Friday, 14 March 2014

A hotchpotch of a day.

A thick mist cut visibility down to little over 100 metres during the morning today, but the sun broke through in the afternoon and I sallied forth to investigate Wardenhill Covert, on the south flanks of Warden Hill. I had thought that a public right-of-way passed through it but I was wrong and had failed to study the O.S. map with sufficient care.

Being a stout-hearted and plucky Brit I was undaunted and resolved to strike south-west instead and take another look at Calves Close Spinney, entering it at SP506492. I had visited the site on three occasions last year but felt that another look could be productive. I was wrong!

Calves Close Spinney  looking south

The spinney always looks inviting from a distance, with a few fine oaks being obvious, but I had forgotten just how limited it is in terms of ground flora and variety of trees. I quickly changed my mind and retraced my steps. The return journey was quite useful. It seemed the kind of day when 'money spiders' would be ballooning and my net secured quite a few. In suitable conditions spiders will climb a grass stem and release a long strand of silk. The wind catches the silk and the spider is borne aloft and, with luck, will be carried for a considerable distance to a new site. Ballooning spiders have been caught at a height of several kilometres. I secured about twenty spiders; all but one were females and all were very common species. 

Also swept up was the very common planthopper, Stenocranus minutus.

I pressed on to the lakes mentioned briefly in my recent blog, 'Root Spinney' (26 February). These lakes are apparently unnamed. Things were very quiet and no water birds were seen apart from a pair of unwelcome Canada Geese.

Why I bothered photographing these I do not know. They were introduced as ornamental waterfowl from North America but some quickly escaped and have since become a pest species. We now have a large resident population but in North America this is a migratory species, and some British specimens have apparently redeveloped their migratory habits.  

Coltsfoot flowers beside a lake at SP517509
13 March, 2014

On the lakeside were coltsfoot plants, now fully in flower. Despite the bright sunshine temperatures were on the cool side and and I saw no insect visitors at the flowers.

The Coltsfoot belongs to the Daisy Family, Asteraceae and each 'flower' is, of course, composed of an aggregate of tiny flowers in a cluster known as a capitulum. (The older, very appropriate name for the family was the Compositae.)

I recall that when I first began studying botany much time was spent pulling the flower heads apart and trying to understand the structures and their names. The family is a large and tricky one and when on mainland Europe I confess to often being stumped.

Also with composite flower heads are Typha species. These were well established around the lake edge, the species involved being the Greater Reedmace, Typha latifolia.

The bursting heads of Typha latifolia
13 March, 2014
Bulrush or Reedmace? Historically there is little doubt that Reedmace is the older name but either is now accepted. The confusion is often - unfairly - attributed to the great Victorian painter Alma-Tadema. In his painting of 'Moses in the Bulrushes' he unmistakably depicts Reedmace but the confusion considerably pre-dates this work. 

The composite flower of Coltsfoot is, as I have said, technically a capitulum; the flower head of the Bulrush consists of tiny flowers crowded together as a spadix. The spadices burst to release the wind-borne fruits and this has led to the species rapidly colonising flooded gravel pits and so on across the county and, indeed, throughout Britain.

I met the local landowner on today's walk and I expressed my delight at the very broad field margins he had retained, with their wild flowers and insect life. He had also been responsible for creating the lakes. If only some of his farming neighbours would follow suit. 

I could name one farmer in the area who ploughs so close to the hedgerows that the roots are ripped up or exposed! 'Times they are a-changin' claimed Bob Dylan. I only hope they change for the better hereabouts.


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