Saturday, 18 October 2014

Daventry Country Park 2

On 9 September I visited Daventry Country Park, but only looked at a small area. Today I made my second visit. The intention was to cover a greater swathe of ground but, in the event, I again only had a stroll of a few hundred yards.

The problem was the miserable conditions. I had set out in bright sunshine but a belt of cloud stubbornly hung over the country park and the  grass and shrubs remained wet following recent rain.
Guelder-rose in fruit. Daventry Country Park.
17 October, 2014

Autumn fruits were to be seen everywhere, with large shrubs of Guelder-rose bearing heavy crops. The word 'guelder' appears to be German in origin but its precise meaning is unclear. George Claridge Druce, in his 1930 "Flora of Northamptonshire..." gives its status as "Local. Not common" and, but for abundant amenity planting, this would perhaps still be the case.

Viburnum opulus showing fruit and leaves. Daventry
Country Park. 17 October, 2014
Guelder-rose is a species of Viburnum, Viburnum opulus to be precise. It has a close native relative, Viburnum lantana, but whereas the latter has simple leaves, Guelder-rose has palmate leaves, as shown in the photographs. For over a century Viburnums have been included in the Honeysuckle Family but molecular studies suggest that it should be placed in the Adoxaceae Family.

In some place the foliage of Guelder-rose shrubs had taken on an attractive wine red coloration

Although Guelder-rose was putting on a fine show of fruit it was outdone by specimens of what I at first thought was Crataegus persimilis, known as the Broad-leaved Cockspur-thorn. This is a very widely planted species whose fruits linger on till spring, but I split open the fruit to examine the nutlets and found it was the genuine Cockspur-thorn, Crataegus crus-galli, a less commonly grown species. Both are natives of North America and both are armed with long thorns.

Crataegus persimilis, fruit and foliage.
Daventry Country Park, 17 October, 2014

These were planted of course but, although a British native, the Guelder-rose was almost certainly planted too. The Cockspur-thorn fruits will fall in the autumn, as will those of the Guelder-rose - if birds haven't already taken them.
Entomophthora muscae is likely to have caused the
 death of this fly. Daventry Country Park.
17 October, 2014

A dead fly clung to a twig with its body in a sort of mummified state. It had been attacked by a pathogenic fungus, almost certainly Entomophthora muscae. It is very widespread and most naturalists will have noted these corpses from time to time. The pose. with widespread wings, is typical and allows the fungal spores to be dispersed from the body with maximum efficiency.

Pollenia rudis (female) basking on a leaf at Daventry
Country Park. 17 October, 2014
Occasionally the sun would break through and, in these all-too-brief intervals, flies would gather on leaves and fence posts in order to bask. Being poikilothermic creatures, i.e. unable to control their own body temperature, insects will often use the sun's rays to warm up their tissues and overcome torpidity. Here a female Pollenia rudis is soaking up the warmth. Eight species of Pollenia are found in Britain and generally speaking this is the commonest but in the Byfield area it was frequently outnumbered by Pollenia angustigena.

Elasmucha grisea with a dark winter coloration.
Daventry Country Park. 17 October, 2014

A Parent Bug, Elasmucha grisea, was also taking advantage of the sun. The name refers to the female's habit of sitting over and guarding her eggs and, after the nymphs have emerged, remaining with them. They will seek cover beneath her body if alarmed and this behaviour will continue until their first moult. This specimen is taking on a dark colour in preparation for hibernation.

This strange creature, found on a Viburnum leaf, is the larva of a lacewing. It is facing left and its formidable jaws can just about be made out. Luckily it is only four millimetres long. It feeds almost exclusively on aphids and it piles the remains - hair and bits of skin - on its back to form a disguising (and disgusting?) sort of shield. It is probably Chrysoperla carnea.

So, a mixed bag of flora and fauna but no rarities. Of course, strolling in an almost wholly artificial environment one expects mundane species, but autumn can still throw up surprises. Watch this space.

Tony White. E-mail:

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