Thursday, 30 July 2015

The canal side at Braunston

The morning was gloomy but the weather forecast was for a bright afternoon. Throwing caution to the winds I decided to have a mooch along the banks of the Oxford Canal at Braunston, only about four miles away. Sure enough, the sun did its bit, breaking though at around noon and encouraging me to cast a clout.

The Oxford Canal at Braunston, Northants.
30 July, 2015

The usual colourful array of boats was present, some moored beside the bank but, this being the holiday season, many more heading both north and south. The occupants, seeing my net, all advised me regarding the best stretches of the canal to see butterflies but I didn't disillusion them by pointing out that my prey was simply flies.

If you don't mind a highly poisonous boat...
Braunston, Northants. 30 July, 2015

I was encouraged to see Wild Hemlock on the bank but, though it was only a boat, I did see a few of hemlock's relatives further on.

Orthops campestris is patterned in green and brown.
Braunston, Northants. 30 July, 2015
One of those relatives was Wild Angelica, Angelica sylvestris. (The Garden Angelica, Angelica archangelica, is the species occasionally cultivated for its petioles, which are candied and used in cakes, etc.)

The umbels (flower heads) had many green and brown bugs scurrying about; all were Orthops campestris. The usual food-plant of this little (3-4 mm) mirid bug is the closely related Wild Parsnip.

The blotch-mine of Phytomyza angelicae.
Braunston, Northants.  30 July, 2015

The leaves of the Angelica bore a blotch-mine caused by a fly, Phytomyza angelicae. As is usually the case, the insect seems to cause the host-plant little damage.

On a nearby leaf was a Sponge Fly, Sisyra nigra. It is a fly I've not seen before, largely because I do little waterside recording. The larvae are specialist feeders on freshwater sponges and are therefore most often seen beside still or very slow-moving water. Foolishly I failed to photograph it.

Orthops kalmii has no green coloration.
Braunston, Northants. 30 July, 2015

Another relative of Wild Angelica is Upright Hedge-parsley, Torilis japonica. This common annual was present all along the towpath although it is by no means water-dependent. It too was being visited by a bug, Orthops kalmii. Although superficially much like Liocoris tripustulatus, the latter is nearly always found on nettles. 

Marsh Woundwort beside the canal.
Braunston, Northants. 30 July, 2015

Of course, insect visitors or not, the flowers were interesting in their own right. Marsh Woundwort, Stachys palustris, was present in abundance. It is very similar to the very common Hedge Woundwort, Stachys sylvatica, but lacks its unpleasant odour.

Meadowsweet provides a background for Great
Water Dock. Braunston, Northants.  30 July, 2015

Great Water Dock, Rumex hydrolapathum, was present too. The flowers are unimpressive but the sheer size of the leaves has quite an impact. Several interesting insects are associated with this plant but to reach out was to risk life and limb - or at least, risk a wet foot. Here, as elsewhere, it grows among Meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria, with its froth of cream-white flowers.

Meadowsweet leaves disfigured by the galls of
Dasineura ulmaria. Braunston, Northants.  30 July, 2015

Meadowsweet had its share of problems too, but these galls of Dasineura ulmaria, are unsightly rather than particularly harmful.


Gipsywort,  interesting rather than
spectacular. Braunston, Northants.
30 July, 2015

The dock was sometimes growing among tangled masses of Gipsywort, Lycopus europaeus. This rather unexciting plant is, like Marsh Woundwort, a member of the mint family and, dull though it may be, it attracts its fair share of insects.

The neat little flowers of Skullcap beside the canal at
Braunston, Northants. 30 July, 2015

Yet another member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, was Skullcap, Scutellaria galericulata. This plant is common throughout the canal system in the county and is worth stooping to in order to see its rather attractive flowers.

Birch Sawfly, Croesus septentrionalis, on alder leaf.
Braunston, Northants. 30 July, 2015

Alder, Alnus glutinosa, is happiest in wet conditions. Here, in places, the branches hung out across the water where dozens of larvae of the Birch Sawfly, Croesus septentrionalis, lived a rather precarious existence, skeletonising some of the leaves. Birch and alders are, of course, closely related.

Nettle-tap larva beside the canal at Braunston, Northants.
30 July, 2015

Another larva, this time a moth (Moth and sawfly larvae? Its all about counting the legs.) was feeding on a nettle. It is a Nettle-tap, Anthophila fabriciana, the adults of which are extremely common on this plant. The larvae seem not often to be photographed. 

