Sunday, 30 August 2015

Alpha and Omega

Alpha and Omega - the first and the last - in terms of moths.

Sunday and Monday are due to be wet. I always believe the BBC weather forecasts and have paid for it over the years!
A female Orange Swift on our wall.  Stefen Hill,
Daventry, Northants. 29 Augusst, 2015

So today, Saturday, with an afternoon free, I decided to grab the chance and combine a good, healthy walk with some insect recording work. I gathered up my equipment and there, sitting alongside my sweep net was a moth. To be precise it was an Orange Swift, Hepalius sylvina; common enough but a good start - 'alpha' - to the afternoon. 

So, I sallied forth. I was sans car so I made for a convenient nearby site - Kentle Wood! It is about a mile walk through an uninspiring housing estate. To be fair there are often interesting things to be seen - but not today; I made it to Kentle Wood without being sidetracked. 
Final instar of the Hawthorn Shieldbug. Kentle Wood,
Daventry. 29 August, 2015

Almost immediately I spotted a shieldbug. In fact it was a last instar nymph. [There is no larval (caterpillar) stage with bugs; instead the bug passes through a series of stages - instars - with each stage taking it a little nearer to the full adult form.] The species was the Hawthorn Shieldbug, Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale, common and frequently mentioned in my blogs.
...and the adult, also at Kentle Wood. 29 August, 2015

A little further on and I found an adult, surely one of out most handsome bugs. It shown what big changes take place following the final instar.
Birch fruits, showing the pits of Semudobia betulae.
Kentle Wood, Daventry.  29 August, 2015

There are relatively few birch trees in Kentle Wood but I tracked one down and gathered some catkins. Sure enough, on getting home, a microscope revealed some window pits in the fruit. They were the work of a cecidomyiid fly, Semudobia betulae.

I moved on and was surprised to find a holly bush tucked in beneath some sprawling ash branches. Very common of course but a 'first' for Kentle Wood.

Another extremely common species was Tipula paludosa and I was genuinely surprised that this cranefly was also a 'first'. It emphasises just how much remains to be found at this site.

Tipula paludosa with a dented abdomen. Kentle Wood,
Daventry. 29 August, 2015

This female - note the ovipositor looking like a sting at the end of the abdomen - was only one of dozens seen. The species is regarded as a pest. The larvae live in the soil from September until the following August, when they emerge, often in huge numbers, causing alarm among many who are genuinely frightened by them. 

The larvae are known as leatherjackets and cause great damage in lawns and crops, feeding as they do on roots. In 1935, according to the book 'Bugs Britannica', the pitch at Lord's cricket ground developed large  bare patches as a consequence of leatherjacket activity. Thousands of them were gathered up and burned. 

I continued to take a range of specimens but there was little photogenic material. Frog hoppers, galls, leaf mines;  all were present but either poor examples  or inaccessible.  I knew I had gathered some interesting insects so I decided to call it a day.

The Common Grass-veneer is indeed very
common. Browns Road, Daventry.
29 August, 2015

The 'omega' bit came shortly after leaving Kentle Wood. A small moth was disturbed as I strolled past and, despite fluttering into a shrub I managed to get a photograph. It was a Common Grass-veneer, Agriphila tristella. This is one of our commonest moths but I have not before had a chance to photograph it. So, in some ways a disappointing afternoon, but not a total disaster.


Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Byfield - A galling day

Wednesday, 26 August. Byfield Coffee Club.
Byfield Village Club 26 August, 2015

When Chris and I first moved to Byfield , what is now the Village Club was then The Conservative Club, (invariably just called The Con Club). As someone slightly to the left of Jeremy Corbyn it was not a place I generally frequented but the club, having recently been refurbished, is really quite a pleasant venue.

We went there for coffee today but I, having half an hour to spare, set off for Byfield Pocket Park.

Hornbeam with its tassels of winged fruits.
Byfield. 26 August, 2015

As I approached the park a couple of Hornbeam trees, Carpinus betulus, were bearing their distinctive female catkins with near-ripe nuts. Three types of gall are associated with this species but a close examination failed to reveal any. These trees are not native in the area so perhaps they are generally gall-free. 

Ulmus procera developing a considerable
girth. Byfield. 26 August, 2015

An elm (probably Ulmus procera but I didn't really check) stood nearby. It has quite a stout trunk and, standing at about 25 feet high, is unusually tall for elms in these disease-ridden times, except, of course, for Wych Elm, Ulmus glabra. This latter species is reasonably resistant to Dutch Elm Disease and therefore grows with some vigour, but the former is very susceptible. 

