Monday, 22 July 2019

Veneers and ladybirds

In my last blog I welcomed the arrival of rather heavy rain during the last 72 hours. Today (Monday) the sunshine has returned, bringing hot, humid conditions. Had there been any obvious effects? I strolled over to Stefen Hill Pocket Park to have a shufti.

There were plenty of insects about, including a skittish Silver-washed Fritillary, Argynnis paphia, taking to the wing every time I approached within camera distance. As I approached a cherry tree in a final and abortive attempt to get a picture I noticed a ladybird. It has emerged within the past 12 hours from its pupal case, the black, shrivelled object apparently being inspected by its former occupant.

Seven-spot Ladybird? Probably, but I'll never know.
Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 22 July, 2019
Most insects that emerge from a pupal case or cocoon are soft-bodied and often pale; they are in what entomologists call a teneral condition.  The species shown is probably a
7-spot Ladybird, Coccinella 7-punctata, but teneral or not it flew off before I could get a closer look. Over the next 48 hours or so it will develop its spots to look more like the ladybird we expect.

As I trudged through an area of rather long grass a number of moths were disturbed and fluttered away. They were grass moths which, usually being the colour of dried grass are often lost to sight when they settle. Today I decided to follow one, tracking it down until it could be photographed. It turned out to be a specimen of the Garden Grass-veneer, Chrysoteuchia culmella.

Chrysoteuchia culmella is one of the commoner grass moths.
Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 22 July, 2019

Several broadly similar species of these grass moths are found in Britain. They are generally nondescript species, lacking bright colours but, as I have suggested, perfectly camouflaged for life in the grass. Not surprisingly it was a new species for the pocket park, bringing to total up to 220.

The hoverfly, Myathropa florea, is more colourful but had already been recorded from this site before. It is a rather good mimic of certain bees.

The 'Batman Hoverfly' (note the logo behind the head) is a very common
insect. Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 22 July, 2019

The pocket park is not the place to go if it is wild flowers you are after but the Red Campions, Silene dioica, were flowering well and bore some interesting patched on the leaves. Clearly caused by insects, I'll keep an eye on these patches over the next two or three weeks.
Red Campion flourishes in western Northamptonshire.
Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 22 July, 2019

I am optimistic that the items brought home will contain new specimens for the pocket park and by the year's end the total should near three hundred.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Water Plantain - a boring blog just for me

The parched fields around Daventry are currently receiving a real soaking. Shame it has come at the height of the insect season but the plants really needed it, and the pond in our local pocket park should, if not re-fill, at least get a boost.

Speaking of the pond, last time I visited it I got a slightly better picture of the Water Plantain. It belongs to a  small but particularly interesting plant family, the Alismataceae.

Water Plantain, Alisma plantago-aquatica grows in the little pond at
Stefen Hill Pocket Park.19 July, 2019

Many people, even non-botanists, will be aware that the world of flowering plants can be divided into two groups. First there are the monocotyledons - nowadays generally shortened to monocots - with strap-shaped or sword-shaped leaves. The leaves have near-parallel veins running the length of the leaf and the group includes grasses, daffodils, irises, orchids and the like. They rarely form trees, palm trees being one of the exceptions. Then there are the dicotyledons - dicots - whose leaves may be heart shaped, oval or divided like the rather well-known cannabis plant; they may even be split into separate leaflets, like the horse-chestnut. Dicots include many trees.

The Alismataceae are monocots yet their leaves could easily be mistaken for those of a dicot (the strap-shaped leaves in the first picture are those of yellow iris). Yet the structure of the flower - the petals, sepals and stamens - are extremely similar to those of buttercups, and particularly spearworts, in the dicots. But the rather blurred picture, lifted from the internet, shows that the spearworts have the strap-shaped leaves similar to those of a monocot.

The situation has exercise the minds of botanists for a century or more and now modern techniques of genetic analysis may provide some answers.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Beauty and the Beast

I toddled along to Byfield Pocket Park yesterday. Now it is more effectively managed the flowers are thriving and, with them, insects too.

