Friday, 29 August 2014

Brown's Road

Inevitably, moving house ends with the dumping - sorry, recycling - of much rubbish. The recycling depot in Daventry is in Brown's Road, and today we made our fourth (or is it fifth?) visit. Chris dropped me off there (no comments please) and continued to Byfield; I made my way home.

Before leaving Brown's Road I had half an hour or so strolling around the area, just being nosy like.  
Sloe Bug on Weld. Daventry, 29 August, 2014

A plant of Weld, Reseda luteola, grew on disturbed ground at the roadside, a typical habitat for this species. On it was a Sloe Bug, Dolycoris baccarum. This is one of the prettiest of the shieldbugs and, although its colours become dull after death, the chequered patterning along the edge of the abdomen still makes it recognisable. Despite its name it is by no means confined to sloes, and will be found on a wide range of plants.

Damage caused by the Viburnum Leaf Beetle.
Brown's Road, Daventry. 29 August, 2014

I crossed the road to inspect a planting of ornamental shrubs. Lots of Viburnum had been included and the tell-tale signs of attack by the Viburnum Leaf Beetle, Pyrrhalta viburni, were everywhere. This insect is a serious problem and has spread rapidly over the past 30-40 years.

Pyrralta viburni mating. Brown's Road, Daventry.
29 August, 2014

It wasn't long before I found examples of the culprit. In fact there were hundreds of them and many, if not most, were mating.

Ichneumon suspiciosus. Brown's Road, Daventry.
29 August, 2014

A handsome ichneumon wasp alighted on a nearby leaf. I don't really deal with these insects, fascinating though they are, but I am reasonably confident that this is Ichneumon suspiciosus. The word ichneumon comes from the Greek, and means "tracker"; these insects track and hunt down insect prey.

Although I don't study Hymenoptera (wasps, bees, ichneumons, etc) I am an enthusiast regarding two-winged flies, i.e. diptera, so when a muscid fly caught my attention I moved to take a closer look.

Musca domestica, Brown's Road, Daventry.
29 August, 2014

In fact it was a Common House Fly, Musca domestica. Hardly worth photographing but it posed so nicely that to ignore it would have been churlish.

Leaves on an oak tree were mottled with unhealthy-looking yellow blotches. This usually indicates that they are bearing galls on the lower surface, so I wasn't surprised when I turned one over.

The galls were the work of a cynipid wasp, Neuroterus quercusbaccarum. It would be a challenge to find an oak tree in southern Britain to find a specimen not afflicted with these galls, yet they probably do little harm. In the form shown it is known as the Oak Spangle gall.

This picture, which I took in mid-April this year, shows a gall formed by the same species of wasp. In this form the gall is known as a Currant Gall and is common on oak catkins in April/May. From the Currant Gall the male and female wasps emerge. They mate and the fertilised eggs are laid on the underside of oak leaves to form, as we have seen, quite different galls. Another generation of the wasps emerge from the Spangle Galls in April to lay eggs on catkins, and the whole cycle starts again. This complicated arrangement is frequent among cynipid wasps and is clearly a successful strategy.

I had set out in cool, grey and windy conditions, but I was hoping that the weather would change. Well, it did change; it began to rain. August in England, heigh-ho! I put my camera away and strode home.

Thursday, 28 August 2014


We are all familiar with the line: 

                                     By this at Daintry, with a puissant troop

In case you've forgotten, it comes from Henry V1, pt 3. "Daintry" is, of course, Daventry and, in this context, puissant means "powerful". Why do I mention this? Heaven knows, but, with generosity of spirit, I wanted to share this snippet of information.

Moving on ...

Our garden is small, but there is much to be done. A pampas grass stands in the front garden, taking up more room than it merits. I will remove it, but stout gloves are a must.

Pampas grass, showing the saw-edged leaves.
8 Trinity Close, Daventry, SP566615   27 August, 2014

The leaves are saw-edged, with the "teeth" consisting of silica spines. These can give a nasty cut and in fact the name of this genus, Cortaderia, is derived from the Spanish word 'cortar' - to cut. The species is almost certainly Cortaderia selloana.

A couple of unhappy-looking roses are present in the front garden. They too will go, although one of the flowers was, earlier today, providing shelter for a Green Shield Bug.
Palomena prasina.

Palomena prasina on a rose flower. Trinity Close,
Daventry, 27 August, 2014

I will say little about this insect as I have mentioned it in previous blogs. It is one of our larger shieldbugs and, although it is obvious against this crimson background is is well camouflaged when on foliage. It will change colour during autumn to a dull brown and, overwintering among dead leaves, will again be inconspicuous.

Elasmostethus interstinctus on apple foliage.
Daventry. 27 August, 2014
Late summer is a good time to be seeking out bugs. A short distance down the road a Birch Shieldbug,  Elasmostethus interstinctus,  sat on the foliage of an apple tree. The food of the larvae consists of the green catkins of birch trees. There were plenty in the vicinity so this specimen was only a little off track.

Sharing the apple tree was a ladybird. It was one of the many variants of the Harlequin Ladybird, Harmonium axyridis, so common nowadays that it barely merits a mention - but I've mentioned it anyway, I don't want any hurt feelings.