The disease is caused by fungi - types of Ascomycota - with the vector being bark beetles, particularly Scolymus scolymus. The bark on the tree in question has now reached a stage where it becomes vulnerable to attack.

A lacewing, Chrysopa perla, in Byfield Pocket Park.
26 August, 2015

A lacewing, Chrysopa perla, distracted me for a moment. There are about sixteen species of green lacewing found in Britain but C. perla is the most frequently encountered, in this area at least. My real objective however was a fairly large oak tree a little further on. 

As expected, the tree was exhibiting a number of galls.

A scarlet specimen of Andricus quercuscalicis.
Byfield Pocket Park. 26 August, 2015
My attention was immediately caught by a startling red structure. In fact, close examination showed it to be a Knopper Gall, Andricus quercuscalicis. This scarlet form is quite well-known but it was the first time I had encountered it. The more 'normal' form had attacked many acorns on the tree. In fact, what appeared at first glance to be a huge range of different galls virtually all turned out to be the same species.

Andricus quercuscalicis in a more typical shade.
Byfield Pocket Park. 26 August, 2015

Some of the other Knopper Galls had a pinkish flush to them.

Seven-spot ladybirds gather on a nettle leaf.
Byfield Pocket Park. 26 August, 2015

Another flash of scarlet seen beneath a folded leaf turned out to be a trio of Seven-spot Ladybirds, Coccinella 7-punctata

So, on balance a bit of a disappointment, but there was a small consolation on returning to my car; a large moth was clinging to the bodywork

It was clearly one of the Crimson/Red Underwings, but we have, in theory at least, six possibilities in the UK, although some are more or less extinct. So, which one was it? The rear (under) wings were of no help as I only got a quick glimpse of scarlet as it suddenly sped away.

Red Underwing, Catocala nupta, on car bodywork.
Byfield. 26 August, 2015

A careful examination of the patterning in this close-up shows that it was a Red Underwing, Catocala nupta This large insect is probably the commonest of the Catocala species so in a sense it shouldn't have been a surprise, but I was pleased to see it.

So, nothing mouth-watering in the way of specimens or photographs but, quite content, I was able to stroll across the car park and have a pleasant coffee with friends. 

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Dare I say, Kentle Wood?

For me, blogging has become a way of keeping an on-line wildlife diary. On some days when, for example, it is raining, I am engaged in other things. Yesterday it was a faulty toilet cistern and repairing a bedside reading lamp. I decided that, exciting though it was, it didn't demand a blog.

Today I snatched an hour at Kentle Wood. Not a blog, I decided; I've done this site - my wildlife 'patch' - to death. No more...

Lyonetia clerckella mine on cherry leaves.
Kentle Wood.  25 Augusr, 2015
Yesterday had been a day of almost constant rain. It is often the case that when warm weather follows rain, insects can be abundant, but today was cool and cloudy. There won't be much about I decided. A mine was present on a cherry leaf and was the work of the Apple Leaf Miner, Lyonetia clerkella, a very common moth which, as the name suggests, is found on apple trees but plums, cherries and their relatives are also affected.

But there were insects about, although I would hardly call them exciting.

Large White on cherry leaf. Kentle Wood,
Daventry. 25 August, 2015

A Large White, Pieris brassicae, was on a cherry leaf, perhaps waiting for a rise in temperature to get it going. The Large White has a dark patch at the wing -tip which extends quite a long way around. It isn't all that common in woodlands where brassicas and their relatives are rarely found. 

Speckled Wood on Cherry at Kentle Wood, Daventry.
25 August, 2015

And on yet another cherry leaf a Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria, also seemed to be waiting for the sun to get to work.

I was surprised to find that I had failed to record either the Large White or the Apple Leaf Miner from Kentle Wood before.

Knopper Gall on oak. Kentle Wood, Daventry.
25 August, 2015
At this time of the year - as I pointed out in my previous blog - galls force their way into our consciousness. Today it was the turn of Andricus quercuscalicis on oak.  Known as the Knopper Gall, it only became established in Britain during the 1970's, but is now extremely common.

Widespread though it is, the Knopper Gall requires the presence of Turkey Oak, Quercus cerris, to compete its life-cycle, yet I know of none in the immediate area. This was another 'first' for Kentle Wood. 'Knopper' is the German word for gall, so in effect we are calling it a Gall gall. [A similar case of tautology occurs with the River Avon since 'avon' derives from the Proto-Brythonic word for a river; we speak therefore of the River River.]

