Monday, 10 March 2008

#47 Autumn settles in.....

Summer in the Hunter Valley has been unusually wet and mild in comparison to recent years. I'm not complaining; the drought has finally broken, and the Valley has not suffered any devestating summer wildfires.

Although summer temperatures have been pleasantly mild, there is still a distinct changing of seasons as autumn settles in. Shorter days, crisp fresh morning air with a hint of chill, and picturesque rural scenery blanketed in morning fog and dripping with dew.

Autumn is fungus season

Autumn days are perfect for wandering bushland, parks and reserves, observing and enjoying natures events. Late autumn and early winter is fungus season, when weird and beautiful fungal fruiting bodies emerge from their substrate in order to produce spores and establish new colonies.

Fungi season

Puffballs and stalked fungi are not "just mushrooms and toadstools"; they are the Earth's recycling agents returning dead organic matter to the soil, therefore continually fertilising the soil with nutrients. Without fungi, the Earth would be littered with dead plants and animals, and the soil would be barren.

I have been fascinated by macrofungi for several years and I'm always excited when a new fungus season rolls around to reignite my enthusiasm. I have created a blog, Australian Fungi, where I am recording my fungi finds and photographs. New entries on my fungi blog have slowed down recently, but I hope to again be posting regular updates soon.

Many fungi display fabulous colours of red, purple, yellow or orange; some have dainty skirts and others have amazing forms resembling coral, furry beasts, cups or matchsticks; there are tiny delicate mushrooms just millimetres high, and monstrous creations larger than dinner plates; some are mildly fragrant while others smell downright foul; and while some fungi are more beautiful than the prettiest blossom, others are just plain dull. But I find all fungi fascinating, and I can often be found sprawled out on the ground checking them out in detail.

A tell-tale sign of a new fungus
breaking and lifting the earth as it emerges

An oddly shaped puffball pokes through compacted gravel - it is not beautiful, but is certainly appealing. Some fungi even push their way through bitumen

Along with fungi popping up on lawns and gardens, there is also likely to be another strange organism appearing; slime moulds. They also come in an astounding range of colours and shapes, changing form to produce and shed spores.

I am not aware of any damage caused by slime moulds, so don't be alarmed if you find such a growth amongst garden mulch or leaf litter. I have featured a few of my slime mould finds in blog #22 and #41 - if you're not familiar with slime moulds, check these weird things out.

A slime mould in its creeping stage in my garden

Another exciting autumn happening, is the flowering of many of Australia's ground orchids. Once bitten by the orchid bug, like the fungus bug, there is no escaping the irresistable attraction these wonders of nature project.

Many areas of the Hunter are covered in dense grasses as a result of the unusually wet summer, which may hinder some orchids, but I am hopeful of finding some on the natural bush tracks of the Hunter Region Botanic Garden, and national parks.

Denis Wilson from The Nature of Robertson, is an avid orchid hunter, for discovery, study and photographic purposes and has been a real encouragement to me and my endeavours. He has an extensive documentation of his orchid finds here.

I'll be out and about throughout autumn looking for the delicate and often hidden terrestrial orchids. Here is a link to my orchid finds to date.

A Chiloglottis species photographed April 2007

Invertebrate activity is interesting all year, with many species coming and going, metamorphosing, reproducing and dying - it is a fascinating field of observation.


Autumn dew and fog will leave countless spiders' webs sparkling, strung across fences, trees, shrubs and grasses, advertising their position. I take advantage of this spectacle to check out what spiders might be lurking in my backyard formerly unnoticed. Along with the spiders, there will be egg sacs, and possibly still some hatchings to study.

Crisp autumn mornings are also ideal for spotting those normally fast and elusive dragonflies as they dry and warm their wings before flight. Butterflies might also be another beaut find as they warm their wings.

A chilly dragonfly in my backyard in May 2007

And of course, there will always be intersting bugs to discover in the garden, at any time of year. I spend a lot of time working in my garden creating habitat for small animals and insects, and I never cease to be amazed at the variety of creatures that live in and visit my garden. I have bookmarked another nature blog, Lepidoptera Diary, featuring moths, butterflies and other backyard invertebrates - others interested in bugs and stuff should also find it an excellent read.

An autumn visitor - I am presuming this to be a parasitising wasp breaking into the nursery chambers of a mud dauber wasp in order to parasitise the larvae

And an ant carries off a pollen-laden bee

Autumn is my favourite season, with its cool crisp mornings and evenings, warm pleasant days, and awakening of many of nature's treasures as others prepare for dormancy.


Evan said...

Wow, that fungi coming up through the gravel looks like a fist punching through the ground.


Anonymous said...

Well done Gaye in producing an informative and interesting description of some the delights awaiting nature enthusiasts when the summer season breaks into autumn, well illustrated in your usual manner. Here in the southwest corner of WA we are envious of your summer rain for it has been sadly lacking here with no signs of a break, despite predictions of storms.


Gaye from the Hunter said...

Evan, you're right, it does resemble a fist punching its way out of the earth. I've found some really weird puffball shapes in some inhospitable substrate. I love nature's odd things.

Lola, I've been keeping an eye on the weather in the Perth district and notice many consecutive days of mid-30s temperatures, and Adelaide too. I feel sure that the forecasters just give us false hope sometimes for the promise of showers or storms, but, yes, the east has done very well (except for the flooding in the far north, of course).

Thanks, folks, for the comments, and I hope everyone enjoys the nature of autumn.


David said...

I think the "fist" shaped puffball is a Pisolithus species. If so it will have a yellowish spore mass. Pisolithus often occur on road edges and in other disturbed locations... I've seen them breaking through bitumen and concrete.


Gaye from the Hunter said...

hi David,

you are probably correct with the suggestion of Pisolithus species. They push through the substrate in the most inhospitible places.

Cheers, and thank you