Dominating things is Rose Bay Willow Herb. To eradicate this would require the use of a weedkiller and this is something were are not prepared to contemplate. And who would want to get rid of this lovely species anyway?

Rose Bay is almost too exuberant in Byfield Pocket Park.
17 July, 2019
The species has a curious history. A hundred years ago it was a relatively uncommon plant of woodland clearings and wayside. Then came war. Among the ruins of bombed buildings the plant suddenly flourished, giving it the alternative name of Fireweed. Why this happened is a bit of a puzzle. Was it due to a genetic change, giving the species more vigour? Anyway, it is now one of our most familiar wild flowers - but it still likes abandoned building sites.

A few years ago I found just a couple of specimens of Perforate St John's Wort, Hypericum perforatum, among the Rose Bay. Yesterday I counted a dozen or so. I think that on an earlier visit a seed got stuck on my muddy shoes and now there are plants in our front garden. I haven't the heart to remove them. (The same thing has happened with Yellow Rattle and we now have a small colony of that too.)

St John's Worts are instantly recognisable. This is Perforated St John's Wort.
Byfield Pocket Park, 17 July, 2019

Among the other plants a colony of melilot has appeared. It is Ribbed Melilot, Melilotus officinalis, probably an introduction from South-east Europe but now very widespread. The presence of this clover relative can be detected before the plant is even seen, for it releases a lovely scent of coumarin, the same smell as that of new-mown hay.

Bees love it. Ribbed Melilot has formed a significant colony in Byfield
Pocket Park. 17 July, 2019
Black Knapweed, Centaurea nigra, I have mentioned before. It is a magnet for several species of picture-winged fly, member of the Tephritidae family. Like the St John's Wort and the Melilot it can be an untidy plant, but is very welcome.

Clearly related to thistles but without the spines, Black Knapweed is
flourishing in the pocket park. Byfield, 17 July, 2019
All these plants attract insects but the most valuable of plants in this respect is surely Hogweed. It is particularly attractive to beetles and the photograph shows dozens of pollen beetles busy on the umbels of flowers. I took a couple to identify but haven't got around to it yet.

Covered in pollen beetles (woe betide anyone wearing yellow clothes),
Hogweed is a valuable plant for wildlife. Byfield Pocket Park. 17 July, 2019

Many more flowers were present but now for the beast bit. A person or persons had torn a 'Please take your litter home' sign from its moorings and hurled it over the nearby fence, together with a load of litter. A refuse bin was five yards away. Too far to walk of course!
What can I say?
I did my Boy Scout bit and cleared it (not that I have ever been in the Scouts) but we really have a problem with a small but significant sector of our population that shows contempt for society as a whole.

Nil illegitemi carborundum!

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

It ain't half hot Mum

A sweltering day, but Chris and I were determined to go out. I'd had my pills and so was fit to go whilst Chris had packed her bags to go to the Buddhist Centre at Thornby. So medication and meditation were the order of the day.

I swept a fine Red-legged Shieldbug from an oak tree just inside Kentle Wood. It was such a dark specimen that I at first though it was a different species but no, Pentatoma rufipes it was.

This was a particularly dark example of the Red-legged Shieldbug
Kentle Wood, Daventry. 16 July, 2019
The black and white chequered connexivum (just showing, left, rear) and the bright yellow tip to the scutellum are distinctive. A handsome beast!

There were quite a few butterflies on the wing but only four species were represented: Meadow Brown (lots), Gatekeeper (a few), Skippers (just one, too fleeting to be identified) and one Marbled White. The last species paused long enough for a photograph.

As this was the only Marbled White I saw it was lucky that it paused long
enough for a photograph. Kentle Wood, 16 July, 2019
Like the Meadow Brown and the Gatekeeper, its caterpillars feed on grasses. No shortage there. 

As is often the case the Gatekeeper (once known as the Hedge Brown) refused to play ball and kept its wings closed, but the double white dots on the forewing is distinctive.

Gatekeepers were very common so I ought to have done better with my
photograph. Kentle Wood, 16 July, 2019
Oak leaves are now getting extensively mined. They aren't always pretty but they are pretty useful (see what I did there?) in establishing what insects are present. So this distinctive mine shows that Dyseriocrania subpurpurella is around.

