Happy New Year!
Amongst the stormy weather, we’ve had a couple of really beautiful days where the sky seems to have been washed completely clear by the lashing rain and gales. We fitted in a lovely walk at Thursley, where me managed to persuade the dog not to dunk herself in the freezing water, and get a walk through the boarded wetland areas. On a clear day, the vivid blue of the water amongst the bleached tuft of grass is a sight to lift your spirits.
There were lots of birders out with their giant telescopes, but not many birds for them to aim them at. We did pass an excited gaggle watching a treecreeper running up and down the trunk of a pine, well camouflaged against the bark. They’re hard to spot, because their plumage blends perfectly with the pattern of the bark, but if you catch the flash of their white underside, or see them silhouetted against the trunk, they’re quite interesting to watch as they scuttle around, looking and listening for insects to probe for with their long curved beaks.
The highlight for me, as it often is at Thursley, was the lichen. The areas that the fire devastated in 2006 are regenerating slowly, and there is lots of moss and lichen cover amongst the nascent heather. A week or two ago I came across these fabulous lemon yellow club fungi, Clavulinopsis helvola, providing a cheerful alien flash of colour in a grey winter. There’s ever such a lot of moss at Thursley; there are some pics below of grassy areas in front of trees, gates etc, that look like the most vivid green grass you’ve ever seen, but actually it’s moss – greener and more vivid than grass, and only able to grow where there’s enough moisture. It’s the first thing to give cover to fire-devastated heathland areas like Thursley and Frensham.
This time, a flash of crimson caught my eye. Like minature flowers, or psychedelic matchsticks, the tiny pale blue-grey lichen stalks were topped with these bizarre red baubles. As I’ve said before, lichens are a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship between fungi and algae. Both parties benefit from the other’s ability to synthesise things that they themselves can’t. Lichens are divided into various categories, and Cladonia species lichens are fruticose lichens, which means that they have bits that stick up in the air, rather than hugging their substrate (ground, tree, whatever). With fungi, the part you see above the ground – the mushroom – is the fruiting body; the reproductive part. The main body of the fungus is underground or within the rotting log or whatever. Lichens, however, dwell on the surface, so you’re seeing the whole thing, not just the fruit. So while I was pretty surprised to see these crimson fruits/flowers of the lichen, it does make sense that if the stem bits that stick up are the potedia, or the bodies of the lichen, then the reproductive parts are something extra. They are, and they’re called the apothecia. Put in that light, though, the brazen redness makes me think of baboons’ arses.
I’m not sure which Cladonia species these are. It seems most likely, from my amateur fumbling through pictures and a really useful key, that they’re Cladonia floerkeana, but they might be C. macilenta, or several others, for that matter.
Here are some more pictures of the lichens and some moss and Thursley. The moss is, I think, Ceratodon purpureus, or fire moss. The gorgeous coloured spikes here are the inflorescences, or flowers – the reproductive parts again. But the details of that are for my next post, I reckon.