What is the collective noun for hoverflies?
Braunston, Northants. 30 July, 2015
Thistles are always worth checking. Here a Creeping Thistle, Cirsium arvense, is getting plenty of attention. On the far right is the abundant Marmalade Fly, Episyrphus balteatus, and with it (centre) is a female Syrphus ribesii together with, far left, Syrphus vitripennis. It is fortunate that the Syrphus species are females as the males, in some cases, cannot be identified without dissection. 

I could go on with more flowers, leaf mines and butterflies but to end, a moth. This is the Yellow Shell, Camptogramma bilineata. It is not a distinctly marked specimen but the key points are all there.

Yellow Shell beside the Oxford Canal at Braunston, Northants.  30 July, 2015


Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Oliver's garden

I regularly pay a visit to my old friend Oliver Tynan. We always make time for a chinwag and generally get on very well, even though politically we are at opposite ends of the spectrum. We also share an interest in gardens and, as he has a large area to deal with, I lend a hand as required. For example, his wife Carol won't let him scale ladders (very sensible too, as Oliver has an artificial hip), so I end up pruning his climbing roses, passion flowers, etc. Not only is Oliver's garden quite large, it is of considerable interest; he has a long-held belief in the need for the preservation of our countryside  and this is reflected in the way he tends to his plants - and the soil.

Ox-eye Daisies,  Leucanthemum vulgare, form a large
patch in Oliver's garden, Byfield. 7 July, 2015

Parts of the 'lawn' are treated as a meadow, and he delays scything until the wild plants such as ox-eye daisies, fritillaries, etc. have flowered and seeded.

Southern Marsh Orchid in Oliver's garden, Byfield.
 7 July, 2015
One consequence of this approach is that several orchids have become established. Most have finished flowering but one, a Southern Marsh Orchid, Dactylorhiza praetermissa, remains. It will be jealously guarded until it too has flowered and seeded. This species seems to be getting commoner in Northants. Once confined to the west of the county, it is doing well in places that are appropriately managed.

One important feature is a large Walnut, Juglans regia, tree. It is a native of S.E. Europe and Asia but the fact that it is an alien hasn't prevented seedlings from popping up all around the garden, perhaps aided and abetted by squirrels.

Large galls on the laves of walnut are the work of the
mite, Aceria erinea. Oliver's garden.  7 July, 2015

Many of the leaves have bulges between the veins - galls created by a mite, Aceria erineaThe galls may be the reason why a tincture from the tree is used in homeopathy for skin eruptions, acne, etc. I have little time for homeopathy but there is no doubt that walnuts have a valuable part to play in general health.

The mites and their galls appear to do the tree no harm and it regularly fruits prolifically, yielding nuts of good quality.
Mint Beetle on an Astrantia leaf. Oliver's garden, Byfield.
28 July, 2015

Oliver's large bed of mint is always a good place to find a Mint Beetle, Chrysolina herbacea, but the specimen pictured was some distance from the mint on a plant of Astrantia.

Acanthus spinosus forming a large clump.
Oliver's garden, Byfield. 28 July, 2015

Hard by the Astrantia is a clump of Bear's Breeches, Acanthus spinosus. Interestingly one of the inflorescences was distorted by an example of fasciation. The Daily Mail has been very excited (it doesn't take much) by some fasciated daisies not far from the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. 'Mutation caused by nuclear fallout!' the newspaper trumpeted, claiming that these were rare cases. In fact, fasciation is a common phenomenon and I have often found similar specimens when out walking.

Stem and inflorescence showing distortion.
Oliver's garden, Byfield. 28 July, 2015

In Oliver's garden the fasciation takes the form of a greatly shortened flower spike on a stem that is both thick and flattened, the result perhaps of several stems becoming fused. I have noted Forsythia stems similarly flattened. Biologists admit to being unsure regarding the cause of these deformities.

Finally another form of deformity altogether, this time on a Field Maple, Acer campestre. The leaves display galls caused by the activities of Aceria myriadeum. This is a mite commonly found associated with this Maple species. How do these flightless creatures get from plant to plant? 

Leaf of Field Maple showing galls formed by a mite,
Aceria myriadeum.  28 July, 2015

One of the joys we get from strolling around a garden is that there are always surprises to be found. What next?

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Oaks at Kentle Wood

As previously mentioned, Kentle Wood is far from mature, having been one of a large number of such ventures designed to mark the millennium. Nevertheless many of them are old enough to begin bearing acorns and also are beginning to attract the gall inducers and the leaf miners which might reasonably be expected.

