Thursday, 25 June 2015

Kentle Wood; an evening stroll

We are just beyond the summer solstice. It is light until well into the evening and the weather is currently balmy. A good time for an evening stroll in Kentle Wood.

I was hoping to see a moth or two, and that was what I got - two moths.

Straw Dot at Kentle Wood, Daventry
24 June, 2015

The first is a Straw Dot, Rivula sericealis, a common moth whose larvae feed on grasses. It is bivoltine, i.e having two broods a year, particularly in the south of Britain so this could be from the second brood.

Agapeta hamana. Kentle Wood, Daventry, Northants
24 June, 2014

The second species obligingly settled on my net but in the fading light a good picture was a challenge. This is Agapeta hamana, another common moth, known as the Hook-marked Straw Moth. Its larvae feed on thistles. There are plenty in Kentle Wood so this'l be no problem (Ho-ho).

I could probably have found other moth species but my attention was diverted in an unexpected manner. I wandered off the main track to have a closer look at some ash trees and found...

Common Spotted Orchid at Kentle Wood.
Daventry, 24 June, 2015

...about two dozen spikes of Common Spotted Orchid, Dactylorhiza fuchsii. Yes, they are common, given the right conditions, but it was nevertheless a delight to see them in profusion.

Common but beautiful - a close-up

The flowers are distinctive, allowing for easy identification.

But if there is any lingering doubt the leaves are also helpful (although not a clincher as other, related orchids, have spotted leaves).

Dactylorhiza fuchsii in its white form.
Kentle Wood, Daventry 24 June, 2015

And the icing on the cake was a pure white specimen. The white variety is by no means rare, but is relatively uncommon.

Pyramidal Orchid, Browns Road,
Daventry. 24 June, 2015

I'd had an interesting time, but the evening had not done with me. I had left Kentle Wood and had almost reached Browns Road when a bright pink flower caught my eye. It was a Pyramidal Orchid, Anacamptis pyramidalis.  It tends to favour chalk and limestone soils but here it was growing beside a rough track among brambles; what the soil is like I've no idea.

So clearly, orchid species are like buses, you wait for ages and... You know the rest.

A very memorable evening! Total invertebrates now 203, including 29 spiders, 20 true bugs, 53 beetles and 66 two-winged flies


Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Kingsthorpe Meadows

The area of Northampton known as Kingsthorpe was once a village separate from Northampton but by the time I came to live in the southern part of the village in 1946 there was little open land remaining between Kingsthorpe and the town.

The village once boasted three mills, all making use of the waters of the River Nene (or Nen is it was still named on maps). The one now known as Kingsthorpe Mill was once called Nether Mill and in my childhood the water-filled mill race was still obvious, although silting-up meant that the water was no longer flowing. The meadow land around the mill was subject to regular flooding and, in most winters it seemed, freezing. It was a popular venue for skating enthusiasts from Kingsthorpe and Northampton but with the construction upstream of Pitsford Reservoir in 1956 the flooding became less frequent. Nevertheless in a wet winter the meadowland still becomes inundated.

Kingsthorpe is an ancient settlement and in these communities the old beliefs are never far from the surface. The belief in fairies, for example, clings on. Two of these sprites are the Dog-poo Fairy and the Drinks-can Fairy. There is a fervent belief that these creatures live on nature reserves and come out at night to clear up after the humankind have gone. Apparently...

At Kingsthorpe Meadows the thistles were
infested with aphids. 21 June, 2015

Thistles were abundant and many were plagued with aphids. Perhaps the word plagued is inappropriate for the presence of the aphids does no obvious harm to the thistles and they form a link in an interesting food-chain:

    Thistle > aphid > ladybird > ladybird predator. 

Ladybirds have a foul taste but a number of creatures are predatory on them, such as Tachinid flies in the genus Medina. Of course the chain doesn't stop there for the flies become food for birds, spiders and so on.

Harmonia axyridis was by far the
commonest ladybird. 21 June, 2015

Ladybirds were present in large numbers and, with worrying predictability, they were overwhelmingly Harlequin Ladybirds, Harmonia axyridis. I saw only a single example of the generally abundant 7-spot Ladybird, Coccinella 7-punctata.

The Kingsthorpe Meadows reserve is split into two sections, with a very busy main road separating them. (In my childhood this had been an unmetalled track, used largely by farm vehicles.) I chose to record in the section nearer to the town, i.e. downstream, and it was probably the wrong choice. The area had been heavily grazed and other than short grass only coarse or unpalatable plants had been left.

