his chosen field.

Hugh Miller cottage exterior

Hugh Miller cottage exterior

The thatched cottage in which Miller was brought up lies in the centre of Cromarty and is now a museum, managed by the National Trust for Scotland. It was from here that as a young lad he would head off on explorations armed with his great grandfather’s hammer. In this fashion he developed an abiding interest in rocks and fossils while roaming the coast and hills. Above all, he learned ‘the habit of observation’.

An apprentice stonemason, which arguably further fuelled his interest in fossils, his house was nestled beside a fisherman’s cottage and Hugh developed a keen interest in many subjects. In later life he was a true polymath, having a keen interest in writing, religion and social issues.

Pterichthyodes Milleri

Pterichthyodes Milleri

From an early age his was an enquiring and lively mind. Of course he famously observed that ‘Life is itself a school and nature always a fresh study’. A self-taught geologist he made an early breakthrough in discovering his famous ‘winged-fish’, the fossil remains of an early, 390 million year old, ‘Old Red Sandstone’ armoured fish that had peculiar wing-like fins.

Even in the throngs of Edinburgh, where he moved to edit the Presbyterian newspaper – The Witness – he cut a dash. His appearance helped him stand out from the crowd; he grew to be 6’2” and had a full and flowing head of red hair. As his journalism progressed so did his immense fossil collection and by the time of his death at the age of 54 he had amassed a collection that ran to over 6,000 specimens and later became the founding core of what is today’s Scottish national collection in the National Museum of Scotland  in Edinburgh. Such is the value of this collection that it continues to be studied by palaeontological researchers to this day.

Hugh Miller

Hugh Miller

Miller was just as prolific with his pen and published vast numbers of articles, scientific papers and books, as well as giving many lectures. His most successful work is reckoned to be his The Old Red Sandstone, or New Walks in an Old Field which came out in 1841.

September 2014 brings a nostalgic revival of the trip that Hugh Miller made around the Inner Hebrides in 1844. In a joint trip organised by The Royal Scottish Geographical Society and The Friends of Hugh Miller, The  Leader, a traditional sailing boat dating back to 1892, will sail from Oban to the Small Isles in a one-week voyage in celebration to Hugh Miller and his Hebridean tours, as described in his classic book “The Cruise of the Betsey“.

If Hugh Miller had one abiding impact it was that he brought Scottish geology and its international value to a wide audience. In popularizing the subject, he enthused many others to follow in his footsteps.

We can still share his excitement on breaking open a rock and finding a fossil ‘by a stroke of the hammer (whilst observing the Scottish Fossil Code naturally) and see a sight that nobody else has seen before. Some would say “Was there another such curiosity in the whole world?”

 

 

Further reading

The Scottish Fossil Code : Scotland has a remarkably rich geodiversity that spans nearly 3 billion years of Earth’s history. Part of this ‘Earth heritage’ is the record of the development and evolution of life on Earth in the form of fossils. They are found amongst other places, in rivers and streams, coastal cliffs and quarries, and are also preserved in museums and private collections. It comprises an irreplaceable and finite resource that has uses in science, education and recreation. This element of Scotland’s Earth heritage is vulnerable to abuse and damage and so needs safeguarding and management to ensure its survival for future generations. Read more @ http://www.snh.gov.uk/protecting-scotlands-nature/safeguarding-geodiversity/protecting/fossil-code/

Find out more about the Royal Scottish Geographical Society Cruise of the Betsy @ http://cruiseofthebetsey.wordpress.com/about/

“The Cruise of the Betsey took place the year after the Disruption, when 450 ministers broke away from the Established Church. Miller joined his boyhood friend the Rev Swanson, a keen supporter of the Disruption, who had been removed from his Small Isles parish and his manse on Eigg. Swanson used the Betsey as his ‘floating manse’ so that he was still able to serve his parishioners. The cruise was to visit Tobermory, Eigg, Rum, Glenelg and Isle Ornsay on Skye. Miller’s accounts record much about the social circumstances they came across as well as detailed descriptions of the geology, palaeontology and landscapes encountered. During the Cruise of the Betsey, Miller made many ground-breaking scientific discoveries. He wrote about his journey on the Betsey, and other travels through Scotland.

Today, the Friends of Hugh Miller celebrate and promote the legacy of this great pioneering Scottish geologist.”

Above quoted text from Cruise of the Betsy blog as at 29 08 2014.

The National Trust for Scotland Hugh Miller museum @ http://www.nts.org.uk/Property/Hugh-Millers-Birthplace-Cottage-and-Museum/

 

 

This biography of Hugh Miller was originally produced for SNH’s Highland Naturalists project – part of our contribution to 2007 The Year of Highland Culture.

 

Image credits – The calotype(s) are courtesy of the University of Glasgow Library, Hill & Adamson Collection.  The colour images (c) John Love.

 

Posted in The Highland Naturalists | Tagged , , , ,

Species of the month – Manx shearwater

Andy Douse is Scottish Natural Heritage’s senior ornithologist. He has recently been working on Rum National Nature Reserve counting and observing the Manx shearwater colony. Here he tells us what that work involved.

 

Manx shearwater

Manx shearwater

Despite the fact that it was June, a cold mist blew in off the summit of Hallival, enveloping me temporarily and distancing me from the sanctuary of the hut below.