I set out in rather gloomy weather with rain forecast later but I hoped to snatch a couple of hours.
Rice, Oryza sativa. The Rye, Daventry. 22 July, 2015

Barely five minutes into my walk I was forced to pause and examine an odd grass growing at the roadside. I'm 99% certain it is Oryza sativa, better known to you and me as rice (not all varieties need padi fields). Many exotic grasses crop up as spillage from bird seed, but as far as I am aware, rice isn't normally used for this. 

Nut Bud Moth. Browns Road, Daventry.  22 July, 2015

Anyway, I pressed on, only to be diverted in Browns Road by this Nut Bud Moth, Epinotia tenerana. It is a common species and I was pleased to see it, but at this rate would I ever reach Kentle Wood?

Empis livida on foliage. Kentle Wood, Daventry.
22 July, 2015

I eventually made it but was immediately held up by this Empid Fly. This is Empis livida, one of the commonest of the genus. Despite the long downward-pointing mouth parts (in America they are called Dagger Flies) the adults feed mostly on nectar although the larvae may be carnivorous.

Iassus lanio at Kentle Wood, Daventry. 22 July, 2015

This little bug, Iassus lanio, seems to be an oak specialist, for I have never found it on other tree species. So when it turned up on oak at Kentle Wood it was no surprise. It is one of the Cicadellidae although not of a typical shape for the family.

Small Skipper on Creeping Thistle, Kentle Wood,
Daventry. 22 July, 2015

Among butterflies Meadow Browns, Ringlets and Marbled Whites were still around together with skippers. This Small Skipper, Thymelicus flavus, was happy to cling to this thistle in the buffeting wind - as were many of its comrades.

The cherries were ripe in Kentle Wood, Daventry.
22 July, 2015

Although I was primarily recording insects from oak my attention was inevitably drawn to the cherry trees. These were now heavy with fruit and largely unblemished. I tasted a couple but found them rather sour. I decided to get my 'five a day' from elsewhere.

Codlins and Cream, Epilobium hirsutum, at Kentle Wood.
22 July, 2015
Along the rides grew Great Willowherb, aka Codlins and Cream, Epilobium hirsutum. The 'hirsutum' epithet refers to the softly-hairy leaves but the four creamy lobes of the stigma, forming a cross shape, also render it unmistakable. However, it is not these lobes to which 'Epilobium' refers;  the Greek lobos means a pod, and the flowers appear to be growing from a pod-like structure.

As I photographed the willowherb the first spots of rain were felt. They rapidly developed into a heavy shower and I was forced to take refuge beneath an oak. Fortunately the rain soon passed over and I was no more than damp. Even so, I decided it would be prudent to set off home.

Convolvulus arvensis in Browns Road, Daventry.
22 July, 2015
As with the outward journey, I found myself distracted, this time by a Euonymus shrub smothered by Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvenis. Many farmers and gardeners curse this plant but the flowers are pleasantly fragrant and attract quite a few insects - although today only the abundant  Episyphus balteatus seemed interested. It is strange to reflect that this plant is closely related to the Sweet Potato, Ipomoea batatas.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Cotton End Park, Long Buckby

I quite frequently have cause to drive through Long Buckby and therefore I must have often passed the entrance to Cotton End Park and yet, until today, I was unaware if its existence!

The occasion was another meeting of local dipterists, organised by John Showers, who has the laudable aim of recording flies over as much of Northamptonshire as possible. In joining this group I feel a little fraudulent for, although I (hopefully) will record numerous flies I also intend to keep my eyes open for other organisms such as beetles and particularly bugs. (For the non-entomologist I should explain that a true bug belongs to a group of insects whose mouthparts have been modified to pierce tissues and imbibe the fluids thus made available.) The wind was a bit too blustery for netting insects but it was dry and we coped. Nitor in adversum, as Ovid put it.

           Ed. Are you sure he said that?   
           T.W. Er...I read it somewhere.
           Ed. Well, cut out all this arty-farty nonsense and get on with it for goodness sake!

The same group gathered as met last week at West Hill Farm near Welford, but in addition we were joined by Brian Harding. Brian lives in Oxfordshire and therefore tends mostly to attend those meetings held in the west of the county. 

Meadow covers most of the site but the land falls away to the north to give an interesting wetland area. This has been enhanced by the creation of a number of ponds and, as I intended to visit the wetter parts I prudently donned a pair of wellies. 

