Thursday, 27 February 2014

A dismal day

In Daventry Chris and I experienced a sharp and nasty hailstorm and the afternoon I'd planned seemed out of the question. However, things did clear up and I modified my walk and contented myself with a visit to my "patch" - Byfield Pocket Park.

A pair of mines formed by larvae of the
Glossy Bramble Pigmy.
Byfield Pocket Park. 27 February, 2014

Two larvae of the Glossy Bramble Pigmy, Stigmella splendidissimella, had produced a strikingly symmetrical pair of mines. This is a common micro-moth, the mines of which wouldn't normally merit comment.

Daffodils were just coming into flower. Around Byfield, as in towns and villages the length of Britain, Narcissi have been planted in large quantities. This coming autumn I'm sure armies of volunteers will be out in force planting yet more. What is the motive? If it is to produce a colourful spring display - fine. If it is to help "nature", then it is a rather pointless effort. I don't deny that I sometimes see bumble bees visiting the flowers plus a few smaller flies such as Norellia species but, beyond that, their wildlife value is very limited. The Hoverfly, Merodon equestris, known as the Large Narcissus Fly or the Narcissus Bulb Fly, may burrow into the bulbs. It is a handsome insect but I'm prepared to bet that people don't plant 'daffs' in order for the bulbs to be attacked!

A pair of Bullfinches flitted across the track as I approached the Pocket Park. They are one of my favourite birds (I am not a fruit grower!) so I attempted to photograph the male, but it was too wary to allow me anywhere near. As a consequence my picture is poor.

Male Bullfinch. Byfield Pocket Park
27 February, 2014

Bullfinches are a fairly regular sighting and they always seem to travel around in pairs. My comment about fruit growing refers to the fact that they can do great damage in orchards by feeding on the buds - but I still like them.

Nebria brevicollis, a common Ground Beetle
Byfield Pocket Park, 27 February, 2014  

Carefully lifting a log I was surprised to find that it was a refuge for about twenty ground beetles; two or three is, in my experience, more usual. These belong to a very large family called the Carabidae; they are common and familiar to most people and there are about 350 species in Britain.

The beetles generally appear hairless but closer examination reveals a number of hairs and bristles, often of considerable importance in identification. I took a specimen for closer examination and it proved to be Nebria brevicollis. Martin Luff comments ("The Carabidae of Britain and Ireland" p. 49): "often extremely abundant". Certainly it is common hereabouts and I have previously recorded it from the pocket park (I replaced the log!). These beetles are carnivores and the larger ones can give a sharp nip with their mandibles; in some cases a nasty, noxious fluid can be expelled from the rear end. Handle with care!

As children in Northampton we always called them 'rain beetles' and I was interested to note that elsewhere in Britain the name 'rain clocks' is used (Marren and Mabey, "Bugs Britannica"). The term 'clock' may derive from a Swedish dialect word 'klocka' - a beetle. John Clare's lovely little poem "Clock-a-clay" also refers to a beetle - in this case a ladybird.

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