Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Kentle Wood in late April

Late April, and in Kentle Wood things are really on the move. Hundreds of wild cherries have been planted and these are now in bloom.

Small Tortoiseshell,  Aglais urticae,  nectaring on cherry
 blossom. Kentle Wood, Daventry. 20 April, 2015

The flowers provide both nectar and pollen and thus attract a range of insects.
Here a Small Tortoiseshell is taking nectar but only a few bees were showing an interest.
Crab Apple blossoms were almost open at Kentle Wood,
Daventry. 20 April, 2015

Some crab apples have been planted but this example was in a far older hedge bordering the north of the woodland. The Crab Apple, Malus sylvestris, does occur widely in Northamptonshire but many specimens may be hybrids and difficult to identify with certainty. Whatever their parentage, they are beautiful in this bud stage.

As I have remarked before, being a newly created woodland means that the ground flora of a mature woodland is absent, but this does not mean that the site lacks interest.

Glossy Bramble Pigmy mines from 2014.
Kentle Wood, Daventry. 20.April, 2015

Familiar characters are present with this bramble leaf displaying the mines of the Glossy Bramble Pigmy, Stigmella splendidissimella. This of course is a mine from last year, but this abundant little moth will soon be back.

Veronica polita at Kentle Wood, Daventry.
20 April, 2015
There are patches of Ground-ivy, Glechoma hederacea, present and also the dainty blue flowers of Grey Field Speedwell, Veronica polita. It is not a British native, its original home being in temperate Asia and north Africa; it was not known from Northamptonshire prior to 1842. Once very common on agricultural land it has now become scarce owing to the use of modern herbicides. It can easily be mistaken for Veronica persica, a much commoner plant.

Many insects were recorded. Most were small and not really photogenic but a notable exception was provided by Orange-tip Butterflies (Anthocharis cardamines). 

A male Orange-tip butterfly, Kentle Wood Daventry
20 April, 2015

Pairs of these flitted about and I began to despair of getting a photograph. Finally one specimen, clearly anxious to enjoy the limelight, posed nicely on a bramble leaf. Fortunately it was the more colourful male.

A queen Vespula vulgaris at Kentle Wood,
Daventry. 20.April, 2015

A large wasp proved to be a queen of the Common Wasp, Vespula vulgaris. She will build a small, golf-ball sized nest containing 20-30 cells and in these cells the first workers (all female) are reared. Once they emerge they take over all the general duties, except for egg-laying.

Hogweed already in flower. Kentle Wood, Daventry.
20 April, 2015

I was very surprised to find Hogweed, Heracleum sphondylium, already in flower. This species normally begins flowering sometime in June but it was in an area subject to mowing and this has probably disrupted its normal flowering pattern. Early insects will appreciate this source of nectar.

These leaf edges show the gall of a mite,
Phyllocoptes goniothorax. Kentle Wood. 23 April, 2015

Some hawthorns were coming into leaf by 20 April but no sooner had the leaves unfurled (23 April) than they were under attack. This tightly rolled leaf edge, with its red coloration, is caused by a mite, Phyllocoptes goniothorax

The shoots are frequently suffused with red, particularly when these tender leaves are under attack.

Hawthorn Shieldbug. Kentle Wood, Daventry.
23 April, 2015

I swept a hawthorn shrub with my net and secured this Hawthorn Shieldbug, Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale. Although by no means confined to hawthorn the colour of this bug is a perfect match for the young shoots, explaining why, prior to sweeping the bush, I hadn't noticed it. It was quickly released.
The distortion on these goosegrass leaves is caused by a 
 mite, Cecidophyes rouhollahi. Kentle Wood. 23 April, 2015

Other plants were under attack. Many plants of goosegrass, Galium aparine, had distorted shoots. Again a mite is the culprit, in this case Cecidophyes rouhollahi

My last visit of the month was on a chilly, windy and wet April 29. Not only was the weather depressing but an examination of some ash trees was even more depressing. 

Black and withered leaves are an indication of Ash
Dieback. Kentle Wood, Daventry.  29 April, 2015

Black, withered leaves on an ash tree showed clearly that it had been attacked by the fungus Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus. Known as Ash Dieback or Chalara, this is a disease which threatens to devastate Britain's ash trees. Many hundreds - perhaps thousands - have been planted in Kentle Wood; all are now under threat.

