Monday, 12 December 2016

Pretty and Deadly - Revised (again)

I was out and about yesterday and as usual. I spent my time mooching about in the dark and dingy places. I did the same last weekend and in the process came across this caged over mine adit, between Abernant and Llwydcoed. Although the cage had a couple of gaps around the edges that bats might use to enter and leave, someone had also created a bat slot on the main part.

According to the 1885 six inch to the mile Ordnance Survey map; this was an
ironstone level.

As for yesterday, my first mission was to check on a mystery fungus, at a site, near Cwmbach. I first found it at that site, in 2012, growing on the caps of the attractive Olive Oysterling (Panellus serotinus), which were colonising a standing, but rotten birch trunk. The mystery fungus (I think of it as the Werfa fungus) infects and kills some of the developing caps of the Panellus and then produces a forest of attractive, spine-like fungal bodies, which bear the spores.

Tilachlidium brachiatum on a withered Panellus serotinus cap.

If you look closely, you can see the stricken Panellus cap beween the spikes
(synnemata) of Tilachlidium brachiatum.

Apparently healthy caps and an infected one.

Some of the synnemata of Tilachlidium brachiatum mounted in Lactofuchsin; to
reveal the details x200. 

At x400, the clusters of spores can be seen attached to the main structures.

Since finding it, I have taken lots of photos of it, collected specimens, examined them microscopically and measured the spores and other features. I have searched and searched the web, but have found absolutely nothing which resembles it at all. I have never seen it anywhere else and as the colony of Panellus on that trunk is beginning to fail, I fear that the Werfa fungus (whatever it is) is ultimately doomed.

Stop Press:
Last night, I contacted Emma Williams about the possibility of her introducing me to one of the fungus experts in Kew about this fungus and included these photos in the email. Emma must have posted them on Facebook, because a Richard Shotbolt got back to her and suggested I look at Tilachlidium brachiatum and there it was: at last, after four years of getting nowhere, I finally have a name. There are, apparently, only four records of it in Wales, so all good stuff; however, this process has highlighted to me the fact that although just about everything is available on the web, finding just the right search term to locate it can be incredibly difficult.

While I was in the wood, where the Werfa fungus lurks, I had a pleasant surprise, when I came across an immature plant of the Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis), which being deciduous, was well on the way to dying back, but still recognisable. It grows in the coastal belt, in such places as Pant-y-sais fen and on Gower and the spores obviously get blown inland to us, but although the spores germinate, and young plants develop, they aren't quite hardy enough to withstand some of our harder winters, so get killed off. This one is in quite a sheltered spot, so maybe it will survive longer than most.

The Osmunda is the yellowy brown dying thing.

Another, slightly gruesome, discovery at Werfa was this unfortunate Brick (moth) which had accidentally flown into and impaled itself on a gorse spine. It was long dead by the time I found it.

Note: Since posting this and also posting this photo on the Glamorgan Moth Recording Group site, George Tordoff, Dave Slade and Howard Burt, have questioned whether it was impaled by accident or perhaps by a Shrike. When I first found it, the possibility of it being a Shrike's victim did cross my mind, but for some reason, the Werfa site doesn't seen right to me. Spurred into action by those queries I took a good look at the moth (which I had luckily collected). Now it isn't all that clear in this photo, taken through my microscope, but as well as the large wound in the lower abdomen, caused by the spine, there is also a large crush injury to the section of abdomen close to the thorax and on the thorax, there is a discrete area in which the hairs have been removed, perhaps indicating that the moth was grasped by a bird, with one mandible on the thorax and the other on the abdomen. Based on this damage, I have to concede that it is entirely possible that the moth was impaled by a Shrike and if so, it was within the last couple of weeks.

The Werfa fungus duly checked, I then moved to a strip of riverside woodland, near Robertstown, where I spent the rest of the afternoon. This woodland is dominated by Sycamore, and Ash, but there are a few other species, such as Beech, Oak, Alder and willows, as well as Hazel, Holly and Sloe.
While checking out the ground beneath a Holly, I notices a dead Ash branch partially hung up on a nearby tree and curious about the peculiar appearance of its twigs, I went and had a look.

On many of the thicker twigs and branchlets, was this attractively coloured crustose fungus, which felt jelly-like and slightly waxy. It was the contrast in colours within the body, between the older areas (orange) and the younger parts (greyish lilac) that drew my attention. I haven't had the chance to try to identify it yet, but I took some specimens, in case it comes to spores under the microscope.

Also on the twigs of that Ash branch were clusters of quite prominent and attractive nail head shaped fungi, in shades of orange and brown; the like of which I had never seen before.

Pretty and Deadly: to Ash trees, that is!

They were fairly large (up to 10mm diameter) and very photogenic, so I took some photos and also some specimens. When I got home, I had a look on the web and was a little shocked to find that they are the fruit bodies of Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, AKA ash die-back disease: no wonder I had never seen them previously.
Earlier, while in Cwmbach, I had been saddened to see obvious signs of ADD die-back in many of the numerous ash saplings that line the disused railway, but this was the first time I have encountered it in a mature tree.

On a happier note; although I wasn't really searching for it, I kept coming across my old friend Cobalt Crust (Terana caerulea) and most of it was looking really colourful. There was one small patch of it, on a dead willow branch, near Robertstown, that was probably the most colourful I have ever seen.

Actually, it doesn't look nearly as impressively blue and  vivid in these photos as it
did in real life.


  1. mark your posts are a pleasure to read and so in depth and your cwmbach sherlock homes and i mean that in a nice way and taking the Urine.

    1. Thanks Martin, but what about the possibility of a GGS above Pant Farm?

    2. well there the right habitat on top and bird must come down lower in bad weather and yes i think very likey to.

  2. I agree with all Martin said, you are a pleasure to be in the field with. Do you remember where you had the impaled brick, I'd love to put a trail camera there.

    1. Which field was that? ;¬)
      I know exactly where, but it is one of those places where it wouldn't stand a chance of not being interfered with or stolen.
      You once moth trapped with me on part of the site, which is between the tops of Cwmbach and Abernant. If you remember, drove up a narrow and rocky forest track and had to do a very technical three pointer before descending the road again to the trap site, just inside the forestry. The actual site is a disused colliery, now pretty much overgrown, but one of my favourite venues. Unfortunately, it is also a much loved venue for scramblers.
      If you like, I'll meet you and take you there, so you can judge for yourself.

    2. Cheers Mark, I've spent several winters at the Neuadd & Garw Nant searching for a shrike larder to no avail, so I'm desperate. If it's iffy I'll use Geri's camera, (:D). I'm free from Thursday morning. If I have an hour in between I'll check the Nightjar sites on Merthyr side, I'll leave Cynon to you pair.