Common Ragwort had been left to flourish.
Kingsthorpe Meadows, Northampton
21 June, 2015

I was pleased and surprised to see that there were lots of Common Ragwort, Senecio jacobaea, plants present. Pleased because, once in flower they attract a large range of insects; surprised because cattle had been allowed to graze there. As my picture shows, the ragwort plants had been left untouched but this did not really astonish me. Over the years there have been many stories of livestock deaths as a result of eating this plant, but it is clear that, generally speaking, these plants are simply ignored. Certainly here are some very nasty alkaloids present in the tissues but some kind of instinct tells animals to avoid them. It has to be said that horses are usually the victims in cases of ragwort poisoning.

Several galls of Puccinia urticata were
present on nettles.  21 June, 2015

Like the ragwort and thistles, beds of nettles had been largely ignored. I say largely, because most plants had been lightly browsed upon. Despite the browsing lots of insects were exploiting the nettles in various ways and I was interested to find several galls like the one photographed. In fact it is not the work of an insect but a fungus, Puccinia urticata. Like most of its relatives this has a two-stage life-cycle, with its other host being certain species of Carex, i.e. sedges.

Deraeocoris tripustulatus is now one of our commonest
bugs. Kingsthorpe Meadows L.N.R.  21 June, 2015
Extremely common on the nettles was the mirid bug, Liocoris tripustulatus. It is to be found on nettles everywhere and is even - usually - present throughout the winter. Almost as common was  this rather similar bug, Deraeocoris flavilinea, a fairly recent colonist to these islands (first recorded in 1996) which has spread rapidly. I photographed this example on a nearby blackthorn shrub.

Pseudovadonia livida on a thistle. Kingsthorpe
Meadows L.N.R,  21 June, 2015
I almost missed this beetle secreted among the spines of a thistle. It is Pseudovadonia livida, known for some obscure reason as the Fairy-ring Longhorn beetle. Certainly it is a longhorn beetle, a member, that is, of the family Cerambycidae; it is the 'fairy-ring' bit that is a puzzle. It is very much a south-eastern species in Britain, becoming scarce as one travels north, with apparently no records beyond the Humber. It was a 'first' for me, but then I'm not really a coleopterist.

Such beetle knowledge as I possess was tested once I was home. 

Rhinocyllus conicus may have had too much to drink as it
 appears to be legless. Kingsthorpe Meadows,
Northampton.  21 June, 2015

I had collected a rather nondescript beetle on a Spear Thistle and, having concluded that it was a weevil, keyed it out with my R.E.S books on the family and had a surprise. It was Rhinocyllus conicus, a Notable A (now called Nationally Scarce) species and is probably a 'first' for the county. If the picture looks fuzzy it is because the beetle is distinctly hairy. This species has been used in the U.S.A. for use as a biological control of thistles.

Back at Kingsthorpe Meadows the clock on the village green struck noon, and also struck up a few memories. When I was 13-14 years old I attended the church there for a few weeks, not because of religiosity, but a girl I rather fancied went there of a Sunday for the morning service. Her name was Jenny Taylor. It came to nothing but I sometimes recall this because her brother Bob, a couple of years her junior, went on to become a rather good rugby player, eventually captaining England. The chimes also reminded me that it was time to clear up.

The meeting had been arranged by John Showers and a group of recorders were to have attended. In fact the parking/meeting place was a little vague and the other members were probably on the northern part of the reserve. I had a successful day; I hope they did too.


Saturday, 20 June 2015

Of butterflies and bees

My latest visit to Kentle Wood took the form of a gentle stroll as I was still feeling fragile after a viral infection. Fortunately the weather was lovely and insects abounded, also taking advantage of the dry, sunny conditions.
A Buff-tailed Bumble Bee on a hogweed umbel.
Kentle Wood, Daventry. 15 June, 2015

This Buff-tailed Bumble Bee, Bombus terrestris, was busy on a umbel of Hogweed. These flower-heads were also a trysting-place for many pairs of the beetle Oedemera nobilis, the swollen-thighed males often tumbling to the ground grasping the relatively gracile females. Not much sign of any subtle foreplay!

