Have you been finding any fungi around the parks so far this season? Hunting for fungi is a fun activity during the autumn and winter months and it’s something the whole family can join in on. It’s also super easy to get some photos (as fungi doesn’t run away!) and upload some records to citizen science platforms such as iNaturalist. This helps to map the species we have locally. This specimen of ‘white punk’ (Laetiporus portentosus) was found growing on a stringybark along the Granite Walking Trail in McFarlanes Hill Regional Park. As a bracket fungus, this isn’t your usual mushroom-shaped fruiting body, but rather a mass that grows almost like a shelf, although this one is quite globular. And instead of gills that you might see on a field mushroom for example, this fungus has pores on its underside. Pores are tiny tubes that drop the spores and it’s the ends of these tubes that you can see. This particular species is also quite special as it has been used traditionally by both Aboriginal people and New Zealand Māori people as a tinder and for carrying fire as it will smoulder slowly when dry and can be moved from place to place.

White punk underside.









The little bits of rain we’ve had meant the creeks have been flowing, if somewhat intermittently. It has been nice to see some water and a bit more greenery around Felltimber Creek at Swainsona Conservation Reserve.

Felltimber Creek at Swainsona Conservation Reserve.










Castle Creek Conservation Reserve is a favourite of bird-watchers but did you know you can access the reserve from Elliot Lane which is off Drapers Rd? There is chicane gate at the end of the road and then a signed nature trail that you can follow which joins up with the trail beginning from the Castle Creek Rd. end.

Dam in Castle Creek Conservation Reserve.
Part of Castle Creek Nature Trail.












The sunny winter days we’ve been having are perfect for getting out and about and a trail that is suitable for prams is the Gateway Island Trail which forms part of the Murray River Red Gum Trail. You can park at the Gateway Village and then complete the loop that goes along the river, under the highway and back along the causeway before going back under the road again to the starting point. There are a few things to see along this route, including some megafauna statues, interpretive signs, and some artworks (more on those soon!).

The trail at Gateway Island is paved.
Interpretive sign along the Gateway Island Trail.













And what about the frosty mornings! If you can brave the cold temperatures, it’s magical seeing a blanket of sparkly ice in the parks.

Frost at Castle Creek Conservation Reserve.














Something to keep an eye out for is the liverworts that are taking advantage of the wetter days to try and reproduce. If you take a magnifying lens with you, you can get a close-up look at these little green balls, which are called gemmae and are only about half a millimeter in diameter. These are clusters of cells that get splashed out by raindrops and will potentially grow into new liverworts if they land in a favourable spot.

Close-up of the gemmae inside the gemma cup.












Take care if you’re exploring the upper sections of the High Country Rail Trail as black ice has been an issue on particularly frosty mornings, but the scenery is beautiful and quite different to the lower sections. Up at Shelley Station, which was the highest rail station in Victoria, the tall eucalypt forests join pine plantations and make for interesting places to explore.

Shelley Station is surrounded by forest.
The Rail Trail from Shelley towards Tallangatta.















Have you ever noticed the different leaves on an acacia? In this picture you can see the true leaves, which are the bipinnate (feathery) ones and the larger phyllodes, which are actually flattened leaf stalks that are photosynthetic and function like leaves. Phyllodes are more drought tolerant than bipinnate leaves and some species that reside in areas experiencing water stress will fully replace the bipinnate leaves with phyllodes as they grow.

Two types of leaves on an acacia.














Moss and lichens have also sprung to life in the wetter conditions and are attempting to spread their spores. The moss produces spore capsules on long stalks and the lichen produces little structures that look like golf tees to hold their spores. Again, as with the liverwort, raindrops are needed to splash the spores out.

Moss and lichen.














We’ll end this month with another type of fungi. This wood-rotting bracket fungi (Postia pelliculosa) was seen on a pine log and appears to have a furry texture! Fungi come in all forms and sizes and are so important in our ecosystems as the main decomposers. It’s easy to forget they’re there as we usually only see the fruiting bodies for a short time, but under the surface is a whole network of thread-like structures called mycelium, and it’s these that break down organic matter, or form symbiotic relationships with the roots of plants. And sometimes, they even grow into living animals such as ants and turn them into zombies!! Well, not really, but the fungus does affect the behaviour of the ant, forcing it to climb up a branch, latch itself on, and stay there until it dies. Now the fruiting bodies of the fungus have a high vantage point from which to spread their spores more easily. Creepy, but rather fascinating, stuff!

Postia pelliculosa.

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