The wildlife and nature spectacles of Pen Llŷn
It's mid-October, and I'm stood in the dark of night outside my house on Mynydd Rhiw - one of the many hills that punctuate the otherwise flat expanse of Penrhyn Llŷn. The night sky is beautiful overhead, with the Milky Way stretching from south-west to north-east and the constellation Orion just appearing in the east. Suddenly a call emanates from the darkness: a clear 'tseeeeep!' repeated a few times over the course of a minute; they have arrived!!! This delicate but distinctive call is that of the Redwing (Coch Dan-aden), one of the many species of thrush which arrive en masse to spend their winter months in areas of western Europe like Wales, southern England and France. It's a delight to hear, and signals the beginning of a large reshuffle in the country's birdlife: the emptying out of our summer migrant species as they head to warmer climes in southern Europe and Africa, and the arrival of Scandinavian species to our fields, hedges, estuaries and coasts.
Autumn is a very exciting time of year from a naturalist's point of view, and it's been brilliant to have the chance to explore this season's spectacles around Pen Llŷn as part of my work with the LIVE (Llŷn, Iveragh Ecomuseums) project. Pen Llŷn (the Llŷn Peninsula), for those that aren't familiar with the area, is a unique slither of North Wales jutting out into the Irish Sea. The peninsula supports a rich rural community revolving around agriculture, fishing and tourism, and its spectacular array of wildlife and landscapes attract people from many corners of the World to enjoy.
Autumn is THE best time of year to see fungi in the country, and here on Pen Llŷn is no exception. Fungi love moist and humid conditions, which is quite a feature of Welsh weather! And whilst Pen Llŷn contains few of the substantial woodland habitats that often support an immensity of mushrooms, there are a particular group of fungi that flourish in our abundant grassland habitats: the waxcaps (Cap cwyr).
As the name of this mushroom group suggests, waxcaps can easily be identified by their shiny and gooey-looking upper surface. But don't let this put you off: waxcaps are stunning, coming in a bewildering array of colours, forms and even smells! Wales supports over half of the 112 species of waxcaps in Britain, and so provides an important refuge for these colourful fungi.
Waxcaps play an important role in grassland habitats: they often exist in a symbiotic relationship with grasses, exchanging important nutrients via their Mycorrhizal root networks, in exchange for other nutrients that fungi cannot synthesise themselves. Waxcaps are very sensitive to changes in their environment and cannot tolerate the regular ploughing, re-seeding and fertilising of intensively-farmed pasture, and so where they occur can often be a good indicator of good quality grassland habitats.
Where can I see waxcaps?
Any areas of grazed grassland habitats around Pen Llŷn are worth a look to find these mushrooms, although they're best searched for after a period of wet weather. Two sites worth visiting to enjoy these amazing fungi are Nant Gwtheyrn (near Nefyn) and Mynydd Mawr (on the tip of Pen Llŷn).
At Nant Gwtheyrn, the sheep-grazed fields overlooking the dramatic cliffs can contain a diverse assemblage to enjoy, including Parrot Waxcap, Blackening Waxcap and Earth Tongue. Mynydd Mawr, at the western tip of Pen Llŷn, has many areas of short-cropped grassland which can be especially good: up to 25 species have been recorded on some occasions! The fungi at this site have been transformed in size and shape by exposure to the wind and salt spray, and are easily a fifth the size of those at Nant Gwtheyrn, looking like little buttons peppering the ground.
You can help the conservation of these amazing fungi by submitting sightings to the Plantlife Waxcap survey.
A common species in grasslands which begins as an orange-yellow colour...and then turns black as it ages!
A close up of its amazing gill structure
Like a yellow hand protruding from the earth
There are about 15 species in this genera (Geoglossum), although they are all tricky to tell apart without microscopic examination
The miniature waxcaps near Mynydd Mawr which have been stunted by exposure to sea spray and harsh winds