The Harlequin Ladybird is one of our larger ladybirds.
Kentle Wood, Daventry. 15 June, 2015
Our most familiar beetles are probably ladybirds. I photographed this Harlequin Ladybird, Harmonia axyridis, as it was a rather eye-catching specimen. It seemed to be a variation on the succinea form but what was striking was its size. At eight millimetres it was near the top of the range for this species. Handsome perhaps, but evidence is accumulating of the serious effect it is having on our native species, since it is very partial to the larvae of other ladybirds

At the other end of the scale was Rhizobius litura. Small (about 3 mm maximum), brown, hairy and with no discernible pattern, it looks quite unlike the usual ladybirds, but that is indeed what it is. In fact it was not until I'd arrived home that I realised what I had netted. It is probably very common but is so easily overlooked that it may be under-recorded. My specimen was swept from a flower-rich sward.

There is a view that moths are dull and fly at night whereas butterflies are colourful and fly in the daytime. While this may be broadly true there are many moths which break this pattern.

Silver Y Moth on a clover leaf. Kentle Wood, Daventry,
Northants. 18 June, 2015
The Silver Y moth, Autographa gamma, gets its name - rather obviously - from the Y (gamma) -shaped mark on its forewings. It is one of the day-fliers and is very common in meadows and even gardens almost every summer. I say almost because because it is a migratory species, arriving in huge numbers from the continent when conditions are right. Once here it will breed and produce a late summer generation but it rarely seems to survive our winters.

Painted Lady and Brimstone butterflies also passed through but failed to pause for a photo-shoot.
A female Common Blue. Kentle Wood, Daventry.
18 June, 2015

More accommodating was this female Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus. There are several 'blues' native to Britain but with practice they are not usually difficult to separate. The females have more subdued colouring than the males.
The small but attractive flower of a Field Pansy.
Kentle Wood, Daventry. 18 June, 2016

A Field Pansy nodded to me as I approached the stile to depart. The individual flowers are pretty but small and furthermore the plant has a weedy, sprawling character. Although very common in arable fields I was pleased to see it. With this species six more flowering plants were added to the site list together with another sixteen invertebrates. Not bad at all.

Friday, 19 June 2015

More pottering around

Chris and I haven't been well for three or four days now - some sort of virally thing. Chris doesn't let illness inhibit her but has carried on as usual. I've been a brave soldier but have just pottered around. For much of my life I've been careful not to overtax my strength, so no big change there.

Mines on False Oat-grass, Arrhenatherum elatium.
Byfield, Northants. 17 June, 2015

Yesterday morning (Wednesday, 18 June) I had a stroll along the edge of Byfield Pocket Park and was much exercised by leaf mines on False Oat-grass. Many leaves had been affected but whatever had created them had up and gone. The most likely culprit seems to be a tiny moth, Elachista gangabella, known as the Yellow-barred Dwarf. But without the larva or imago (adult) I can't make a positive identification, and there are other possibilities.

Gorse Shieldbug in my garden
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 17 June, 2015
The afternoon saw me reduced to wandering around the garden, but a surprise awaited me. A green shieldbug was clambering up a metal post near the back fence and a close look confirmed that it was a Gorse Shieldbug, Piezodorus lituratus. What was it doing there? I then realised that a neighbour's broom plant hung over the fence a few feet away. Broom is an acceptable, though less common, host for this bug.

We were off in the evening to Wardington, visiting Pettifers, a very fine garden much featured in gardening magazines. It was an outing arranged by the Boddington and District Gardening Association. The backbone of the garden consisted of - perhaps predictably - fairly mundane plants. Rare and unusual plants are all very well but dependable and long-flowering species are required for a good basis.

Linaria dalmatica showing the long spurs on the flowers.
Pettifers, Wardington, Oxon. 17 June, 2015

I was much taken with a glaucous-leaved toadflax, Linaria dalmatica. Toadflaxes are closely related to snapdragons but the former have petals so shaped as to form long spurs. These structures, which contain nectar, can be easily seen in the picture. Dalmatia, a long coastal region of Croatia, has produced many fine plants and I have Geranium dalmaticum in my front garden at the moment.

Aquilegia petals are also spurred.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 19 June, 2015

Speaking of spurs, Aquilegia plants, though quite unrelated to toadflaxes, bear a similar structure. The word Aquilegia refers of course to an eagle (Latin aquila - eagle) as a spurred petal bears a fanciful resemblance to an eagle's bill.

A petal showing the hooked eagle's bill.

The shape becomes more obvious if a single petal is removed, showing the hooked bill facing left. It is so tempting to get a ball-pen and draw in an eye.

