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The Good Life in Aggtelek National Park Part 53: Iwo the Bear, Lilac Syrup, Chicken of the Woods

iwo the bear 2014Kata has been keeping an eye on our chicken of the woods mushroom tree and we managed tom pick 3.5kg of it last week before it was rediscovered by neighbours. There is a huge grass snake whose diameter at the tail is about as wide as my wrist that likes hanging about the tree. It went into defensive position, coiled rearing and hissing and then moving off between Kata's legs the last time she visited the tree alone. "Not being venomous, the snake's only defence is to produce a garlic-smelling fluid from the anal glands, or to feign death by becoming completely limp. They may also perform an aggressive display in defence, hissing and striking without actually opening the mouth. They rarely bite in defence. They may also secrete blood from the mouth and nose whilst playing dead. When caught they chicken of the woodsoften regurgitate the contents of their stomachs." Not exactly calming when faced with this...We searched for St. George mushrooms on Friday with our neighbour Sányi, but he spotted only about ten, all of which were wormy. On Sunday I went with my class to two wooded areas in search of chicken of the woods and St. George mushrooms. There were kilos and kilos of chicken of the woods. It is unfortunate that this edible fungal bounty also means the death of so many trees, primarily willows. The mushroom is the brown rot type that eats the cellulose in the tree but cannot digest the lignin, leaving masses of brittle reddish-brown bricklike chunks of lignin inside the tree and the tree eventually dies. I managed to find a clump of common bonnet/rosy-gill fairy helmets which are inedible but interesting. Others had more luck and found a few Lentinus tigrinus mushrooms whose caps are edible, but not the stems. We already have over mushroom hunt may 20154kg of chicken of the woods in the freezer, so at the suggestion of one of my teachers, we ground up the mushrooms for later use in pasta sauce and meatless balls. A full list of what we found here, photos here.

Over the weekend we also experimented with making lilac drink syrup. I found its flavour elusive, but it eventually grew on me and I think it is worth bottling a couple litres before the trees stop blooming. We added some lemon juice to this recipe.

Aggtelek National Park had an unusual visitor last week - Iwo the bear. He was most likely in search of a mate, but sadly embarked in the wrong direction for such an objective. The European brown bear was formerly a widespread species, but today the few that are left are mostly found in the higher mountains. A significant number still remain in the Transylvanian Carpathians, but a stable population exists in the Low and High Tátra Mountains (SK), Fátra Mountains (SK), the Slovenský raj National Park and adjacent areas of the Slovak Karst which form a single geographical unit with the Aggtelek Hills. Iwo entered Hungary near Szuhafő and spent a couple days somewhere between Rudabánya and Ormosbánya before heading north in the direction of Felsőtelekes. Over the weekend he fed and rested near Szendrőlád and came as far as Büdöskútpuszta, only 10km away from us before heading back to Slovakia.

Iwo is part of this international research study (GLOBE). He was captured and collared in the Polish Tatras by a team from the Institute of Nature Conservation at the Polish Academy of Sciences a year ago, on April 19th. At that time he weighed 81 kg. He was equipped with a GPS-GSM collar with takes his positions every 2 hours or 30 min, depending on the schedule. Tooth analysis at a specialist lab revealed that he is now 5 years old. During monitoring this past year, Iwo has shown to be very mobile and not problematic. Exactly a year ago in spring, Iwo also did a large round trip, this time 80 km to the west, and then back another 80 km, in the Liptov region. A week ago, he started from the Propad region in Slovakia a journey to the south of more than 120 km. The most dangerous part was the highway D1 in the High Tatras in Slovakia, which Iwo crossed thanks to a wildlife overpass. He left Aggtelek National Park on Monday and is now in Slovakia.iwo's route