Wednesday, 19 May 2021

I love fungi

 I've got the bug. Bad. Like real bad. Like I can't stop thinking about fungi.

Of course, they have always been around - something you see especially on forested trails. Mushrooms and lichens. I was always charmed by the mushroom 'bumps' under the pine needles in the Lakenvlei forests where I hosted my Forest Run event. I wasn't hugely moved by mushrooms. They were just interesting and fun to uncover on my visits there.

Then, in early April I saw my first stinkhorn fungus. And then another. I keep an eye out for them. 

At the beginning of May I discovered iNaturalist. I'd seen a poster about a City Nature Challenge and decided to participate, especially as I'd jumped back into doing some repeat photography

And then, just like that, a switch was flipped. iNaturalist appeals to me on many levels. 

  • I enjoy volunteering, assisting and contributing. 
  • I am community orientated. 
  • I have a background in science and research. 
  • Citizen science appeals to me.
I also identify with the incredible functionality of this platform. Anyone can observe, photograph and record sightings of fauna and flora, generating a massive database of information on diversity, distribution, seasonality and frequency. Researchers can pull from this data for their studies. There is no way that they would be able to generate the data on their own.

The iNaturalist software has this great feature where it suggests possibilities for the identification of your sighting when you upload a photo - much like facial recognition. It is brilliant. 

After discovering, I logged a few observations - like the two chameleons that I saw and photographed. And then a couple of flowers and an agama that I saw while away near De Rust. 

This whole time, I'm thinking about iNaturalist and the overwhelming number of things that I could log. Birds, trees, flowers, insects... A person could turn themselves inside out. I knew that I would need to pick something to focus on. But what?

I'm no good at birds - you need to sit around to photograph them. That doesn't work for me. When I'm out, I'm walking or running or paddling. 

The Proteas and Ericas and other fynbos are abundant with incredible diversity. I enjoy seeing them and sometimes stop to look closer at a flower. They're interesting but that's it. 

Insects too require more focus to find.

Fungi, on the other hand, they are just there. Everywhere it seems.

After getting back from De Rust, I began noticing more different fungi. Was it that I was being more observant or are there really more around? It seems the latter is probably the case.  I've just taken a look on iNaturalist at the seasonality of a number of different types of fungi in South Africa and it seems like April and May are high points. I also spend time in environments that are ideal for fungi.

I really, really, really like fungi. Not so much the regular mushroom type of fungi, but the other stuff like jelly fungi, slime molds, anything with nice colours and, of course, stinkhorns.

Some of my recent fungal finds.

Diversity is huge. Fungi offer a huge range in colour, size and shape and yet their classing is pretty good so that you can narrow in for identification. And I see them everyday.

I've been photographing them and logging my observations on iNaturalist. Yesterday I went out with the dogs and I didn't plan on photographing anything - but I couldn't resist and so got home with four observations to log - three of them new-to-me species.

The other night I took advantage of a book sale on Takelot so I ordered my first book on fungi. It arrived today. "Field Guide to Mushrooms & other Fungi of South Africa" by Gary B Goldman & Marieka Gryzenhout. It is magical.

What I have discovered is that this isn't just about photographing and logging as many as I can. I am a bit attached to a bunch of 'my' fungi. Most are on trails that I regularly roam so I like to visit them regularly. This is perhaps a bit of where my repeat-photography interest comes in because I like to re-photograph the fungi to see how much they grow and change over time. The slime molds are proving especially interesting (3 sites now).

I also have my first 'pet' fungus - and it is the reason that I'm awake at 02h15. I'm not working. I'm writing this blog and watching my new pet. I'll reveal more about it tomorrow.

Fungi. Who would have guessed! I have a lot to learn but with my new book, iNaturalist, people in this community and the power of the internet, I'll be on a steep learning curve over the coming months.

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