Tropaeolum speciosum at Pettifers.
17 June, 2015
Generally speaking the plants were thriving but I found Tropaeolum speciosum struggling for survival beneath more robust plants. This lovely climber, though a native of Chile, is often known as the Scottish Flame Flower as it flourishes in the cool, moist climate of western Scotland. At Pettifers it seems the conditions were not at all suitable. Strangely, it too, has long spurred flowers, so these structures have evolved in several unrelated families.

This Rhamnus species (Rhamnus cathartica?) formed
a large tree at Pettifers. 17 June, 2015
A large, rather gloomy tree caught my attention, clearly a species of buckthorn. Most buckthorns (Rhamnus species) are little more than shrubs but this was quite a hefty tree and I thought briefly (there was no one to ask at that moment) that it was Rhamnus prinoides, a species rarely seen in Britain, but on reflection it was probably Rhamnus cathartica. Again, this is normally a shrub but given the chance it will make a decent-sized tree but this was the largest I'd ever seen.

I wandered around as the evening gloom began to descend, very much enjoying the wealth of plants but by now I was almost alone. It was time to join the others in the house where wine was being served.

All in all I was too busy to feel ill and it turned out to be a very interesting day.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Kentle Wood: mid-June

Prior to setting out today the tally for invertebrates recorded in Kentle Wood stood at 174 species, including 26 spiders, 15 true bugs, 48 beetles and 58 flies. It seems a good total but ultimately this figure should rise to well over 500 species. Certainly the area is very extensive but the habitat range is rather limited, with lack of water in the form of ponds or watercourses being a particular problem, and this restricts both the flora and fauna. Over thirty years in her Leicester garden Jennifer Owen recorded 2673 species of plant and animal, so an area doesn't have to be very large to hold a huge range of organisms (Wildlife of a Garden by Jennifer Owen. R.H.S.Publications).

I was up early but the weekend had been very wet and I decided to wait for a while to allow things to dry out a little. I also decided to travel light. On my previous visit I was carrying a walking-stick, an umbrella, a net, a camera and a rucksack; no surprise then that I'd gone arse over tip when trying to negotiate the entrance stile.

The inflorescence of Ribwort Plantain.
Kentle Wood, Daventry. 15 June, 2015

My walk through the wood had barely started before I saw something very odd. We are all familiar with Ribwort Plantain, Plantago lanceolata. It is a very common component of meadows, roadside verges and - given the chance - garden lawns.

Ribwort Plantain with grossly distorted inflorescences.
Kentle Wood, Daventry, 15 June, 2015
But this specimen has grotesquely distorted inflorescences. This is not a very common situation and there is some disagreement over the causative agent. The moth, Aphelia paleana, known as the Timothy Tortrix, may be the culprit but a nematode, Ditylenchus dipsaci, is also in the frame for it certainly attacks plantain leaves. Even a fungus, Fusarium monili, is under suspicion. The truth is little is known about this problem but Timothy Tortrix is in custody pending further investigations.

Another specimen. Several plants were affected.
Kentle Wood, Daventry. 15 June, 2015

A Common Blue Damsel Fly poses on my net.
Kentle Wood, Daventry. 15 June, 2015

A few blue damsel flies were flitting about. After a long struggle to photograph a specimen on a bed of nettles (Why are insects so cussed?) one settled on my sweep net, obviously moved by my plight. It was, unsurprisingly, a Common Blue Damsel Fly, Enallagma cyathigerum. It is not uncommon to find them at some distance from the nearest water.

Speckled Wood. Kentle Wood, Daventry.
15 June, 2015

A Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria, also played ball, waiting on a leaf of Greater Plantain, Plantago major, before flitting away in pursuit of - or being pursued by - another specimen.

My surveying was given a boost by the fact that Hogweed, Heracleum sphondylium, had come into flower in recent days. Its large umbels of cream flowers offer plenty of nectar and therefore attract a wide range of insects.

The umbels of hogweed are frequently visited by
Cheilosia illustrata. Kentle Wood,  15 June, 2015

One insect particularly associated with Hogweed is the hoverfly, Cheilosia illustrata. Hoverflies can be tricky but this species, with a broad pale band across its abdomen, is distinctive enough. It also has a dark 'cloud' on each wing, although it is not very obvious in this photograph. Its larvae tunnel in the roots of the plant although (rarely) carrots can be apparently be attacked too.


