Kildare Snowdrops II

The tall tree casts its long shadow at dawn in weak sunlight; winter is beginning to ease. Snowdrops catch little of the hint of warmth in still air. Cool but not cold. These Galanthus nivalis could be from the mountains in Turkey, from a valley far above the Black Sea, where we have never been.

Our Snowdrops in the garden were planted by a previous owner, a different family and a different generation. Snowdrops from Crimea, from the Balkans, from the First World War. Ottoman trophies – a few bulbs brought home in soldier’s luggage – memories of friends lost in the chaos and misadventure of war.

The Snowdrop varieties here in our garden at home are the same as growing at the big houses of North Kildare. Snowdrops as a signature of social cohesion, a society within a society, traded as presents among gardeners. Snowdrops in the garden are in a white sward, just across from a granite milepost in a limestone wall, 33 Irish Miles from Dublin, marked on Taylor’s Map of Kildare in the 1770s.

During Iris’s tenure over 50 years, the Snowdrop lawn was augmented with many bulbs. The planted Crocuses and Scilla, Hyacinths and Chinodoxa, Bluebells and Snowflakes, Daffodils and Fritillaries will remain for us, as vestiges to her memory as a friend lost, as we look forward to Snowdrops, as the first signals of Spring.

The Butter in Corracloona

The new butter, when accidentally disturbed during a rummage in the fridge, slid, accelerated and then leapt out from the shelving a six-sided foil wrapped Kerrygold medal hopeful in synchronised diving. One of its corners got flattened by the floor and now it gathered itself together as a seven faced one-pound lump. Opening the foil, one could see the imprint of the packing machine on the butter surface contrasted with the bruise ripples, forming a fresh texture on the butter surface, that no professional butter carver would leave. A tear in the butter foil was the last piece of evidence before the butter carver’s toaster popped in the Cistin in Corracloona, focussed attention, not on the tear in his trousers, having been over a barbed wire fence, but rather the initial cutlery marks necessary to butter potato cake farls.

Up here in Kiltyclogher, Stella has us eating the best boxty and potato bread. All we are missing is an Andre to ask to put a bit of Butter on the spuds. French speakers are a rarity in Kilty, and perhaps our butter eating, potato appreciating, neighbours, might resume some butter smuggling.

The Monk’s butter from Glenstal, comes in rolls, so would make interesting geometric shapes in the middle of the night, during fridge rummaging accidents, if one got a hankering for some Ulster Farls with freshly melting butter after a go in the toaster. Even if the toaster goes, Stella has them too, and Kettles, all the essentials, for a Cistin, and dry socks, if your feet get wet, when the Wellington finally gets punctured, crossing a barbed wire fence, between Meenagh and Corracloona, that the deer cross, and jump over, not that Ralph, pronounced Ralf, in the box room in Kilty minds.

A walk to Meenagh and on to the Aspen

For a Sunday walk today, we decided to go to Meenagh. Rather I announced we are going to Meenagh to make a species list and get photographs for a Hedgeucation talk. I have to format the abstract book, for the meeting on Thursday online. Phytopathological strolls are the brainchild of a French scientist, Dr. F. Suffert who is presenting on Thursday, via the computer, via Backweston and the Society of Irish Plant Pathologists’ annual meeting. Like a Leitrim Hurler, one cannot tarry long. By the time we got to the turn we were up to Ascocoryne sarcoides and back to a Typhula and Propolis versicolor on an ash. Phragmidium violaceus was there. Hypholoma fasciculare, Clitocybe nebularis, and Armillaria mellea inter alia. Unfamiliar species with leaf damaging symptoms caused by something fungal were on Hazel, Rhododendron, and several other woody plant leaf types. Getting ready for a biodiversity session in the conference will take a few days concentration yet, we do it to really communicate with the public, and to swell our ranks with people who are prepared to puzzle over something external and aim to get a Latin name for the annals of biological records of Ireland.
Now about our readers, hope you have all been healthy, and the ones that read and write, have promised to write an email. I left my display book after Saturday lunch in Clancy’s Lavender in Glenfarne, in a Lavender Purple display book, All the stories, essays and poems are online on the lichenfoxie, so while it would be good to arrange recovery on Monday, we are busy in Corracloona writing full tilt, and maybe something surprising might just make its way back in the letter box in Corrocloona, While online I need to thank Jim Clancy and Raymond’s deputy for sending out 4 bags of Madra, the best dog food in Glenfarne, in the early stages of the lockdown last year. So back to the phytopathological strolls – a lockdown reaction – have a go on a lane in Leitrim near you, and see what fungally caused spots are what on leaves in the hedgerows. Dr Suffert on Twitter has guided many people into this biodiversity enlightenment, Bravo, Vive La France, Vive Leitrim, Treasure Leitrim for biodiversity, not for base metals.

