Friday, 29 May 2015

Kentle Wood: the survey continues

After enduring four or five distinctly chilly and wet days the weather relented and allowed me the chance to get out to Kentle Wood.

Clytus arietis at Kentle Wood.
21 May, 2015

I wasn't expecting rarities but a number of interesting species were soon found, such as this Wasp Beetle, Clytus arietis. The specimen photographed was one of three noted as I strolled along the rides.

One of the Cardinal beetles. This is Pyrochroa
serraticornis. Kentle Wood.  21 May, 2015

The same was true of Cardinal Beetles, Pyrochroa serraticornis. Three were noted on a ten foot length of hawthorn hedgerow. Is this going to be an exceptionally good year for them or was I just lucky?  In fact this is a common beetle and I ought not to have been surprised.

My net holds the larva of Dark Marbled Carpet.
Kentle Wood, Daventry.  21 May, 2015
These two boldly marked insects were very easy to spot but this well-camouflaged caterpillar wasn't seen by me until I examined the contents of my net after sweeping willow. It is one of the carpet moths and I am fairly confident that it is Dark Marbled Carpet, Dysstroma citrata. I am no expert on moths but the colours and patterning are right, the food-plant is correct and this specimen has blunt anal points. Also it is a widespread and common species.

Vicia sativa: common but lovely.
Kentle Wood, Daventry. 21 May, 2015

On the subject of common species, many more plants were in flower but nothing unexpected was found. Were Common Vetch, Vicia sativa, a rarity people would flock to see its lovely flowers. As it is we take it for granted but it merits a closer look. It is abundant at Kentle Wood - as it is almost everywhere.  The specific name 'sativa' means cultivated, and this plant was once grown as a fodder crop.

Geranium columbinium at Kentle Wood.
21 May, 2015

Long-stalked Crane's-bill, Geranium columbinum, is a common plant of roadsides and similar places. There are many lovely plants in the Geranium genus, but this, to be honest, is not one of them. Just a handful of specimens were noted.

The survey is going well. The day's work pushed the number of flowering plants recorded up to 24. In a newly planted woodland the total was never going to be huge but the next few months should double that total. As for invertebrates, that figure now stands at 142 species, including 25 spiders, 15 true bugs, 34 beetles and 47 two-winged flies. And it is only May.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Byfield - the Pocket Park revisited

It is now about ten months since Chris and I left Byfield, but we still seem to get there two or three times a week. Today it was Coffee Club, but before settling down to a coffee, biscuit and chinwag I had time to take a stroll around the pocket park.

There are at least four approaches to the site and I chose to enter from the cricket pavilion area.
The approach to the pocket park.
27 May, 2015

A foaming mass of Cow Parsley ('Keck') billowed on either side of the track. Individually the tiny flowers have no discernable scent but en masse they have a pleasant and distinctive fragrance, evoking childhood memories. As kids we would wander beside the plants and choose a suitable hollow stem to make a peashooter. It was possible to make a sort of musical instrument with them too. My aspirations didn't reach that high, but John Clare's clearly did...

              And keck made bugles spout their twanging sounds
              Though trumpet kecks are passed unheeded by,
              Whose hollow stalks inspired such eager joy.

                                                                    Shepherd's Calendar, 1827

Vicia sepium. Byfield Pocket Park.
27 May, 2015

The tall and robust keck lent support to Bush Vetch, Vicia sepium. Only tiny flies were visiting the keck but bumble bees were busy at the vetch. Sepia is cuttlefish ink and sepium is its bone, often placed in budgerigar cages. Unsurprisingly, in my youth, I failed to see the connection between a cuttlefish and this vetch, but of course I was way off beam (a common situation in my younger days) for in the context of Bush Vetch - and several other plants - the specific name comes from the Latin sepes: a hedge. Most vetches have weak stems and cling to more robust plants using tendrils, and find hedgerows a congenial habitat.
A Rowan, Sorbus aucuparia, remembers John Caldwell.
Byfield Pocket Park.  27 May, 2015

A few month ago an old friend, John Caldwell, passed away. Chris and I decided to plant a tree in his memory and chose a rowan. One reason for visiting the pocket park was to check on the tree's condition and I was delighted to find that it was doing very well and in full flower. Although a few rowan saplings have been planted this is, as far as I am aware, the only one mature enough to bear blossom and it is a fine sight.
Cassida rubiginosa on thistle in Byfield Pocket park.
27 May, 2015

Almost beneath the tree, on a thistle, sat a green beetle. I counted myself fortunate to have spotted it for at a distance it looked no more than a green, rounded blister on the leaf. It was a Thistle Tortoise beetle, Cassida rubiginosa, a widespread species the presence of which was no great surprise. It is one of several similar beetles which must be distinguished with care.

