Monday, 1 November 2010

A Good Season for Fungi - Mushrooms and Toadstools

For those of you interested in photographing fungi - mushrooms and toadstools in the wild, 2010 seems to be a particularly good year here in Sussex and other regions of UK.

Sulphur Tuft
Photograph by Anna Allum
Most of you will associate the RSPB with birds, but their reserves are examples of biodiversity in action supporting more species than just birds - put simply, birds need habitats to survive.


People in Sussex will have the chance to wonder at some weird and wonderful fungi this autumn, says the RSPB.

The wildlife charity believes that the wet summer and current mild autumn will mean a bumper year for fungi. And if you get out into the countryside you could be treated to some impressive sights of a huge variety of fungi in its full glory.

Sophie McCallum, RSPB South East media officer, said: “Fungi might not be the first thing you think about looking for on a day out but there are some fascinating colourful specimens.

“And unlike some wildlife, you are guaranteed to see them as they are everywhere at this time of year, especially after the recent conditions.”

Fungi is separate from plant and animal kingdoms, and includes the well-known mushroom and toadstool varieties.

At the RSPB’s Pulborough Brooks reserve in West Sussex you can find a stunning array of fungi around both the wetland and heathland trail ranging from dinner-plate sized parasols to the dinky fairy bonnets.

Perhaps the most distinctive and well known is the red and white fly agaric which belongs to the amanita family – a group which includes some of the very poisonous specimens like the death cap and destroying angel.

Fly Agaric, the classic fungi we see in children's books.
Photograph by Anna Allum
There are also false death caps which are white with a lemony yellow tint and ‘The Blusher’ which gets its name from having flesh that bruises pink.

You will find a whole range of milkcaps which exude a milk-like substance when the gills are damaged.  These include liver and rufous milkcaps, along with the aptly named Ugly milkcap and the fenugreek milkcap, which smells enticingly of curry but is in fact slightly poisonous.

You might also see the spongy looking boletus mushrooms, which include the tasty penny bun (known by many as cep or porcini) and the rather dramatic orange birch bolete.

Other magnificent specimens are the amethyst deceiver which is shockingly purple and the collared earthstar that starts out looking like a plant bulb, but once ripe opens out into a beautiful star shape.

In East Sussex at the RSPB’s Broadwater Warren reserve near Tunbridge Wells you can hunt for one of the most unusual specimens, the Green Elf Cup, which colours pieces of rotten wood a bright blue-green.

It was used to provide the bright green colour for Tunbridge ware. The woodwork, from the 18th and 19th centuries, was decorated using an inlaid mosaic of countless small pieces of different coloured woods.

To find out more about what you can see at this time of year visit: www.rspb.org.uk/reserves

Photography Notes
When photographing fungi you will have to be prepared to get down on the woodland floor which will invariably will be damp, dirty and dark. Before leaving home to photograph fungi, make sure that you have a good ground sheet or heavyweight rubbish bag, a pad for your knees or even knee pads from a builders merchants!

To ensure that you create sharp images you will need a sturdy tripod with low-level capability or even a bean bag. At present I use a Giottos MTL 358B, see my review for more information. This tripod has a centre column which hinges from vertical to horizontal and beyond, allowing you to get a rodents eye view of the fungi.

As the woodland floor will be darker than normal you will also need some sort of remote trigger or shutter release for your camera in order to prevent blurred images from camera shake. You should also shoot with the reflex mirror locked up or with Live View to prevent further unwanted vibration which will cause blurred images.

Some fungi are quite small so you may want to take a macro lens or even a close up filter with you. The macro lens will allow you to get closer to your subject than the macro setting on your zoom lens. In my experience, the macro setting on a zoom lens is a"get you closer by 4 inches" setting and no where near true macro capability.

A close up filter will screw into the front of your prime or zoom lens and allow to record a bigger image. Close up filters are a cheap alternative to true macro lenses but you will sacrifice image quality. When I use a close up filter I do tend to stop the aperture down to f11. Some close up filters will give you the effect of a Lens Baby on a bad day - but there is nothing wrong with that look. Close up filters or lenses are lighter than macro optics and take up less space on your bag.

WARNING
When out photographing fungi do not be tempted to do a bit of foraging for some homemade mushroom soup. many species of mushrooms and toadstools are highly toxic. Unless you are experienced in collecting wild food or have an expert with you, don't do it. Why not leave the fungi for some else to admire or photograph?

Happy snapping.

Ian

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