Raheen’s, Castlebar Parish

Reviewing 621 photographs taken on 11 September 2021 in Raheen’s wood near Castlebar has been our exercise of the afternoon today 09 October 2021. The photographs are a mix of woodland landscape and ground flora shots and macrophotographs of tree trunk bark and the moss, lichen, liverwort and fungus species in this epiphytic habitat. They were all taken with one camera and the numbers stretch from 9110962 to 9111582.

On the day out in September, we met a wedding photographer, who fell into step and aesthetically came aboard with our agenda of woodland conservation and education. Falling into conversation, He pitched his skills as a short film maker, and in tow had an exceptionally handsome dog Gizmo with extraordinary droopy hairy ear tassles.

The camera is an extraordinary tool for scientists and for weddings. They can be used to tell the story of a day out, with some of the minutae. Reviewing digital media streams of 500 photographs from a day was predicted to become normal (Fox & Cullen 2016), and now five and a half years later, it is becoming normal for us in supporting our forensic examination of the biodiversity detail of Raheen’s wood outside Castlebar.

The roast potato dinner at our second break this evening was sublime. Vegetarian gougons and kale with soy sauce preceded apple pie and vanilla ice cream. They were rather chickeny in their appearances to my palate.

Raheen’s is an exceptional place – Lobaria pulmonaria is among the denizens of this woodland – an indicator of ancientness and ecological continuity over the centuries. The first hundred photographs have resulted in 5 pages of notation in latin of the names of identifiable species from the photography, a good yield in any case. The photograph of Lobaria pulmonaria led us to some respite from the immediate task.

At our first beak in proceedings of the write up today, I was charged with finding a name for a yellow discomycete, probably a Hymenoscyphus on a hazelnut. It turns out to be Hymenoscyphus fructigenus, first reported in Cork in 1845 on a dead hazelnut, the same microhabitat as our Raheen’s photograph and sample.

What is biodiversity has been occupying my writing for a booklet in the last two days. This exercise in documenting biodiversity in a small range of taxonomic groups for one site near Castlebar is today’s output. That there were no coral fungi on show that day at Raheen’s does not mean that they are not there, they did not surface on the day for our scrutiny, or I have not got to the ditch with Leotia lubrica and/or, perhaps Microglossum olivaceum, in Raheen’s in the photograph review.

In this vigil on life …, appears as a line elsewhere on lichenfoxie in a composition I called Cosmos Mundi. Doing what you can to document biodiversity, is to leave a trail of latin in arcs for another person’s mind to understand. To give a gist of the five pages from the first hundred photographs, my memory first deals with highlights of the day – Peltigera collina, a species which was hidden among Sticta limbata as a concept but with a thin textured Nostoc vesicled smooth upper cortex which is itself an unusual grey. Only one thallus of this Peltigera species caught our eye.

