But I'd had a tip-off. Michael had led a Sussex Wildlife Trust members' walk around Burton Pond the day before and returned with this tantalising photograph of an oyster mushroom.
What a difference a day makes!
By the time I got there, the mushrooms were all dried out and stained yellow with age. The fruit bodies were hard and brittle. Snapping one off revealed a writhing mass of black-tipped maggots, chomping away on the dessicated flesh.
The maggots rather put me off taking a sample. And anyway, I thought it might be difficult obtaining some spores from the dried out gills. So I settled for taking a bunch of photographs.
This one shows some of the stems, fused together into a common base. But I don't think they're truly 'branching' in the way you'd expect from the Branching Oyster Pleurotus cornucopiae.
This photograph shows the stem a little better.
As you'd expect from an oyster mushroom, the gills are strongly decurrent (running down the stem); but the gills/ridges don't extend all the way down the stem. Again, I think this feature means it's unlikely to be P. cornucopiae.
But what is it? Having also consulted with Funga Nordica, I think the combination of pale flesh and summer fruiting mean it's likely to be the Pale Oyster P. pumonarius. This species occurs on both living and dead deciduous wood, including birch (Betula), as it is here.
Continuing on, this standing dead tree was covered in swarms of King Alfred's Cakes Daldinia concentrica.
And I was delighted to come across this large mushroom, growing in parkland -type habitat, under some old oaks.
As you can just-about-make-out in the photograph, it had a large round bulge at the bottom – a volva – which had become partially hollowed-out and was providing a home to a very active family of woodlice.
The cap was this rather attractive olive-green colour.
And while the gills were still covered in the remnants of a partial veil (?) I could see no hint of a ring.
This leaves me in something of a quandary, as the mushroom matches many features of the Deathcap Amanita phalloides, but it doesn't have a 'pendulous ring' around the stem.
I wondered if it could be a Grisette Amanita vaginata. But a key feature of that species is its 'striate' (stripy) margin. And this mushroom doesn't have that.
I found a couple of younger specimens growing nearby, so I looked to see if those showed any signs of a 'pendulous' ring. But they didn't.
The partial veil's falling off in the wrong direction! Towards the cap margin, rather than the stem.
Note also the mottled lower stem – showing the same colouring as the cap. This is also a feature of A. phalloides. And the cap has a sweet and slightly vinegar-y smell to me, which the books say is also a feature of A. phalloides.
I think it probably is the Deathcap A. phalloides.
UPDATE 08/07/2017: I posted these pictures on the British Mycological Society Facebook page and Geoffrey Kibby was kind enough to confirm my identification. Success!
Then I saw this Common Toad Bufo bufo. Hello!
Thought I'd give it a guest appearance in this fungus blog, given toads' long association with the mushroom kingdom!
One of the nice things about the walk around Burton & Chingford Ponds is the great variety of habitats it takes you past: woodland, heath, bogs and ponds. As you reach the furthest point from the car park at Burton Mill, the route goes through an area of pine plantation. And it was here I spotted a smattering of earthballs.
Earthballs are covered in the new book by Geoffrey Kibby, so I thought, I CAN DO THIS! (Other field guides have always left me a little confused as to how you separate the different species).
The earthballs were growing at the side of the path, under conifers, amongst leaf litter over very sandy soil.
The earthball seemed almost fused into the leaflitter by mycelia; the stem was almost absent. In the young fruit body the spore mass ('gleba') was white and just starting to flush a purplish-black colour. The surface of the fruit body was covered in tan-brown patches, broken up into an irregular pattern.
I think it probably is the common species, Common Earthball Scleroderma citrinum. But Kibby's book makes me think I should check the spore ornamentation to be sure. I don't think I can do this without mature spores, and without staining chemicals to highlight the ornamentation. Oh well, at least I know what to do next time.
In what proved to be a surprisingly fruitful trip for a dry day in July, I found a few little mushrooms growing at the side of the footpath, on sandy soil.
They had crowded gills, which were a pale mousy-brown colour.
The caps were quite conical and rounded at the top (without a discernable 'umbo'). The cap colour was a sort of non-descript beige, overlain with tan speckling (veil remnants?).
I think it might be a Psathyrella species. I'll try and get a spore print and see where that gets me.
I also found another earthball, this time growing in the heathy grassland near the Black Bog. This one had more obvious 'patches' on the surface.
I assume the spores had just recently matured, as the gleba was this glistening blue-black colour.
I'll see if I can get some spores out of this one...
Geoffrey Kibby's book explains that spore ornamentation is a key identification feature in the genus Scleroderma – the Earthballs. Spores are typically spiny and can also be covered in a network of ridges, in which case they are described as 'reticulate'. This graphic from Michael Kuo's mushroomexpert.com site shows the different kinds of ornamentation you might see in Scleroderma species.
|Image reproduced from www.mushroomexpert.com. © Michael Kuo|
This is the best image I've been able to get of the spores from my collection.
You can see they've got some impressive spikes on them, but I can't get the image clear enough to tell if the spores are reticulate or not.
So, there we go. I'm stuck again.
For the record
Date: 8 July 2017
Location: Burton & Chingford Ponds
Grid ref: SU9717