Phallus impudicus

A restless night. A tawny owl ke-wicking somewhere in the garden in the small hours. A stifled-sneeze-induced splitting headache mid-morning. Time for a walk down Burlees Lane to clear my head.

It's at this point that my natural history journal loses its U-certificate rating. Look what I found in the woods:

Stinkhorn.

The aptly named stinkhorn (with the equally apt Linnean classification Phallus impudicus): a fungus which, when it spores, emits a smell similar to rotting flesh. The smell attracts flies (as shown), which then fly away, bearing fungal spores to new locations.

My hero, Charles Darwin, was fascinated by plant dispersal mechanisms. I'm sure the stinkhorn fungus's spore-dispersal trick would have delighted him.

(And yes, it stinks to high-heaven!)

More photos from my walk »

Hobby and kestrel

I paid a short visit to the RSPB's Burton Mere reserve on Tuesday afternoon. As I approached the main bird hide, a birder passing the other way informed me that a hobby was ‘displaying well’. I gathered this was a good thing, so I thanked him and carried on.

I hadn't seen so many people in the hide before. Every single one of them bore extremely expensive optical equipment in the form of binoculars, telescopes and telephoto lenses. I tucked my own horse-racing binoculars and bog-standard zoom lens discreetly under my arm, and sneaked my way in amongst the experts.

The chap who had tipped me off had been right about the hobby. It was putting on a magnificent show, gliding high, then plunging down, twisting and turning, snatching hapless dragonflies from the air, and eating them on the wing. Unfortunately, the light was appalling, and the hobby was a very long way away, so I couldn't take any decent photos.

Crow chasing a hobby.

The hobby continued hunting in this way for about half an hour. All the birders in the hide were extremely excited about it—as was I.

Once the hobby had left, a kestrel approached the hide, and I got some better photos. But, as I say, the light was appalling. I had to turn the ISO setting way up on my camera, then deliberately over-expose to get any sort of shot. I then had to crop and process them on my computer, tweaking up the contrast and removing a lot of the noise. Modern digital technology really is remarkable. I would never have been able to get photos like these with traditional film:

Kestrel.

More (closer) photos of the kestrel »