The next session goes like this: Lecanora expallens, Betula pubescens, Hypnum cupressiforme, Thuidium tamariscinum, Betula pubescens, Hedera helix, portrait 9110975 mushroom basket with orange pencil, Glechoma hederacea, Blechnum spicant, Dryopteris cristata, Betula pubescens, Thelotrema lepadinum, Arthonia didyma, Isothecium myosuroides … you will understand when you see the portrait …

Harmonising multiple people’s botanical memory of place is, as Bruce McCune put it, hard work for thought police. We have decided on a gift for our dog kennel handler in Cavan who has agree to take Bran the Irish Terrier for the weekend. It will be the late Paddy Reilly’s 2001 Flora of Cavan. We are looking forward to an event at Longueville House Hotel, and teaching and demonstrating mushrooms, with this year’s set of guests in an exploration of the grounds of this wonderful hotel. Mushrooming without dogs is a luxury.

Readers of this text have an insight into my cognitive life and the notation required for botanical activity in floristic studies on the biodiversity of a place in Ireland. I would like to encourage all interested in conservation to try and develop such sublime moments as outlined above in your own daily mental life, and really engage with the biodiversity crisis question – what plant or fungus is that here, now?

Getting ready for COP26 and caring for all life puts readings into another focus onto Laudato Si animators and what can be done around the world to maintain this … vigil on life … especially in tropical countries where the Latin names for plants are not so tip of the tongue, as it is to us, scientists in this Castlebar parish in north-western Europe.

Howard Fox

828 words.  

In a corner, in North Leitrim

I’m in a corner. As a writer It is essential that I write. Writers block is the corner that a writer who is a writer who is not free, finds themselves in. Worrying about writer’s block in pointless, doing something about a corner is of course something else. The corner of a page one starts writing on. The corner in a book, where everything changes. What if, we has a prompt, Corner.

Margaret Geraghty, the five minute writer, comes to my rescue yet again. This book is Oberon eaten, in fact, it is actually a dog bit book, with canine marks arranged like a pock marked North Leitrim road sign outside Loughan House, hit by someone practical with pellets …

The dog knows when I suffer from Writers’ block. He rushes to me and sits by my feet, and then a minute later goes traipsing back to bed. Opposite the page ‘How to plump up thin characters’, page 151, she give the prompt word corner with a choice of 7 others, which has now led to this. Lead shot, 0.22 mm on the road sign to Dowra, or is it Drumshambo.

Now, Corner has another meaning for me. The Wayside trees of Malaya and a monograph on Clavariaceae, two books on tropical botany by a chap called Corner, an Oxford Botany professor. Now for the marathon biodiversity course of a Tuesday. I like to type up from handwritten text sometimes. In fact I have not liked this activity for long, hence the break in posts. Writer’s Corner. On the Wayside trees of Corracloona, Rowan is the tree that stands out today, Tuesday 5th October. The red berries, like thrushes fodder, flop in the light breezes, readily shed when ripe, harvestable by stick, tassles infuriatingly out of reach for the Bean an Ti with rowan jelly intentions and her mushroom basket.

Corner and Harris, the latter an American lichen professor who in his self published taxonomy book that preserves the subversive intention to be contraversial gets to a better result in More Florida Lichens, where he digresses and gives a global monograph of Ditremis, which to us is Anisomeridium polypori, that would be a flask shaped pycnidial species on Elder bark, in that elderflower farm in Longford, near Corn Hill. Coconuts in Malaya might have Anisomeridium americanum on bark of their trunks.

The dog having traipsed back to bed is sound, asleep, book bitten duties having as bidden been done. This piece was supposed to be about Clavarioid fungi and I have not started on them yet. White, yellow, pink, purple, Clavaria, Clavariopsis, Clavariadelphus, Ramaria, Clavulina, are some of the groups. Outgroups include earthtongues, Geoglossum, Microglossum olivaceum, and the pine fingers, Calocera viscosa, Calocera cornea, and the Dacrymyces stillatus, the yellow on spruce laths of old wet several year old fertilizer pallets, left our in North Leitrim farmyards, and repurposed pallets, standing in gaps of old fences by gates. I am getting great value out of Seamus O’Rourke’s book too.

Ramaria formosa, is not a Malayan reference, but rather the formosa, taiwan, Paeony patch beside the Quercus suber, Cork oak, wayside tree in the corner of the Glasnevin Botanic Gardens which abounds with coral fungus in the woodchip mulches. The Ards Forest wood also has coral fungi, along the red walk with the large conifers.

