Monday, 4 February 2013

As the light lengthens...

Another deceptively sunny morning. The air temperature was probably well above freezing but a brisk north-westerly wind introduced an unwelcome chill factor.

                    As the light lengthens, so the cold strengthens.

This old saying recognises the cruel nature of these February days but, wrapping up well, I had an enjoyable walk.                   
The spire of the village church stood out against a       clear blue sky and Jackdaws circled the structure, calling excitedly. In the churchyard a much more stealthy Wood Pigeon quietly gorged itself on the now-ripe Ivy berries. Snowdrops, by this time fully open, studded the grass but were failing to attract any bees.
Snowdrops, Byfield churchyard, 4 February, 2013


My walk took me on to the Pocket Park (surprise, surprise!) where a few flies took to the wing as I approached. I caught one and, as suspected, it turned out to be a male Common Dung Fly. These furry yellow males are frequently seen but the duller, greenish females are more likely to be observed on fresh cow pats, upon which they lay their eggs*. The Blow-fly, Calliphora vicina, was also out in some numbers, favouring sun-bathed tree trunks. Without hope of reward I  swept my net through some dead grass stems and was pleased to find that I had secured a male Lonchoptera lutea. I have to admit that, to the non-dipterist, it is an excessively dull-looking fly, furthermore it is the most commonly taken species of Lonchoptera. But I was pleased because specimens are rarely taken so early in the year.

Naturalists take pleasure in odd things. In his book "The Lichen Hunters" by the late Oliver Gilbert, I came across this passage (page 29): "Who will forget the excitement as news spread of the discovery of Psilolechia leprosa..."  Well, I suspect it failed to make the front page of the Daily Mail but, for the interested few, it genuinely was exciting. And by monitoring the abundance and mapping the distribution of these insignificant organisms we may pick up clues to events and trends of real significance such as pollution levels, climate change and so on. I rest my case m'lud. 

*For more information on these fascinating flies I recommend Peter Skidmore's book, "Insects of the British Cow-Dung Community" - a copy of which should surely be in everyone's book case.

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