Also under attack was a Mountain Ash, Sorbus aucuparia. This tree, known commonly as Rowan, is unrelated to the true ash tree but has similar pinnately compound leaves.

The leaflets of Mountain Ash showing the pustules of a mite,
 Eriophyes pyri. Kentle Wood, Daventry.  29 April, 2015

The damage consisted of rounded pustules each about 2 mm across and on both surfaces of the leaflets. It is again the work of a mite, Eriophyes pyri, and appears to do no real harm.

It was now approaching noon. The sun had broken through and insects were on the wing.

A clump of white bluebells (surely an oxymoron) caught my eye and I stooped down to take a photograph. These had obviously been introduced, although possibly by accident.
Male or female? It matters not. Orange-tip Butterfly,
Kentle Wood, Daventry. 29 April, 2015

I was just straightening up when something else caught my eye. An Orange-tip Butterfly was clinging on to a flower in the still-buffeting wind. This view of the rear wings are doesn't allow identification to gender but, male or female, it was pleasing to have seen it.

April seems to be limping to a chilly and wet end but...    
                                        The driving boy, beside his team,
                                        Of May-month's beauty now doth dream.

We are a bit short of driving boys hereabouts but we all still anticipate May much as did John Clare's lad. Roll on!


Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Sophora and Marchantia

A couple of days ago, walking into Daventry, I was stopped in my tracks by a magnificent shrub tumbling over a wall.
Japanese Pagoda Tree, Badby Road West, Daventry.
27 April.2015

It was a specimen of the Pagoda Tree, Sophora microphylla. A member of the Pea Family, Fabaceae, it is more likely to be found in plant catalogues or garden centres under its old, confusing, name of Sophora japonica.

The pinnately compound leaves are distinctive.

The specific epithet of microphylla - small leaved -  is appropriate, for the leaflets on the pinnate leaves are tiny in view of the size of the opulent flowers, each an inch or so across.

Being from New Zealand, and having such an exotic appearance, one might expect it to be tender. In fact it is reasonably hardy and it would take a long and severe frost to cause its demise.

Marchantia polymorpha in a garden, Byfield, Northants
28 April, 2015
From a ten feet high shrub or small tree to a 1/4 inch high liverwort. There couldn't be a much greater contrast. The liverwort in question is Marchantia polymorpha and was growing in damp shady conditions in the garden of my friend Oliver Tynan. Despite its lowly stature it is a plant to be treated with caution. Often the soil around plants bought in a garden centre will be infested with Marchantia; every bit should be carefully removed and safely discarded.

Lophocolea bidentata in the meadow adjacent to High
Wood, near Preston capes, Northants. 26 April, 2015

Liverworts are often quite different in appearance from Marchantia and this tiny, delicate species, Lophocolea bidentata, was creeping through turf at High Wood last Sunday.

However, it is the so-called thallose species which earn these plants the name of liverwort. It will be seen that the surface of the thallus on Marchantia has the appearance of liver, albeit green. Liverworts are sometimes called hepatics, a word derived from the Greek hepatos, liver, and early herbalists may have used the plant in the treatment of liver complaints.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

High Wood and Meadow: April 2015 (Revised)

High Wood and Meadow, near Preston Capes, is a lovely reserve managed by the county Wildlife Trust. To the west is a fine woodland, much of it consisting of coppiced hazel, but with oak and some impressive cherry trees dominating. The coppicing regime means that it cannot be regarded as natural woodland, but it is almost as close as you will get in the English midlands.

Almost as important are the grassland areas to the south and east, forming about half of the reserve, which altogether covers some 40 acres. Like much of the land in the area the soil is mildly acid and studded with gorse. The reserve is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) so, although there is public access, collecting is strictly controlled.

The Northamptonshire Dipterists Study Group (NDSG) visited the reserve on Sunday, 26 April, arrangements having been made by John Showers. The reserve had received visits from the NDSG before, but usually later in the season. Obviously the main intention was to record diptera, (two-winged flies including house flies and their kin,  hoverflies, horse flies, mosquitoes and so on). However, although I anticipated recording lots of diptera, I also hoped to record true bugs, beetles and spiders.