It takes a decade of sightings to populate the Clavarioid fungi of North Leitrim. There is a species Clavaria vermicularis, which is in the limestone Bricklieve hills above Castlebaldwin in County Roscommon. Earthtongues grow there as well, among the waxcap mushrooms in mossy pastures of sheep.

So much for being in a corner, maybe this time the jamboard will share, and we can all become enlightened by a clavarioid type of biodiversity.

Dark Mountain sorting Sphagnum

Repertoire puts you at home

what you can recognise.

Repertoire puts you at ease,

what you can identify

Biodiversity of some choice spot,

a place to live

a place to see

life living and free

life giving to me

Repertoire for a cultures voice

for the taxonomy of the familiar

and the once off

Repertoire for an accolytes education

sounding tunes to call up

each and every part of nature.

When it gets too complicated

simplify the taxonomy as you can;

one site, one list

Sphagnum species is no substitute

for magellanicum or capillifolium

dearg’s or rua’s, auriculatum for an orange one

cuspidatum, palustre, papillosum or tenellum

ones in green, water, marsh, bog and young

on the Dough Mountain are some, harnessed in the mists

Baskerville mists, down for the day, name for the concept,

and a definition of what basis, the group is made

The capitulum, leaf apices, hanging versus spreading branches,

and where the pigment hues

Taxonomy for turbines of another sort

biodiversity investment in crowberry culture

food for ravens, and the odd lapan

a hare that a snipe might disturb

up up to the mountain again

up up and past Boleyboy

with a herd of sheep in between the rushes graze

till they walk out no more

too Sphagnumy for Aries

too pure for carrion

food for ravens

and ravenous walkers

on the Dough Mountain.

After the Heritage Week celebrated walk to Dough Mountain Summit,

some thoughts on how to approach Sphagnum

See Leitrim Observer page 11, Wednesday 25 August 2021

Memories

A red squirrel in the pines

lept from drey to branch

to another in another tree

and off and up into crowns

far above below grounds;

Creating watchers memories

for another day, a red’s.

A red squirrel too

hoarding poetry to read

and words to recite

to instill red squirrel

memories in you.

Kinawley near miss – a view from behind

Coming down the hill after Derrylin, we saw a diversion sign for Enniskillen, road closed. A red car turned off. I do not know why I advised ‘Let us go this way.’ We turned off too to explore the back roads of Derrylin, not that I really knew where Kinawley was at all.

The red car settled on the road ahead of us, but something was wrong. They were driving on the right. It was a small red 19 D volkswagen, a hire car new, with a continental driver aboard, on the wrong side of the road. They went around the bend on the right too. Maria flashed her lights and kept on the horn. I pushed the hazard lights button. Still the car in front 70 yards ahead, stayed on the right. Around the next bend a grey car appeared, and the red car driver just in time dived over to the left ditch, and regaining control of the car, drove on the left. We could see the shock in the driver by the wobbly driving line. At the next cross roads, they pulled in left, on the right. I should have said stop, but we drove on to Kinawley. They must have been embarassed too.

In the near miss, crossing the border was a contributory factor. Moving from a major road to a minor road, the evening light. They were all factors. As a safe driver for decades, I had never witnessed a links fahren error that went on so long. We did OK.

Keeping the Meadows Sweet

On the flowers of Meadow Sweet there is a pale Mirid Bug, a species in the Hemiptera, that seems to occur quite often. Facebook has recently developed citizen scientist media streams for various topics. The Insects and Invertebrates Ireland page of Facebook, has as of August 2021 almost 11,000 members.

The altruism of providing language for names of things is an action of communal education on this webpage. Giving Latin names by specialists for photograph captions is both work of recognition and taxonomic identification and new learning rolled into one. The Latin name is the standard index keyword scientists use for all species in nature that we explore for in the landscape.