Dryophilocoris flavoquadrimaculatus in Byfield
Pocket Park. 27 May, 2015
I saw no other beetles but a beetle-like bug was noted on a stinging nettle leaf. I had to lean across a bed of the nettles for a picture and my photograph is not as crisp as I would have liked - but I wasn't prepared to get any closer! It is - wait for it - Dryophilocoris flavoquadrimaculatus. Phew! It is one of the mirid bugs, a large and challenging family which daunted me a little when I first began investigating them. Fortunately this species is easily recognised and is common, usually on oak.

Stinging nettles are the food plant of the Small Tortoiseshell 
butterfly.Byfield Pocket Park. 27 May, 2015
I was pleased also to find on the nettles some caterpillars of the Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly, Aglais urticae. Ok, its a very common species but so many butterflies are having a bad time that it is good to be reminded that some are flourishing. Incidentally there is a Large Tortoiseshell and it was widespread in Britain during Victorian times. It is still found on the continent but is considered extinct in Britain.

This, plus a weevil, Perapion violaceum on a dock leaf, and a leaf beetle, Altica palustris, pushed the total of invertebrates recorded in the pocket park up to 542 species.

Two-spot Ladybird larva.
Byfield Pocket park. 27 May, 2015
Speaking of oak, this creature was on an oak leaf nearby.  It is, of course, the larva of a ladybird, in this case a Two-spot Ladybird, Adalia bipunctata. (Later in the day, at a meeting of the Boddington Garden Club, I showed this picture to some of the members. None knew what it was and they were surprised when I told them. Surely gardeners ought to know these things.)

Beneath the oak was a lovely spread of Red Campion, Silene dioica. This species is enjoying a very good year it seems, and is flourishing along roadsides and in woodland clearings.

Red Campion, Silene dioica, in Byfield Pocket Park.
27 May, 2015

I spent some time examining the plants. It is the food-plant of a couple of bug species, Dicyphus globulifer and D. constrictus, but I was out of luck.

Esperia sulphurella in Byfield  Pocket
Park. 27 May, 2015

Finally, leaving the pocket park, this moth, Esperia sulphurella, was resting on the wall of the cricket pavilion. It has the odd 'common' name of Sulphur Tubic; what it means I have no idea. Its caterpillars feed on the fungus, Daldinia concentrica.

So, not a very long visit, but  a very worthwhile one. Now, coffee...

Friday, 22 May 2015


Forget-me-nots in a Byfield garden. The species is
 Myosotis sylvatica. 11 May, 2015

Forget-me-nots are at their peak now and, as I photographed these examples in a friend's garden recently I was reminded of the story relating to their odd name.

It would appear that one spring day, in medieval Germany, a knight and his lady were strolling along the bank of a river. The armour-clad knight bent down to gather a posy of flowers for her but lost his balance. He fell into the water and, dragged down by his armour, the doomed man could only fling the flowers to his beloved with the words, 'Vergisz mein nicht' - 'Forget me not!' 

There are two possible reactions to this tale: a. How romantic! or b. What a plonker!

John Clare offers an alternative:

                      The mouse-ear looked with bright blue eye
                      And said Forget-me-not,
                      And from the brook I turned away
                      But heard it many an after day.

                                                                         Asylum Poems

(Clare died in Northampton Asylum in 1864.)

Forget-me-nots, of which there are about nine species in Britain, belong to the genus Myosotis in the Boraginaceae family. They are thus related to borage, comfreys and lungworts.
Myosotis arvensis on a roadside near Daventry.
14 May, 2015

Garden Forget-me-nots are usually forms of the Wood Forget-me-not, Myosotis sylvatica but the very weedy Field Forget-me-not, Myosotis arvensis, can crop up in  gardens. There it will become a nuisance and plants need to be whisked out before seedlings begin to pop up everywhere. The flowers on the pictured specimens were only 3 to 4 millimetres wide.