The mines of Dyseriocrania subpurpurella were extremely common on oak.
Kentle Wood, 16 July, 2019

It's another case of a tiny moth bearing an inordinately long 'Latin' name. Its English name is the Common Oak Purple, but I doubt that many people actually call it that.

Almost the last sweep of the net landed a pair of Hawthorn Shieldbugs. I let them go for their good work to continue. Bless!
Hawthorn Shieldbugs.  Need I elaborate? Kentle Wood.
16 July, 2019

Monday, 15 July 2019

Round and round the garden

Our garden, like many others, is full of colour and interest at the moment. Most of the colour is provided by flowers, although not necessarily in a conventional manner.

Our Clematis x cartmanii makes an attractive sight, but a closer look shows that it is the long carpels that are providing the display. The tepals (the plant has no true petals) have fallen weeks ago but the show goes on.

Clematis x cartmanii is still producing a lovely display.
Our back garden, Stefen Hill, 15 July, 2019 
Our rose, 'Benjamin Britten' has disappointed. It isn't the fault of the plant but it is in a tub, which I have probably under-fed. However 'Claire Austin' is in a raised bed and has flourished, with some enormous trusses of flowers.
This David Austin rose, 'Claire Austin', has produced wonderful trusses of
very fragrant flowers. Our garden again, 14 July, 2019

Our pears have developed what I believe to be Pear Blister Mite and will have to go. In fact one has gone already and I have replaced it with a specimen of Eucryphia x intermedia 'Rostrevor'. I have admired Eucryphias for years but have never seen one offered for sale. However, I found one at John's Garden, a fine plant centre near Kingswinford, not far from Dudley.
I am hoping that this Eucryphia x intermedia will flourish backed by our
garage wall. Stefen Hill, Daventry. 15 July, 2019
Fortunately I had some garden vouchers with me, kind gifts for my birthday a couple of weeks ago. I snapped it up. Eucryphias are members of the Cunoniaceae, a rather small family confined to the Southern Hemisphere. It may be a foreigner but bees have already shown that they like it.

Speaking of insects, some of the garden colour has been provided by butterflies such as this Small Tortoiseshell here visiting our thyme.

Small Tortoiseshell butterflies have so far been less common than in
previous years. On thyme in our front garden. Stefen Hill, 14 July, 2019

Equally common but usually overlooked is this tiny but very pretty moth, photographed on one of the lavenders. It is the Mint Moth Pyrausta aurata. Mint, lavender and thyme all belong to the Lamiaceae Family, so not surprisingly this purple and gold species commonly visits gardens.

This little Mint Moth was a welcome sight on our lavender.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 15 July, 2019
Also on the lavender were two or three specimens of Scaeva pyrastri. Many hoverflies are black and yellow or black and orange; this species is black and almost-white and is known as the Pied Hoverfly.
The Pied Hoverfly is back with us, enjoying our lavender.
Stefen Hill., Daventry. 13 July, 2019 
I was pleased to see it because the species seems unable to survive British winters and (don't tell the Daily Fail) its presence is due to migration from the continent. Annual numbers vary but in some years the species is extremely common.

In the open countryside some insects have been alarmingly low in numbers. Fortunately our gardens can act as oases for some, if only to re-fuel.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Around the Hornet

Popped over to the local pocket park today, having not been there for 72 hours. It won't do!

The weather was cloudy but warm and pleasant, and there were quite a few insects about. I decided to make my first target the little pool. Would it have dried up again?
On the way I spotted a pale coloured moth on the foliage of a field maple but, although I approach carefully it fluttered deeper into the foliage, clearly camera-shy. It was a Satin Wave, Idaea subsericeata, by no means a rare moth, although it does begin to peter out beyond the Staffordshire-Nottinghamshire area.
Satin Wave on Acer foliage. Stefen Hill Pocket Park, Daventry.
13 July, 2019

Stap me if I didn't see another moth a few moments later! This pale green species was on a beech tree and the chequered edging to the wings identified it as a Common Emerald, Hemithea aestivaria, a species whose caterpillars feed on the leaves of many deciduous trees.

