Thursday, 30 June 2016

A (very) brief look at Kilsby

There are times when this blog acts as little more than a memo, recording where I have been and what I noted. This is one such blog.

Kilsby is one of those villages through which thousands of people pass each day. It is situated on - or just off - a busy crossroads where the Watling Street (A5) crosses the A361. Lorries thunder through on their way to DIRFT (the Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal) and cars hurry through, their occupants on a variety of missions. Few people pause to look around the village and this is a pity.

Chris called in to visit a friend who has recently moved into the village and I grabbed the chance for a quick look around. I would have stayed longer but this was not the occasion to do so.

I headed for St Faith Church. So often 'God's Little Acre' is a haven for wildlife that has been hounded out from elsewhere and a churchyard visit is thus usually time well spent.
The church is approached by a driveway bordered in part by mud (cob) walls. These are getting to be quite scarce and are jealously preserved.
Mud walls near St Faith's Church, Kilsby, Northants.
30 June, 2016
Nearby a plant of Dwarf Mallow, Malva neglecta, was growing on disturbed soil. Its leaves were heavily mined by the larvae of Liriomyza strigata, a common but not often recorded agromyzid fly.
The radial pattern of Liriomyza strigata mines on
 Dwarf Mallow. Kilsby, Northants. 30 June, 2016

The church itself is an interesting structure with a Grade II listing, built using local Jurassic stone in rubble form, by which I mean the stone was prepared by being hammered into roughly shaped blocks rather than being neatly dressed. 
St Faith Church, Kilsby, Northants.
30 June, 2016
The churchyard wasn't too carefully tended so there was room for some wild flowers to survive and I was pleased to see that on one of these a specimen of the hoverfly Merodon equestris was loafing.
Narcissus Bulb Fly in the grounds of St Faith Church, Kilsby.
30 June, 2016
This is an obvious bee-mimic, sometimes referred to as the Narcissus Bulb Fly as the larvae will burrow into narcissus bulbs, causing considerable damage. In fact this handsome fly was probably introduced into Britain sometime in the 19th century in a consignment of narcissus bulbs. The specific name 'equestris' refers, of course, to horses, but I have been unable to establish what, if anything, is the significance of the name.

Perhaps someone out there knows.


Sunday, 26 June 2016

Woodford Halse

For several days I have been looking for on opportunity to visit this reserve, actually a Pocket Park, only to be thwarted by the weather. At last, on Sunday 26 June, I made it, and what a lovely area it is.

Woodford Halse Pocket Park, looking west. 26 June, 2016
It had been my firm intention to take a good look at the spider fauna but, such huge numbers of insects were present that the former ended up getting scant attention.

There was no obvious water present but a male Beautiful Demoiselle, Calopteryx virgo, was patrolling an area near the entrance, doubtless prepared to drive off rivals or attract a female.

This is less common than the Banded Demoiselle and has its Northants stronghold  here in the west of the county.

