The boletes of Birr Castle

I brought my niece and nephew to Birr Castle at the weekend, they were keen to go mostly because of the promise of cake in the cafe and the *magnificent* castle treehouse they have in the playground, but also because I mentioned I had seen squirrels there on my last visit. It turns out neither of them have had a particularly close encounter with one, grey or red, and they were hoping to maybe catch a glimpse. Alas the squirrel population of the castle did not oblige on this particular visit, I think in part because there were a great many people and some drumming in some way associated with Vintage Week related events going on.

My friend and I saw two on my last visit, the first was a red, which I was very happy to see, and I think the second was a grey, but it moved a bit too quickly into shadow and foliage, so it was hard to be sure. This is a very blurry image of it looking down on us. Most of us know grey squirrels came in (in 1911) and spread quickly, ousting the red in most of Ireland. I think adults of my vintage and younger probably have the came grá for the embattled red, the clear underdog. The fact that the red is that bit cuter doesn’t do its case any harm either. In recent years there is a suggestion that the considerable increase in the population of the native pine marten has also resulted in an increase in the population of the red squirrel. The pine martens recovery has been made possible by it having become a protected species under the Irish Wildlife Act of 1976 and the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985.  In the midlands of Ireland , where my house is firmly plonked, it seems pine martin densities are highest and doing very nicely – I certainly have seen some evidence – and grey squirrels have become much rarer.

The kids were a little disappointed but not quite to the degree to engage in the quiet sort of forest trekking that any hope of seeing them might have required. We contented ourselves looking for fungi instead. (Rules: Fungi can be poisonous and you have to be careful. This means no touching, no breaking, absolutely no eating anything an adult isn’t 100% certain about! If you accidentally manage in some mysterious way to have touched one, absolutely no putting hands near face, hands to be washed as soon as possible.) It can be a *little* difficult to convince a young man of 7 not to behead any fungus he sees with his trusty umbrella for the fun of it, but I was lucky that my young companions agreed with me that things needed to be let live their own lives and do their thing too. So almost all of the boletes we found on the day went undamaged, even after we discovered that one of the already uprooted and overturned ones turned a vivid blue in seconds when touched with a stick.

So boletes are cool. It was clear that someone had been interested in them before we came along because a few were already uprooted. Their bulbous stems are particularly distinctive. Some of them can have the red and yellow colours we found. Some of them are edible, even delicious I’m told. But common consensus seems to be “Not the ones that turn distinctly and immediately blue” though. I think there are some distinctions and exceptions, but I find I am happy to just say if it turns blue forget about it, and definitely ones that are yellow, orange or red under the cap that turn immediately blue on bruising. There are experts who know the exceptions to this rule but I sure as anything am not even the slightest bit expert so I’ll happily just look and show interest and try to learn more about them, happily leaving them exactly where I found them.

The kids were *awestruck* about the colour change though. It was great.

There were a group of tourists who asked in ..probably Spanish? .. if they were going along the right path to the waterfall. I only could say yes because I was just coming from the waterfall and little fountain and I recognised the word cascada. We had just come across another already broken and uprooted bolete and my nephew was giving it a bit of a poke. A very nice man tried to explain to us in Spanish that they could be chopped and were delicious in an omelette but made you sick if …?? I made all that out with guesses, hand signal interpretation and catching the occasional word that made some sense. Maybe he was worried we’d try to eat it. I We left it be and moved on, thanking him anyway as best we could.

We made a point of going off on small tangental paths and seeing what we could find and they were delighted with themselves when I showed them an Artist’s Conk and let them draw a tint picture on one. They were a little less delighted (but still enthralled) with their stinkhorn discovery and the rather horrible smell that went along with it.

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