A close-up shows that they flowers are of a delicate china-blue, pretty under a hand-lens but otherwise without any impact. A definite no-no in the garden. 
Green Alkanet beside a road in Daventry.
22 May, 2015

If you are looking for a Forget-me not with real impact you could consider this fine plant...except that it isn't a Forget-me not at all but is Green Alkanet, Pentaglottis sempervirens. It is closely related to Myosotis but over the years has been placed in various genera - Anchusa, Buglossa, Buglossus, Caryolopha and Omphalodes. 

I have mentioned the name 'Alkanet' in a previous blog. It comes from the Spanish, alcaneta, which in turn is derived from the Arabic, al-henna. It yields a dye which can be used as a substitute for genuine henna.

Green Alkanet reaches a height of about two feet but (there is always a 'but') it can be invasive. Some botanists consider that it may be a British native but on balance that seems unlikely and it always seems to occur close to gardens or on waste ground.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Hartwell Pocket Park - amended

Our long-time friend Sue Hamilton asked me if I'd do a survey of Hartwell Pocket Park. I had already paid a visit there for the same reason, but that was some five years ago. The list needed updating and I was happy to oblige. 

Chris accompanied me, with Sue joining us about five minutes after our arrival. The weather was lovely and the conditions could hardly have been better. It was immediately clear that the pocket park had matured and improved considerably in the intervening years.

I decided to survey the area by first checking out the grass-herbs area, following with the planted borders of flowers and finally sweeping trees and shrubs.

The Small Purple and Gold Moth.
Hartwell Country Park. 17 May, 2015

Red Campion, Silene dioica, had increased greatly in abundance. Some plants were growing through a clump of mint and a Mint Moth, Pyrausta aurata, otherwise known as the Small Purple and Gold, was feeding on the campion flowers.

A Cardinal Beetle, Pyrochroa serraticornis.
Hartwell Pocket Park, 17 May, 2015

Also on the mint was this beetle. It is a Cardinal Beetle, Pyrochroa serraticornis, a common beetle and not to be confused with the scarcer Pyrochroa cardinalis, which has a black head.

Dock Bug, Coreus marginatus, at Hartwell
Pocket Park. 17 May, 2015

There were a few plants of Broad-leaved Dock, Rumex obtusifolius, around so it was no surprise to find the Dock Bug, Coreus marginatus, present as their eggs are laid on dock leaves.  Oddly, a standard book, 'Insects on Dock Plants' by Salt and Whittaker, makes no mention of this insect.

Woundwort Bugs in copula. Hartwell Pocket Park.
17 May, 2015

The Woundwort Bug, Eysarcoris venustissima, is a smart little insect. I saw no Woundwort in the Pocket Park but there was plenty of White Dead-nettle, Lamium album, which is an alternative food-plant. This mating pair was only one if several couples busy on producing the next generation.

Nettle-tap moth. Hartwell Pocket Park.
17 May, 2015

One of the most common and widespread of the micro-moths is the Nettle-tap, Anthophila fabriciana. As the name suggests, the larval food plant is common nettle. The caterpillars feed on the upper side of the leaf, using web to draw the edges of the leaf together to form a tent-like retreat. Here it sits on a grass blade.
Pachygnatha clercki was found on a leaf.
Hartwell Pocket Park.  17 may, 2015

Pachygnatha clercki is a very common and neatly marked little spider and I was not surprised to find a specimen. 'Pachygnatha' means 'thick-jawed' and we have a dozen or so species within this group here in Britain.

A male Anthomyia procellaris loafing on a leaf at Hartwell
Pocket Park. 17 May, 2015 

The Anthomyidae is a family of flies which can be very challenging to identify. Fortunately members of the genus Anthomyia have black and grey patterning on the thorax, the form of which is very helpful to the dipterist. This is one of the commonest species, Anthomyia procellaris, basking in the sunshine.