Beautiful Demoiselle on hogweed leaf. Woodford Halse Pocket Park, 26 June, 2016
Hogweed, Heracleum sphondylium, was flowering in quantity and its umbels were attracting huge numbers of insects, mostly commonplace but none the worse for that.
Volucella pellucens (male) on hogweed umbel. Woodford Halse Pocket Park, 26 June, 2016
 The hoverfly, Volucella pellucens, was represented by large numbers of individuals. It is not rare but with its striking white band across the abdomen this rather large fly frequently causes comment.
Male Chrysotoxum bicinctum, Woodford Halse Pocket Park, 26 June, 2016
Perhaps slightly less common, and this time with a broken yellow band, is Chrysotoxum bicinctum. The word 'bicinctum. means 'twice girdled' and, in common with the previous species, has black areas on the wings.
A third interesting species of hoverfly was the wasp mimic, Chrysotoxum verralli, again not rare but I do not see it every year. All three species seemed confined to the hogweed even though many other plants were in flower.
Another Chrysotoxum species was C. verralli. Woodford Halse
Pocket Park. 26
I was pleased to see the blooms of Field Scabious, Knautia arvensis. It was very much a flower of my childhood (when it was known as Scabiosa arvensis)  occurring commonly in pastures. It now seem more likely to be seen on roadside verges or on wasteland, but wherever it is seen it is a welcome sight - and popular with insects too. Although it looks daisy-like it is, as a member of the Dipsaceae, related to teasels.
Field Scabious was occasional, here being visited by a Dance Fly.
Woodford Halse Pocket Park. 26 June, 2016
Rather similar in appearance is Greater Knapweed, and its Latin name of Centaurea scabiosa reflects that similarity. But this is a superficial likeness and it is placed in the Daisy Family, Asteraceae. It too is much visited by insects. My herbal recommends it as a tonic. (In the index to my herbal it is placed, rather disconcertingly, near to Knobweed. This is apparently another name for Collinsonia canadensis. How Knobweed is used medicinally I do not know - nor do I wish to!)
Greater Knapweed at Woodford Halse Pocket Park.
26 June, 2016
Rather surprisingly there were only a few butterflies on the wing.
Meadow Browns are brown - and live in meadows. Woodford Halse
Pocket Park. 26 June, 2016
Predictably the Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina, was quite frequent, but otherwise one Speckled Wood and a few Common Blues were all I noted, the latter doubtless attracted by Bird's Foot Trefoils and various clovers.
What of other species? The smart mirid bug, Grypocoris stysi, was common, again on Hogweed, together with a host of 'small fry'.
Grypocoris stysi. A common but attractive bug. Woodford Halse
Pocket Park. 26 June, 2016
These will take several days to identify. And all this was from only one half of the reserve. The remaining area will require a further visit and in all several trips will be required.


Tuesday, 21 June 2016

An evening stroll, with postscript

Stand by for a tediously boring blog.

Geum urbanum is known as Wood Avens and indeed I commonly find it growing in wooded areas. But it could equally be called Garden Avens because in cultivated areas it can be an unmitigated nuisance.

Its flowers are small and undistinguished and the plants is generally straggly. The leaves are unremarkable, barely meriting a second glance - usually. This evening however, when out for a constitutional, I did pause awhile to examine a leaf.
The flowers of Wood Avens are only about 7-8 cm across
Christchurch Drive, Daventry. 21 June, 2016
It was grotesquely puckered and discoloured having been attacked by a mite, Cecidophyes nudus. I sense the confusion among my readers: 'Surely it is Eriophyes nudus?' I hear you say. In fact the name I have used seems to have replaced the earlier one.

Wood Avens leaf affected by Cecidophyes nudus.
Christchurch Drive, Daventry. 21 June, 2016
Wood Avens is sometimes known as Herb Bennett; this is derived from herba benedicta - blessed herb. It is regarded as valueless today but my old herbal states: ...Astringent, styptic, tonic, febrifuge, (and) stomachic...Also useful in diarrhoea, sore throat and leucorrhoea. It would surely be easier to list those ailments for which it is valueless. If all that were not enough, it seems the roots were once use to impart a clove-like flavour to ale.

I weed it out whenever I see it.

Be that as it may, I continued my stroll, only to find a vaguely similar situation with regard to a hawthorn bush.
This hawthorn leaf has been attacked by the fungus,
Taphrina crataegi. Badby Road West, Daventry.
21 June, 2016

Should it be regarded as a gall? Probably. It is the work of a fungus, Taphrina crataegi, and this particular plant was badly infested. Serious infestation or not, I have to admit that it is not a situation likely to cause excitement. I moved on.

Another shrub under attack was a nearby blackthorn. The leaves were disfigured by off-white pustules and were caused by a mite, Eriophyes similis. More often these pustules are clustered along the leaf margin but they can be almost anywhere on the leaf. It is exceedingly common.
The pustules of Eriophyes similis on blackthorn.
Badby Road West, Daventry. 21 June, 2016

From pustule to leaf mine...

This Smooth Sow Thistle, Sonchus oleraceus, is much troubled by a species of Chromatomyia but to establish which of the two possible suspects is the culprit I would have to catch a male and examine its genitalia. Life is too short. I must be content with calling it Chromatomyia 'atricornis'.

Smooth Sow Thistle mined by Chromatomyia 'atricornis'.
Badby Road West, Daventry. 21 June, 2016
If you have managed to read thus far you have my congratulations. I'll try harder next time!

