Fungi Trail

It’s soon to be prime fungi season and I can’t wait to see what will start to emerge over the next few months. I find identifying fungi a real challenge, and recently I’ve mainly been interested in tracking fungi and photographing it. As with all wildlife though, I think every photographer should know exactly what it is they’re pointing the camera at. So, after consulting the “Fungi Bible” – otherwise known as the Collins Fungi Guide – I made my best guesses at what species I’d seen. Then, I consulted with a local fungi expert in my area, and was pleased to discover I’d got most of them right!

Here is a selection of the species I’ve seen so far, some in Carlisle where I’m studying and others at home in Hertfordshire. Hopefully this list will triple in size during the autumn!


Amethyst Deceiver (Laccaria amethystina)
Red Cracked Bolete (Xerocomellus chrysenteron)
Yellow Stagshorn (Calocera viscosa)


Common Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum)
Ochre Brittlegill (Russula ochroleuca)
Blue Roundhead (Stropharia caerulea)
The Deceiver (Laccaria laccata)
Brittlegill (unsure of species – too young)
6) Sheathed Woodtuft
Sheathed Woodtuft (Kuehneromyces mutabilis)
Sheathed Woodtuft from below

Burghead, Moray

The Sickener (Russula emetica)

Exped in Miniature

Last week Heather and Cain dropped into uni for a mini exped around the local area. I welcomed any chance to learn more fieldcraft from them and it was also good to spend time with Zoology and other Wildlife Media students – there are fewer and fewer of us wildlies out there so it’s great to meet up every once in a while!


We began following the river through the park, spotting the first sand martins of the year swooping over the water. A jay darted into the small wooded copse in front of us and cormorants zoomed up the river, wings flapping furiously.


As cities go, Carlisle is one of the few that still has many pockets of wilderness nestled amongst the urban landscape features. It’s that combination of having everything I need close by but still being able to escape to a new wild place is what attracted me to studying here. I never thought I could see roe deer with a Virgin train zooming past in the background, but I’ve been proved wrong by wildlife encounters like these all year.


We carried on, walking along the Eden as it snaked through the golf course and reached the suspension bridge. Here we went off-road and found some truly amazing discoveries. On a sand bank tucked away from the heavy footfalls of regular dogs and their owners, we found a wildlife metropolis. There in the sand, perfectly imprinted, were dozens of tracks, bird and mammal alike. There were the broad irregular squares of mallards, tiny pin lines of grey wagtails, even tinier fingers of brown rats and the very dog-ish prints of otters! I practically jumped down into the sand to photograph them – not only were there prints but also a lonely otter spraint, deposited in full display of every visitor as an indication that this territory was claimed. It was fascinating to see just how many species had paid this relatively small sand bank a visit. I vowed to return very soon with a camera trap and see if I could get better acquainted with them!


Nature’s Fisherman

It was time once again for a wander in the wild. Kacper had told us about a kingfisher he’d seen on the River Caldew, so Zahrah and I met him in town and we set off. I’ve had two kingfisher sightings both in Cumbria, one with my camera one without. I managed to get the speedy bird in frame for one of my shots, but I wanted to slightly improve on an indistinct electric blue blur this time.

It was so refreshing seeing the first signs of spring. Little pops of colour speckled the green grass as snowdrops and crocuses stretched out of the cold, hard ground – dainty little warriors taking on the end of winter.


We were met at the river by a smoky grey guardian – a feathered old man that stood hunkered up at the top of a tree. The heron surveyed his river with grumpy indifference. Zahrah is under the impression that these birds are beautiful. While I can’t quite agree on that, they are a spectacular looking species that always draw my attention, whether they’re sat slouched on a branch or flapping through the air with spindly dangling legs.


After leaving the heron behind I spotted the elusive kingfisher, so we followed it along the river bank as best we could. In the meantime, Zahrah had a play with medium format film, and attracted a couple of inquisitive mute swans.