Wayfaring Tree. Hartwell Pocket Park.
17 May, 2015

I was surprised - and pleased - to find a specimen of the Wayfaring Tree, Viburnum lantana, blooming in the bordering hedge. Surprised because, although it must surely have been present, I had overlooked it on my previous visit, but I suppose that in five years it could have grown from a sapling to what is now a large shrub.

The hedgerow shrubs at the boundary of the pocket park merit more attention. The main species present is Common Hawthorn, Crataegus momogyna, together with a little Midland Hawthorn, Crataegus laevigata.

Blackthorn is also an important component of this boundary. Many of the leaves were disfigured with pustules, mainly along the edge, caused by a tiny mite Eriophyes similis. This is a widespread mite but its activities seem to do no significant damage.

Time was ticking by and I could really have done with another couple of hours. As it was I decided to call it a day. The site still has much to reveal, particularly in the form of spiders and smaller beetles. Perhaps another visit in four weeks or so? This visit added 48 species to the list for the pocket park, including 11 flowering plants and 31 insects.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Newnham windmill again

On previous visits to the windmill at Newnham I had been impressed by the way in which the surrounding land had clearly been managed for wildlife. I had resolved to visit the area again properly equipped to record insects and spiders.

I had already been assured that people were encouraged to stroll around and enjoy the area and today I was fortunate to meet the landowner, the genial Matthew 'Matt' Moser. He was pleased to hear of my aims and I offered to send him a list of my findings.

Pignut, Conopodium majus, was common around the windmill.
15 May, 2015

The walk up to the windmill involved crossing flower-rich, rather acid pasture with Pignut, Conopodium majus, in some abundance. In Druce's 1930 flora of the country it is described as being 'common in all the districts'. It is now much diminished and in Gent and Wilson's 2012 flora it is described as 'occasional'.

Lady's Smock, Cardamine pratensis and Betony, Betonica officinalis, were present in considerable quantities, with the latter not yet in flower. Matt intends to leave the pasture ungrazed and then gather the seed for distribution across other parts of his land. This is excellent practice.

Sheep's Sorrel was plentiful. 15 May, 2

Sheep's Sorrel, Rumex acetosella, was also present. This slender species of dock is still common but I'll be keeping an eye on these specimens as some interesting weevils and gall-causing insects are associated with this plant. Sheep's Sorrel is not related to Wood Sorrel but both have a sharp taste when the leaves are nibbled due to the presence of oxalic acid. Rhubarb, a relative of Sheep's Sorrel, has a sour taste for the same reason.

Another common but interesting plant was Good Friday Grass, Luzula campestris, a plant that derives its common name from the fact that it appears around Good Friday. Its more 'proper' name is Field Wood-rush - but it is not a rush or indeed a grass, but a type of sedge. It will often pop up in suburban lawns.

Field Wood-rush, showing the twisted white stigmas.
15 ay, 2015

A close-up shows the long white stigmas (the top part of the style, designed to receive pollen).  Each stigma - there are three to each style - is twisted into a helix. Not a dramatic plant but, as I say, interesting. It is wind-pollinated.

The day had started cool and rather cloudy; the conditions were now getting brighter and insects were making themselves obvious. It was time to start looking for interesting species.

Empis tessellata from pasture near Newnham windmill.
15 May, 2015

This dance fly was soon in my net. It is a female Empis tessellata, a fairly large (9-12 mm) and common species. It has rather dark 'thighs' (femora) and this, together with other features, helps to distinguish it from  the similar Empis opaca, whose femora are quite a bright orange. Males of these two species will catch an insect and present it to the female.

I pressed on and soon reached the graffiti-daubed windmill. Matt tells me that he is arranging for tests to be carried out to see if the graffiti paint can be removed. It will be an expensive job. 

Cydia ulicetana from gorse near Newnham windmill.
15 May, 2015

Gorse bushes studded the hillsides and it was no surprise when I swept this little (6mm) moth from the spiny branches. It is Cydia ulicetana, known as the Gorse Pod Moth or the Grey Gorse Piercer. No one would call it spectacular but I was pleased to find a moth I hadn't seen for some years, when it was known as Cydia succedana.

