Leading a Fungus Walk, 01-28-20

I was slated to go to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve to lead a fungus walk for their docents today, so I was out the door by 7:15 am. Friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne came to the preserve and invited the Certified California Naturalist class student, Susan, to join us.  Susan can use this walk as a kind of make-up for missing the Tuleyome field trip the class took on Saturday.

Weather: Cloudy to partly cloudy with a little bit of rain
Total Hours in the field (includes travel time): 5 hours
Start Time: 7:30 am
End Time: 11:30 pm
Start Temperature: 46º F
End Temperature: 49º F
Miles Walked: 2

Roxanne (2nd from right) assists the docents with identifying lichen on a stump along the trail.

I didn’t know many of the docents, but Rachael the volunteer coordinator was with us for most of the walk, as was Mary Lou, one of the ladies who also works on the Media Committee that I do and writes the blog for the organization.

There were about 10 people in the group, not including me, and everyone was very attentive and excited to learn. They had their notebooks and cellphone camera at the ready, and asked a lot of intelligent questions.  See? THIS is why I’d rather teach adults.  Hah!

While we waited for everyone to show up, we were treated to the sight of a pair of Red-Shouldered Hawks building a nest right at the head of the main trail.  Dad brought twigs to the nest and mom arranged them the way she wanted them, then they both flew off to look for more materials. The tree is in a place that will be relatively visible should the birds choose to use that one to actually nest in.  [[Red-Shouldered Hawks sometimes build more than one nest and then choose the one they’ll use for the season.]] The location of this nest means we might get some great family shots and photos of the chicks when they’re born.

Here you can see one of the hawks flying off as the other sits in the nest they’re building.
Here’s a short video of the hawk in the nest.

Before we even left the sidewalk and headed for the trails, I was able to point out, with my laser pointer, some different crust fungi for them on an obliging tree, and also show them the Oyster Mushrooms Roxanne had spotted high up on another branch.  Then I walked them over to another tree where I’d been (non-scientifically) monitoring the progress of a netted tooth fungus around its base and trunk. This let me show them how to use their cellphones to get close-up shots of things so their children’s groups could see structures more clearly.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos. (When I’m leading a walk, I don’t take as many photos as I normally do, so this album is pretty abbreviated.)

As we went along, the docents shared thoughts about what they were looking for in teaching opportunities for the children’s groups they might be leading.  That helped me to look for things like that and to tailor some of my comments about how they might explore more with the kids.

One of the best teaching tools, of course, is to simply pick up downed sticks from the leaf-litter and look at what’s on them. On one stick we found Black Jelly Roll fungus, several kinds of lichen and Crystal Brain Fungus, Myxarium nucleatum, which I’ve seen in books before but never saw in person, so that was an exciting first for me.

Crystal Brain is a kind of jelly fungus that’s translucent (white to clear) and the spore-making mechanism inside each lobe of the fugus shows up as a white speck that can sometimes feel hard because it may also include bits of mineral.  It supposed to be pretty common, but I’ve never seen one in the field before.  It’s also sometimes still frequently referred to the genus Exidia, which is the genus for Black Jelly Roll fungus which has a similar shape to Crystal Brain but is pure black. 

Researching more, I found that I may have been mis-identifying another species of jelly fungus, Exidia thuretiana, commonly called White Brain, as Black Jelly Roll that hadn’t colored up yet. But White Brain is usually found in Europe and Asia, so I’m still not sure. There’s also White Jelly Fungus, Ductifera pululahuana, that’s found here, so that might be it… The learning continues.

Looking at sticks and stumps in the woods can open doors to educational opportunities and onsite learning for all ages.

On another log we found Black Jelly Roll fungus among several different kind of colorful lichen. The docents described it as a “garden”.  Another stick showed us Witches Butter jelly fungus and little White Oysterling mushrooms. And at the big downed tree near the Nature Center we found Oak-loving Gymnopus mushrooms and three different kinds of slimemold. 

I told the docents that if they learned nothing else from the walk they learned that they needed to stop and really look at what was around them.  There’s more to see than they ever realized. And, “the more you see, the more you see.”

During the walk we also had the opportunity to distinguish between the relevance of common names versus scientific names. Rachael kept referring to the Yellow Field Caps as Sunny mushrooms – which was fine. Common names can very a lot; no harm done. But scientists use the Latin taxonomic names to specify exact species.  So “Sunny mushrooms” and “Yellow Field Cap” can be used interchangeably for the same species: Agaricus campestris.

When talking about the genus and species names, though, there can still be some confusion for those of us who are still learning about all of this stuff.  For example, I found one large ‘shroom which I was sure was a Blewit (based mostly on the very pale purple tinge around the edge of the cap) but when the docents keyed it out through iNaturalist it came up as a “Brownit”, Clitocybe brunneocephala. To my eye, though, the gills of the mushroom weren’t rightand there was still that pale purple tint to deal with.  I was still pretty certain I’d identified it correctly, so when I went home, I loaded it into iNaturalist as “Blewit, Clitocybe nuda”… and got a supporting confirmation right away.

A Blewit or a “Brownit”? I’m saying Blewit, Clitocybe nuda

Sometimes, those who load observations up into iNaturaist can get real battles over an ID.  Whenever someone suggests my ID is incorrect, I double check what they’re referring to, to what I saw. If I feel their ID is more accurate, I’ll change it, but that hasn’t happened too often.

