MYSTERY OF THE ORANGE BLOB

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Norwich didn’t get any of last week’s snow, but we have had lots of clear, cold mornings recently where (if you get up early enough), you get to see the countryside covered in a crystalline frost. Though I am a massive fan of my bed, I have managed to make it down to Strumpshaw on a couple of occasions, intending to see if the cold weather had flushed out anything interesting. A couple of Saturdays ago I set off down to the woodland trail in half a mind to see the reserve’s highlands before the frost had melted, except I didn’t quite make it. Why? A tree stump.

Now, before you think that I (a) tripped over the tree stump or (b) have descended further into lunacy, hear me out. This trunk, cut a couple of years ago and beginning to rot away, was covered in a blobs whose edges were bright orange and that melted away into a bruise-purple centre. Its outer edges had the consistency of icing sugar and it would occasionally have miniature, antenna-like turrets sticking out from the main structure. I’d never seen anything like it, and spent the next 15 minutes trying to get pictures of all its amazing textures (man, focusing on cylindrical tree trunks is hard).

I couldn’t leave it unidentified and got on the internet as soon as I got home to try to put a name to the a strange creature. Thing is, typing ‘orange slime mould/lichen/fungus UK’ into Google isn’t the greatest of starting points, and it took three days of searching to finally track it down. In the end it turned out the mysterious orange blob was, in fact, a fungus – a species called Phlebia radiata, or the wrinkled crust fungus. It’s fairly common and widespread, so I was surprised I’d never noticed it before- but maybe I needed this most glorious of examples to finally clock it.

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Fungi aside, the other unexpected sighting of my walk was a common darter. Darters are known for remaining on the wing quite late into the season, but this was by far the latest I’d seen an adult. It was a female, and she was perched on a bench where she must have spent the night. It looked like she had been completely frozen, but the ice had now melted into hundreds of tiny water droplets that made her look like an elaborate jewel. I’m pretty sure the frost had finished her off- but she will have been an important meal for a bird struggling through the winter.

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