Despite the slow emergence of spring, it still got bitterly cold and before long the light began to fade. We were just about to head for home when another flash of blue shot across the water. Hurrying across the bridge, we staked out the riverbank and managed to spot the kingfisher resting amongst the scrub. It’s still not the best kingfisher photo ever taken, but it’s a vast improvement on my last – you can even see it’s an animal this time!


Hiding Under Toadstools

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.

Common Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum)
Frothy Porecrust (Oxyporus latemarginatus)
Yellow Brain (Tremella mesenterica)

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.

Harvestman (Opilione)
Jelly Ear (Auricularia auricula-judae)

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.

Brown Mottlegill (Panaeolina foenisecii)
Candlesnuff Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon)

Sunset Sunday (on Tuesday)

Yesterday my lovely boyfriend cooked me sausages and the most incredible fried bread for breakfast because the horrid lurgy that had been lingering menacingly had finally reared its ugly head. For the majority of the day we watched Sherlock and ate the cake we were up until 2am making the previous night, while I wheezed and sniffed.

By evening I was up for a walk, so we decided to head out to Talkin Tarn Country Park in Brampton, Cumbria. It was a spot I’d heard good things about but never been to, and it was truly beautiful. As the day faded and the sun sunk into shadows, the rich blue evening sky illuminated the water, ruffled occasionally by the passing rower. A wind nipped my fingers and I pulled on my gloves with slightly exaggerated enthusiasm; I couldn’t wait for winter to make its appearance so I could dig out my finest wooly scarves and bobble hats. For now though, all I needed was my trusty Berghaus jacket to keep me warm as we made our way round the lake.


The sunset crept up on us. One moment the sky was blue, the next it was a vivid red, like a furious blush across the horizon. The water, now still and smooth as glass, took on a beautiful pink hue as the clouds rolled over it. Ducks, geese and swans alike settled to roost. One Canada goose honked into the silence, finishing his argument before succumbing to sleep.

We wandered on and perched inside a bird hide for a while, craning out the window for creative angles of the paint-splashed lake. In minutes the colours had drained and all that remained were grey water and an ever-darkening sky. We made our way back around the lake to the car, feeling very grateful to have witnessed such a visually stunning end of the day.


Spot on the Eden

A hundred steps from my house I can be part of a different world for a while. This far from the city I can only hear nature. The ripples of the river Eden, the busy buzz of honeybees savouring the last light, a lone robin serenading the dusk.

A heron stands motionless, his body and mind trained solely on the river’s surface. As the light dies his form dissolves into silhouette, gangly neck and ungainly legs.

Would that I knew what that bird was, a staccato thrum of high-pitched notes somewhere above the water. The birds taunt me, concealing themselves in the slumbering trees. Like so many other keen naturalists, I fall foul to the obstacle course of birdsong. As I strain my ears, each sweet voice bleeds into the next to form a melodious haze of blissful bewilderment.

A sudden rippling in the water tugs my attention.


But no, perhaps an energetic fish or disturbed weeds. My Eden otters continue to elude me, revealing themselves to the select few. The irony is, their closest companions are the fishermen, those who compete with the mustelids for the river’s inhabitants. Show me your faces little ones let me see you swim!

Jackdaws chatter in dispute above, quarrelling amongst themselves before settling in to roost.

Ah! The unmistakable ferocity of a bat’s flight. Leathery wings carry him down to the water and back up almost too quickly for the eye to catch. Midges swarm, bats follow.

Another, this little rascal zooming close over my head. I wish I could hear your voice, pipistrelle. That delicious clicking that Homo sapiens will never hear without the code breaker, the magic machine that translates silence into echolocation.

A magpie cackles, as if at me. These pesky bats are too fast to watch; the midges had better be wary. Some swarm toward me, others risk the open air while the bats dart in every direction like miniature Spitfires. Such beautiful creatures, denying mammal custom and taking to the air. Who needs legs when you have wings?

Our Day On May

When the May Princess left Anstruther harbour the sun was at its highest, so as we headed out into open water we were slowly baking but not daring to complain in case the rain came back. As I watched my fellow passengers slap on the sun cream, I was geographically disorientated, not quite believing I was in Scotland and not Spain.


