It had been way too long since Zahrah and I last went on an adventure, so on a grey, cloudy Friday morning we headed out to Kingmoor South and North nature reserves for a wander. The aim was to train our senses and become expert animal trackers. We had our hopes on finding owl pellets and maybe even the fabled “Beast of Cumbria” – I share George Monbiot’s rather pessimistic opinion on a black panther stalking sheep in the Lakes but that’s a whole other blog post.
Sadly our adventure was pellet-less, but what we did find was a lot of fungi. I’ve been really interested in macro photography recently, and have subsequently been spending a lot more time crawling on the floor finding tiny things to photograph. I never realised quite how extraordinary fungi could be – so many shapes, sizes and colours. Like every naturalist I’d love to be a wild forager and have a nibble on the safe varieties, but after trying to name the ones I’d found I discovered it was dangerous territory. Take Morel (Morchella esculenta) for example, an egg-shaped cup fungus that apparently tastes wonderful. Then take its almost-twin, False Morel (Gyromitra esculenta), which can be fatal and even after careful preparation is believed to cause cancer. Nature is a cruel mistress indeed!
So we decided against finding a snack and stuck to taking photos of the fungi we found. Zahrah graciously held a branch up while I crawled underneath to photograph a group of Jelly Ears. I was mid shot when I heard “aw look at this little spider” over my head and regretted every decision I’d made getting to the Jelly Ears. The little critter was a harvestman (Opilione), and luckily he was only small so I was even brave enough to take a shot of him before he scuttled away.
We ate our lunch on a bench nestled amongst the vast oak trees, the forest floor covered in a crunchy bed of orange and brown. It was eerily quiet, even for a forest landscape. I can’t wait for the spring when the air will be alive with birdsong again. Winter has its own magic, but it can’t be denied that spring is when nature truly shines.