The fact that I took relatively few photographs is not indicative of a disappointing morning. The fact is I was so busy with my net that I barely had time to bring my camera into play. Now well into the season galls and leaf-mines are appearing everywhere and these will cause much head scratching and muttering into my beard. Some insects will remain unidentified for many days or even weeks yet. Oh the stress of being at the cutting edge of biological research!

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Summer unfolds in Kentle Wood

 Sumer is i-cumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu...

                                                                                           Anon. 13th century

Summer is a-coming in, but, if the cuckoo has sung loudly, I haven't heard it (nor do I recall hearing it last year either). However Kentle Wood was loud with the repetitive but pleasant song of willow warblers when I visited it on the eighth of June. The raucous screams of a pair of jays provided a stark contrast.

Cherries are a-ripening at kentle Wood, Daventry.
8 June, 2015

For many birds the next few weeks should be bountiful as the cherries are ripening and a heavy crop looks to be forthcoming.

Other shrubs and trees are coming into flower and their fruit will prolong the feast.

Dog Roses were in bloom at Kentle Wood.
8 June, 2015

Most obvious among the shrubs are roses. The Dog Rose, Rosa canina, (surely Rupert Brooke's 'English unofficial rose') is already being visited by many insects but as the flowers have no nectaries they are only there for the pollen.

To go slightly off topic, when I served with the R.A.F. in Gibraltar I was very fortunate to have unlimited access to the herbarium of A.H.Wolley-Dod. Anthony Wolley-Dod had been an army officer in Victorian times but, with the outbreak of World War One he volunteered, at the age of 51, to serve again in the army. With the rank of Lieutenant Colonel he was posted to Gibraltar and it was there he compiled the herbarium which I frequently consulted. 

Back in England he made an extensive study of the Dog Rose, recognising over 60 varieties and forms. I have to say that I have made no attempt ever to identify these forms - nor do I intend to. Whatever, they are all beautiful and, though they lack any significant scent, our countryside would be much poorer without them.

A bee (Bombus humilis?) visits bramble flowers at
Kentle Wood. 8 June, 2015

Also in the rose family are brambles. The photograph shows Rubus fruticosus, known to us all for its fruit - blackberries. As I have said before this species has been divided into a myriad of 'microspecies', with one author recognising 368 of these. It makes the Dog Rose appear quite a simple plant! Whatever the microspecies they are very attractive to bees and other insects.

Bumble bees were working the bramble blossom. I am a tyro when it comes to these creatures so I made no attempt to identify them. It would have meant capturing one with ultimate fatal consequences so I was content to watch it.

No one would call the flowers of  Buckthorn spectacular.
Kentle Wood, Daventry.  8 June, 2015
Photographed in bright sunlight and with the image enlarged, these flowers of Buckthorn, Rhamnus catharticus, look rather obvious but in fact they are only about 4 millimetres across and can easily be overlooked. Cathartic means cleansing and my old copy of Potter's Herbal suggests that a preparation of the berries is useful for 'cleansing the bowels'. One of its old names is Purging Buckthorn. Birds eat the fruits and their laxative effects presumably help with seed dispersal!

Oak Marble galls at an early stage.
Kentle Wood, Daventry.  8 June, 2015

'Fruits' were also present on oak trees, except that these currant-like structures are really galls. They are caused by the wasp Andricus kollari. They will swell and later harden to form the familiar Marble Galls seen on oaks across Britain.

The sawfly, Tenthredo mesomela, loafing on foliage.
Kentle Wood, Daventry, Northants   8 June, 2015

Related to wasps are the sawflies. These can be very tricky to identify and are I claim no expertise with this group. Some are, however, quite distinctive. This one is Tenthredo mesomela, a widespread species whose presence in Kentle Wood came as no surprise. Sawflies differ from wasps in having no obvious 'waist' and are generally regarded as being more primitive.

Xylota segnis is a striking hoverfly (when it spreads
its wings!)  Kentle Wood. 8 June, 2015

This insect may appear broadly similar to the sawfly but in fact it is quite unrelated. Sawflies bear four wings; this fly has only two and is therefore one of the diptera. To be more precise it is a hoverfly, the species being Xylota segnis. It would not alter its pose so the distinctive amber belt across the abdomen is not evident in this picture. 
Harlequin Ladybirds come in many forms.
Kentle Wood. 8 June, 2015

With 'sumer i-cumen in' insects abounded but I will allow space for only one more species. The picture appears to show two different ladybirds mating but in fact they are both Harlequin Ladybirds, Harmonia axyridis. This is a highly variable species and here the female is the variety conspicua whilst the male is variety succinea. 