We had enjoyed about a fortnight of dry weather so of course it rained on the Saturday evening and night giving us wet working conditions. The usual suspects turned up: John, Kevin Rowley, Jolyon Alderman, Graham Warnes and Brian Harding. The sun failed to put in an appearance, but it was dry and there was little wind.

As it turned out, the first thing to catch my eye was not an insect but a plant.

Moschatel, in the meadow adjoining High Wood.
26 April, 2015

Moschatel, aka Town-hall Clock, is an odd little plant, easily overlooked but deserving a closer look. It is scarce in Northants and seems to be completely absent from the middle of the county. In the evening as the dew falls the plant emits a musk-like smell, explaining one of its common names and also its Latin name, Adoxa moschatellina.

It is the only plant in the genus Adoxa and, until recently, was the only member of the Adoxaceae family found in Britain. However, as a consequence of genetic studies, many other plants such as the elder and the viburnums have been placed in this hitherto obscure family. Very odd!
24-spot Ladybird beaten from hawthorn.
High Wood and Meadow, 26 April, 2015

The Moschatel was growing beside a hawthorn and, on passing my sweep-net through the foliage I secured a 24-spot Ladybird, rejoicing in the name of Subcoccinella vigintiquatuorpunctata. The NBN Gateway Map shows no records for this part of the county but it is a common beetle.

Hawthorn Leaf-beetle. High Wood and Meadow.
26 April, 2015

From an adjacent hawthorn came another red beetle, distinctly ladybird-like but belonging to a different family. It was a Hawthorn Leaf-beetle, Lochmaea crataegi. It is also common but again the NBN Gateway shows almost a complete blank for Northants. There is no doubt the species will have been recorded in our county but the records have presumably not been passed on.

The 'fruiting head' of Great Horsetail.
High Wood and Meadow. 26 April, 2015 

Great Horsetail, Equisetum telmateiawas common on the reserve, with its curious fertile heads, technically known as sporangiophores, popping up everywhere. These primitive, non-flowering plants are often described as living fossils. They were much more numerous and diverse in late Paleozoic times and would have dominated the undergrowth of ancient forests. The sporangiophores contain no chlorophyll; leaves will appear later, forming whorls of green around ridged stems.

Mosaic Puffball, Handkea utriformis. High Wood and
Meadow. 26 April, 2015

This fungus had me scratching my head. Once home, out came my books and I eventually came up with Handkea utriformis, aka Lycoperdon utriforme (in older works, Calvatia utriformis): it has had more names than the Calder Hall/ Sellafield/ Windscale nuclear power complex.  Its common name is Mosaic Puffball and was growing on an ant mound in acid conditions.

The gorse was a blaze of colour on the hillsides but not a lot was present in the form of mini beasts. I recorded four species of woodlouse including the blind, albino Platyarthrus hoffmannseggi in an ant mound. It was time to investigate the woodland. 

Bluebells and primroses at High Wood.
26 April, 2015

High Wood is but one of a mosaic of important woodlands in this part of the county, others being Hen Wood, Mantles Heath and Everdon Stubbs. All are famous for their bluebells. But in fact there are many other lovely flowers to be seen in spring, all rushing to produce leaves and blooms before the tree canopy closes and cuts out much of the sunlight.

Bluebells, like the Mosaic Puffball, have had a host of names over the decades. When I first took an interest in botany the bluebell was Scilla non-scriptus, it then moved to a different genus, becoming Endymion non-scriptus and is currently known as Hyacinthoides non-scripta. Frustrating though it is there are sound reasons for these re-Christenings. We all hope that stability has now been reached.

Fortunately our Wood Anemone, Anemone nemorosa, has remained unchanged since Linnaeus named it in the year dot. Like many other members of the buttercup family it has been widely used medicinally. Nicholas Culpeper, writing in the 17th century, claimed that: "...the leaves being stamped (upon) and the juice being snuffed up the nose purgeth the head mightily."  I'll take his word for it.

Yellow Archangel,  Lamium galeobdolon (Lamiastrum galeobdolon, Galeobdolon luteum ... oh dear), was just coming into flower. This plant is a member of the mint Family, Lamiaceae, and like most of its relatives (mint, rosemary, lavender etc), the leaves have a distinctive smell. But in this case the smell is not a pleasant one, the name 'galeobdolon' meaning 'smelling like a weasel'.

Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage at High Wood.
26 April, 2015

Primrose and Red Campion were in flower too but by far the most interesting in terms of conservation was the Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage, Chrysosplenium oppositifolium. At one time it was only known from about five sites in the county however with more intensive recording that number has been approximately doubled, but it remains distinctly uncommon. In High Wood it is quite plentiful.

It is as well that the flora in the wood was interesting as I noted very few insects. Other members of the group did better and several cranefly species were recorded. But I departed quite early as I was picking Chris up in Byfield. 

Perhaps next time, given better weather...

Friday, 17 April 2015

Back to Byfield Pocket Park

After experiencing a riot of flowers around the Portuguese town of Tavira it was back to familiar ground with a visit to the pocket park at Byfield. I wasn't expecting dramatic findings, nor were there, but it was oddly reassuring to find that the year was unfolding here in a gentle manner.

Ground Ivy was in full bloom 15 April, 2015

Ground Ivy, Glechoma hederacea, was blooming freely. Like all members of the Mint family, its flowers are rich in nectar and were attracting visits from bumble bees. 

White Dead-nettle, Lamium album, was also in flower and, as another member of the Mint family, it too was receiving attention from bees. 

A Pied Shieldbug on a brick.  Byfield Pocket Park.
22 April, 2015
But White Dead-nettle is also the food plant of the Pied Shieldbug, Tritomegas bicolor, and many of these were scurrying around. They are almost frantically active, making photography tricky, but I had a go. The picture was dreadful so a few days later I revisited revisited the pocket park and this time an obliging specimen posed on a broken brick.

At about this time of the year I am often asked about 'bees with very long noses' seen visiting garden flowers. Invariably the insect in question is the Common Bee-fly. Bombylius major. With its furry brown coat it is undeniably bee-like and imbibes nectar in a similar manner via a very long proboscis. There are four species of Bombylius in Britain; all are parasites (in the larval stage) of solitary bees.

Bombylius major takes a break from its almost incessant
hovering. Byfield Pocket Park. 15 April, 2015

Bombylius major can be readily recognised by the dark patterning on the leading edge of the wing. It was very common on the day of my visit. In this picture it is quite clear that the fly has only two wings. Bees and wasps have four wings although it is not always obvious.

Small Tortoiseshell. Byfield Pocket Park.
15 April, 2015

A few butterflies were around, also taking advantage of the plentiful nectar sources. This Small Tortoiseshell only paused briefly before flitting off for refuelling.

A Peacock butterfly looking the worse for wear.
Byfield Pocket Park. 15 April, 2015

A rather tatty Peacock, Inachis io, also called in. Have its rear wings been victim to a bird strike?

Stigmatogaster subterranea is probably the most
familiar of the geophilid centipedes. Byfield Pocket Park
15 April, 2015
I turned over a few stones, hoping to reveal a ground beetle or two, but only found a centipede. We are all familiar with the glossy chestnut centipedes which - in my case - always seem to be under flower pots. Species like this Stigmatogaster subterranea are very sinuous creatures and seem able to move freely in the soil using crevices between soil crumbs. They are frequently exposed by gardeners while digging.

None of the species seen today represented a new record for the Pocket Park. Having to date recorded 538 species of 'mini-beasts' from the site they are inevitably becoming harder to find. But I live in hope.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Tavira, Portugal. Part 2

The holiday may have started wet but we were now enjoying lovely weather.

Friday (Day 5).

Off into the hills above Tavira for a 15 km walk.

We soon found ourselves in a strange landscape. It had obviously been forested along ago but over the centuries the land had been cleared. The soil was too poor for agriculture and the landscape was a riot of flowers.

On the outward journey I was fortunate enough to see a pair of Iberian Magpies, Cyanopica cooki. It is about the same size as our British magpie, Pica pica, but with blue wings against a paler body it is very distinct. For a long time it was thought to be identical with the Azure-winged Magpie, Cyanopica cyanus, of eastern Asia, but recent genetic tests have shown it to be a distinct species.

Cistus ladanifer covered hundreds of acres of hillside.
Above Tavira, Portugal. 11 April, 2015

Rock roses, mostly Cistus species, were everywhere, with the commonest being Gum Cistus, Cistus ladanifer. This has leaves covered in sticky glands and these yield a compound called labdanum, used in the perfume industry.

