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! 

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