At one point, I had to stop and turn my focus to the deer along the side of the trail.  In one field was a doe with her two yearlings, and across from them was a bachelor group of bucks: spikes, 3-pointers and 4-pointers, and one who was just getting his nubs. 

So, as we all took photos of them, I was able to tell the group about the structure of the antlers, the pedicles, and the rut in general. Some of the big boys were sitting down, so all you could see were their antlers, while others were standing, browsing, and rubbing their scent on the surrounding trees. Two of them sparred, but it was just for a few seconds. With no ripe females around, they just weren’t into it.

Rachael and a couple of docents left around the 2-hour mark, but the rest of them stayed on and got treated to views of Destroying Angel and Jack-o-Lantern mushrooms, Dryad’s saddles and other fungi. 

Jack-o-Lantern Mushrooms, Omphalotus olearius. They’re highly poisonous and their gills glow green in the dark.

At one point, the docents asked me how I came by the knowledge I had, and I tried to stress to them that I’m not an “expert”; as a naturalist, I’m a “generalist”. And although I might seem to have a lot of information to them, I’ve only been accumulating it since I took the naturalist class in 2015 and then wrote my books and developed the naturalist class for Tuleyome. Taking that class in 2015 reignited my curiosity and love of nature. I learn something new every day.

As we were heading back toward the nature center it started to rain a little bit, so the group broke as some raced back to get out of the wet and Roxanne and I kept our slow pace up the trail.  The rain was soft and brief and actually kind of nice.  We ended up walking for about 3 ½ hours (a little over 2 miles altogether).

I was worried, before the walk, that we might not see a lot of stuff to keep the docents interested, but all in all I think we ended up seeing and identifying about 60 different species.

When I went into the office to log my volunteer hours, Rachael was there and she gave me a  card and a little lapel pin as a thank you.  The card read:

“…Thank you so much for guiding the EYNC docents on a fungus/slimemold adventure today!  I so enjoy any time with you on the trail – I always learn so much. Our docents really enjoyed today’s learning opportunity with you, and they really appreciate access to your mushroom primer. Thank you so much for your generosity! With gratitude, Rachael…”

I thought that was so nice of her.  Mary Lou also mentioned that she’ll try to do a write up on the walk for the Effie Yeaw blog.  That was nice to hear, too. 

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Black Jelly Roll fungus, Exidia glandulosa
  3. Bleach-Scented Mycena, Mycena leptocephali 
  4. Blue Slime Mold, Badhamia utricularis
  5. Brown Jelly Fungus, Jelly Leaf, Tremella foliacea
  6. California Black Walnut, Juglans californica
  7. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  8. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  9. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis [heard]
  10. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  11. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos [flying overhead]
  12. Common Pin Mold, Mucor mucedo
  13. Common Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus
  14. Cooper’s Hawk, Acipiter cooperii [on the wing between trees]
  15. Crystal Brain Fungus, Granular Jelly Roll, Myxarium nucleatum
  16. Cumberland Rock-Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia cumberlandia
  17. Dark-Winged Fungus Gnat, Bradysia sp.
  18. Destroying Angel Mushroom, Amanita ocreata
  19. Dryad’s Saddle, Hawk’s Wing, Polyporus squamosus
  20. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  21. European Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  22. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  23. Fairy Inkcap, Trooping Crumble Cap, Coprinellus disseminates
  24. False Turkey Tail fungus, Stereum hirsutum
  25. False Turkey Tail fungus, Stereum ostrea
  26. False Turkey Tail, Stereum Crust Fungus, Stereum complicatum
  27. Gem-Studded Puffball, Common Puffball, Lycoperdon perlatum
  28. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  29. Great Egret, Ardea alba [flying overhead]
  30. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  31. Hoary Lichen, Hoary Rosette, Physcia aipolia
  32. Horsehair Mushroom, Gymnopus androsaceus
  33. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  34. Jack-o-Lantern Mushroom, Western Jack-o-Lantern, Omphalotus olivascens
  35. Many-Headed Slime Mold, Physarum leucopus
  36. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  37. Mower’s Mushroom, Haymaker Mushroom, Panaeolus foenisecii
  38. Mule Fat, Baccharis salicifolia
  39. Netted Crust Fungus, Byssomerulius corium
  40. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  41. Oak-loving Gymnopus, Gymnopus dryophilus
  42. Oakmoss Lichen, Evernia prunastri
  43. Oyster Mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus
  44. Pleated Ink Cap, Parasol Ink Cap, Parasola plicatilis
  45. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  46. Purple Core, Bluet, Blewit, Clitocybe nuda
  47. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  48. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia [as we drove in]
  49. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
  50. Shrubby Sunburst Lichen Polycauliona Candelaria
  51. Snowy Oysterlings, Cheimonophyllum candidissimum
  52. Spotted Trichia Slime Mold, Trichia botrytis
  53. Strap Lichen, Ramalina sp., possibly Ramalina farinacea
  54. Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria elegans
  55. Turkey Tail Fungus, Trametes versicolor
  56. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  57. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus
  58. White Jelly Fungus, Ductifera pululahuana [not sure of this ID]
  59. White Stubble Rosegill, Volvopluteus gloiocephalusi
  60. Witches Butter, Tremella mesenterica
  61. Yellow Field Mushrooms, Agaricus campestris
  62. Yellow-Staining Milk Cap, Lactarius xanthogalactus [a kind of Russula]