Hawthorn was flowering profusely

Hawthorn was flowering beautifully, filling the air with its fragrance and attracting a few insects. Among these were very few bees; I didn't see a single honey bee and only a couple of bumble bees were noted.
Midland Hawthorn, showing the rounded leaf lobes.
Below Newnham windmill, 15 May, 2015

Many of the bushes proved to be Midland Hawthorn, Crataegus laevigata. The leaves tend to taper towards the base and the lobes are rounded.

There was no sign of cattle but I found their fresh dung. It was attracting dung beetles in some quantity and I managed to secure a few. Somebody has to do it!

The beetles were getting their lunch and suddenly I also felt hungry. Three hours had flown by and I decided to call it a day. And it had been a good day too! 

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Kentle Wood in early May

I have little expertise with regard to wasps, bees ants and sawflies. Moths are also a weak area for me, as are grasshoppers and their kin; ditto snails and slugs. Nevertheless, with these limitations in mind I am aiming to do as thorough a survey as possible of the invertebrates of Kentle Wood and today I set out on a pleasantly warm morning to continue the work.

In fact I was sidetracked before even entering the woodland. At the end of Browns Road, at SP554625, stands a line of about ten poplars. they are Balsam Poplars, Populus balsamifera, or a closely related species. Whatever they were, the air was fragrant with the lovely scent of balsam resin.

Many of the leaves bore regular pale spots. I suspect this is not a disease but a natural feature of the species. Certainly I have observed it at other sites.

Phratora laticollis beetles were abundant.
Browns Road, Daventry. 12 may, 2015
A female Syrphus ribesii basks on a poplar leaf.
Browns Road, Daventry. 12 May, 2015

Whatever the species it was proving extremely popular (sorry, no pun intended) with beetles. Dozens of the leaf beetle, Phratora laticollis, were present, many of them mating. Although this beetle is occasionally found on willows it is overwhelmingly a poplar specialist.

This hoverfly, Syrphus ribesii, was loafing on a leaf. Ribes is, of course, the gooseberry/blackcurrant genus but this insect appears to have no particular association with these plants.

This hoverfly, Dasysyrphus albostriatus was taken from
poplar at Browns Road, Daventry, 12 May, 2015

Also present - and of more interest - were two other hoverfly species: Xylota segnis and this smart female Dasysyphus albostriatus. Neither is rare but may be new records for this area.

A tiger cranefly, Nephrotoma appendiculata, was also present together with a host of other flies of no interest except to the enthusiast.

And so on to Kentle Wood. With a strong wind blowing I worked at ground level investigating grass tussocks. Again the species recorded are of no general interest.

Mythimna conigera  at Kentle Wood, Daventry.
11 May, 2015
The caterpillar of a Brown-line Bright-eye moth, Mythimna conigera was feeding on grass. This moth is not to be confused with 
the far commoner Bright-line Brown-eye, Lacanobia oleracea, a pest species often found in gardens. (I always have to double-check the name!)

Click beetles were very common in this situation too. Their common name comes from the fact that they are to leap in the air while on their backs, making a distinct clicking sound. Their larvae, known as wireworms, are a pest of agricultural crops. I examined four specimens and all proved to be the Dusky Wireworm Beetle, Agriotes obscurus. Rather disappointing as this had already been recorded from the site.

The survey is going well. Before today I had recorded 17 species of flowering plant (ignoring those trees planted to create the woodland), 2 fungi (not really my thing) and 109 invertebrates including 21 species of spider, 23 beetle species and 30 flies. But I now have a heavy workload to deal with today's findings.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

By a little pond...

Earlier today, 7 May, 2015, I set out to visit Newnham Windmill and check out the wildlife. 

There were faint but unmistakable traces of Homo
to be seen.

The walk did not get off to an auspicious start. There is a small but significant population of the primitive hominid, Homo despicabilis, in the Daventry area and traces of their activities were almost blocking the farm gate at which the walk started.

Anyway, in the event I never got to the windmill, being sidetracked by a small pond at the foot of the hill at SP575611.

'Where, prithee, is the pond?' I hear you ask. In fact, it has been a remarkably dry winter and not a lot of water was evident.

Reed-mace, aka bulrush, growing it the much-diminished
pond.  7 May, 2015

These Reed-mace, Typha latifolia, have their feet in mud, but not a lot else. Sheep regularly use this pond as a water source and the dry conditions must be a concern for the farmer. And it is even more of a problem for frogs, toads and newts.