Postscript  A flower bud on a plant of elder seemed to have failed to develop properly, instead forming a gall-like structure. I took it home for microscopic examination and found that inside the gall was an orange grub. This is the larva of the fly Placochela nigripes. one of the Cecidomyid flies. Only three records for Great Britain are shown on the NBN Gateway map for this species. This suggests that is very rare yet in fact it is probably quite common - but few people ever look for it.

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Monday, 20 June 2016

Backyard blooms

Our back garden is tiny and, with space at a premium, every plant must earn its place. Some achieve this in spades but others are on their final warning.

Their will be much vexation among the local bees if I remove our Cirsium rivulare. I grow the form 'Atropurpureum'; the bees aren't bothered about the precise shade but gorge themselves on the apparently endless supply of nectar.
Buff-tailed Bumble Bees share a thistle head.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 20 June, 2016
Often two will share the same flower head (technically a capitulum) without any obvious argument and are a credit to their species - in this case Bombus terrestris.

A clump of onions nearby also attracts bees but in the case of Allium aflatunense (often sold as Allium hollandicum) the nectar and pollen are readily available to hoverflies.
The very common Eupeodes corollae on Allium afletunense.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 20 June, 2016
This smart female Eupeodes corollae was just one of several investigating the blooms. The Alliums are adjacent to some foxgloves and generally the bees give the onions a miss.
A water-filled cup of a foxglove after heavy rain.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 20 June, 2016
Usually the flowers of foxgloves hang down but a few refuse to do so. There was heavy rain earlier in the day and in the photograph it is just possible to make out that this cup-shaped bloom is full of water.

Backing the Alliums and foxgloves is a honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum. It will be seen that a leaf immediately above the bloom is bordered by a pale leaf mine. This is the work of a fly Aulagromyza hendeliana.
Honeysuckle showing the mine of Aulagromyza hendeliana. Stefen
Hill, Daventry. 20 June, 2016
Although very common and affecting several leaves the fly larvae and their mines appear to do no damage and, as far as I am concerned, they are welcome, helping to add further interest to the garden.

I made a mistake with my sink garden, popping in a plant of Campanula cochlearifolia.
Campanula cochlearifolia, aka Fairies Thimbles.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 20 June, 2016
Delightful though this plant is, it has almost overwhelmed other occupants of the sink. Its common name of Fairies Thimbles, makes it sound a dainty, delicate plant. Dainty it is but delicate it ain't, and it is  behaving quite brutishly. I'll probably finish up emptying the sink and starting again, giving saxifrages, primulas and dwarf willows a chance.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

The front garden in June

The recent run of wet days, punctuated by spells of warm sunshine, has resulted in prolific growth in the back garden, with honeysuckles and passion flowers almost rampant in places.
In the front the gravel/rock garden is looking very colourful with plants that not only look attractive but are much visited by bees; a win-win situation as far as I am concerned.
Past experience with the lovely Primula vialii has not been very successful and so I put in just one plant with little optimism.
Primula vialii in our front garden at Stefen Hill,
Daventry. 18 June, 2016
In fact it has done very well and I am delighted with it. Rather like an elegant Red Hot Poker, it is one of the most distinctive of all primulas and, although it hails from China (N.W.Yunnan and Szechwan), it seems happy with Daventry. Our soil is a sticky clay but when planting anything here I  remove this claggy material and replace it with a gritty compost. The strategy seems to be successful.

The Lewisia is doing very well. The label is missing but it is probably Lewisia tweedyi or a hybrid with this as one of the parents. It has been flowering for several weeks and looks like doing so for some time yet. All Lewisias are, as far as I know, natives of North America and more species may yet be found.
This Lewisia, probably L. tweedyi, has flowered for weeks,
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 18 June, 2016
South Africa is represented by the succulent Delosperma cooperi.

Delosperma cooperi may hail from southern Africa but
British bees are happy with it. Stefen Hill, Daventry 18 June, 2016

It is much visited by bees, in this case the Red-tailed Bumble Bee, Bombus lapidarius. The Delosperma genus is in the Aizoaceae family and the genus is apparently confined to Africa south of the equator.

