Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Woodford Halse...not just railway memories

People of an older generation will remember Woodford Halse as a very important rail centre on the former Great Central.  Its position, midway between London and the vital coalfields of Nottinghamsire, led to the development of a huge Locomotive Power Depot (these were invariably known as "sheds") and the railway was overwhelmingly the largest source of employment in the area.

This has all gone. Much of the trackbed north and south of the village, together with bridges and cuttings, remains, but of the old shed area there is little trace.

There is however an interesting legacy in the form of wildlife. Woodford Halse has a nature reserve (which also serves as a pocket park) and some of the old cuttings are exceedingly rich in flowers, insects and other forms of wildlife. The site of the old loco shed is now well wooded, partly as a result of planting, and I decided that it merited a visit.

One part of the site is adjacent to gardens and this has inevitably led to some unexpected plants jumping over the wall and establishing themselves. 

Episyrphus balteatus on Chicory. Woodford Halse at SP541527.
14 July, 2014
Is Chicory, Chicorium intybus, such a plant? It is surely a garden escape in many places. In Gent and Wilson's 1995 flora it was suggested that it could be native to our county, but by 2012 the same authors simply referred to it as a casual. Native or not, it is a very popular plant with insects. Within two or three minutes I had noted three species of hoverflies including hordes of the Marmalade Fly, Episyrphus balteatus. There must have been well over a hundred of these very common insects present.
Eristalis horticola visiting Chicory.
Woodford Halse, 14 July, 2014

Eristalis horticola was present too. If Episyrphus balteatus mimics a small wasp, then this surely is a honey bee lookalike. There are several Eristalis species native to Britain and this this is among the commoner.

Butterflies were also calling in to refuel. A skipper posed nicely for me; it is almost certainly a Small Skipper, Thymelicus flavus but could be an Essex Skipper, Thymelicus lineola. They are very similar and it was many years before it was realised that two species are involved. For certain identification the underside of an antenna tip needs to be checked, but my photograph doesn't allow this. What is certain is that it is a male, indicated by the little dark mark in the middle of the forewing.

Hedge Bindweed, Calystegia sepium.
Woodford Halse, 14 July, 2014

I moved on, pausing only to examine the flowers of Hedge Bindweed, Calystegia sepium. As a lad I puzzled over the specific epithet 'sepium'; surely, I thought, that means brown - and if so, what is brown about it? In fact, as my readers worldwide will know, it comes from the Latin sepes, a hedge Druce, in his 1930 flora of Northamptonshire, uses the word 'septal' in connection with hedgerow plants, but whereas this word has become almost obsolete, Hedge Bindweed, a relatively scarce plant in his day, has prospered greatly, to become familiar to us all. The flowers generally receive many insect visitors - but my bearded countenance had clearly spooked them.

Circaea lutetiana at Woodford Halse.
14 July, 2014

Undeterred, I pressed on. A patch of Enchanter's Nightshade, Circaea lutetiana, caught my attention. How strange that such an evocative name should be applied to such a dull plant! Not only is it lacking beauty, it can be an invasive garden weed, being a nuisance in my own borders. I had only interrupted my stroll in order to check for a rust, Puccinia circaeae, which causes gall-like structures on the stems and leaves, but this clump was clear of the problem.

A birch tree was next to catch my attention. A few passes through the foliage netted several insects species including some leafhoppers, i.e Cicadellidae species.  Onocopsis flavicollis was present and, as this is widespread on birches, was no great surprise. I was pleased also to take Onocopsis subangulata, a very similar but slightly scarcer species. It gave me a good opportunity to examine the two species side-by-side under the microscope and I was able to see that there was significant variation in the ovipositors, with O. subangulata having a longer and straighter one. Leafhoppers can be tricky but in these two cases the ovipositor form is diagnostic so the identification was clear.

I was intrigued by a small (3 mm) beetle present in the haul. Under the microscope its oddly-shaped head looked vaguely familiar. Where had I seen it before? After a few minutes with  Unwin's "Families of British Beetles" I found that it was a member of the Anobiidae family. With that information I was able to track it down and give it a name: it was Anobium fulvicorne, the Furniture Beetle. Perhaps I had seen it before on leaflets about household pests. Anyway, it was a pleasing find - though far too small for my camera to deal with.

A little further on was an oak; oaks always merit investigation.

Iassus lanio taken from oak. Woodford Halse,
Northamptonshire. 14 July, 2014

A few sweeps with the net and I found that I had secured three specimens of Iassus lanio. It is a common species on oak with its size (c 7 mm) and coloration making it distinctive. 

Iassus lanio. Specimens from oak, Woodford Halse,
Northamptonshire. 14 July, 2014

The previous picture showed the typical coloration, but there is a degree of variability as shown by these specimens - but the species remains distinctive.

The mine formed by the larva of Stigmella ruficapitella.
On oak at Woodford Halse, Northants. 14 July, 2014

Finally, I made a brief examination of the foliage and found the mine of a micro-moth, Stigmella ruficapitella. The line of frass (or, to use the technical term, poo) was broad and confined to the upper surface of the leaf. The moth is widespread through much of Britain.

So, nothing dramatic, but I was rather impressed with the results of just a fleeting visit. It is just one of many sites to which I intend to return...sometime.

e-mail: diaea@yahoo.co.uk


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