Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Nature in a town centre

I visit Daventry town centre at least twice a week and try to carry my camera. "Dav" is not so different from many towns across Britain in that it appears at first glance to have little of interest to the wildlife enthusiast. However, I rarely return without having noted something worth a photograph. For example:

8 October, 2014
Stock Dove, Daventry Town Centre. 8 October, 2014

My attention was caught by a Stock Dove, Columba oenas, clambering around a bed of Cotoneaster shrubs near to the Leisure Centre. It made no attempt to fly, perhaps having been struck by a car. Although present in fair numbers (around 200,000 pairs in Britain) it is significantly less common than Rock Doves, i.e. street pigeons, or Wood Pigeons. 

Western Red Cedar in Daventry Town Centre.
8 October, 2014

Only a few yards away a Western Red Cedar, Thuja plicata, was bearing hundreds of pale yellow cones. This is a lovely tree for a large (correction - very large) garden. This tree, native to the slopes of the Rocky Mountains, emits a lovely resinous fragrance and is always graceful.

Clematis vitalba. Daventry town centre.
8 October, 2014

Again, a short distance away, Old Man's Beard, Clematis vitalba, clambered up through trees, with its long, feathery styles creating a froth of the very palest green. Its other name is Traveller's Joy, but at this time of the year the first name seems most apposite. It is Britain's only native Clematis although at least four other species have escaped from gardens to become fairly well established in the south of the country. Clematis vitalba is also very well established in the Sixfields area of Northampton.

14 October, 2014

A thoroughly miserable day - grey, damp and chilly - but was I daunted? Well, perhaps a little.

Insects didn't think much of the conditions either. A few Winter Gnats (Trichoceridae) danced here and there but beyond that, only a Common Wasp and a Harlequin Ladybird were out and about, both near to the town's library. The wasp, Vespula vulgaris, was investigating ivy blooms and, although the petals had fallen, there appeared to be something there to provide sustenance.

Harmonia axyridis, pupal case.
Daventry, 14 October, 2014
The Harlequin Ladybird, Harmonia axyridis, had probably emerged from its pupal casing a few hours earlier. The pupae of ladybirds can, with a little practice, be recognised down to species. When the adult first emerges from the pupal casing the elytra (wing cases) are pale and without discernible spots; often some hours pass before the full colours develop. The dark colours are derived from melanins; reds, oranges and yellows are based on carotenes.
Harmonia axyridis on ivy. The adult Harlequin Ladybird
has now assumed its full colours.
Daventry, 14 October, 2014

When I found the adult, a few centimetres from the empty pupal case, it had taken on its full coloration, showing that a considerable time has elapsed since it first emerged.

At various points around the town Japanese Spindle, Euonymus japonicus, has been planted. A small shrub, with leathery, evergreen leaves, it looks quite unlike our native spindle, Euonymus europaeus, but it is now in fruit, and suddenly the similarities are obvious.

Euonymus japonicus in fruit. Daventry town centre.
14 October, 2014

There are around 170 species of Euonymus around the world but all have a characteristic form of fruit. In Germany spindle is known as 'Pfaffenhutchen', which roughly translates as 'priest's hat' and refers to the appearance of the fruit as it splits. E. japonicus is unusual as the fruit in cross-section is circular; more often it is oval. Like ivy the red or pink flesh is an aril. The fruits are readily taken by birds which digest the aril then distribute the seeds in their droppings.

On my short walk I also noted three smuts/rusts and four leaf-mines. Ok, not a dramatic haul, but it was a dismal day.

Over recent months there have been calls for the establishment of a Greater London National Park (there is already a Greater London "Notional" Park). With 47% of London being green space and with 8 million trees one can see that there is a case to be made but I suspect it wouldn't fit in with general public understanding of the 'park' concept. Nevertheless it does serve to remind us that there is a wealth of wildlife in towns and cities. We just fail to see it.

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