Even more popular with bees are my mounds of thyme. Here, directly to the left of the Delosperma, is a cushion of  Thymus praecox 'Coccineus'.

Delosperma cooperi with, on the left, Thymus praecox 'Coccineus'
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 18 June, 2016
In the picture below, a Buff-tailed Bumble Bee, Bombus terrestris, is paying a call, and butterflies are also regular visitors.

Bombus terrestris on thyme. Stefen Hill, Daventry.
18 June, 2016
This thyme is an easy-growing plant which I have observed growing in the crevices between paving slabs. It seems able to tolerate a certain amount of wear and so I may try it in a similar position.
My Pasque Flowers, Pulsatilla vulgaris, have now gone to seed and I have gathered and sown a few.

The fluffy seed heads of the Pasque Flower are attractive.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 18 June, 2016
Although the gorgeous purple flowers of this species are incomparable, the feathery seed heads are attractive in their own right. They are not unlike the seed heads of certain Clematis species, such as our native Clematis vitalba, and indeed Clematis and Pulsatilla are both placed in the Buttercup family, the Ranunculaceae.

In creating this gravel garden I find I have unwittingly provided a home for some interesting invertebrates, such as the ant-mimicking spiders, Phrurolithis festivus and Micaria pulicaria. Another bonus.

Still to come are campanulas, saxifrages and dwarf scabious, so there is much to look forward to.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Rain, rain, rain.

Noah, is it worth putting the washing out?  Attributed to Mrs Noah, c. 4000BC

We have had an exceptionally wet few days. A planned visit to the lovely reserve, High Wood and Meadow, not far from Preston Capes, was a wash out  -  literally. So when the sun finally broke through earlier today I dashed off to Kentle Wood to take advantage of the weather. And I wasn't the only one.
Dog Rose briars were studded with flowers, and with the flowers came insects: beetles, bees and flies were all there for the pollen, nectar or, it the case of wasps, to kill or parasitize the insects.
Some flies, like the male House Fly, Musca domestica, in the photograph, seemed content to sit and soak up the sun (entomologists sometimes call it 'loafing') and I was lucky enough to record the rather rare tachinid fly Wagneria gagatea. Tachinid flies are parasites too and their larvae rather ghoulishly eat their victims alive and then pupate (usually) within the corpse.

Butterflies were on the wing but only the very common Speckled Wood paused long enough for a photograph.
Speckled Wood on Dog Rose. Kentle Wood, Daventry.
16 June, 2016
Many rose species have no nectar but here the butterfly is clearly imbibing the liquid, emphasising what a valuable shrub this is for wildlife (and for us too: in 1943 over five hundred tons of rose hips were collected in Britain and from these two and a half million bottles of rose hip syrup were prepared).
Common Spotted Orchid, Kentle Wood,
Daventry. 16 June, 2016
Common Spotted Orchids have progressed greatly over the past few days and their spikes have burgeoned (see blog for 5 June) to make a lovely sight.

In general galls take a while to develop to the point where they can be seen and identified. This one is the work of a tiny wasp, Andricus curvator, and was situated awkwardly in the gloom beneath increasingly dense foliage.
Gall on oak caused by the wasp, Andricus curvator.
Kentle Wood, Daventry, 16 June, 2016
The form of the gall can vary according to whether the wasp chooses to lay the egg in leaf tissue, in a bud or even on a catkin. Oaks bear galls of an almost bewildering variety and so the tree is of particular interest to the cecidologist.

Then finally we have the spiders. I had, prior to this visit, identified forty one species from Kentle Wood. Would I add to the list?
An unidentified Cucumber Spider. Kentle Wood,
Daventry. 16 June, 2016
This cucumber spider found its way into my sweep net. These can be a challenge to identify, especially the pair, Araniella cucurbitina/A. opistographa. The genitalia must be examined with great care and, as this specimen was an immature female the genitalia were not sufficiently developed for a certain identification. These spiders are generally quite small and will often live out their lives in a curve or fold within an oak leaf.

