Phenomenal feather frost and other frozen finds

I had a lovely walk in Birnam Wood yesterday morning, it was sunny for the first time in ages, but really, really cold! I went to gather a few samples that I could experiment with in the lab at work…this time I took some soil from under the Birnam Oak, and I also scraped a bit of green lichen from the trunk too.



Above: The Birnam Oak on a sunny morning

Below: A soil sample taken from the hollow in the oak 


Below: Green lichen and moss on the trunk of the Oak 



A sample scraped from the trunk of the Birnam Oak

I walked down the path towards the river, and found a few pools where the river had flooded into the woods, so I also took a few samples of water from the pools, and sandy earth from the bank nearby.



As I was gathering samples near the river, I noticed what I thought were white birds feathers stuck to a small log. I assumed that maybe a bird had died, and the feathers had somehow got caught in the log – or maybe the log had been part of a nest and the feathers had somehow stuck to it. I stroked them, and a few fell off. I walked back into the wood, and found another smaller branch lying in the undergrowth with the same sort of feathers stuck onto it. Very strange, I thought, but I resisted the temptation to pick it up and bring it home.


An amazing sight…what appeared to be (and felt like) feathers stuck to a log



Having googled a few key words, I have discovered it is a phenomenon called feather frost, which is quite rare, and only occurs under very specific circumstances. Apparently ice filaments are  pushed out from pores in the wood as they freeze, forming what appears to be, and feels like feathers.

I also found some frozen fungi, another sight which I had never witnessed. These are the Wood Blewits (Lepista Nuda) below that I took a sample of:


Wood Blewits above and close ups of them with “icing”  below


Mother nature’s bosom?

My other finds were the last of the leaves; oak, sycamore and larch in various shades of green, yellow and brown.


These were all pressed when I reached home – a job that really has become such a chore, but a necessary one unfortunately!


My next plan is to take swabs of my sample collected in the woods, to see if I can grow anymore fantasy landscapes, or symbolic images. I won’t be able to get into the lab again until Friday morning, which will give me the weekend to grow the samples, the results of which I hope to upload in the nick of time before the crit with Les Bicknell on Monday evening.

Lab work

Recently I have been collecting a variety of fungi from Birnam Wood, picking them and storing pieces of them into small sterile specimen bottles. I wanted to do some experiments which would involve taking swabs of them and growing them on agar jelly under lab conditions. Too often we get swept away with what we see around us, but forget about all the existing entities that we don’t see….I want to explore this theme through using bacterial growths and possibly microscopic images too.

I purchased a consignment of round petri dishes from Amazon, 150mm in diameter, and was also given some smaller 100mm diameter petri dishes from Maggie Fenton, the lab technician at work. She sterilised the dishes for me, and made up some agar jelly, which was poured into the dishes to set.

I took a few different samples up to her, and she showed me how to spread sample onto the plates, and also to bury small samples of the fungi into the jelly.


The petri dishes…I ordered the largest size which would fit into the steriliser, but wished I could have used some that were much much bigger!


Some of the samples that I used from Birnam Wood


The bottles had been sitting in my studio for a few weeks, and the smell was very strong when they were opened. They were held next to the bunsen flame to kill off any spores that might be present. Samples were sucked up and squirted onto the plate, before being spread around over the agar gel.




I did 9 samples altogether, which included Common Puffball, Oyster Mushrooms, Boletus Subtomentosus and Common Bonnet . Some of the samples were applied to both a small and large plate, and were distributed both by spotting and by spreading. IMG_2847


They were then put into the incubation unit where I have left them to work their magic. I’m feeling excited about what the results might be, but realise that they may also be a huge disappointment, so I’ll just have to wait and see. I’m going to leave them over the weekend, and will return on Monday to see what has developed.

Shaggy Ink-caps

I spotted some Shaggy Ink Cap fungi in Birnam Wood this afternoon. I’ve been looking for these for the past couple of years, so I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw some lurking up the bank above the path.As they mature, the Shaggy Ink Cap (Coprinus comatus) opens its cap (though not out flat) and eventually dissolves,  releasing an inky black fluid, which can be used as ink – hence their name.    white

A clump of young ink caps..looks like something has been feasting upon them

Some of these fungi had already begun to disintegrate, and were covered in the black gooey “ink”


(Above) My bag full of ink caps


When I got home I placed them into a clean coffee jar and will wait till they dissolve into the ink. I’m excited but apprehensive too, as I’m dreading the fact that there may be a lot of bugs or maggots inside them.

With the ink i plan to do some drawings of plants and fungi found in Birnam Wood, and perhaps even some calligraphic writing of some of the lines from Macbeth. I plan to keep the ink until “making day” (Sat 7th October) and do some experiments with it then.