Field Maple leaf, bearing galls of Aceria macrochela.
Kentle Wood, Daventry. 25 August, 2015

Aceria macrochela is a gall found only on Field Maple, Acer campestre. Here it sits on an angle between the leaf veins, a characteristic position.

Phyllocolpa oblita, a sawfly, whose larvae caused this
leaf roll on willow. Kentle Wood, 25 August, 2015

The edge of this willow leaf is rolled downwards and is caused by one of the sawflies, in this case Phyllocolpa oblita. Many sawflies cause galls on willows; this one is moderately common.  

Here a view of the underside makes the roll clear. [Look at those hands: I must get to work with my L'Oreal - because I'm worth it.]

A virus? Hawthorn leaves at Kentle Wood, Daventry.
25 August, 2015

I was puzzled to find hawthorn leaves showing very obvious white patches. It is probably caused by a virus but it seems that not a lot is known about these  problems. One consequence of the affliction is that other insect damage stands out clearly.

These pock-marks are probably the work of the weevil Rhamphus oxyacanthae. I couldn't locate a specimen so I'm suspending judgement for now.

Shaded Broad-bar at Kentle Wood,  Daventry.
25 August, 2015

I disturbed a moth from long grass and it fluttered quite a long way before settling. I have cautiously identified it as a Shaded Broad-bar, Scotopteryx chenopodiata. These - carpet moths and their allies - can be a bit tricky but I am reasonably confident. Everything seems to fit including the season - 'up to late August' says one book; 'easily disturbed by day', says another authority. Yep - that's it.

And finally...
The larva of Arge pagana, a common and widespread
sawfly. Kentle Wood, Daventry.  25 August, 2015

A wild rose, stripped of its leaves, looked like the work of a sawfly and I soon found the culprit. It was Arge pagana, well-known as a serious defoliator of roses both wild and cultivated. it was another addition to the Kentle Wood list.

So, for a cool and rather miserable morning it turned out quite well - and I got home before the rain arrived.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Weston Favell Mill

This area forms a rich mosaic of dry grassland, damp meadow land, some woodland (oak in the drier areas and alder/willow in wet areas) together with pools of considerable significance. 

The usual quintet (see 18 August blog) gathered there for a survey. As usual John Showers had made the arrangements but Graham Warnes was the one with local expertise as he does regular surveys there and is a warden for the site.

Rowan leaves bore dark blotches. Weston Favell Mill,
Northampton. 23 August, 2015

The excitement begin as soon as I stepped from the car. A nearby Mountain Ash (Rowan), Sorbus aucuparia, bore blotches on the leaflets and these proved to be the work of Stigmella sorbi. This is one of the micro-moths and rejoices in the name of Barred Rowan Pygmy.

They were the work of the Barred Rowan Pygmy - a micro-
moth. Weston Favell Mill. 23 August, 2015

It is a widespread moth and its blotch mines are a common sight - if anyone cares to look. Although Rowans are closely related to Whitebeams (all are Sorbus species) only Rowans seem to be attacked.

Penny Royal is common on the site.
Weston Favell Mill. 23 August, 2015

And so on to the site itself. The little paddock-type enclosure just inside the gate is well-known for the scarce mint known as Penny Royal, Mentha pulegium. The plant appeared a few years ago and its method of introduction is the subject of some speculation. It is Graham's belief that it was introduced when soil disturbance occurred in connection with building development further downstream. We may never know but Graham's theory is perfectly feasible. With its whorls of lilac-blue flowers it is a distinctive - and fragrant - plant, very popular with a range of insects.

The pinnately compound leaves of
Silverweed. Weston Favell Mill. 23 August, 2015

There were large patches of Silverweed, Potentilla anserina, in the meadow area. (The word 'anserina' means 'of the goose' and the Greylag Goose is Anser anser.) It has an astringent taste and has been used as a tonic (the weed, not the goose). Its yellow flowers were mostly past their best. Though these resemble little buttercups the plant is in fact a member of the Rose family.

In his 'Flora of Northamptonshire' (1930) G. Claridge Druce uses the more or less obsolete word 'viatical' to describe the plant's habitat. By this he meant that it was common on waysides (Latin: viaticus, 'of a road or journey', cf the word 'via'). And of course John Clare got his six penn'orth in:

                          The spreading goose-grass trailing all abroad 
                          Their leaves of silvery-green about the road

                                                          Clare's Rural Muse, 37, 1835

Not, you will note, a reference to goosegrass, aka sticky-weed, Galium mollugo.