I spent the first fifteen minutes strolling around the meadow area. This is studded by patches of thistles and knapweed, many of which were receiving visits from a range of butterflies including Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns and Marbled Whites. The latter species, despite its common name, is not very closely related to other 'whites' and is placed, along with the Gatekeeper, in the Satyridae Family.

The bug, Stenotus binotatus, investigates a thistle.
Cotton End Park.  19 July, 2015

By and large thistles do not receive a good press but I was pleased to see them because, besides the butterflies, they can support a wide range of insects including bugs. Stenotus binotatus was abundant everywhere and the female photographed was typical.

There were several patches of wild carrot.
Cotton End Park. 19 July, 2015

Wild Carrot, Daucus carota, was there too, with the tell-tale dark red spot in the middle of each umbel. Our cultivated garden carrot is derived from this species which originally tended to be a coastal plant but now occurs widely in waste places. Unlike its close relative, hogweed, I found it almost devoid of insect visitors. In his 1930 'Flora of Northamptonshire' George Druce uses the curious and generally obsolete word pascual when describing this plant. Pascual derives from 'pastures' and refers to the habitat. 

The rest of the party had forged ahead, anxious to arrive at the marsh and ponds; I lagged behind but found little to excite me.
It has been a dry year so far! Cotton End Park,
Long Buckby. 19 July, 2015

Once into the wetter area I found that some shallower areas of water had completely dried up. I also found that by wellies had sprung a leak so that, when water was encountered, I quickly became aware of it.

Water Plantain at Cotton End Park.
19 July, 2015

There were patches of open water but it was distinctly eutrophic, as murky as a Catholic priest's conscience and stained in places by algal growth. In places stood plants of Water Plantain, Alisma plantago-aquatica. This is a monocotyledon and thus allied - albeit distantly - to bluebells, palm trees and orchids. But interestingly it shares many features with the Spearwort Buttercup, a dicotyledon and therefore - in theory - quite unrelated. Do we have here a link between 'monocots' and 'dicots'?

Spearwort Buttercup grew at the pond margins.
Cotton End Park. 19 July, 2015

In fact the Spearwort Buttercup, Ranunculus lingua, did occur a few yards away. It is quite a handsome aquatic perennial and is frequently planted so, in view of the fact that these ponds are artificial, it is probably an introduced species.

Apium nodiflorum. A relative of the wild carrot - but
a completely different habitat.  Cotton End Park
19 July, 2015

I took note of only one other plant species. Fool's Water Cress, Apium nodiflorum, formed dense tangled clumps in wet areas. It does not appear to be poisonous but is certainly unpalatable, hence the common name.

With all five of us seeking insects in the area it is conceivable that something out of the ordinary will have been found, but the general consensus was that mostly commonplace insects were noted. The site, like Kentle Wood near Daventry, is a recent creation and not too much can be expected at this stage. I do believe though that the management is very sympathetic and, given time, it will mature to form a valuable series of wildlife habitats.

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Saturday, 18 July 2015

Pottering around the garden

Our front and back gardens, combined, are quite small. Nevertheless, whenever I go to water plants, do a spot of weeding or dead-heading, I always have my camera with me. The chances of finding a rarity are almost zilch but the commonplace can be of great interest. And you never know...
Epiphyas postvittana on garden furniture. Stefen Hill,
Daventry.  30 May, 2015

A small moth fluttered past my head and settled on a garden chair. It was a Light Brown Apple Moth, Epiphyas postvittana, and it obligingly waited until I had a picture before making off. Ordinary? Well, not really for it is an Australian moth which appears to have been accidentally introduced into Cornwall sometime in the 1930's and has since spread rapidly to become a very common insect.

The front garden is taking shape and the general appearance I find pleasing although some changes will be made over the next month or so.
Allium nigrum in a back border at Trinity Close

A tall onion has popped up in the back garden. From whence it came I know not. In fact I wasn't even certain that was an onion; it had no alliaceous smell - or if it had it was very faint - and I thought it could be an Ornithogalum (a genus known collectively as Stars of Bethlehem). In fact I was able to identify it as Allium nigrum, a handsome plant that is very welcome. Chris told me later that it was one of a batch of bulbs she had planted last autumn. 

Moving on a month the Passion Flowers are now in bloom. They look exotic and indeed are exotic, with the species we grow, Passiflora caerulea, hailing from South America.
Nevertheless it is very hardy (although some of its close relatives are distinctly tender).

Passiflora caerulea, a white form. Trinity Close,
Daventry.  14 July, 2015

We have a white and a blue specimen and, although I thought twice before planting them I am pleased to note that they do attract some wildlife.

