Monday, 18 November 2013

In search of Black Puddings

Northamptonshire has a limited fern flora but here and there, where the soil is reasonably well drained and not too heavy, substantial beds of bracken are to be found. One such site is near the summit of Solden Hill, to the south west of Byfield. I set out earlier today in the hope of finding some bracken plants galled by the tiny fly Dasineura pteridis. The larva of this insect forms tiny sausage-shaped galls on the edge of bracken fronds which, from their shape and colour, are called 'Little Black Puddings'.

A fine mist caused droplets of moisture to form on my eyebrows as I strode out and the visibility was down to half a mile or so as I looked out towards the west.

Looking west from Byfield on a misty
morning, 18 November, 2013

As I left the village my attention was caught by a large-ish Crab Apple (I use the term loosely - see my blog for 10 December, 2012) well laden with fruit. As they ripen further they will soften and fall, to provide valuable food for birds, especially species of thrush.
Crab Apple heavy with fruit.
Byfield, 18 November, 2013
The tree will almost certainly have sprung from the seeds in an apple core thrown to the side of the road, and therefore will not be a true Crab Apple. 

Crab Apple showing the typical leaf fold caused
by the Rowan Slender Moth
Byfield, 18 November, 2013

Dozens, if not hundreds, of the leaves showed mines formed by a tiny moth, the Rowan Slender (Parornix scoticella). As its name suggests it is frequent on the leaves of rowan but apple trees (which are closely related to rowan) are equally acceptable. Despite being a common and widespread insect it is the first time I've recorded it from the Byfield area, so I was quite pleased. Leaf mines and galls are hardly exciting but, by revealing what insects are around, it enables a better understanding of the ecology of a particular habitat. 

Coltsfoot plants were common along the roadside, with some of the leaves bearing a mine which opened up into a large blotch. This shape is diagnostic for Phytomyza tussilaginis, an agromyzid fly for which no common name exists. The actual fly is not often observed and the mine created by the larva is the best clue to its presence.

Coltsfoot leaf mined by Phytomyza tussilaginis.
Solden Hill, nr Byfield. 18 November, 2013

The murky conditions persisted as I pressed on but, murky or not, several plants were in bloom. None was receiving an insect visitor of course but, given a sunny day in the next week or so, a late hoverfly could make a call.  White Campion (Silene alba) was bearing a few flowers and nearby was a hybrid White Campion x Pink Campion (Silene alba x Silene dioica) although only the one parent could be found.
White Campion

Hybrid White x Pink Campion

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) was present in some profusion, as was White Dead-nettle (Lamium album) but only a couple of bedraggled Common Ragwort plants were in bloom. One plant of Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) was also doing its best, with the drizzle-covered leaves making it look like its garden relative, Lamb's Ear (Stachys  byzantina).
Hedge Woundwort, Stachys sylvaticaSolden Hill. 18 November, 2013

Common Ragwort
Solden Hill, 18 November, 2013

Yarrow. Solden Hill, 18 November, 2013

White Dead-nettle. Solden Hill
18 November, 2013

By this time I too was bedraggled, but I had reached my destination - several large clumps of Bracken. I spent several minutes carefully examining the fronds and found - not a sausage. Certainly not a Little Black Pudding. I'll try again in a few months, this time choosing a bright and warm sunny day.

No comments:

Post a Comment