Leaves were blemished by a fungus, perhaps Diplocarpon
earlianum. Weston Favell Mill. 23 August, 2015

Some of the leaves were quite badly disfigured and, although I claim no expertise in this area, the likely culprit is the fungus Diplocarpon earlianum (=Marssonina potentillae). This disease also affects the related garden strawberries.

Araneus quadratus has extracted herself
from the old exoskeleton. 23 August, 2015

In a clump of rushes nearby, a spider had adopted an odd pose, with its legs stretched out and all pointing forwards. In fact it had just made its final moult and its old exoskeleton can be seen above. The spider was waiting for its new skeleton to dry and harden before sallying forth. It is a female Araneus quadratus and soon, after mating, it will grow to become one of Britain's largest spiders. Indeed, according to The Guinness Book of Records a gravid female of this species is the heaviest of our British native spiders.

The galls of Diplolepis nervosa are reminiscent of sputniks.
Weston Favell Mill. 23 August, 2015
As the summer has worn on, plant galls have become ever more noticeable and a rose briar bore several 'sputnik' galls on its leaves. This is the work of the Rose Pea Gall, Diplolepis nervosa, a type of wasp.  Perhaps most younger people are unfamiliar with the word sputnik but, launched in 1957, this was the first in a series of satellites put into orbit by the former Soviet Union. It caused a sensation and was a significant propaganda blow to the U.S.A.

Impatiens capensis, a more welcome species of balsam.
Weston Favell Mill. 23 August, 2015
Graham tells me that he has been waging a war against the beautiful but invasive Indian Balsam, Impatiens glandulifera and there were indeed some hefty swathes of the plant. But here and there was another balsam. This was the pretty Orange Balsam, Impatiens capensis. A native of North America it is daintier and far less troublesome plant. These two balsams are annuals but, though they disappear with the frosts of autumn, the Indian Balsam leaves behind huge numbers of seeds, flung by the exploding fruit capsules for up to 35 feet.

And that was probably my last attendance at these meetings for 2015. Chris and I expect to be on the Isle of Wight in September and so I'll miss the survey at Pitsford Water. I've a feeling there'll be plenty to keep me out of mischief anyway.


Friday, 21 August 2015

Dull Daventry - or is it?

Chris had a dental appointment today and the upshot was that I had about ten minutes to mooch around the car park, just being nosey like.

Now it has to be said that a municipal car park is not among the most exciting of wildlife habitats, coming a little behind the Serengeti - but I made the most of it.

The flowers of Bittersweet show its relationship to
tomatoes and potatoes. Daventry town centre.
21 August, 2015

Shrubs bordered the area and, scrambling through them was Woody Nightshade, aka Bittersweet, Solanum dulcamara. Although fruits were ripening on some plants, others were still producing their rather dramatic flowers. The poisonous nature of the plant  has been much exaggerated, being only moderately harmful, but this does not detract from its interest.
Travellers' Joy aka Old Man's Beard. Daventry town
centre. 21 August, 2015

Also doing its bit of scrambling was our only native clematis, Clematis vitalba. Out in the countryside it is a reasonably good indicator of alkaline soils, but in this habitat it seems content with common or garden border soil. Known as Travellers' Joy, it is, with its woody stems, an unlikely member of the Buttercup Family, Ranunculaceae, but the flower structure is a bit of a giveaway.

The unmistakable trunk of Betula papyrifera.
Daventry town centre. 21 August, 2015

A dozen or so birches had been planted. They lacked the gnarled and fissured trunk of the native Betula pendula, but were specimens of Betula papyrifera, a North American species. This tree, the Paperbark Birch, has become very popular in recent decades.

Birch fruits showing damage by Semudobia betulae.
Daventry town centre. 21 August, 2015

The trunk, the leaves and the shape of the catkins all helped to confirm the identity but I took some catkins and these proved to be of some interest. The perforations in these fruits are the work of a small fly, Semudobia betulae, and the undamaged 'wings' rule out its congener, Semudobia tarda. As far as I am aware this is the first record of this fly attacking Paperbark Birch in Britain.

Another tree nearby was a poplar, with Populus trichocarpa probably being the species in question.