New species are now making their appearance in rapid succession and I am going to have a busy couple of months ahead. It's a tough life!

Monday, 8 June 2015

Hellidon Gardens

Hellidon must be one of Northamptonshire's loveliest villages so when Chris and I found that gardens there were to be open to the public on 6 June we decided to go for a shufti, especially as the entrance fee went to a favourite charity - the local air ambulance service. Our friends Ann and John Pimm were equally keen so we made a foursome. Summer has been reluctant to get going but the day was both warm and sunny. 

Redcurrant leaves distorted by the aphid,
Cryptomyzus ribis. Hellidon, Northants. 6 June, 2015
Like most people I make these visits in the hope of seeing fine plants; unlike most people I am also on the lookout for insect damage and excrescences. In the first garden I was happier than the owner to find the leaves of redcurrants distorted by aphids. The species responsible is the common Cryptomyzus ribis; there is probably no significant damage to the fruit but aphids can carry viruses from plant to plant.

In general the gardens were very fine indeed. I was interested to learn that almost every tree in the village was subject to a Tree Preservation Order (T.P.O.). One gardener told me that shortly after purchasing a property there she found that there was a T.P.O. on a tall line of 'Leylandii' in her garden. Her objections were thrown out until the relevant officer resigned. His replacement promptly allowed her to go ahead and fell them.

Magnolia sieboldii. Hellidon, Northants.
6 June, 2015

This lovely magnolia was at its best. It is Magnolia sieboldii, a very hardy tree native to China, Korea and Japan. The stamens form a striking reddish ring, contrasting with the ivory-white tepals. (Tepals is a term used for perianth structures which cannot easily be identified as petals or sepals.)

A few withered bracts remained on this Pocket
Handkerchief Tree. Hellidon, Northants. 6 June, 2015
Just past its best was a fine Davidia involucrata. Known as the Dove Tree or, more usually, the Pocket Handkerchief Tree, it too is from China. It is the only member of its genus but has been divided into two varieties. Perhaps they should now be regarded as separate species as it has been recently shown that the 'varieties' have different chromosome numbers. A handful of the handkerchief-like bracts remained in the higher branches.

By this time we in need of a cuppa. Teas were being served at the village hall. 'Go up Two Tuns Lane,' we were advised. I know a roadside inn on the old A5 at Tamworth called 'The Three Tuns', so I assumed that our route would take us past a pub.

In fact the truth was almost hilariously mundane. The road had a two tons weight limit imposed on it. It was indeed narrow - and steep - but we made it and were rewarded with tea (or in my case, coffee) and cakes.

Moss roses are forms of Rosa x centifolia. Hellidon,
Northants. 6 June, 2015

I don't often see moss roses. They are forms of Rosa x centifolia and were apparently unknown prior to 1720. The sepals and adjacent structures are covered with tiny outgrowths looking rather like moss. I couldn't find the owner to ask about this specimen but it is probably 'William Lobb'; certainly this is the most widely-grown variety.

I liked this periwinkle, Vinca major var oxyloba
Hellidon, Northants.  6 June, 2016
This attractive plant caught my eye. The owner of the garden wasn't able to name it and I was only of partial help. I knew it was a periwinkle, i.e. a species of Vinca, and was pretty sure it was Vinca major - but not the usual form. In fact I now know it to be Vinca major, var oxyloba. Periwinkles tend to be invasive plants and I have always avoided them, but if my garden were larger I just might consider this one.

Even with the flowers only in bud Centaurea macrocephala
is an eye-catching plant.  Hellidon, Northants. 6 June, 2015

This had me scratching my head for a while. Where had I seen it before? Then the penny dropped. I should have recognised it immediately for I had grown it many years ago when Chris and I live at Longland Road, in Northampton. It is a Centaury, Centaurea macrocephala, a very handsome and robust plant for the larger border.  The brown structure is the flower bud and it will shortly open up to reveal big yellow blooms.

We had parked some three hours earlier in a large field, together with 60-70 other cars, at the village edge. We arrived back, a little footsore, to find our vehicle standing forlorn and alone. We'd certainly had our money's worth.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Bradlaugh Fields, 2015

In the north-east of Northampton there is a large asymmetric roundabout where the Kettering Road meets Park Avenue North, Kenmuir Avenue and Broadmead Avenue. It is - or was - known as the Golf House Junction, but for no outwardly obvious reason.

In fact, until some 25 years ago there was a large golf course adjacent to the roundabout and with it a club house. The golf club decided to up sticks and move to a newly created course near to the village of Harlestone, leaving the old course to slowly revert to nature. The assumption was that the area would be used for housing but the hills and hollows of this stretch of land became very popular with walkers and it soon became clear that it was also extremely rich in wildlife, with the old sand-filled bunkers supporting interesting plants and invertebrates. The plan to build 800 house on the land was, after a series of meeting and protests, dropped and the complex became known as Bradlaugh Fields, in memory of Charles Bradlaugh, Northampton's most famous M.P.

The Northamptonshire and Peterborough Dipterists Group hold annual meetings there, ostensibly to survey the site for diptera (two-winged flies) but inevitably recording species within other orders. Today a meeting took place but the weather was chilly and windy, with rain forecast so only three of us turned up - John Showers, Kevin Rowley and myself, and we parked at the adjacent Morrison's supermarket.

I had already decided to concentrate on bugs and beetles rather than flies and, as it turned out, it was a fortuitous decision as flies were not in abundance.

I knew that the Bishop's Mitre Bug, Aelia acuminata, occurred there as I had recorded it some years ago on a dry, sandy bank so I attempted to re-locate it. Was it still there? 

Bradlaugh Fields. A Tortoise Bug sits in my sweep net.
31 may, 2015
In fact I failed to find it but in almost the same location I found a specimen of the Tortoise Bug, Eurygaster testudinaria (a translation would read 'tortoise-like fatbelly').  This may be a 'first' for Northamptonshire but it is a species gradually spreading northward so it wasn't a great surprise. It may be commoner than records show because this soil-coloured bug is very easy to miss in grass tussocks.

A dog lichen, perhaps Peltigera mambranacea.
Bradlaugh Fields, Northampton. 31 May, 2015

There were large patches of a dog lichen in the same area. I believe it to be Peltigera membranacea but there are other, very similar species and lichens are not my 'thing'.

Saxifraga granulata at Bradlaugh Fields, Northampton.
31 May, 2015

Also growing in the turf were clumps of Meadow Saxifrage, Saxifraga granulata. It has perhaps always been rather scarce in the county and inappropriate grassland 

management has not helped, but it seems to be doing well at Bradlaugh Fields.

The flowers of Meadow Saxifrage are very attractive.
Bradlaugh Fields, Northampton. 31 May, 2015

Meadow Saxifrage would not look out of place in the garden but unfortunately the form you are likely to be offered is the ugly and untidy 'flore pleno'. Don't bother! The simple flowers of the wild form are far more pleasing.

Tragopogon pratensis at Bradlaugh Fields, Northampton.
31 May, 2015

Goat's Beard, Tragopogon pratensis was common too. One of its old names is Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon; it has the habit of closing during hot, sunny conditions in the middle of the day. It is a food-plant of Ensina sonchi, a rather scarce picture-winged fly, but as far as I know none of us found a specimen.

At 12mm Cantharis rustica  is one of the larger
soldier beetles. Bradlaugh Fields. 31 May, 2015
Working my way through turf and plant roots I inevitably found a few beetles. Most were dull and not photogenic but an exception was provided by Cantharis rustica. This is one of the soldier beetles, always known to us as kids as 'bloodsuckers'. Some of its close relatives are indeed bright red and may be the reason for the quite unjustified name. Although I found this at ground level it is normally to be seen clambering in taller vegetation.

Goosegrass distorted by the activities of
Cecidophyes rouhollahi. Bradlaugh Fields. 31 May, 2015
I checked out a bed of goosegrass, Galium aparine, in the hope of finding the bug, Charagochilus gyllenhali, but was out of luck. Goosegrass isn't a plant to sweep with a net; many people call it stickyweed - for good reason. Leaves at the tips of branches were very distorted and thickened, the work of a fly, Cecidophyes rouhollahi. So my perusal wasn't a waste of time. These attacks seem to do little to affect the vigour of the plant.

The rain was now beginning to fall. I continued for a while in the hope that it might ease off but conditions deteriorated further and I made my way back to the car park and found that Kevin and John had gone - very sensible too. However, though I had found few flies I had a decent haul of beetles and bugs. So, all in all, a worthwhile trip.