Saturday, 20 July 2013

Calves Close Spinney

The proposed HS2 rail link will pass through western Northamptonshire, with inevitable damage to important wildlife sites. Calves Close Spinney, a mile or so from Chipping Warden, is likely to be completely destroyed so, with this in mind, I made a couple of visits to check the flies - plus anything else that caught my attention.

During World War 2 the area had been occupied by an air base, R.A.F Chipping Warden. As I wandered through the spinney I saw, all about me, the remains of installations: concrete flooring, an enigmatic flight of steps going nowhere and several more or less complete buildings. A couple of hundred trees occupied the site, with 90% being youngish sycamores; these appeared to have become established following the abandonment of the base soon after the ending of the war. However, here and there were some very fine oaks of considerable age which clearly pre-dated the military requisitioning of the land.

The leaves of the sycamores were shiny with honeydew, produced by vast numbers of aphids. In their fascinating book, "Aphids on deciduous trees", Dixon and Theme write: "The 116,000 leaves of a 20-m sycamore tree can be infested with as many as 2.25 million aphids..." No significant rain has fallen for a couple of weeks so the honeydew, which might have been washed away, has simply built up on the leaf surfaces. Worryingly there were no ladybirds to be seen. These might have helped in aphid control but hardly anyone I've spoken to has seen a ladybird this year. (Later in the day I saw my first 7-spot ladybird of 2013.)
The leaf-mine of the Brown Oak Slender Moth.
Calves Close Spinney, 12 July, 2013

The oaks would have repaid further attention but, having photographed the blotch on a leaf caused by a moth, the Brown Oak Slender (Acrocercops brongniardella), I moved on. In terms of wildlife interest the area was disappointing; lifting logs and stones in the hope of unusual ground beetles revealed only Pterostichus madidus and P. melanarius - both exceedingly common throughout England.

The colourful millipede, Ommantoiulus sabulosus, was present, playing dead for a minute or so before legging it - nothing can leg it better than a millipede.
The millipede Ommantoiulus sabulosus at
Calves Close Spinney. 12 July, 2013
This too is a very widespread species but seems to have a liking for sandy soil. The two orange stripes running along the flanks make it instantly recognisable. Lifting one large slab revealed a deep pit, occupied by the rather large spider, Metellina merianae; I had harboured the hope that it might be the rarer - and larger - Meta menardi. Now that would have been something!

I should mention that I recorded the strange looking fly, Megamerina dolium. It is not rare and is not even a new record for Northants, but I took a pair in cop ( the act of mating). The species looks vaguely like an ichneumon wasp - but of course has two wings rather than four.

Calves Close Spinney is of considerable interest to WWII historians but it has to be admitted that, in terms of wildlife it appears to be very limited. Given the opportunity I intend to re-visit the site. Something may crop up to make me revise my view.

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