Autumn bush walks with Shirley Kerr
Shirley Kerr, a science teacher at Katikati College, has had a life-long interest in native flora and fauna. She is also a keen nature photographer.
Many people who go on bush walks see only the larger shrubs and trees, yet there is far more to observe if they take the time to examine more closely.

Without having to travel far on any of the local bush walks, it is possible to find an amazing variety of interesting small flora and fauna.

Easy 10-20 minute strolls on any of the walking tracks will give the keen observer plenty to see and enjoy. For the nature photographer, it is possible to spend hours capturing images that would not be so readily accessible in other areas.

Along the Lindemann Rd track, cool damp shady banks near streams will reveal an array of mosses, liverworts and filmy ferns. Tree stumps are like miniature gardens, and rotting logs can sprout a variety of colourful fungi in the autumn. The streams themselves provide unique scenes with their small pools and waterfalls. In the late summer it is possible to have a close up view of the orange-red rata flowers; some shrubby rata grows at head height on an exposed rocky spur about an hours walk along the track.

Another interesting and easy walk is the track to the big Kauri tree from the end of Spring Road. This walk is along part of the Tuahu Track. The late summer/autumn is an opportune time to see the flowers of a tree daisy,

Senecio kirkii particularly near the beginning of the track. On several sunny exposed banks further along are the small but colourful red berries of Nertera robusta . Often growing on the same banks are plants of Pratia angulata, a member of the Lobelia family. It is a creeping plant, forming a mat, and is easily recognisable with its small white 5-petalled unevenly shaped flowers and its purplish berries. Many views across gullies from the track are worth stopping for, as in the autumn brilliant rata flowers are visible in the tree tops.

Also flowering in the autumn is an epiphytic orchid, Earina autumnalis, which produces bunches of white flowers. These resemble very tiny cymbidiums. This orchid also produces a strong scent which some people may dislike. (Another similar epiphytic orchid is Earina mucronata , which flowers in spring, producing bunches of creamy-yellow flowers.) Both these species of orchid are very easy to find growing on trees along the edges of the track. Branches that have fallen during storms are also worth searching for orchids.

Once the autumn rains have arrived fungi of all colours begin to appear, seemingly overnight from nowhere. Amongst the first to show itself is the orange pore fungus, Favolaschia calocera. It is one of the more obvious ones, with its colour and distinctive honeycomb appearance when viewed from underneath. There is a related white pore fungus, Favolaschia pustulosa, which is a translucent white in colour, and has a rubbery feel to it. Both these are long lasting, gaining a refreshed appearance whenever it rains.

Throughout the autumn and winter there is a large thin brown flabby fungus growing on dead wood. It is Auricularia polytricha, commonly known as Jew's Ear, Ear Fungus, and Wood Ear. It is edible and was eaten by pre-European Maori when other food was in short supply. It is used in Chinese dishes, and was exported in large quantities in the late 1800's, particularly from the Taranaki area where it was known as "Taranaki Wool". Bohemians at Puhoi kept exporting wood ear until 1950s. In the late 1960s, the Taiwanese developed a way of cultivating wood ear on sawdust, and now the wood ear sold in New Zealand is actually imported.

Of shorter duration is a Coprinus species which appears in dense white clusters on rotting logs and branches. Within a day or two, they become grey as they age and quickly fade away. This species will appear again throughout the autumn and winter, given the conditions of warmer days followed by rain, but usually the first flush is the most spectacular.

One of the most colourful fungi is Entoloma hochstetteri, which is a brilliant blue, quite unmistakeable when you find it. Although I have seen it many times before, it is still exciting each time I come across one. There are other Entoloma species to be found too, in various shades of mauve-grey, brown, cream and green.

Throughout the autumn and winter, there is a succession of types of fungi, with some appearing only in early autumn, while others make their debut in the winter. One of the later ones is Hygrocybe rubro-carnosa, a bright red toadstool which pops out along banks, often hidden in the crannies provided by exposed tree roots. There are weeks when a variety of orange and yellow fungi is prominent, and occasionally there are small pink, blue and even green waxy types to be found.

The bush is not a dull or boring place in the autumn or winter, and nor is it necessary to travel very far along any of the tracks in the Kaimais to find a wide variety of things of interest. It is usually a matter of pausing and taking time to look around, especially at the ground at your feet.

In every season, on every walk, there is always something new.

Visit Shirley's excellent website: www.kaimaibush.co.nz

If you want to see more photos of fungi see Aucklander Clive Shirley's excellent site hiddenforest.co.nz This site deservedly won the NetGuide Internet Award for Best Personal Homepage in 1999.