Saturday, 24 October 2015

A Dormouse Hunt

I joined an Oxfordshire Mammal Group survey for Dormice in Wychwood on Thursday morning.  The Group has set up 100 dormouse boxes in each of 14 locations throughout Oxfordshire.  Once every month to two months the boxes are surveyed to see if there are dormice in any of the boxes, as a way of confirming their presence. It is a project to see if there are dormice, uncommon throughout the country, in suitable habitat, hazel with brambles nearby.   Years ago I saw my one and only dormouse in a survey of  a BBOWT reserve, Homefield Wood near Marlow.

Dormouse Nestbox

Seven of us set out from Leafield, around 15 miles south of Hooky, to check the boxes in Wychwood.   All of them were empty, which was disappointing but not unexpected.   We also checked to see if there were any hazel nuts showing dormouse feeding signs - some chewed by wood mice , others broken by squirrels, but none showing the characteristic augured holes of dormice.   A blank.

I did find a few plants of Meadow Saffron (Colchicum autumnale) and some interesting fungi in the mixed wood, presenting the usual identification challenge.  Even with a clean spore print, a full description and a picture of spores under a microscope there is still room for a failed or incorrect identification.  

Meadow Saffron (Colchicum autumnale)

 Stump Puffball (Lycoperdum pyriforme)

 Trooping Funnel (Clitocybe geotropa)

 Blewit (Lepista sordida)

Probably Leaf Parachute ( Marasmius epiphyllus)

Close up: Probably Leaf Parachute ( Marasmius epiphyllus)

Mmmm.   Not sure.  Could be a Naucoria species. Spores 9x6 microns, oval.

 Scarlet Elfcap (Sarcosypha austriaca) - might be S. coccinea which is closely related

Monday, 5 October 2015

October Moths

On Skye I tried to put a moth trap out at least once a month to give a record of what was around throughout the year.  There was a small dedicated community of those interested in moths and a committed vice county recorder keen to get records from what was an under-recorded area. and , useful when it came to identification and comparison.  Weather often limited opportunity, rain and hot mercury vapour lamps do not get on well.

Down in Oxfordshire weather is less of a problem, but fear of upsetting neighbours is rate limiting. Nevertheless I am keen to get the trap out at least once a month, and last Saturday I caught 29 moths, representing 8 species
Black Rustic

Beaded Chestnut

Lunar Underwing

Large Ranunculus

An interesting moth was Blair's shoulder-knot.   This is is recent immigrant to the UK, being first found by Dr Kenneth Blair in 1951 on the Isle of Wight, to where he had retired.   At one time he was assistant curator at the Natural History Museum, and President of the Royal Entomological Society.   

Blair's Shoulder-knot
This moth is heading north and was recently recorded in Fife.

Friday, 2 October 2015

The Oxford Herbaria

For years I have been a member of the Ashmolean Natural History Society of Oxford, but now that we have settled back in Oxfordshire I have got the time and opportunity to attend some of its meetings.

Collected by William Dampier in Australia in 1697
Illustration from a Dampier's book
Yesterday they organised a visit to the Herbaria at the University of Oxford in the Plant Sciences department.  Began in 1621 this is the oldest herbaria in the United Kingdom and fourth oldest in the world.  Literally and metaphorically,  herbaria are rather dry, with racks and racks of of pressed plants, something familiar from our childhoods, but our host, Stephen Harris, the curator, brought the place alive describing some of their most noteworthy items in the collection, and the history behind them, a sweep through the history of field botany.   Piracy and theft were part of the story, as collecting moved through phases of taking whatever was there during exploration to specific commissions for plant collections, but in the 19th century there was a strong emphasis was on the commercial value of plants from afar for horticulture and cultivation such as rubber and tea .   Nowadays they are very selective and the accessions are around 500 or so per year.
Collected by Darwin in Patagonia
Collected by Linnaeus 
The oldest item was was a herbaria, dating to 1606, consisting of specimens gathered in Northern Italy by a Capuchin monk, Gregorio Reggio, and was later acquired in Italy by the English botanist William Sherard.  It was mislaid for years but was found by George Druce (Flora of Oxford, Flora of Buckinghamshire etc) in a sack in an outbuilding in the university. Druce was a major benefactor to the Herbaria having made a substantial figure from his pharmacy business, for example upwards of £20,000 pera nnum in the period 1910 to 1913.

The total collection consists of over a million items,from all over the world of which around 150,000 have been digitised and catalogued, and are accessible online. (Exploring the Oxford University Heraria)  To digitise the remaining 85% of the collection will be a major challenge.