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.


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