My routine was well-established : the digital recorder set to the right recording, clip-board and recording sheet ready, and so I pressed the play button. The discordant, demanding call of a male Manx shearwater blared out and I directed it down the open burrow entrance. The recorded call itself lasted for 25 seconds. However, within ten seconds of the start, a high pitched call sounds from deep down the burrow, similar but noticeably different to the recorded call I used.

 

Playing a recoding helps with the count

Playing a recoding helps with the count

The response was carefully logged, I packed-up and moved on to the next burrow, only 10m away and started the process over again. Over the month of June I repeated this nearly 2,000 times, different calls directed down 60 burrows. Each burrow got one of four different call types on a rotating cycle. The reason for all this?

Well, I’m trying to work out how best to count breeding Manx shearwaters. Counting shearwaters is harder than you’d think. Yes, you can count the holes in the ground but not all holes in the ground are occupied, and most of the burrows are too long and may have passages so convoluted that seeing what’s at the end is almost impossible.

So we have to ‘encourage’ the occupants to tell us that they are at home. Again that is harder than you might think. They don’t always respond and it’s believed that males only respond to male calls and females only respond to female calls. We need a method that will tell us what how many burrows are actually occupied, one that takes account of the fact that it could be occupied by the male or female of a pair, or possibly both.

A raft of Shearwaters taking off with the Isle of Rum NNR beyond.

A raft of Shearwaters taking off with the Isle of Rum NNR beyond.

Why do we need to know this? The colony on Rum is BIG, indeed very BIG probably, but counting it has always been a challenge and previous counting methods may not have given as accurate figures as we can compile today. We are developing a method to count all the burrows (a challenge in its own right over an area the extent of the Rum Cuillin), but in addition we need to know how many of those burrows are actually occupied, and that’s where I come in.

A month on Rum in June gave me the data I needed. Colleagues in RSPB will do the analysis but it’s clear that we’ll need some combination of male and female calls, but we also need to know when is the best time to this – early incubation or later, and does time of day have an effect on likely response probability? All this is leading up to another census, but hopefully with a result that we can really look upon as being definitive.

Manx shearwater

Manx shearwater

The Manx shearwater colony on Rum is undoubtedly of international scientific importance for its size. But beyond that I have to admit a fascination, an admiration and deep respect for a bird that spends about seven months of the year flying down into the waters of the South Atlantic and back again, before settling back again into a burrow, deep on a rocky hillside on Rum, and aiming as they do every year, to raise a single chick.

 

Find out more about Rum National Nature Reserve @ http://www.nnr-scotland.org.uk/rum/

 

Posted in Species of the month | Tagged , , , , , ,

Aberdeen reds

One of our most popular posts on the SNH facebook page recently was a story highlighting how Aberdeen residents were thrilled to see red squirrels make a comeback to the city. It shows the affection that is widespread across Scotland for this most engaging of mammals. Steve Willis, Project Officer for the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project (SSRS), provides a guest blog today looking at the significance of the work to save red squirrels in Aberdeen and beyond.

Red squirrel

Red squirrel

Residents of Aberdeen have been pleasantly surprised by a new addition to the wildlife in their gardens – the red squirrel is making a comeback. In recent months Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels have received a flurry of records from members of the public seeing this charismatic mammal in parts of the city where they have not been seen for many years.

The native red squirrel has been a feature of many a garden in some areas of the western edge of the city, especially those adjacent to some of the bigger conifer plantations, but until recently they were still missing from the urban landscape. It’s early days, but the signs that reds are really back in the city are very promising.

This news is music to the ears of the SSRS team and their many volunteers. SSRS staff trap grey squirrels across both Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire and the public get involved too, indeed SSRS runs a successful trap-loan scheme which has made a huge difference across what is after all a huge area. As the non-native competitor is removed, reds are free to flood back in to former haunts.

The grey squirrel is not native to Scotland. They were brought over from North America in the late 19th and early 20th century by people who thought they would make an attractive addition to our parks. Grey squirrels are a tough competitor for the reds. They survive well, out-competing the smaller, more specialised red squirrel across much of its range. Once found right across Britain, red squirrels have subsequently been lost from most of England and Wales. Scotland now has the largest proportion of the UK population.

Grey squirrel

Grey squirrel

A further complication of the grey squirrel’s presence is a disease that is prevalent within their population. Squirrelpox virus does not affect grey squirrels, but is fatal to red squirrels in a matter of weeks. It is currently found only in South Scotland but this virus has proved very hard to contain and the rest of the Scottish population could be at risk very soon. For now though, it is a long way from the northeast of Scotland and simple competition for food remains the greatest threat posed by the grey squirrel.

Some people may be upset that we trap grey squirrels, but this really is the only way to ensure the long term survival of our native reds. Trapping the non-native grey squirrel is helping to right a wrong made by our ancestors many years ago.

Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is a partnership project led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT). As well as grey squirrel control collecting information on the distribution of red and grey squirrels across Scotland is a high priority. Detailed survey is carried out across the region- not only by the local SSRS team but also by a huge number of volunteers. This allows SSRS to identify areas of importance where habitat management or grey squirrel control will benefit red squirrel populations, and also to understand natural changes in their populations. The data will be shared with local biological records centres and the national database of squirrel records.

So next time you’re out for a walk in the woods, or even see a squirrel in your garden, please report your sightings to us at

http://scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/what-we-do/scotlands-red-squirrels/squirrel-sightings/

 

Further reading: http://www.scottishsquirrels.org.uk/

 

Posted in Projects | Tagged , , ,