Beauty in the detail

With the irksome exam period now a fading memory, and lectures yet to recommence into full swing, it has been pleasant to get out and about a bit more around the superb Cornish countryside. Whilst birding has been the focus of many a trip to my local reservoir patch or nearby estuary, I have also been endeavouring to cast my eyes closer afoot and focus on the smaller and often overlooked details that catch my eye.

From mosses to moths, elfcups to umbellifers – I have been trying to expand my general knowledge of the species’ groups I have often neglected in my enthusiasm over birding. It has been fun to try out a bit of plant ID and learn more about fungi and even chiropteran cave-dwellers too…bats! In addition to the satisfaction gained from identifying the species I come across, focussing down to the macro scale often leads to the uncovering of patterns, textures, details and colours that are both remarkable and beautiful. Having a macro lens at hand often helps to capture these miniature masterpieces too. I thought I’d post a few images from my exploits over the last week, although expect to see some dedicated moss- and macro-focussed blogs soon!

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moss sporophytes – the male part of mosses that produces the spores. The outlines of these particular stems with the water droplets looked lovely an abstract when viewed through my macro lens
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the crisp, hollow skeletons of umbellifers stand delicate and erect in hedgerows and coastal scrub over the winter months. Their stems are act as lodgings for a range of invertebrates escaping the keen eyes of predators, such as earwigsand spider species
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although a common enough fungi in damp woodland, these superb Scarlet Elfcups were new for me – a surprising find whilst walking into uni along the nearby College Reservoir.

Whilst this bracket fungus might looked a little bland an uninteresting from above, peering beneath the ‘lid’ reveals an intricate pattern of gills that creates a maze of patterns and textures

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The weather has been classically Cornish at times: damp, mild and humid. Whilst it can be a little dreary to be out, the drizzly conditions can laden plants, flowers and trees in a sparkling suit of water droplets, such as this gorse flower (spring is on its way…?)
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One of my favourite plants at the moment is the eloquently-named ‘Traveller’s Joy’, or Clematis vitalba. This vigorous shrub drapes over hedgerows and small trees along lanes and woodland edges, its frosty-white seeds giving the appearance of christmas tinsel! It really is a lovely-looking plant, even when viewed close-up as above
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A sycamore seed key – backlighting reveals a netted map of veins in a pattern not unlike palmate leaves
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Last weekend I joined the Cornwall Bat Group on one of their winter hibernation surveys, visiting a number of disused mines in search of winter bat roosts. We came across 23 bats in total, including the bizarrely-adorned horseshoe bats such as this greater horseshoe bat
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the mild air within the cave systems is the perfect slumbering spot for a range of other species too…many mine passages were home to hibernating moths like this herald, an abundance of Cave Spiders and even hoverflies too

For a month or more now, I have been dabbling in a bit of bryology – spurred on by the efforts of my Mum and fellow naturalist Calum Urquhart. “What on earth is bryology?” you may ask, and it’s a valid point! Bryophytes include mosses and liverworts, and are essentially non-vascular plants without the xylem and phloem transport systems.

Last Saturday, Calum and I joined some Cornish members of the British Bryological Society in a survey of some woodland habitat in east Cornwall. We recorded a bewildering total of 67 bryophyte species, which comprises more latin than you can stomach in a week, but it was great fun. You can read a more complete record of our trip on Calum’s blog here (hover the images above for specie’s names)

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So, next time you’re out for a walk or simply pottering in the garden, why not take a closer look at the unassuming green shrubs and smaller inhabitants that you’d otherwise overlook – it can be surprising what surprises await when you start venturing into the macro world

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