Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Just taking the air

'Walk regularly,' the doctor told me at Oxford.

Today, being mild and dry, allowed me to follow this instruction and so off I went. The plan was just a stroll locally and I wasn't expecting any surprises. Along the grass verges beside Christchurch Road the 'usual suspects' were in flower.

Groundsel, ubiquitous and poisonous.
Christchurch Road, Daventry. 10 November, 2015

There is never a day when Groundsel. Senecio vulgaris. is not in flower. This ubiquitous weed is usually described as native, and yet it is only ever found on disturbed ground so one is entitled to have doubts. Poisonous to us, it is nevertheless the food-plant of the Cinnabar moth, whose yellow and black banded caterpillars are commonly found, often reducing the plant to a skeleton.

Dove's-foot Crane's-bill. Christchurch Road, Daventry.
10 November, 2015

Equally common on these verges is the Dove's-foot Crane's-bill, Geranium molle, with its softly hairy leaves. Its close relative, Geranium dissectum, has more deeply divided leaves. The tiny flowers deserve close scrutiny. The long 'beak' on the fruit capsule is said to resemble the bill of a crane.
Common Chickweed, Christchurch Road, Daventry.
10 November, 2015

Common Chickweed, Stellaria media, was also abundant. Its lush foliage makes a very good salad ingredient (so I am assured) but these verges are frequently visited by dogs, with the inevitable consequences, so I was not tempted. The hairy sepals may be clearly seen, together with the five petals, each deeply divided to give the impression of ten petals.

Moving on I took the short spur off Badby Road West towards the Daventry by-pass. This spur was truncated when the by-pass (the A45) was constructed and it now receives few visitors. In consequence it is quiet and peaceful.

Honey Bees were busy at the ivy flowers.
Badby Road West, Daventry. 10 November, 2015

Clumps of ivy are abundant and the sweet smell of their flowers was detectable from some distance. Honey Bees, Common Wasps, and various blowfly species were gorging themselves, with the bees busily stocking up for winter with pollen too.

 Calliphora vomitoria. Note how the reddish eyes almost
meet in the middle, showing it to be a male.
Badby Road West, Daventry. 10 November, 2015
Although the ivy nectar allows blowflies to put on fat for the winter, many get through the cold season as larvae. These are known to be remarkably tolerant of cold and experiments have shown that they can survive repeated spells of -6 degrees C for 12 hours at a time. This male Calliphora vomitoria will probably get through winter in a sheltered crevice but specimens are often seen basking on tree trunks or wooden fences on a sunny winter's day.
The Turtle Bug seems quite scarce in this region.
Badby Road West, Daventry. 10 November, 2015

Sweeping a patch of grass a short distance away I was delighted to find a specimen of the Turtle Bug, Podops inuncta. This is largely confined to the south east of Britain, being common in Kent and Sussex. Here in Northants it is approaching the edge of its range and may be a new record for the county. The photograph shows that, to our eyes, it is an unexciting insect, but it was a good find.

So, a short constitutional walk turned out to hold a surprise after all.

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