Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Poplars in Parsons Spinney

Although I visited Parsons Spinney as recently as 11 March I decided to take another look. A very limited variety of plants occurs on the floor of the spinney, but these include stinging nettles and brambles and by high summer they make progress difficult without a machete!

Sallow, Salix caprea. Parsons Spinney.
19 March, 2014
A single plant of Goat Willow, aka Sallow (For us as children it was always Pussy Willow) was in bloom on the edge of the spinney. The most recent "Flora of Northamptonshire" (Gent & Wilson, 2012) states: 'Always a common tree in all parts of the county.' All I can say is that it isn't common in the Byfield area. Incidentally I haven't been able to establish the plant's association with goats but I suspect that the branches were fed to them.

Catkins of Grey(?) Poplar. Parsons' Spinney,
near Byfield. 19 March, 2014
I pushed on through the spinney and after 150 metres or so began to notice pink-red catkins littering the woodland floor. I looked up and saw that they were from Poplars. There were quite a lot of the trees, all of about the same height and girth, so were almost certainly planted. As they were not in leaf I wasn't sure of the species but were probably  Grey Poplar (Populus canescens). Whether deliberately planted or not, poplars in general are excellent trees for their wildlife value, with our native Black Poplar, Populus nigra, known to be used by over 100 insect species. Most of these insects feed on the foliage but a proportion are wood borers.

The majority of the trees appeared to be healthy but further on I found a number of specimens that had died. They were a loss to the landowner who had doubtless planted them as a long-term cash crop, but wildlife was still utilising it.

Woodpecker holes in Poplar.
Parsons Spinney. 19 March, 2014

Woodpeckers had been busy making large holes and, where trees had fallen, I was able to get a closer look at their work.

Close up of woodpecker hole
19 March, 2014

The edge of this hole has been worn smooth by adults making hundreds of visits to feed their young.

Daldinia concentrica on fallen Poplar. Parsons
Spinney, 19 March, 2014

In death these trees will still support a huge array of wildlife, particularly wood boring insects. Already fungi were at work with some fallen specimens bearing a rash of King Alfred's Cakes, Daldinia concentrica

High in the healthy trees a rather large rookery was very active, with dozens of birds wheeling around, the air loud with their excited calls.

Small Tortoiseshell  Aglais urticae at the edge of
Parsons Spinney  19 March, 2014

I left the dappled shade of the spinney and stepped out into bright sunshine. A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly was on a piece of plant stem, its wings spread as if to catch the warmth. It obligingly allowed me to get a photograph - unlike Brimstones over recent days which have take to the wing as I neared, no matter how stealthy my approach.

So, nothing dramatic today; just a pleasant walk to stretch the legs and get some fresh air. That'll do me.

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