We were out searching for rare ‘waxcap’ fungi as ‘indicators’ of special grasslands – old and biodiverse pastures and, excitingly, ancient ‘wood pastures’; so we found ourselves at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire.
Despite unfavourable conditions, namely a long period of dry weather which is bad news for grassland mushrooms, we came up trumps, and our two experts, Dr Paul Ardron and Dr Barry Wright helped a keen group to find and identify some good species.
But National Trust Clumber has much more to offer than just mushrooms.
We paused for a minute or two and our attention was drawn by a loud and unmistakable ‘unk-unk’ and ‘wink-wink’ as a flight of about 40 pink-footed geese passed overhead.
These were the first I had seen this year and were heading south-east to the Wash and Norfolk.
This is a sign that autumn is now truly under way, and other migrants included movements of wood pigeons and thrushes, both passing through in streams.
A small flock of common crossbills flitted across a clearing with their ‘jip-jip’ calls and undulating flight. These birds are related to finches but have finely-curved ‘crossed’ bills adapted to the process of extracting seeds from pine cones; they do well in the Dukeries and Sherwood area with its maturing conifer plantations.
There were also good flocks of titmice – with blue tits, great tits and coal tits in good numbers.
However, my favourite is the long-tailed tit with its slightly laboured flight and ‘zee-zee-zee’ contact calls –very distinctive.
Well, back to the mushrooms and the group examined closely some remarkable bright orange fingers or spindles growing through patches of fine-leaved acid grassland. We managed to find at least three species.
This particular group are known as Calvarias, though this one has had its name changed by the ‘experts’ and is now Clavulinopsis fusiformis.
It is a common ‘fairy club fungus’ and found in short grassland and open woodland. It has the delightful name of ‘Golden Spindles’.
Our mushroom hunting was occasionally disrupted by the entertaining antics of abundant grey squirrels, which clearly thrive in the woods and forests of the Dukeries landscape.
They are also partial to edible mushrooms too, though they appear to be competing with numerous and very large slugs.
A more spectacular interruption was provided by a large bird of prey high overhead. Buzzard-like size, broad wings and a long tail hinted at a rare goshawk. This big raptor passed over us and then dive-bombed or stooped, wings closed, into nearby woodland. Wow!
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