Now I need to sit down for three or four hours in front of a microscope to name a few more specimens.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Lotus berthelotii

Most of us are familiar with Lotus corniculatus. It is a common plant of waste ground and roadsides and was known to us when kids as Egg and Bacon, the yellow flower representing eggs and the orange streaks on them being the bacon. Along with peas and clover it is probably the among the best-known members of the huge Fabaceae Family.
Lotus berthelotii is such a striking plant that for many - including myself - it does not appear to be a species of Lotus at all. Incidentally the word 'Lotus' has been applied to several other plants including certain Egyptian water lilies such as Nelumbo.
Lotus berthelotii seems best used as a trailing plant.
My garden, 11 June, 2016
When I heard, some years ago, that it was being propagated with a view to its use as a bedding plant, I was intrigued - doubly so as the species is virtually extinct in it Canary Islands home. (It was being classified as 'exceedingly rare' as early as 1884.)  It is a perennial but as a bedding plant it will be used as an annual and, sure enough, when I saw it being offered by a nurseryman early this spring, it was with other tender bedding plants such as Lobelias and Verbenas.

The same plant in close-up
For fairly obvious reasons it is known as Parrot's Beak, and this odd shape is clear in a close-up photograph. As it is so rare the methods by which it is naturally pollinated are unclear but the job may be done by birds. The plants in cultivation are propagated by cuttings as it seems that it does not respond to pollination by hand. Sabin Berthelot, after whom the plant is named, was a biologist who lived for much of his life in the Canary Islands.

The plants are becoming widely available and I suspect that within a few years it will have become very popular.

Friday, 10 June 2016


Everyone with even a passing interest in gardens and wildlife knows our native foxglove. It is one of about twenty-five species of Digitalis, our species being Digitalis purpurea. Recently some of the shrubby species have been reclassified in the genus Isoplexis.
It is, of course, poisonous, the seeds especially so (although the drug used medically is extracted from the leaves), and one of its old country names is Dead Man's Bells. I have grown several species over the years and one of them, Digitalis lutea, seeded so freely in Byfield that it almost attained the status of a weed. I now confine myself to our native foxglove, not only because it is arguably the loveliest of them all, but it is a very good bee-plant too.
Digitalis purpurea in our garden in Daventry, showing the
freckles on the lower part of the corolla tube. 10 June, 2016
Here in Northamptonshire it is very local as a truly wild plant, being another of those species referred to by G. Claridge Druce in his 1930 flora of the county as rare and ericetal, i.e growing - like Erica (heather) - in acid soils (it flourishes at the summit of Borough Hill, here in Daventry). Gardeners have learned however that, given otherwise good care, it will tolerate a little lime. Indeed it is now frequent on waste ground around villages as a garden escape.
I was surprised, given the dearth of acid soils in the east of Northants, that John Clare mentions it: 
                                         Though the thickets bushy dell
                                         Tempts me to the Foxglove's bell.  
                                                                               Clare's Village Minstrel, 1821

A neighbouring plant with the corolla approaching white
At least three poisonous elements are found in the plant and it needs to be used with great care, but my old 'Potter's Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs' recommends its use as a cardiac tonic, sedative and diuretic. Hmmm.

It is grown is gardens as a biennial, but I find that, if cut back after flowering, it will persist for three or four years. Seedlings germinate easily and give flowers ranging from the usual purple through to an almost pure white.
Given the poisonous nature of the plant it is interesting to note that several insects feed on it, including the bug, Dicyphus pallicornis. The Foxglove Pug, Eupithecia pulchellata is a not uncommon moth and this August I'll be looking for its green or brown caterpillars.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

A Byfield Pot-pourri

Today found me in Byfield, Northants on a warm, almost sultry day. With a little time to spare I had a stroll around, reminiscing about the ten years I had spent there.
A tangle of weedy plants near the village green included a solitary plant of the Byzantine Gladiolus, Gladiolus illyricus, subspecies byzantinus (aka Gladiolus byzantinus). I last saw it growing en masse as a cornfield weed in Turkey but it is common over much of the eastern Mediterranean.
Gladiolus byzantinus in a weedy border.
Byfield, Northants. 7.June, 2016
I was pleased to see it because imo it really is  an excellent garden plant. Not only is it more delicate and graceful than most available 'gladdies' but, not being a hybrid, it is more likely to attract insects. (Growing to its right is Wall Barley, Hordeum murinum, a close relative of the barley grown as a crop.)