A hoverfly was investigating when I went out to inspect. I made no attempt to catch it and am assuming that it is a species of Syrphus.

The slightly bluer and more 'authentic' form finds a home at the end of the garden. It is not, theoretically, an ideal spot but it seems to be doing well.

The mines of Chromatomyia horticola on a hollyhock
seedling, Trinity Close.  10 July, 2015
I have a few seedlings of hollyhock, Alcea rosea, growing nicely in pots. One of them bore a mine formed by the larvae of an agromyzid fly, Chromatomyia horticola. I suspect it will do little harm but I'd rather it wasn't there. Oddly enough, some mature hollyhocks in the border are untouched.

Aquilegia mined by Phytomyza aquilegiae.
Trinity Close, Daventry.  18 July, 2015

Mines, this time in the form of a blotch, were also disfiguring Aquilegia leaves. The insect responsible is Phytomyza aquiligiae, a common pest of this plant. It too is an agromyzid fly.

No doubt I'll find other mines ere the season is over, but this record takes me to the 100 total of invertebrates recorded in our little garden.

Friday, 17 July 2015

The Generation Game - updated

Chris and I popped over to the village of Hartwell yesterday to see our friend Sue. She is a supporter of the pocket park and long ago she asked me to draw up a list of the organisms occurring there so I paid it another visit. 

The pocket park was created some years ago and is gradually maturing to provide a home for a good range of invertebrates. Prior to today's survey the figures stood at: 45 flowering plants, 21 spiders and their kin plus 62 other invertebrates - mostly insects. Can I add to that total?

Woundwort Shieldbug. Hartwell Pocket Park,
Northants.  16 July, 2015

I was not surprised to find this Woundwort Bug, Eysarcoris venustissima, in my net as it is a common species and its food-plant is plentiful in the park. But the usual glossy coloration of this smart little but is missing; I can only conclude that that it is a rather elderly specimen.

Red Soldier Beetles in copula.  Hartwell Pocket Park,
Northants.  16 July, 2015

The shieldbug may be nearing the end of its days but this pair of Common Red Soldier Beetles, Rhagonycha fulva, is helping to ensure the future of their species. In fact lots of pairs were in copula - as biologists delicately put it.

Imago and pupa of the Harlequin Ladybird.
Hartwell Pocket Park.  16 July, 2015

Another aspect of the Generation Game was provided by this pair of ladybirds on a birch leaf. To the left is an adult specimen, the imago, and on its right another example is still in the pupal stage. Unfortunately they are both Harlequin Ladybirds, Harmonia axyridis. In many areas now this is the commonest of these voraciously predatory little beetles.

All this fecundity wasn't confined to insects. Plants had been seeding too and long before the evening was over my trousers were covered with the fruits of Wood Avens, Geum urbanum, and Goosegrass, Galium aparine

Each calyx on Jerusalem sage is star-shaped, resulting in
 this interesting pattern. Hartwell Pocket Park. 16 July, 2015

In a border some Jerusalem Sage, Phlomis fruticosa, had been planted. Few of the yellow flowers remained but the now-empty calyces produced a striking pattern. This member of the mint family is grown for its attractive flowers but here in mid-July still remained of interest. Like most members of the family the flowers are a plentiful source of nectar so it makes a good bee plant.

Lygocoris pabulinus at Hartwell Pocket Park.
16 July, 2015

Nearby, but this time in full flower, were plants of Black Knapweed, Centaurea nigra. A Capsid Bug, Lygocoris pabulinus, was there for the nectar but, although a grain or two of pollen may cling to the legs, it can hardly be regarded as an important pollinator. Oddly enough, this extremely common insect was not on the list for the pocket park.

Stenotus binotatus, a very common bug in grassy
areas. Hartwell Pocket Park. 16 July, 2016

Capsid bugs are members of the Miridae, a rather tricky family which at times can cause a good deal of head-scratching. One very common grassland species which soon found itself in my net is Stenotus binotatus. It is rather variable but the specimen photographed is a typical example.

Birch fruit galled by Semudobia tarda.
Hartwell Pocket park, 16 July 2015
I removed a couple of catkins from a birch tree and, once home, examined the seeds (actually fruits) under a microscope. Some of the fruits had been galled by a tiny fly, Semudobia tarda. This cecidomid is probably widespread but few records are known as lots of people have better things to do than split up birch catkins!

What else, once home, would a microscope reveal!