A battered Common Emerald on Field Maple. Stefen Hill Pocket Park.
13 July, 2019

It had clearly led a rough life but, battered or not, it was another addition to the pocket park list.

Arriving at the pond I was rather disappointed that it had dried up again, doubtless with some consequent mortalities. But there were interesting plants in flower including the Common Water Plantain, Alisma plantago-aquatica.
I was pleased to find Common Water Plantain in the dried-up pond.
Stefen Hill Pocket Park, 13 July, 2019

It is a very common aquatic, and seems particularly abundant around the Welsh Marches. Here in Northamptonshire it appears to be thinly spread, but this could be a consequence of inadequate recording.

Also in full flower were specimens of Purple Loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria. This is among Britain's loveliest flowers, and insects were finding it attractive too.

Purple Loosestrife is now flowering profusely. Stefen Hill Pocket Park.
13 July, 2019
The Greeks believed that feeding it to oxen would prevent quarrelsome behaviour - they would 'lose strife'.
A closer look at the Loosestrife flowers.

The genus Lythrum gives its name to the Lythraceae Family and, as I have mentioned before, is unrelated to the Yellow Loosestrife, which is a member of the Primrose Family, Primulaceae.

The pocket park was not done with me yet. I was just about to photograph a figwort when my eye caught something stirring near my feet - a hornet! I stepped back carefully and as I did so I realised that it was something far more interesting. it was a hornet mimic - a moth in fact.
This was a real surprise! Lunar Hornet Moth, here on Common Figwort.
Stefen Hill Pocket Park. 13 July 2019

It was a Lunar Hornet Moth, Sesia bembeciformis, one of the clearwing moths. This cannot be seem from the photograph as the insect's wings were moving so fast but, unlike most moths, the wings were clear, like a wasp or a fly. The grubs live for two years feeding inside willow trunks before emerging and the adults are not commonly seen.

Figwort flowers in Stefen Hill Pocket Park. 13 July, 2019

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Byfield: bugs and hazel

The weather was fine when I visited Byfield Pocket Park earlier today. The insects have generally increased in abundance over the past week or so, but I wasn't expecting any dramatic finds. Nor were there.

I closely examined a largish plant of Lesser Burdock in the hope of finding some picture-winged flies, i.e. members of the Tephritidae family. I could see none but nevertheless gently swished my net through the leaves. Amazingly I found that I had secured four bush crickets. On another plant nearby I found another one and attempted a photograph but the results were poor and the image below is the best I could do.

The Speckled Bush Cricket is a cunningly camouflaged creature.
 Byfield Pocket Park10 July, 2019
I released all the captives having examined them and satisfied myself that they were Speckled Bush Crickets, Leptophyes punctatissima. They are wingless creatures and, as the name suggests, covered in little black speckles. Despite their inability to fly it is a widespread species, found abundantly over southern England the Midlands.

There were many hogweed plants in flower so it was no surprise to find Cheilosia illustrata present. It is very distinctive among Cheilosia species and hogweed flowers are a favourite re-fuelling point. The species was a male, the compound eyed almost touching in the middle, i.e. holoptic.

Cheilosia illustrata is known as the Bumblebee Cheilosia, but the mimicry
 seems not entirely convincing. Byfield Pocket Park, 10 July, 2019

I found also the strange nymph of the Tree Damsel Bug, Himacerus apterus. It is a common species and perhaps only significant to the pocket park in that it becomes the 100th species I have recorded there.

Inevitably this number will increase as I sort through the other insects found today but I will end with a photograph of hazel fruits.

The fruits of the Purple-leaf Filbert. Lovely!
Byfield Pocket Park, 10 July, 2019
(Warning: may contain nuts)

I suffered some form of mental aberration yesterday and rambled on about beeches. I fact the fruits featured were those of a hazel or, to be more precise, the Purple-leaf Filbert, Corylus maxima 'Purpurea'  My apologies to my readers who may have suffered an attack of apoplexy!  But in either case the colour is due to the presence of some form of anthocyanin pigment. And the nuts should taste good if I can beat the grey squirrels to them.