The water was choppy but that added to the fun. I was once again having to negotiate a tumbling boat and a telephoto lens to desperately try and capture the moving seabirds in focus. Many of my attempts were 96% sapphire sky and 4% wing tip in the corners of the frame. With gritty determination, I managed to photograph a few gannets (Morus bassanus) alone and in their strings of multiple individuals. Gannets happen to be my favourite seabirds. Capable of diving at speeds of 60mph, they hit the water with incredible force in their attempts to catch fish. When I saw my first gannet on the voyage to the Isle of Arran I fell in love with their striking face stripes and lightly tinted brown heads. To me they’re the coolest bird in British seas.


Before long the Isle of May appeared on the horizon, illuminated beautifully under the intense sun. The cliffs and crag faces oozed drama with their harsh black and white, thrown into sharp relief by the light. The few buildings were dotted around and looked very out of place amongst the grass and rocky shores, just how I liked it.


Once we’d all disembarked and received a welcoming talk by a volunteer from Scottish Natural Heritage, we were allowed to explore. Visitors branched off in different directions; we decided to head up Fluke Street, past the Bath House and Main Light to the very tip of the crag. Beyond was Rona and North Ness, areas closed to the public for research. While we admired the view, we spotted a lone grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) wallowing in the shallows, snout resting on the rocks as it dozed.




The seal was accompanied by the odd gull swooping through, but otherwise the island was mainly deserted. We hadn’t timed our trip quite right as most of the seabirds had left, including the elusive puffin (Fratercula arctica) that is high on my tick list. However, aside from the beautiful gannets we still managed to see a few kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla), cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo) and a lone juvenile guillemot (Uria aalge), a new bird for me.


All too soon our time on the island was at an end, and we made our way back to the boat. Just as we were leaving, a grey seal – perhaps the one we’d seen earlier – bobbed out of the water as if waving us off. We thought he’d been our only seal sighting that day, but around the corner we were treated by a large colony, splashing each other and gazing at us with huge black eyes. Cormorants basked in the sun, wings spread as if inviting a hug, and once again the gannets swept over our heads. As the Isle of May grew smaller, my nose grew redder, and when I got home I realised I’d acquired a vicious sunburn. It was worth every moment!

Sunny Cliff Wander

It had been several years since we visited Arbroath for the first time; I remember wearing my trusty blue cagoule, but that’s about it. So, we thought it was high time we paid this beautiful town a second visit.


It was another beautifully hot day, so we abandoned coats during our walk along the cliffs. Due to the sheer drops, we kept Jas on a short lead, as our beautiful but rather simple dog wouldn’t hesitate to do a Tom Daley off the top. She was content sniffing the long grass and trotting along beside us.


There were butterflies and pollinating insects wherever we looked; the sky was alive with flapping wings. Bees wrestled for space on the thistle flowers while house martens snatched flies above our heads. We had to watch we didn’t step on caterpillars that were crossing the path in abundance.


The walk built up an appetite, so when we got back to town we tried the legendary Arbroath smokie for the first time. It was an interesting taste, but definitely something I’d have again. We ate the freshly caught fish on paper plates looking out onto the harbour; can’t get much more traditional than that!

Reunited with the Beach


When spending summer in Scotland, we know we can only hope for good weather. This week however, the sun has shone most days. Naturally we had to take Jas to her favourite place in the world, St Andrews beach. Armed with her new Equafleece to keep the sand off (and avoid having to battle in the shower with her when we got home), she bounded and leapt like life couldn’t be better.


Once we’d completely worn out the dog, we had a wander through St Andrews and had lunch at a dog friendly cafe. A fair had been set up in the town centre and was in full swing when we got there. Though St Andrews is never particularly quiet, it certainly felt strange to think all this commotion was happening here. I almost walked straight past the gemstone shop that I always have to visit, which blended in with the loud hubbub of the fair. After a walk up to the Abbey ruins, we made our way back home.