Female 'cones' on poplar. Daventry town centre.
21 August, 2015

This is also a North American tree but its reproductive structures are typical of the genus. It will be seem that the female cone-like catkins are oval and, currently, tightly closed. 

Male catkins on poplar. Daventry town centre.
21 August, 2015

This close-up of the male catkins shows that they are upright and glossy. In spring they will dangle and gape, allowing the wind-borne pollen to escape.

Is it Isochnus sequenii? Poplar leaves, Daventry
town centre. 21 August,2015

The poplar leaves showed some brown blotches, probably the work of a small weevil, Isochnus sequensii. This insect is a relatively recent arrival in Britain and more work may be needed to confirm its identity and relationship to similar weevils.

(A tiny weevil was swept from the foliage but this was Betulapion simile, a seed weevil.)

Well, I reckon my ten minutes was time well spent. So much for 'lifeless' urban environments!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

When the Green Woods laugh

To what was William Blake referring when he wrote:

                                          When the green woods laugh
                                          With the voice of joy...

Perhaps not the Green Woodpecker, and yet I was reminded of these lines when I visited Kentle Woods earlier today. A pair (more?) was fracturing the silence with slightly insane laugh-like 'yaffling'  as they flew to and fro among the trees.

My visits to the 'patch' are no less frequent of late but, having recorded 276 species of invertebrates and 37 flowers/fungi I get slightly less of a buzz than during my initial forays. But when something new does turn up it is obviously more pleasing.

So, what would today bring?

Agromyza nana affecting White Clover leaves.
Kentle Wood, Daventry.  20 August, 2015

I got off to a good start, finding a White Clover, Trifolium repens, with odd white patches on the leaves. This is the work of a fly, Agromyza nana, and was new to the woods. Ok, I admit it - it isn't exciting to 99.9% of the population, but it pleased me.

Inrolled willow leaf, the work of the Willow Midget.
20 August, 2015

Perhaps even more exciting (or should that be less?) was this rolled leaf-margin on a willow leaf. It is work of the Willow Midget, Phyllonorycter salictella, subsp. viminiellaa micro-moth which is generally associated with the more narrow-leaved willows. Here it is on the broader leaves of Goat Willow but I am happy with the identification. 

Speckled wood on oak leaf. Kentle Wood, Daventry.
20 August, 2015

On an adjacent oak a Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria, rested awhile. With the exception of the Ringlet and the Meadow Brown this is probably the commonest butterfly of Kentle Wood.

Caterpillar of The Spectacle. Kentle Wood, Daventry.
20 August, 2015

Sweeping nettles nearby I found I had netted a caterpillar of The Spectacle, Abrostola tripartita. I had visually checked the plants first but such is the effectiveness of its coloration that I had missed it.

? Hypena proboscidialis. Kentle Wood, Daventry.
20 August, 2015

By and large it was not a day for butterflies and moths and when I did find a moth imago I couldn't with confidence put a name to it. It is almost certainly one of the Snouts (Hypeninae) and is perhaps a poorly-marked Common Snout, Hypena proboscidalis - but it won't be added to the list.

Mountain Ash laden with fruit. Kentle
Wood, Daventry. 20 August, 2015

By and large the cherries have gone, presumably eaten, but other fruits are ripening. This Mountain Ash, Sorbus aucuparia, with its scarlet fruits, will soon be a target for jays, pigeons, thrushes and so on.

Apples were ripening too but are more likely to be consumed when they have fallen to the ground, where thrushes and blackbirds will tuck in.

Sloes approaching ripeness. Kentle Wood, Daventry.
20 August, 2015

In places the blackberries were ripe, as were some elder fruits. These sloes. Prunus spinosa, have some way to go. As I have mentioned before, the fruits will need to blet, i.e. begin to rot, before they become palatable.
Pied Shieldbug. Kentle Wood, Daventry.
20 August, 2015

It was while photographing the sloes that I saw this little shieldbug. I was surprised, not because it is rare - the Pied Shieldbug, Tritomegas bicolor, is very common - but because it was on tree foliage. It is normally to be found on White Dead-nettle or one of its relatives. 

And that's about it. There was just time to note Red Bartsia, Odontites verna, before setting off home. For a century or so this purple-flowered annual was placed in the Scrophulariaceae but recent research suggest it is better placed in the Orobanchaceae. Whatever, this species is new to the site and in the latest flora of Northamptonshire it states of this plant that in an 'area, roughly centred on Daventry, it seems to be completely absent. Closing the gap therefore made for a pleasing finale.