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...

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