Plectania laplatensis is a black bugarioid discomycete from Tasmania, that has appeared on the media stream that has puzzled fungus photographers from Hobart and surrounds. I have been aware of black discomycetes, such as Pseudoplectania sphagnophila, as I wrote about in one of my first papers on discomycetes thirty years ago, but this one, laplatensis, was new to my ken from 5 days ago, when the latin name was mentioned in a tag or a comment on a photograph in this amazing mushroom and fungus media stream on the Tas Fungi facebook page. Bulgarioid is a reference to Bulgaria inquinans, a black jelly discomycete on shed oak boughs, that is gregarious and ruptures through the bark, in places with old oak trees such as Charleville Forest in Tullamore and Longueville House near Mallow. The Tas Fungi facebook page has been moderated since 2016 and now has more than 16,000 members.

These two examples of media streams in their own way are creating a new way of doing Natural History in Ireland and Tasmania.

Ireland suffers from unsettled weather in Summer, and that has a knock-on effect on what species are out and about year on year. Through the 2000’s we all learned from Donegal Hedgerow, an epic site active from 2003 that by 2007 had collated photography of 1300 species. Each year has its own specialities and population surges.

Tasmania is in a different situation. Science there has addressed moderate to high proportion of the species that are being uncovered by photographers of nature. Fungi are difficult subjects for natural history as they putrify and rot in a few days, but that said, if dried, labelled and curated for herbarium storage, then scientific progress can be built upon. As in many places, the quantity of taxonomic guide books that have been made is still very low, and knowledge divulgation to the core set of photographers is difficult. There is a clear need for a fungus guide to genera for photographers, so that they can tag photos with genus names for computing on the cloud.

That aside, people are learning about species every day on the computer with these media streams and that must be a public good. People seldom have the energy to do a review a series of signtings of a particular species, but whenthey do, valuable comparative notes are exchanged, which increased the visibility of species in nature by describing their ecolgy more objectively that has ever been done before. Dates of photographs, species associations across taxonomic groups in photographs and so on are valuable to index.

Keeping the meadows sweet will also have to consider Data Centres and their demand of electricity and computer power. Wind farms provide some of this power.

As a society, the computer people of Facebook need to be congratulated for really taking to this task of providing a citizenship of living things, where they live, where they can be seen, when they can be seen, what conditions they make do with, and information on all sorts of other species associations.  

The myths of biology are gradually been pared back with this new 2020 narrative order of nature. Biological explanation is just that, talk of parasitism, mutualism, photosynthesis, evapotranspiration, pollination, and all these ideas. There is now mush more clarity of what species these biological ideas apply to among the general nature educated public, and people are gradually beginning to move from beyond biology to aesthetics and beauty, and ethics and conservation, via concepts of sustainability in this climate crisis and this biodiversity crisis. We all know and can now clearly demonstrate that low powered mechanical intervention is the least damaging option for nature, and that in Ireland we are learning to see nature in all its variety, and in Tasmania, bush walks are valued for providing nature to contemplate, and allowing our vigil of nature to nourish our souls.

Howard Fox

756 words

An ode for Stewart Dunlop

An ode for Stewart Dunlop

Six spotted Burnets walked on to a bar

Having been seen by a steward, called Stuart

The felt the bar with their antennae

The crawled onto tubular galvanize and sat there

Each held their six black legs akimbo

until they started grooming their antenna

with their pair of front legs.

With dashing black and red spotted wings,

they were seen by a brazen cow,

who started to lick the metal of The Gate.

Yellow Ragwort flowers in the adjacent field

swished their Buachailaun Buis in the breeze.

A Cattle Egret hopped from the cow’s back

onto the top rung and pecked.

He moved his binoculars.

No, it is not ! That is a Pied Wagtail.

This play is about five spotted Burnett’s

who walked on to a bar at The Gate.

In the Burren.

They ordered three red spots each,

and by Midleton

tucked them on to each wing

They were soon tidily …

Is this a red necked footman or what?

The whiskey made the cow red-green colour blind.

She now could not see the red spots.

It must be a Red Necked Footman, so.

She was sort of tidily too.

Friskily swishing her antennae.

And out with the Bodhraun,

And where is your cipin now.

Howard Fox

28 July 2021