So, back to work clearing more "Leylandii". As Lady Bracknell said, every man should have a hobby.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Daventry - at last!

Daventry isn't a wildly exciting town and its facilities are limited, but what it does have is a very pleasant area called Stefan Hill. Trees abound - there must be many hundreds of them - and people out for a stroll need only to walk a short distance to find one of several attractive stretches of park. On a still evening it is possible to hear sheep bleating from nearby fields. This is where Chris and I now find ourselves, and we are well pleased.

We have also been very lucky. For the first week after moving in there was no rain so, although temperatures were on the cool side for late August, we had ideal conditions for the thousand and one jobs that a house move invariably involves. We were fortunate too in that the house had been left in a spotless condition by the previous owners.

I am champing at the bit, eager to stroll around and familiarise myself with the trees and open areas but I've had to prioritize things. Nevertheless, I couldn't help but notice that the ivy is already in bloom, surely two or three weeks earlier than usual. A handsome hoverfly, Myathropa florea, basked on a leaf between visits to the nectar-rich flowers.

Myathropa florea on ivy. Ashby Road, Daventry
20 August, 2014

This specimen, a female, shows the pair of distinctive greyish bars between the wings at a point near to where they join the thorax. It is a  bee mimic and, despite the fact that it only has one pair of wings (bees and wasps have two pairs) is moderately convincing - presumably enough to deter most birds.

A couple of days have passed since I began this blog. Virtually all the jobs have been dealt with and I now feel free to begin looking at the local wildlife...and the rain is sheeting down! I remain thwarted,

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Another last blog!

Well, we should have been moving today, but now it won't be until the 14th.

As Robbie Burns said:   'The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
                                  Aft gang agley'

Actually, what he originally wrote was:  'The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
                                                           Often go up the Swanee'

But he decided that readers wouldn't understand that, so he went with 'Aft gang agley'.

So here we sit, surrounded by boxes and packing cases, waiting for another week before we can depart!

I took the opportunity to prune a climbing rose which had not only become too large but had developed mildew. I took a pair of loppers to a stout branch and as I did so I saw that it was covered with brown limpet-like scales.

This pest, known as European Fruit Lecanium (or simply Brown Scale insect), is very widespread but never apparently included on recording sheets by entomologists; perhaps it is too troublesome to spell. Parthenolecanium corni is certainly a mouthful.

Parthenolecanium corni on rose branch.
Byfield, 5 August, 2014

In fact, the conical brown excrescences are just the dead scales left by this insect, a bug belonging to the Coccidae. The species is more common on Pyracantha bushes but is known from several genera in the Rose Family. It could have been there for many months without me being aware of it.

Speaking of unawareness, earlier today I parked my car beneath an oak tree adjacent to the Village Hall. I must have passed the tree a couple of times every week for the past 8-9 years, say between 750 and 1000 times. I looked up into the branches and saw for the first time that it is a Turkey Oak. How embarrassing is that!

The fruit of the Turkey Oak. Byfield, 6 August, 2014

There really is no excuse. The 'cup' is covered in rather long, hooked spines and the smallish acorn is almost concealed among these outgrowths. This species, Quercus cerris, is a native of central and southern Europe and is widely planted. It can become a pest and efforts have been made to eradicate it from some areas.

I must keep my eyes open!


Friday, 1 August 2014

Last blog from Byfield

After nine very enjoyable years in Byfield Chris and I are off in a few days to Daventry. "Dav" is quite a small town (pop. c. 27,000) but one of considerable interest. Of course we'll miss Byfield but I am being very positive.  We will be within easy reach of quite a good range of shops and yet only a short distance - about 400 metres as the crow flies (although it a well-known fact that crows fly in yards) - of open countryside. Our garden will be far smaller, but much more manageable; as far as I am concerned that is a big plus. As I write a pungent smell drifts through the window; they've been muck-spreading somewhere nearby. That is something I won't miss! We have made lots of friends here too but we'll be less than ten miles away so we will keep coming back.

As I took a brief stroll through Byfield earlier today I was struck by the profusion of galls on a hybrid Lime tree (Tilia x europaea) in the main street. 

Common Lime galled by the mite, Eriophyes tiliae.
Byfield, 31 July, 2014

The galls are the work of mites, Eriophyes tiliae, and I have rarely seen such an infestation. Generally speaking these galls and their mites probably do little harm to the host tree, but on this scale, a small effect would seem likely. 

Nearby, on a patch of waste ground, a plant of Fat Hen, Chenopodium album, was host to an interesting leaf-miner.

The culprit was a small moth, Chrysoesthia sexguttella, known as the Six-spot Neb. It is not a rare moth. It is generally described as 'local',  but the status often reflects the distribution of wildlife recorders rather than the actual insect.

On the edge of Daventry is a country park. It consists of a range of habitats around Daventry reservoir and, as far as I am aware, little wildlife recording has taken place there. To draw up a list of the flowering plants and invertebrates of the site could be a useful project, perhaps serving as a base line for recorders of future generations - and if I get in a brisk walk that will be a bonus. We'll see.

In the meantime there's packing to be done: microscopes, books and journals, computer, cd's, plus trivia such as clothes and furniture. So, get to it Tony.