Flowers of the Lady's Smock were present.
7 May, 2015

Lady's Smock, Cardamine pratensis, aka Cuckoo Flower, is a plant which flourishes in damp meadows (the word pratensis means 'of meadows') and a scattering of their blooms was a welcome sight. This plant is the food of choice for the caterpillar of the Orange Tip Butterfly, Anthocharis cardamines.

A male St Mark's Fly on a grass stem below Newnham
Windmill. 7 May, 2015

The St Mark's Fly, Bibio marci, is a familiar sight around St Mark's Day (25 April) and here a male clings to a grass stem in the buffeting wind. The head looks as though it is split in two, but what we see are the two huge compound eyes; the fact that the eyes meet in this way allows the gender to be confirmed. It appears to be carrying an orange mite at the base of its left wing.

What was this Birch Catkin Bug doing on a buttercup
leaf?  7 May, 2015

This little bug was on a buttercup leaf. Why it was there is not clear for it is a Birch Catkin Bug, Kleidocerys resedae. I wasn't aware of any birch trees nearby but the rather acid soils of the immediate area could well have been supporting some.

A few spots of rain fell on my face and the sky looked threatening. It was time to go. In any case it was Election Day and I was picking up Chris to go and cast our votes.

Monday, 4 May 2015

There are laurels and there are laurels.

Some months ago I made space in a blog to talk about laurels. I've since been giving the subject more thought.

The true laurel, which features so prominently in Greek, Roman and biblical cultures (Didn't Joan bring some laurel back to the arc to prove that France was dry land or something?), is Laurus communis, otherwise known as Bay or Bay Laurel. It gives its name to the Laurel Family, Lauraceae. Although native to the Mediterranean region it is naturalised here and there in mild spots on Britain's south coast.

We decided to have a Bay Tree this year instead of a traditional Christmas Tree. It now needs to find a place in the garden.

The Spotted Laurel, Aucuba japonica, is not at all related, being a member of the Dogwood Family, Cornaceae.

Aucuba japonica in Chaucer Way,
Daventry. 10 February, 2015

Though widely grown it is certainly not for its inconspicuous brownish flowers, nor for its fruits, but it brightens shrubberies throughout Britain with its yellow-blotched leaves. It has a place in the garden - but I have had no difficulty in restraining myself from growing it.

It is rarely self-sown.

Spurge-laurel, Daphne laureola. Byfield Northants.
18 February, 2014
Then there is Spurge Laurel, Daphne laureola. I will refrain from going into detail regarding this shrub as it has been mentioned in my blogs on previous occasions. Neither a spurge nor a laurel it is a member of the Thymelaeaceae, the Spurge Flax Family (Thymelaea itself is a genus of about 30 shrubs found along the Mediterranean coastline and on into central Asia). Like the plants already mentioned, it has leathery, ovate (in this case linear-ovate) leaves. Although generally scarce in Northants, this native plant is common in the Byfield area.

The Cherry Laurel, Prunus laurocerasus, frequently gets a mention in my blogs, not least because I still occasionally make use of its cyanide-laced leaves. When fresh and chopped up like garden mint they will kill an insect quite quickly although if the specimen is examined and then promptly released recovery can be rapid. Apparently it was once used pharmaceutically as a sedative! It is a native of S.E Europe but is often well naturalised in shrubberies and woodland edges.

It is frequently grown as a hedging plant in which case constant clipping means its flowers are not seen. These are borne in racemes and are quite heavily scented, although not everyone appreciates the rather cloying smell. These are followed by black berries.

Portuguese Laurel in Brown's Road, Daventry.
17 March, 2015

Closely related to the Cherry Laurel is the Portuguese Laurel, Prunus lusitanica (Lusitania was a Roman Iberian province covering most of modern Portugal). Like the Cherry Laurel it has leathery evergreen leaves but they are smaller and have serrate, i.e. saw-edged, margins. 

Incidentally Laurel Canyon, in the Hollywood Hills area of Los Angeles, and well-known in music, film and literature, gets its name from the Californian Bay Laurel, Umbellularia californica. I need hardly add that is unrelated to the other laurels I have mentioned.

Then there is Stan...