A new county record

While preparing for my lichen ‘walk’ on campus I examined one of the Horse chestnut trees near the pond in the Harris Garden. I’ve used this tree for teaching lichens on the MSc Plant Diversity course for the last three years. This time I spotted something new.

Squamules of Normandina pulchella.

Squamules of Normandina pulchella.

Normandina pulchella is an interesting lichen that grows as oyster-shell shaped squamules (small thalli of limited size). It has raised margins that develop a coating of small flour-like soredia. These are small bundles of fungal hyphae and algal cells that can break off and grow into a new thallus elsewhere – a form of asexual reproduction.

Normandina is expanding it’s range throughout the south of Britain, probably in response to less sulphur dioxide pollution. This is the first time that the species has been recorded in Berkshire.

Posted in Lichen | Tagged | Leave a comment

Birds On The Move

hough Whiteknights is perhaps not the best spot to observe bird migration, a few species have been on the move in the last couple of weeks. Our most abundant summer visitor, the chiffchaff, is still around (though in declining numbers), still audible in the Wilderness, uttering occasional soft ‘hueets’. A few will stay for the winter, though increasingly their place in the pecking order is being taken by goldcrests, an even more diminutive and extremely attractive little bird. Goldcrests are present in Whiteknights Park all year but numbers in the winter are bolstered by migrants from the continent.

Fortunate observers often pick up one or two firecrests among them, so it’s worth getting a closer look at any tiny birds darting in and out of conifers or dense vegetation such as ivy on trees. Even the tangled masses of laurel and rhododendron in the Wilderness seem to be suitable foraging grounds for the two Regulus species, where they presumably glean for tiny invertebrates eking out a winter existence under the broad evergreen leaves. A rare example, perhaps, of an ecological benefit from those insidious invasive plants. I’ve yet to see a firecrest this season – my last on campus was a singing male next to the Harris Garden pond back in April – but I hope that they’ll be back with us before the term is out.

Firecrest, by Isidro Vila Verde on Flickr (Creative Commons license)

Firecrest, by Isidro Vila Verde on Flickr (Creative Commons license)

Jays have been particularly noticeable over the last couple of weeks, seen making distinctively floppy flights all over campus as they go about caching acorns for the winter. And more recently we’ve seen the return of redwings, perhaps the most striking of Britain’s native thrushes. There’s often a good sized flock feeding on the playing fields or on the short grass near the Student’s Union.

There are other migrants about that never or hardly ever touch Whiteknights soil, such as meadow pipits and skylarks. Single meadow pipits flew over campus early on Friday 10th and mid-morning on Thursday 16th, and at about quarter to ten on the morning of Friday 17th two skylarks were passing southwest in the vicinity of the AMS tower. The flight calls of both species are quite easy to pick out once you know them: the pipit’s is a thin repetition of the first part of its name (“Pip! Pip-pip!”), whilst the skylark’s call is a burbling cheep (listen here) that I find somewhat difficult to describe. No matter, once heard it is very distinctive, and you’ll soon see how commonly skylarks are flying overhead at this time of year.

What birders often refer to as ‘vismig’ – short for visible migration – is becoming quite popular, especially as the trend for birdwatchers to focus on the comings and goings of a local patch rather than on twitching rarities continues to gather pace. With the establishment of the Reading University Ornithological Society, interest in birds on campus has probably never been higher, so with plenty of ears and eyes to the skies we will hopefully be noticing and reporting (via the BTO’s BirdTrack site) an increasingly useful proportion of the birds flying overhead.

Posted in Birds | Leave a comment

Magpie Inkcap – Coprinopsis picacea

Thanks to Dave Butlin I can add another toadstool to our campus list – the black with white spots is a distinctive feature of Coprinopsis picacea, the aptly called Magpie Inkcap.  These toadstools were seen today in wood chips and leaf litter under the Catalpa next to the library.

The magpie inkcap, Coprinus picaceus, found on wood chips under the Catalpa speciosa growing byt the Library.

The magpie inkcap, Coprinuopsis picacea, found on wood chips under the Catalpa speciosa tree growing by the Library.

Posted in Fungi | Tagged , | 1 Comment

A Walk through the Wilderness 15th October 2014

As part of my time volunteering at the University Herbarium, I will be attempting to document some of the species on campus, in order to update the WB blog species list. To start me off, as I am as yet just a tenderfoot, I will be working through some of the more simple species before I set off into the great unknown. Continue reading

Posted in Flowering Plants, Plants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lichen exploration on campus

Whiteknights is an amazing teaching resource. Recently I led a lichen ‘walk’ for the Reading District Natural History Society from the car-park in front of the Harborne Building. I’ve put ‘walk’ in inverted commas because we really didn’t walk very far.

Lichen observation in action.

Lichen observation in action.

Starting with a red-leaved Acer in one corner of the car-park we explored crustose and foliose lichens and examined the curb-stones at the edge of the tarmac. Then we looked at the roadside trees behind the Engineering Building, seeing how the availability of rain water affects lichen distribution. Large foliose lichens were common in branch axils where water accumulates before draining down the trunk, while only leprose lichens survived in the rain-shadows below large branches.

A near-by wall gave us the chance to see how different lichen species prefer either the acidic surface of the bricks or the basic, and more porous, mortar.

We examined nitrogen-enriched lichen communities on painted window sills and looked at the orange smudges of Trentepohlia, a free-living green alga, that we found on bark. We even spotted a coral pink licheniclous fungus, Marcandiomyces corallinus.

Admiring Collema tenax growing on soil.

Admiring Collema tenax growing on soil.

Going in the opposite direction we looked on soil behind the greenhouses and admired the tiny colonies of the gelatinous lichen Collema tenax. Unfortunately I forgot to show everyone the free-living cyanobacteria Nostoc that occurs in the next bed. But we did stop to admire some thalli of a Peltigera species and also the similarly shaped thalli of Marchantia polymorpha, a thalloid liverwort.

All this diversity lies within 200 metres of car-park 13!

Posted in Bacteria, Bryophytes, Fungi, Green Algae, Lichen, Liverworts, Plants | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Whiteknights Flower Rich Campus

This gallery contains 6 photos.

Victoria Wickens from the Centre for Agri-Environmental Research (CAER) has kindly provided a series of photos taken on campus over the summer.

More Galleries | Leave a comment

Ideal home or revolting distortion?

Galls caused by Dasineura sisymbrii.

Galls caused by Dasineura sisymbrii.

If you need a safe place to live, why not get a home built to your own specifications?

That’s what the larvae of Dasineura sisymbrii, a kind of gall midge do. The presence of the larvae amongst the developing flower buds of species of Rocket (Sisymbrium) or Yellow-cresses (Rorippa) cause the host plant to develop a mass of pale yellow growth in which the larvae can develop and feed. The mass of plant tissue also keeps the larvae safe from predators. I don’t think it helps the plant to set seed though!

Dasineura sisymbrii galls in situ.

Dasineura sisymbrii galls in situ.

These galls were found in a damp piece of grassland near Stenton Hall.

Posted in Brassicaceae, Flowering Plants, Galls, Insects, Plant Pathology Research Group, Plants | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment