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.

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