The Cornbrook, a tributary of the Cherwell, flows through the village and at its banks near Fiveways is a clump of Yellow Flag, Iris pseudacorus.
Yellow Iris beside a stream in Byfield.
7 June, 2016
It was widespread in the time of John Clare but since then, though perhaps declining in places, it has widely colonised the gravel pits created in the twentieth century.
                                       From the pond-head gazed in vain
                                       On the flag-flower's yellow hue.

                                                                 John Clare: Village Minstrel, 1821

Close-up of Yellow Iris showing the faint brown nectar
guides. Byfield. 7 June, 2016
The flowers merit a closer look for they are of great beauty, but introduce them only into large garden lakes; I once planted some in a small pond and within three years they had overwhelmed it! Early in the last century it was still being recommended for dysmenorrhoea (painful menstruation) but your G.P. wouldn't be amused to hear that you'd been chewing iris roots.
I called in to see my old friend Oliver Tynan and pointed out to him a lovely male Bullfinch, Pyrrhula pyrrhula, on the gravel path beneath a window. He carefully picked it up. An examination showed no obvious injury and we concluded that it had been stunned by colliding with the glass. He carefully placed it in a position where cats would be unlikely to find it. This species may be destructive of fruits but I wish it well.

Incidentally, why did I include the Latin name? As I have mentioned before, it is for people in other countries who may be unfamiliar with our vernacular names. (A lady from Cape Cod in the USA responded to one of my blogs asking me about a gall species on one of her beech trees and wanting to know its distribution in the States. I referred her elsewhere; I don't think she had realised I was in Britain.)

Postscript The following morning Oliver told me that the bullfinch had died.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Much ado about Kentle Wood

I decided to take the car rather than walk to Kentle Wood - an easy decision! As I was about open the door I noticed that a moth was clinging to the car bodywork trying to cadge a lift. It was the extremely common Garden Carpet Moth, Xanthorrhoe fluctuata, and it turns out it didn't want a lift at all, but fluttered off as soon as I started the engine. 
A Garden Carpet Moth clings to my car bodywork.
Stefen Hill, Daventry. 5 June, 2016
On reaching the wood I was impressed at how much things had moved on since my last visit. Kentle Wood is decades away from reaching maturity but it is looking in good shape and promises much.

Kentle Wood. The view from the entrance.
5 June, 2016
The Common Spotted Orchids,  Dactylorhiza fuchsii, are back with us and are looking strong. They need a couple of weeks for the spikes to fully open and display their pink-purple flowers but the colony seems to be growing.

Common Spotted Orchids are flourishing.
Kentle Wood, Daventry. 5 June, 2016
A few days ago, on Borough Hill, I photographed the rather impressive Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn Beetle, Agapanthia villosoviridescens, with its striking banded antennae.

The Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn Beetle. Kentle Wood,
Daventry. 5 June, 2016

Today it was here in Kentle Wood so clearly it is common locally. In fact lots of beetles were prominent on the flowers, mainly buttercups, bordering the woodland rides.  All were common but no less attractive for that. Among the most prominent were both males and females of Oedemera nobilis - known as the Swollen-thighed Beetle.

The male of the Swollen-thighed Beetle gives the species its
common name. Kentle Wood. 5 June, 2016

The hugely swollen femora ('thighs') of the male are responsible for the common name: the females are far more  'normal' in appearance. These beetles feed on the pollen of buttercups and many other flowers and are usually abundant in meadowland.

The gaping wing cases help to identify the female Swollen-thighed
Beetle. Kentle Wood, Daventry. 5 June, 2016
Also present was a tortoise beetle. A few days ago, in my garden, I had taken Cassida vibex but this was the similar Thistle Tortoise Beetle, Cassida rubiginosa.

The Thistle Tortoise Beetle is one of several similar Cassida species.
Kentle Wood, Daventry. 5 June, 2016
Beetles abounded, including several species of what, as children, we called 'bloodsuckers'. I will not dwell on these or any other beetles as they were too numerous. As the geneticist J.B.S.Haldane put it: 'The creator has an inordinate fondness for beetles'.