Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Matthew Moser's Farmland

Matt Moser owns much of the land around Newnham Windmill. He farms the land with wildlife in mind and avoids weedkillers or pesticides in general. When I met up with him a few months ago I was given the go-ahead to survey the land; he was as keen as I to find out how species-rich the land is under his regime.

I set out this morning feeling quite optimistic. We have had two days of heavy showers, some of them prolonged, but as I prepared to go the conditions were dry and warm. As I gathered my kit - net, pooter, specimen tubes, etc - the sky began to cloud over and a wind picked up. 'B****r!' I muttered. It was definitely going to be welly boot weather.

But having girded my loins I set forth and was soon parked up on the Newnham Road.

I was reluctant to use my net for sweeping through wet grass. Today it would be a case of examining fencing, tree trunks and so on. A prominent tree stump held promise...

Red Admiral in disguise, near Windmill Hill, Newnham
Northants. 6 October, 2015

Nothing doing, was my first thought, but a closer look held a surprise. Clinging to the bark was a Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta, looking like a dead leaf. As one of Britain's most brilliantly coloured insects it was, with its wings closed, remarkably well camouflaged.

Seven-spot Ladybird near Windmill Hill, Newnham.
6 October, 2015

On a nearby stump a Seven-spot Ladybird, Coccinella 7-punctata, had no need for protective colouring; would-be predators recognise the warning coloration and leave well alone.

I described them recently as poisonous and my very good friend, Lynda Moran, asked if there was any evidence for this. When disturbed a ladybird usual first reaction is to withdraw its legs safely into depressions beneath the abdomen and, if more alarmed, it will exude a yellow fluid from the leg joints, a phenomenon known as 'reflex bleeding'. The fluid has an unpleasant smell and a bitter taste. It also contains toxins, harmless to humans but probably quite dangerous to small birds.

A Green Shieldbug basks on a crab apple. Near Windmill
Hill, Newnham, Northants. 6 October, 2015

Crab Apples, Malus species often of doubtful parentage,  were turning yellow. As they soften and fall they will become an important food source for many thrush species and other birds. Here a Green Shieldbug, Palomena prasina, basks in a (very temporary) shaft of sunshine.

Phyllonorycter blancardiella mine? On Crab Apple near
Windmill Hill, Newnham. 6 October, 2015

One of the apple leaves bore a distinctive leaf mine, probably the work of the Spotted Tentiform Leaf Miner, Phyllonorycter blancardella. I have remarked before how the length of some of these micro-moth names seem to be in inverse proportion to the length of the moth itself.

Blackberries, Rubus fruticosus, were bearing large quantities of fruit. This was to be expected but, tucked a little further into the brambles, were flowers, still in bud!

These will open with the encouragement of a little sunshine, their nectar being a late-season bonus for bees and hoverflies. There will be blackberries around for a few weeks yet but towards the end of the month they become inedible. Not because, as the legend goes, 'the devil pissed on them', but because flesh flies, Sarcophagus species, deposit saliva on them. The saliva apparently contains enzymes which soften the fruit, allowing the flies - and many other insects - to feed on the juices. The fruits lose their firmness and become rather slimy.

Spear Thistle - only too common in pastures. Windmill
Hill, Newnham, Northants. 6 October, 2015

Spear Thistles, Cirsium vulgare, were forming their distinctive, viciously armed rosettes in preparation for flowering next year. They are weeds but support many species of insect. At the top right hand corner a tiny amber spot is easily overlooked and I very nearly missed it too. 

The tiny beetle, Sphaeroderma testacea. Windmill Hill,
Newnham. 6 October, 2015

It was the widespread and common Sphaeroderma testacea, and at only 3 mm it is not surprising that it can be missed. In fact it is not confined to thistles but occurs on other members of the Daisy Family, Asteraceae.

A lichen, probably Flavoparmelia caperata, on a
fence. Windmill Hill, near Newnham. 6 October, 2015

It is when flowers are near to their end that lichens come into their own. I believe this example to be Flavoparmelia caperata because, although it is not clear from the picture, the thallus had a pale green coloration.

Rain arrived at 10.30 in the form of a short drizzly patch but it passed over and I was able to snatch a further half an hour. Then it returned as much heavier rain. Time to beat a retreat, with quite a few flies to examine at leisure later.

1 comment:

  1. It was interesting to find out the true reason why blackberries shouldn't be eaten after the end of the month Tony. I had heard the myth about the devil but had no idea about the flesh flies. Lynda