Cistus monspeliensis. Hills above Tavira, Portugal.
11 April, 2015

Almost as common was the Narrow-leaved Cistus, Cistus monspeliensis. There are several rather similar species and need to be distinguished with care - but I think I've got this one right.

Tuberaria guttata, a pretty annual in the Cistus family.
Hills above Tavira, 11 April, 2015

This very pretty annual is also a member of the Cistus Family, Cistaceae, but is sufficiently distinct to be placed in a different genus. It is Tuberaria guttata, known as the Spotted Rock-rose, and was frequent at the edges of arable fields. 

Gladiolus illyricus was much admired.
Near Tavira, 11 April, 2015

Among the most striking of the wayside flowers was Gladiolus illyricus. Interestingly this plant is native to Britain, being found in Dorset, Hampshire and on the Isle of Wight. It should surely be used more widely in gardens.

Heliotaurus ruficollis tucks into a meal of pollen.
Near Tavira, Portugal, 11 April, 2015

Heliotaurus ruficollis was one of the commoner beetles. A member of the Tenebrionidae, it was seen feeding on pollen, here on Crown Chrysanthemum,
Chrysanthemum coronarium.
Trichodes leucopsideus near Tavira, Portugal.
11 April, 2015

I only once saw Trichodes leucopsideus but this member of the Cleridae was unmistakable in its scarlet and black coloration. It can be distinguished from its close relatives by the pair of small black spots at the front of the elytra (wing cases).

Woodcock Orchid, Ophrys scolopax,
in the hills above, Tavira, Portugal.
10 April, 2015

Usually orchids are a source of discussion on ramblers holidays but here no one seemed much interested - except me. Probably the commonest species was the Woodcock Orchid, Ophrys scolopax. I struggled to obtain a decent picture as they were often on steep banks and no-one broke their stride, putting me in danger of being left behind.

Ophrys lutea, a common member of the Bee
 Orchid genus. Near Tavira, 11 April, 2015

The Yellow Bee-orchid, Ophrys lutea may have been slightly less common but its bright colours allowed it to be more easily spotted. 

Green-winged Orchid, Orchis morio.
Hills above Tavira. 11 April, 2015

Quite common too was the Green-winged Orchid, Orchis morio. This plant is native to the south of Britain but is quite uncommon. It even occurs in Northamptonshire, but here it is extremely rare

Lavandula viridis in the hills above Tavira.
11 April, 2015

I have tried your patience quite enough, but before leaving the hillsides I will mention one more plant. French Lavender, Lavandula stoechas, was common in the hills, often creating a sea of - er - lavender. But far more interesting was Lavandula viridis. In truth its green spikes of flowers were hardly dramatic but this very curious colour made a photograph essential.

On the last day (Day 6), we covered much the same ground in terms of landscape so predictably had no startling new finds.

Cork oak, with bark having been removed.
12 April, 2015

Cork Oaks, Quercus suber, grew in scattered groups beside the road and, as the photograph shows, were clearly being exploited. They may have been put to their traditional use as bottle corks but, with many wine producers now using metal caps, alternative uses are being made of this versatile material.

Chris bought an attractive cork purse in Tavira but bags and belts are also now being made from cork - and very attractive they are too. The material is soft, flexible and hard-wearing.

Speaking of Tavira, it is a lively, interesting town with plenty of good cafes (coffee was invariably excellent) and restaurants. But I was able to fight off the temptation to have an 'Octopus Burguer'.

The trunk of Zanthoxylem peperitum.
Roadside, Tavira, Portugal. 12 April, 2015

In the town we regularly passed interesting features which, for me, included some fine trees such as this Japanese Pepper Tree, Zanthoxylem piperitum, with its savagely thorny trunk and branches.

Not far away was a fine 'tree' (it is really a giant herb) of Strelitzia nicolai. Although clearly related to bananas it is placed in a different family with bananas being in the Musaceae and the Strelitzia being in the - you've guessed it - Strelitziaceae.

Strelitzia nicolai near our hotel in Tavira.
12 April, 2015

Its flowers must be deemed a disappointment, being curious rather than beautiful, but having the same structure as the lovely Bird-of-paradise Plant, Strelitzia regina.

Both species hail from South Africa.

Sunday (Day 7), home...

So, as the cartoons used to say, That's all folks!

And be warned, I'm off to the Isle of Wight later in the year.

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